UN General Assembly Convenes Tuesday In New York City for Week of High-Level Debates

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United Nations Headquarters In New York
Photo taken on Sept. 14, 2020 shows the outside view of the United Nations headquarters in New York, the United States. (Xinhua/Wang Ying)

The UN Headquarters opens its doors on Tuesday for many world leaders and top officials coming in-person to New York City for the annual high-level General Assembly week.

More than 100 top countries’ officials are expected to participate in the UN gathering this year, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, which in 2020, forced the event into a fully virtual format.

The first day of the general debate will see the visit of US President Joe Biden, accompanied by Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The US leader is scheduled to deliver his national address after Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro, whose country has earned the right to open the debate for always volunteering to speak first during the UN’s early years.

On the sidelines of the General Assembly, Biden will convene a virtual conference on September 22 focused on scaling up international response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Tuesday, world leaders will also convene for a ministerial summit dubbed “Safeguarding the achievements of 20 years of international engagement in Afghanistan.” The situation in the country has been a priority issue on the United Nations’ agenda since the Taliban (banned in Russia) swept to power in mid-August.

The list of the General Assembly’s in-person participants on Tuesday also includes Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Qatari Amir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, South Korean leader Moon Jae-in and Polish President Andrzej Duda.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Chinese leader Xi Jinping and President of Egypt Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, scheduled to speak on the first day of the general debate as well, will do so through pre-recorded video messages to be broadcast in the General Assembly Hall.

On Wednesday, the leaders of Venezuela, Tunisia, Jordan and Ukraine, among many others, will deliver their remarks at the United Nations in person.

The following days of the general debate will welcome high-level participants from Libya, Israel, Lebanon, Germany, Palestine, Japan, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, Australia, India, Canada, Haiti, Iraq, Belarus, Yemen, United Arab Emirates, Syria, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Myanmar and Afghanistan.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, arriving in New York this week, will address the General Assembly on Saturday, September 25.

During his visit, the top Russian diplomat will take part in the ministerial Wednesday meeting of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States – which will be attended by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

The UN chief and Lavrov had already agreed to hold a bilateral meeting on the margins of the General Assembly later this week.

The Russian Foreign Minister will also participate in a high-level meeting of the UN Security Council on climate and security that will take place on Thursday.

Amid public concerns over the potential of the high-level week to become a COVID-19 super-spreader event, the United States, as the host country, has offered to set up a COVID-19 testing and vaccination site upon the entry to the United Nations.

The City of New York had issued a requirement last week ordering all delegates who try to access the UN General Assembly Hall to show proof of vaccination.

The order provoked concerns by some member states regarding their ability to participate in one of the most significant diplomatic gatherings in a year given that not all countries have been able to procure COVID-19 vaccines or utilize the ones authorized in the United States.

Security on Manhattan’s east side is tight as the New York Police Department has closed the streets and constructed security checkpoints around the UN compound. The measures are expected to cause a major gridlock in New York, the first of its kind since the COVID-19 pandemic silenced the city.

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