The 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly, the largest annual gathering of world leaders, kicks off on Monday after pandemic restrictions restricted in-person attendance the previous two years. But the mood is likely to be a somber one, tempered by the war in Ukraine and mounting economic and environmental crises.
The assembly will focus on the many challenges with which leaders are now grappling: a war in Ukraine that is polarizing the world order in ways not seen since the Cold War; the rippling impact of rising food prices on people across the world; the energy crisis roiling the global economy; and concerns over climate disruptions such as the devastating floods in Pakistan.
“The General Assembly is meeting at a time of great peril,” António Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations, said last week. “Our world is blighted by war, battered by climate chaos, scarred by hate, and shamed by poverty, hunger, and inequality.”
Mr. Guterres said the gathering of world leaders in New York must provide hope through dialogue, debates and concrete plans to overcome divisions and crises.
It is a tall order. About 157 heads of state and representatives of governments plan to deliver speeches from Tuesday through Sunday, and the war in Ukraine and its ramifications are expected to be the major theme.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine will address the assembly in a prerecorded video speech. The General Assembly voted on Friday to grant him an exemption to the rule mandating that all speeches must be delivered in person this year.
Food insecurity, from grain shortages to price increases, will also be a priority. Developing countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East are expected to voice concerns that the world is too fixated on the war in Ukraine and that humanitarian aid is disproportionately directed at relieving that crisis, and that their own ones are being ignored.
Tensions are expected to be high between Russia, the United States and European countries over Ukraine; between China and the United States over Taiwan and trade; and between developing nations and the West over the allocation of development funding and other aid.
“This is the first General Assembly of a fundamentally divided world,” said Richard Gowan, the U.N. director at International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based research group. “We have spent six months with everyone battering each other. The gloves are off.”
Several thematic summit meetings and round tables are scheduled on issues ranging from education to the pandemic.
Mr. Guterres on Wednesday will host two meetings attended by foreign ministers. One will be on the challenges brought by the Ukraine war, including price hikes for food and energy, and the economic strain it is caused. The other will be about climate action. Mr. Guterres said he plans to tell leaders that the time to act is now.
President Biden will make a later-than-usual appearance at the United Nations General Assembly, delayed by his return from Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral in London. But his remarks are still expected to set the tone for a meeting focused heavily on Ukraine and climate change.
American presidents historically go second among heads of state to address the meeting, following Brazil. Mr. Biden is expected to break that tradition this year, speaking on Wednesday instead of his scheduled Tuesday morning slot. That’s because the president will have just returned from the royal funeral in Britain, held on Monday.
When Mr. Biden does take the microphone, he will speak to an international landscape that has shifted dramatically since last year, when he made his first presidential address to the United States and sought to reassert American global leadership after four years of the “America First” stance of former President Donald J. Trump.
Last year, Mr. Biden defended his decision to pull American troops out of Afghanistan and sought to promote democracy at a time of rising authoritarian sentiments around the world. He cast America and its Western allies as vital partners, telling the assembly, “Our security, our prosperity and our very freedoms are interconnected, in my view, as never before.”
Mr. Biden is expected to further stress the importance of that alliance this year, continuing his call for unity in support of Ukraine as it seeks to repel the invasion launched by Russian troops earlier this year. He is also expected to push for world leaders to continue diplomatic efforts to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and to work together to counter the economic and military rise of China.
The president relishes his appearances on the global stage — particularly his efforts to persuade allies that the United States has resumed its leadership role on crucial international issues of war, governance and environmental protection. The General Assembly will bring him his first opportunity on that stage to tout his signing last month of a law that is the most significant step in American history toward curbing the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change.
Four notable world leaders will not be in attendance at the annual gathering of leaders at the United Nations this week: Russia, China, India and Ethiopia.
They will be represented by ministers who, in accordance with United Nations protocol, will deliver speeches later in the week after all the heads of states and governments have spoken at the General Assembly hall.
Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, will not be there, although the war he waged against Ukraine and its repercussions reverberating across the world will dominate the event.
President Xi Jinping of China, an important financial contributor to the U.N. and a growing geopolitical power, is also skipping the General Assembly. China and the United States are rivals for political and economic influence at the U.N.
India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, who leads one of the largest and most diverse democracies, will not attend in person either.
Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi have skipped the U.N. General Assembly in previous years, but their absence is more notable this year. Russia and China are major stakeholders in some of the most pressing issues discussed this week from the war in Ukraine to food security, climate and the economy.
All three leaders attended the gathering of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a multilateral security-focused organization, in Uzbekistan last week. It was Mr. Xi’s first trip outside of China since the Covid-19 pandemic began in 2019.
From Ethiopia, where the government continues to fight the northern region of Tigray, in a war that has triggered severe food shortages that have left nearly half of Tigray’s six million people on the verge of starvation, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was supposed to attend the General Assembly. But he canceled at the last minute, according to Stéphane Dujarric, U.N. spokesman.
Ethiopia’s government has been fighting the rebel group known as the Tigray People’s Liberation Front since November 2020.
The United Nations gathering this week will bring Iran, the United States and other parties under the same roof after five months of fruitless negotiations to reinstate a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
But the chance of a formal joint meeting at the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly to reignite negotiations is minimal, according to American officials, Iranian and European diplomats.
Both Iran and the West plan to make a case to the world in New York that the other side is to blame and, must make concessions. Iran and the United States have failed to agree on a “final text” offered by the European Union last month, leaving the talks stalled.
The Biden administration will argue that Tehran is to blame for an impasse in talks to contain its nuclear program, say it is making new demands beyond the scope of the deal. Iran will argue that the United States is not demonstrating good faith and providing the guarantees that would make the deal worthwhile to Iranians.
France’s ambassador to the U.N., Nicolas de Rivière, said that members of Europe’s negotiating team plan to capitalize on the General Assembly to “push very hard for full resumption of the deal and encouraging the parties to compromise especially Iran.”
Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, will be in New York on his first appearance at the U.N. General Assembly, gathering along with the foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian. They are both expected to hold meetings with their bilateral counterpart members of the nuclear deal except for those from the United States.
Russia and China, the other parties of the deal, have said they support the final text agreement and encourage a speedy return to the agreement.
The United States and several other nations began negotiating with Iran in April of last year in an effort to restore a 2015 nuclear deal that restricted Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
Iran has maintained that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes but the United States, European allies and Israel suspect Iran of developing a secret nuclear weapons program.
Former President Donald J. Trump unilaterally withdrew from the deal in 2018 despite Iran’s compliance and, as part of his “maximum pressure policy,” reimposed sanctions on Iran that targeted oil sales and financial transactions.
Since then, Iran has significantly advanced its nuclear program and experts say its breakout time for having enough stockpile of enriched uranium for a warhead has been reduced to several weeks from one year under the deal.
The talks to restore the deal carried on, in fits and starts, until last month, when a breakthrough appeared at hand in part because Iran retreated from a key demand that Washington delist the Revolutionary Guards Corps as a foreign terrorist organization.
But then another curveball emerged. Iran insisted in August that the U.N.’s atomic watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, close an investigation into evidence of nuclear activity at undeclared sites in Iran. U.S. officials and the agency have said that demand goes beyond the scope of the nuclear deal.
After more than two years of Covid-19 pandemic disruptions, the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly is back to full swing this week.
Tens of thousand of people from all over the world — from heads of states to government delegations, civil society, activists and media members — will descend on the U.N. headquarters in Midtown Manhattan.
“We are very happy to have the General Assembly high-level week back in person after two years,” said the U.N. spokesman Stéphane Dujarric. “In-person diplomacy is central to what the meeting are all about.”
In 2020, the annual gathering was held virtually with leaders delivering prerecorded speeches. It marked the first time in the U.N.’s 75-year history that in-person attendance was canceled.
Last year, the format was a mixture of in-person attendance and prerecorded speeches depending on the preference of each country.
So, how do organizers mitigate the risk of the diplomatic whirlwind not turning into a super spreader event? The U.N. is taking some precautions and enforcing some rules.
The number of people allowed inside the U.N. headquarters building will be restricted and everyone is required to wear a mask in all public areas. Journalists are required to be vaccinated and carry proof of vaccination.
The U.N. is asking that anyone who has been exposed to the virus in the past five days, is feeling sick or has tested positive to stay home.
The number of people that each member state can bring inside the building is capped at 10. Countries can bring up to six members inside the General Assembly hall where leaders deliver speeches from Tuesday to Sunday, and four others can accompany them inside the building.
Before the pandemic, the U.N. headquarters hosted dozens of side events each day, drawing celebrities and experts in fields from science to women’s rights to freedom of the press.
