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President Biden discussed the war in Ukraine, China and climate change at UNGA


The war in Ukraine is dominating headlines at this year's United Nations General Assembly, and Ukraine's president is calling on the world to make Russia pay for its aggression.


PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: A crime has been committed against Ukraine, and we demand just punishment.

SHAPIRO: NPR's diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen has been following the proceedings from U.N. Headquarters in New York. Hey there.


SHAPIRO: So Ukraine's president was speaking via video. He is the only one who's done that today. Why was that, and did he get his message across?

KELEMEN: Yeah. I mean, the General Assembly actually voted overwhelmingly last week to let him do this via video given the circumstances he faces at home, and he thanked them for that. As you heard, Ari, he delivered his message in English. He was very forceful. He said that this is a war that no one but Russia wants.

Zelenskyy argued that Russia should lose its veto power in the Security Council for violating the U.N. charter. He called for a special tribunal to hold Russia to account. And he gave some pretty graphic details about the killings in Izium, which was, until recently, occupied by Russia. So it was a very effective speech. The Ukrainian president got a standing ovation. And by the way, his wife was there in the chamber tonight.

SHAPIRO: President Biden also addressed world leaders earlier today and called on the U.N. to stand up to Russia's aggression. Let's listen.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Because if nations can pursue their imperial ambitions without consequences, then we put at risk everything this very institution stands for - everything.

SHAPIRO: What else did he have to say, Michele?

KELEMEN: Yeah. I mean, like Zelenskyy, Biden really painted the war in terms that should matter to all member states, saying that Russia is violating the core tenets of the United Nations. He raised concerns about Vladimir Putin's attempts to annex parts of Ukraine and the Kremlin leader's nuclear saber rattling, which he did in a speech today. It was really an appeal to countries around the world that what happens in Ukraine matters around the world and countries can't stay neutral.

SHAPIRO: Biden touched on a lot of other issues, too, from China to climate change. What stood out to you?

KELEMEN: He was pretty tough on China, its treatment of the Uyghurs and what he calls China's concerning nuclear buildup. He tried to reassure the world body that the U.S. is not seeking a Cold War and is focused on the many other issues that countries care about; things like climate change, food and energy security, health care issues, combating the COVID-19 pandemic. You know, that was - it's sort of his pitch to the global South - Africa, Latin America and much of Asia. These are countries that are worried about the U.S. competition with China and Russia and what it means for them. And he wants to present the U.S. as someone that can solve problems and work together.

SHAPIRO: There were some other notable speakers at the General Assembly today. Iran's president made his in-person debut there. Anything surprising?

KELEMEN: Well, he talked a lot. He was probably the longest - that was probably the longest speech today. Ebrahim Raisi, you know, painted a very different picture, saying that U.S.-led world order has failed. He complained about what he called criminal sanctions. He brought up the U.S. assassination of an Iranian general and said former President Trump should be tried for that.

On human rights, he complained about double standards. And that, you know, in the past has played well in some quarters, but Raisi is facing protests both here and at home for the death of a young woman who was beaten by - allegedly beaten by morality police for not wearing a proper hijab.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Michele Kelemen. Thank you very much.

KELEMEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.