U.N. Live Updates: Biden Pledges to Work Toward ‘Peaceful, Prosperous Future For All’
Covid-19 and climate change are dominating the start of the General Assembly gathering. The U.N. secretary general warned that an increasingly divided world was “on the edge of an abyss.”,
President Biden delivered his debut address to the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations on Tuesday amid strong new doubts about his ability to vault the United States back into a position of global leadership after his predecessor’s promotion of “America First” isolationism.
Speaking to a smaller than usual audience of his peers because of the still-raging Covid-19 pandemic, Mr. Biden called for a new era of global unity against the coronavirus, climate change, emerging technological threats and the expanding influence of autocratic nations such as China and Russia.
“No matter how challenging or how complex the problems we’re going to face, government by and for the people is still the best way to deliver for all of our people,” he said, insisting that the United States and its Western allies would remain vital partners.
“Our security, our prosperity and our very freedoms are interconnected, in my view as never before,” Mr. Biden said.
Calling for the world to make the use of force “our tool of last resort, not our first,” he defended his decision to end the U.S. war in Afghanistan, a chaotic withdrawal of American troops that left allies blindsided.
“Today, many of our greatest concerns cannot be solved or even addressed by the force of arms,” he said. “Bombs and bullets cannot defend against Covid-19 or its future variants.”
But Mr. Biden’s efforts to move America past President Donald J. Trump’s more confrontational policies come amid growing frustration among allies with his administration’s diplomatic approach.
His familiar refrain that the world must choose between democracy and autocracy looks different now that the Taliban are once again in control of Kabul, reversing many of the democratic gains of the past 20 years. Covid is resurging in much of the world. And the French just recalled their ambassador in outrage — not just over losing a $60 billion-plus submarine contract, but because it was made clear they are not in the inner circle of allies.
The event is a major test of credibility for Mr. Biden, who was among the first to address the 193-member General Assembly. The last to speak in the morning session was President Xi Jinping of China, via prerecorded video, bookending with the competing views of the two most powerful countries in the world.
Both leaders announced potentially significant steps to address climate change, a rare moment of common purpose: Mr. Biden said he intended to double the American financial contribution to developing countries’ efforts to tackle the climate crisis, and Mr. Xi said China would stop financing coal-fired power projects abroad, a major source of heat-trapping gases.
Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who has openly fretted about the bitter rivalry between China and the United States, said he was encouraged by “the leaders of the world’s two largest economies regarding their commitment to climate action.”
Still, a dominant theme of Mr. Biden’s speech was what he described as the choice faced by s the world between the democratic values espoused by the West and the disregard for them by China and other authoritarian governments.
“The future belongs to those who give their people the ability to breathe free, not those who seek to suffocate their people with an iron hand authoritarianism,” he said. “The authoritarians of the world, they seek to proclaim the end of the age of democracy, but they’re wrong.”
But the president vowed not to pursue a new era of sustained conflict with countries like China, saying that the United States would “compete vigorously and lead with our values and our strength to stand up for our allies and our friends.”
“We’re not seeking — say it again, we are not seeking — a new Cold War or a world divided into rigid blocs,” he said.
Climate change and the pandemic are also expected to dominate the week, and Mr. Biden planned to host a Covid summit on the sidelines to push other countries to increase capacity to manufacture vaccines for poor countries.
“This year has also brought widespread death and devastation from the borderless climate crisis,” Mr. Biden said. “Extreme weather events that we’ve seen in every part of the world — and you all know it and feel it — represent what the secretary general has rightly called Code Red for humanity.”
On Covid, Mr. Biden urged leaders to move more quickly to rein in a pandemic that has killed millions.
“We need a collective act of science and political will,” he said. “We need to act now to get shots in arms as fast as possible, and expand access to oxygen, tests, treatments, to save lives around the world.”
President Xi Jinping of China told the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday that his country would stop promoting the growth of the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel overseas, in a major step to address climate change: China, he said, “will not build new coal-fired power projects abroad.”
Mr. Xi’s announcement, in prerecorded remarks, was a surprise move designed to lift his country’s standing on global efforts to rein in global greenhouse emissions.