This year, those events have been pared down to less than 20 and focused on the most pressing issues such as climate, food insecurity, pandemic response and education.
António Guterres, the secretary general of the U.N., will only attend events at the headquarters* but keep a full schedule of bilateral meetings with world leaders.
The war in Ukraine and the turmoil it has caused both inside the country and beyond will dominate the gathering of world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly this week and underscore the tensions over the conflict between Western nations and developing countries.
Western countries are expected to use the platform of the General Assembly to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and present it as an attack on world order, international law and the principles of the U.N. charter, which prohibits aggression against an independent and sovereign state.
However, they will face some pushback from leaders of the developing world in Africa, Asia and the Middle East who have grown weary of how the conflict has taken away attention from some of the major crises these regions are facing, from climate to food insecurity and humanitarian suffering.
The war in Ukraine is “driving a major wedge among U.N. member states,” said Richard Gowan, the United Nations director at the International Crisis Group. Mr. Gowan said that the United States and Europe are conscious of this divide and have proactively planned to address Ukraine war fatigue at the U.N. this week.
The United States, European Union and the African Union will also hold a joint conference on food insecurity and rising prices on Tuesday. António Guterres, the secretary general of the U.N., will host a separate meeting with global leaders on Wednesday to discuss the war’s three main challenges: rising prices for food and energy and tanking economies.
“We know that as this horrible war rages across Ukraine, we cannot ignore the rest of the world,” said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the United States ambassador to the U.N., acknowledging that other countries have expressed concerns about Ukraine dominating the week in New York. She added that, to address those concerns, leaders would also remain focused on food insecurity, health and climate.
Ukraine will be represented this week by its prime minister and foreign minister. President Volodymyr Zelensky will deliver a prerecorded speech to the Assembly on Wednesday. He was granted an exemption to the rule that all speakers must attend the meeting in person after a General Assembly vote on Friday.
The United Nations Security Council will also hold a session on Ukraine and the topic of impunity on Thursday. The meeting will be attended by foreign ministers and bring U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, together for the first time since the conflict.
“It’s an opportunity to talk and meet,” said Nicolas de Rivière, France’s ambassador to the U.N. who organized the meeting as France holds the rotating presidency of the council this month. “I’m not sure we will have a breakthrough on this issue, but at least the channel will remain open.”
After two years of relative respite, the United Nations General Assembly is returning to New York at its usual scale this year. That means New Yorkers should anticipate street closures, detours and unannounced traffic freezes — and the accompanying frustration — as hundreds of world leaders and their staff arrive in the city.
Around 140 heads of state will be in the city, Patrick Freaney, who is in charge of the U.S. Secret Service New York field office, said during a news conference on Friday. Just 80 heads of state attended last year, largely because of the pandemic.
But after two years of relative respite, gridlock will become the rule as world leaders gather and give speeches at the United Nations headquarters in Midtown Manhattan. There will be hundreds of motorcades and numerous security checkpoints.
“We strongly encourage New Yorkers and visitors to plan ahead, use alternate routes and use mass transit if they plan to visit the areas,” said Kim Royster, the chief of transportation for the New York City Police Department, during Friday’s news conference.
Ms. Royster said that Midtown Manhattan — 42nd Street to 57th Street and First Avenue to Fifth Avenue — will be affected. Police officers and traffic agents will be deployed at intersections to help the flow of traffic for cars, pedestrians and bicycles.
“If you must drive or make deliveries in the area, we advise you to avoid the area during the hours of 6 a.m. through 7 p.m.,” Ms. Royster said. A more detailed list of streets that will be affected can be found on the police department’s website.
City officials are encouraging people to take public transportation because it will be the “quickest and safest way around the anticipated gridlock,” said Kenneth Corey, the chief of Department for the N.Y.P.D., during the news conference on Friday.
He added that there are no “no specific or credible threats” to the meeting or New York City, but “nevertheless, we ask everyone to remain vigilant at all times.”
“Customers can avoid heavy traffic by using the nearby Lexington Avenue 4-5-6 line, which will operate on a normal weekday schedule,” said a spokeswoman for the M.T.A. “Trains will run at least every two to three minutes and even more frequently during rush hour when vehicular traffic is expected to be at its most congested.”
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has encouraged people taking the bus in and out of Manhattan to allow for additional travel time to and from their destinations.