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As UNSC chair, U.S. plans to focus on Russia's war in Ukraine and rising food prices

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

This month the U.S. is chairing the United Nations Security Council. It is planning to keep the spotlight on Russia's war in Ukraine but also address something on the minds of many nations around the world - how the war is affecting the price of food. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Even countries unwilling to criticize Russia's war in Ukraine are worried about the ripple effects. So the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, plans to focus on that.

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LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Ukraine used to be a breadbasket for the developing world. But since Russia blocked crucial ports and destroyed civilian infrastructure and grain silos, desperate hunger situations in Africa and the Middle East are getting even more dire.

KELEMEN: She laid out the U.S. priorities at the U.N. today. Anjali Dayal, a U.N. watcher who teaches international politics at Fordham University, says this focus makes sense.

ANJALI DAYAL: Even before Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the World Food Program and the FAO noted that this was likely to be the most food-insecure year on record globally.

KELEMEN: Dayal says much of the world depends on food, fertilizer and agricultural supplies that come out of Russia and Ukraine.

DAYAL: The war in Ukraine, essentially - that is a crisis that the most vulnerable people in the world will pay for in lost calories and in lost agricultural production.

KELEMEN: And the U.S. needs to be seen as doing something about that, says Richard Gowan, who tracks the U.N. for the International Crisis Group.

RICHARD GOWAN: The key goal for the U.S. is to show that it is the big power that can manage the global food crisis, and it's not going to be China or Russia that leads the way in dealing with these global shocks.

KELEMEN: The U.S. also wants to keep up the pressure on Russia. The U.S. ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, says she's had some success in the Security Council on that.

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THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Russia is isolated in the Security Council. And every time we have a discussion in the Security Council as it relates to Russia, they are on the defensive. And we will continue to keep them on the defensive until they end their brutal attack on the Ukrainian people.

KELEMEN: But in the General Assembly, many countries abstained from a vote condemning Russia's war. Thomas-Greenfield says she spent a lot of time talking to African diplomats to reassure them this is not a war between the U.S. and Russia. She says this is about one country, Russia, violating the U.N. charter. Gowan of the International Crisis Group says the U.S. has a balancing act at the U.N.

GOWAN: It's a place where the big powers can come, even during periods of intense crisis, to try and talk about their remaining common interests. And the U.S. is trying to juggle keeping pressure on Russia at the U.N. with finding a minimum of common ground on other concerns, be it Libya or Somalia.

KELEMEN: The Security Council debate on global food security is set for May 19. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

(SOUNDBITE OF TREMOR'S "CARACOL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.