China currently produces the largest share of emissions. It is by far the biggest producer of coal domestically, and by far the largest financier of coal-fired power plants abroad, with an enormous 40 gigawatts of coal power planned.
A hint of China’s shift came earlier this year. For the first time in several years, China did not fund new coal projects as part of its global development undertaking, known as the Belt and Road Initiative, in the first six months of 2021.
Chinese coal projects have faced considerable pushback in countries like Bangladesh, Kenya and Vietnam, mainly by civil society groups.
The United States has repeatedly called out China for helping to build coal plants abroad. There was no immediate reaction from the White House on Tuesday.
What Mr. Xi did not say at the General Assembly was anything about China’s coal plants at home. It is building the largest fleet of coal-fired power plants within its borders, and most of its electricity still comes from coal. Nor did Mr. Xi make any new announcements about its plans to rein in emissions by 2030, beyond repeating his pledge to reach peak emissions before the end of this decade. That is nowhere near what is necessary to keep global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, beyond which the world faces a far greater likelihood of devastating climate consequences.
“This is an important step by the world’s biggest provider of overseas coal finance,” said Simon Steill, the environment minister of Grenada, which is among the world’s smallest countries most susceptible to the harm caused by climate change. “We look forward to seeing commensurate action domestically on coal.”
Burning coal is the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions, and after a pandemic-year retreat, demand for coal is set to rise 4.5 percent this year, mainly to meet soaring electricity demand, according to the International Energy Agency.
The United Nations secretary general, Antonio Guterres, has called for a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants in practically every global speech he has made on climate change, his signature issue.
Globally, coal is at a crossroads.
Spending on coal projects dropped to its lowest level in a decade in 2019. And over the last 20 years, more coal-fired power plants have been retired or shelved than commissioned.
In some countries where new coal-fired power plants were only recently being built by the gigawatts, plans for new ones have been shelved (as in South Africa), reconsidered (as in Bangladesh) or facing funding troubles (as in Vietnam). In India, existing coal plants are running far below capacity and losing money. In the United States, they are being decommissioned quickly.
Jake Schmidt, the senior strategic adviser for international climate issues at the Natural Resources Defense Council, a research and advocacy group, called Mr. Xi’s announcement “a really big step.”
“China has been under a lot of pressure,” he said. “If it wants to be a climate leader, it can’t be the leading financier of overseas coal plants.”
Iran’s new hard-line new president delivered one the most forceful and angry denunciations of the United States at the General Assembly on Tuesday, showing little sign of flexibility on talks over the threatened nuclear agreement and describing American power in the world as both evil and irrelevant.
“Today, the world doesn’t care about ‘America First’ or ‘America is Back,’ the Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, said in the prerecorded address, referring to the slogans of isolationism promoted by President Donald J. Trump and the international engagement espoused by President Biden.
It was Mr. Raisi’s first speech to the world body, and he almost immediately plunged into a narrative that cast the United States as a scourge that had unsuccessfully sought to use economic sanctions to pressure its foes.
“Sanctions are the U.S.’s new way of war with the nations of the world,” he said.
Mr. Raisi, who is on an American sanctions blacklist himself, said nothing about stalled negotiations aimed at rescuing the 2015 nuclear accord with big powers, which Mr. Trump renounced in 2018 and Mr. Biden has sought to restore. Iranian officials have said that all nuclear-related sanctions reimposed and expanded under Mr. Trump must be terminated before Iran resumes adhering to the accord.
At the same time, Mr. Raisi did not appear to rule out a solution to the impasse.
“While decisively defending all its rights and the interests of its people, Iran is keen to have large-scale political and economic cooperation and convergence with the rest of the world,” he said. “I seek effective interaction with all the countries of the world, especially with our neighbors, and shake their hands warmly.”
In several portions of his speech, when talking about U.S. sanctions on Iran, Mr. Raisi raised his voice and practically shouted, a contrast to his predecessor, President Hassan Rouhani, who sought in his U.N. speeches to appear more moderate and accommodating.
Mr. Raisi also criticized American policies on Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. He said the two lasting images of the past year were the Capitol riots of Jan. 6 and Afghans falling to their death after clinging to U.S. military jets evacuating Kabul.
