Trump will hold session on religious persecution instead of attending UN climate summit

He'll hold religious persecution session instead

By Kevin Liptak, CNN
Copyright 2019 CNN

Trump says he knows 'nothing' about Air Force crews staying at his Turnberry resort.

When President Donald Trump visits the UN on Monday, many of his fellow world leaders will be participating in a summit meant to address climate change. Trump won't be there.

Instead, the President is chairing his own session focused on worldwide religious persecution.

It's the latest evidence of Trump's isolation on the climate issue with his fellow world leaders. During the G7 summit in France, Trump skipped a session focused on climate change that all the other world leaders attended.

This time, he's missing an event that will feature dozens of world leaders delivering climate pledges in short remarks. Not every country in the UN was invited, and it's unlikely Trump would have been asked to speak even if he wanted to.

Marcia Bernicat, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs, will represent the United States at the UN Secretary General's Climate Summit, a State Department official says.

The UN Secretary-General has said only the "boldest and most transformative actions would make the stage" of the summit -- which likely would not include Trump, who withdrew from the Paris climate accord and rolled back Obama-era emissions standards.

Other countries that rely on coal, like Japan and Australia, may also be excluded. But some key US allies like Germany, the United Kingdom and France are expected to participate. And countries like China and India, which Trump has criticized for their environmental records, will also be there, according to a draft agenda.

Instead of the climate summit, Trump will convene a session on worldwide religious persecution that his aides are characterizing as the centerpiece of his visit to the UN next week.

The sessions will overlap. According to the draft agenda, China's representative will speak at the climate summit around the same time Trump's religious persecution event is getting underway.

"This event seeks to highlight and broaden international support for protecting religious freedom in the wake of increasing persecution of people on the basis of their own beliefs and faiths, and a growing number of attacks on and destruction of houses of worship, religious sites, and relics by state and nonstate actors," a senior administration official told reporters on Friday during a briefing call about Trump's trip.

Two additional officials sought to explain Trump's absence from the climate change summit, which has gained increased attention as activists like Swedish teen Greta Thunberg apply pressure to leaders to take action.

"I think what we're really looking at is the importance of some of these particular bilateral relationships. The President has talked with a number of these leaders and he continues to believe that this kind of personal diplomacy is his strength," one official said, suggesting Trump wasn't interested in participating in the group setting.

"On the climate change issue, we just want to focus today on the actual event that the President is going to be doing," another official said. "The Secretary-General will be participating in the religious freedom event."

CNN's Jennifer Hansler contributed to this report.

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