“We had to celebrate our 75th anniversary, and things have developed differently,” said Volkan Bozkir, governor of the next UN General Assembly, Turkey.
“A distinct lack of play”
On the first day (Tuesday), almost all permanent members of the UN Security Council address: US President Donald Trump; Chinese President Xi Jinping; Russian President Vladimir Putin, who rarely speaks at the United Nations; French President Emmanuel Macron and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani both speak at the conference hall within hours of each other.
Weeks ahead of the US presidential election, expectations were high that President Trump could speak directly about Iran, China and even Joe Biden. However, he won’t go away from the script in a statement recorded by the White House. Richard Gowan, UN director of the International Crisis Group, said without him “the play would be markedly lacking.”
It has one silver lining thanks to the convenience of the phone. The UN is the largest number of national and government leaders to speak this year. A total of 170 people. Germany’s UN Ambassador Christoph Heusgen cites participation as evidence that “even if the UN is not perfect, the basic concept of multilateralism has not lost its appeal on the 75th anniversary of the UN.”
But who will see and hear? The attendance rate in Congress Hall declined, usually after several years of the departure of the US President and other powerful dignitaries. The foreign minister stopped speaking at 9 pm on Saturday night. In this virtual world in my hometown, I can’t be sure that no one is in sync.
Gowan said, “It is unlikely that the president and prime ministers will be sitting at home with a bucket of popcorn looking at all the other parties.”
Another notable absence from the system that promises to maintain gender equality this year is women. It’s not until the 51st state on the list of speakers or the head of the government takes the turn of the woman, in this case the Slovak runner or President Kaputova.
Diplomacy without a diplomat
Diplomacy may have been particularly urgent this year as countries around the world wrestle with the big gaps on issues from climate change to the Middle East.
But “diplomacy needs personal contact to be effective,” said UN Secretary-General Guterres. He usually meets directly with hundreds of visiting officials at the UNGA.
Face-to-face meetings have been powerful in the past, with dozens of world leaders going on’diplomatic speed dating’ from handshakes to cocktail parties. Looking for funding from Wall Street bankers. Sometimes you have a bargain somewhere that can promote a little peace. Iran’s nuclear deal has gained momentum from the UNGA during the Obama administration.
In a normal year of rubbing your elbows at the UNGA, “You have an honest discussion and get to know people. Now we can’t meet in person,” lamented Rosemary DiCarlo, UN’s chief political officer.
New York’s restaurant and store owners, who are already plagued by the virus, will miss a wave of massive spending leaders and delegations. Nevertheless, some locals are thrilled.
Many New Yorkers have complained for decades about limousine parades and security freezes that block public transport and back up traffic across Manhattan. British Acting Ambassador Jonathan Allen said, “The people of New York will be delighted to take the streets back for two weeks.”
And even some UN diplomats and staff who have worked for long periods are secretly relieved of the high-level, 20-hour weekly weary break that traditionally entails hosting or joining hands with a president or prime minister with a massive traveling delegation.
Gift bag with mask and hand sanitizer
The iconic Congress Hall will not be completely empty this week. One diplomat per country could introduce a videotape speech of a leader speaking from a socially distant position instead of a podium.
France’s UN Ambassador Nicholas de Riviere said, “Unless the situation is resolved, we must act this way.”
Countries have been asked to send a video at least 4 days before the speech. Requested running time including speech and introduction: 15 minutes. Somewhere, record holders Fidel Castro and Moammar Ghadafi are frowning.
Extra hand sanitizer is installed on the wings of the room. Malta is donating gift bags of masks and disinfectants outside the hall.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said a total of about 210 people are expected to be in the halls of parliament, as opposed to 2,500 with standing space during the week of the regular assembly.
On the one hand, most virtual meetings will be held on topics such as climate change, biodiversity and Lebanon.
It’s a drastic change in symbolic times. In 1945, the original members of the United Nations ignited diplomatic history by signing the famous charter of a new organization in San Francisco.
Fast forward and the images included in the organization’s 75th anniversary celebration could not be more sinister. Whereas smoke from wildfires cloud the San Francisco air, in New York the big “celebration” of the General Assembly will be almost empty. .