The Iranian leader was speaking against a backdrop of expectations of back-room diplomacy at the General Assembly on ways to salvage his country’s endangered nuclear agreement with big powers.
His foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, is attending the General Assembly and has indicated a willingness to discuss rescuing the deal, which could provide Iran with enormous economic relief.
A foreign ministry spokesman said on Tuesday that talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the accord would resume in the next few weeks, after being suspended for months.
The agreement was intended to end many sanctions on Iran in return for verifiable pledges to severely curtail its supply of enriched uranium, which can fuel nuclear bombs. After Mr. Trump withdrew the United States from the deal, Iran responded by gradually reneging on its pledges.
The Biden administration has supported restoring the accord, but Mr. Raisi, who took office in August, is expected to want new concessions. The other countries that are part of the agreement — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — have all said they want to salvage it.
President Biden said on Tuesday that his administration would seek to double aid aimed at helping developing nations address climate change, raising a pledge he made in April to about $11.4 billion a year by 2024.
The pledge is considered critical to the success of United Nations-led climate talks that are scheduled to take place in November in Glasgow, though whether and when the money will materialize depends on congressional approval.
Climate change is perhaps the most important subject at this year’s General Assembly meeting, with new scientific evidence showing a losing battle in what the United Nations secretary general, Antonio Guterres, has called an existential struggle.
Many developing countries have repeatedly pointed out that rich countries have not delivered the $100 billion a year in aid that they promised under the landmark 2015 Paris climate accord. A tally by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found a nearly $20 billion shortfall.
Earlier in the year, Mr. Biden had pledged $5.7 billion, money that also requires approval from Congress.
Mr. Guterres has warned that a failure to make good on such promises could jeopardize cooperation to rein in global greenhouse emissions and avert the worst effects of warming. “This is a crucial question of trust,” he said at a climate summit organized by the White House last week.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, who will host the Glasgow talks, led a preparatory meeting with Mr. Guterres on Monday. Mr. Johnson told reporters afterward that the November gathering would be “a turning point for the world, and it is the moment when we have to grow up and take our responsibilities.”
The scientific consensus is that global temperature rise needs to be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Beyond that threshold, there is a far greater likelihood of devastating consequences, like widespread crop failures and the collapse of the polar ice sheets.
“We are no longer on the wrong path — we are on the edge of the cliff,” Abdulla Shahid, the foreign minister of the Maldives who is serving as president of the General Assembly, told the gathering on Tuesday. The low-lying Maldives is one of several nations at risk of devastating flooding because of rising sea levels.
Altogether, nearly 200 countries have made pledges to reduce or slow down emissions of planet-warming gases under the Paris agreement. But still missing are new pledges from 70 countries, including China, which currently produces the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions, and India and Saudi Arabia, both large economies with a significant climate footprint. Brazil, Mexico and Russia have submitted new pledges that have weaker emissions targets than their previous ones.
Mr. Biden’s revised pledge would make the United States, the largest emitter of planet-warming gases since the start of the industrial era, among the largest global climate donors, though advocacy groups said it still fell short of Washington’s fair share.
“It’s good to see President Biden is upping the amount that the U.S. is contributing,” Mohamed Adow, the director of Power Shift Africa, said in a statement. “However, the U.S. is still woefully short of what it owes.”
Tina Stege, the climate envoy of the Marshall Islands, said: “Watching Biden’s speech today, I thought — this is the announcement we’ve been waiting for. Now we’re looking to Congress to work with Biden to deliver, and to the rest of the G20 to follow suit.”
With world leaders addressing the United Nations General Assembly about the most pressing issues, protesters took to the streets outside the New York City gathering on Tuesday to raise awareness over concerns that they say the leaders should be focused on changing.
During the speech by President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, activists protested his environmental and economic policies, which critics say have contributed to devastation of the Amazon rainforest and widespread hunger in Brazil.
Myriam Marques, 58, a nurse in Manhattan who is a member of the activist group Defend Democracy in Brazil, marched between police barricades with about 50 other people. She said they were demonstrating to oppose Mr. Bolsonaro’s speech and to stand up for the Indigenous people of Brazil.
