President Obama plans to sit down with the leaders of Russia and Cuba over the next two days as he responds to crises and tries to advance his agenda during the annual meeting of world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly.
On Monday, Obama will meet will Vladimir Putin for a session that American diplomats hope will clarify the Russian president's intent in Syria, if not persuade him to roll back support for the country's embattled leader, Bashar Assad, as well as for separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine.
On Tuesday, Obama sits down with Cuban President Raul Castro, a meeting that comes amid a warming of relations between the U.S. and the island nation.
In both cases, the American flag will be planted next to that of the foreign leader's country in a specially designating meeting room, a sign that Obama is not merely shaking hands with his counterparts on the sidelines of other events, but rather making the conversations a focus of his visit.
But the broader message of the American president on this, his seventh annual pilgrimage to the international assembly, will be conveyed during his speech on Monday morning, when he plans to address issues that are high on his to-do list, as well as crises that keep forcing their way onto it.
Obama wants world leaders to focus on the fight against poverty and climate change, two priority items for the president, along with pursuing a policy of U.S. engagement that has yielded a thaw in relations with Cuba and an international deal on Iran's nuclear program.
"Of course, we will have to be addressing some very significant global challenges," said Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security advisor, citing the Islamic State extremist group, the humanitarian crisis in Syria and the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
After addressing the General Assembly, Obama has a one-on-one meeting scheduled with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whom the president considers a key player in forging a meaningful agreement on climate change by the end of the year.
Obama will also be convening a summit on peacekeeping, where world leaders plan to commit troops and other resources to U.N. operations around the globe.
At the end of the day, Obama plans to sit down with Putin, a meeting that U.S. officials say was requested by the Russian delegation.
On Tuesday, Obama is convening a summit to discuss the fight against Islamic State and other extremist groups -- a vexing problem for the president, who was elected on promises to end the war in Iraq but now can't seem to extricate U.S. forces from the violence there.
The meeting with Castro will provide Obama an opportunity to review progress on the normalization of relations with Cuba in a year that saw the reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana.
"Now, we'll have differences, and particularly with respect to human rights, we have been very clear with Cuba that we'll continue to raise those differences," said Rhodes. "But we also believe that the best way to advance our interests and our values in Cuba is to open it [to the world]."