“We are very thankful for our Indigenous peoples, because they are organizing, they want to save the forest, they want the rivers clean and they are fighting for that,” she said.
Earlier, campaigners had projected messages onto a building next to the Brooklyn Bridge that read, “Bolsonaro will lie at the United Nations” and “Bolsonaro is burning your future.”
Around 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, protesters holding Iranian flags and wearing #FreeIran shirts and hats held signs condemning a government they regard as criminal. Referring to Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s former judiciary head who became the country’s president in August, they chanted, “Prosecute Raisi now now now!”
A hard-line cleric who is a close ally of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Mr. Raisi has been accused of playing a role in sending thousands of political prisoners to their deaths in the 1980s, and in lethal crackdowns on antigovernment protests in 2009 and 2019.
Khalil Khani, 71, a former professor at the University of Tehran who now lives in Phoenix, said he had flown to New York to protest what human rights groups have described as the killing of 30,000 political prisoners in Iran in 1988.
His group had brought signs and a large red book that Mr. Khani said was filled with 5,000 names of the killed political prisoners.
“The United Nations shouldn’t be a place for an executionist,” Mr. Khani said.
With his country badly lagging in Covid vaccinations, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines railed against the world’s affluent countries at the United Nations on Tuesday, accusing them of hoarding vaccines while the poor “wait for trickles.”
Reinforcing his reputation as blunt speaker, Mr. Duterte described the rich-poor divide over vaccination rates as scandalous. His remarks, delivered via prerecorded video to the 193-member General Assembly, were among the most forceful criticisms of the inequities that have been laid bare by the pandemic.
Just 10 rich countries account for most of the 5.86 billion vaccine doses administered so far.
“There is a man-made drought of vaccines ravaging poor countries,” Mr. Duterte said. “Rich countries hoard lifesaving vaccines while poor nations wait for trickles. They now talk of booster shots, while developing countries consider half-doses just to get by.”
The disparity, he said, “is shocking beyond belief and must be condemned for what it is — a selfish act that can neither be justified rationally nor morally.”
The Philippines has one of the lowest Covid vaccination rates in Asia, with just 16 percent of its population fully inoculated, and Delta variant infections have surged in recent months. The country also is among only a handful that have kept schools closed throughout the pandemic, which has put its 27 million school-age children at an increased disadvantage.
Mr. Duterte has justified keeping elementary schools and high schools closed by arguing that students and their families need to be protected from contagion. But his policy has spawned a backlash among parents and students in a sprawling nation with endemic poverty. Many people, particularly in remote and rural areas, lack access to online learning.
President Xi Jinping of China used his General Assembly speech on Tuesday to reject the American portrayal of his government as authoritarian, predatory and expansionist, asserting that he supports peaceful development for all peoples and that democracy is “not a special right reserved to an individual country.”
Mr. Xi’s prerecorded speech was broadcast hours after President Biden addressed the gathering in person at the United Nations headquarters in New York, the biggest diplomatic convocation since the pandemic began. Mr. Biden reinforced his view that the world faces a choice between democratic freedoms and the authoritarian model exemplified by China.
The two leaders are engaged in a contentious rivalry that the United Nations secretary general, Antonio Guterres, has described as a dysfunctional relationship between the two dominant powers in the world that could devolve into a new Cold War.
While Mr. Xi’s language was restrained, he also alluded to China’s anger over the Biden administration’s announcement of a new security pact with Australia that will put U.S. nuclear-powered subs in the Australian arsenal. That deal upended an Australian contract for conventional French submarines, a shift that outraged France. It also represents a new military challenge to China as it asserts increased military muscularity in the Asia Pacific region.
Without mentioning the United States or Australia by name, Mr. Xi said the world must “reject the practice of forming small circles or zero-sum games.”
Disputes between countries, Mr. Xi said, “hardly avoidable, need to be handled through dialogue and cooperation on the basis of quality and mutual respect.”
The competition between the United States and China for influence at the United Nations has intensified under the Biden administration, which has sought to strengthen America’s role in the global organization after four years of cutbacks undertaken by President Donald J. Trump.
The United States and China are the leading providers of financial resources to the 193-member organization.
In Mr. Xi’s 2020 General Assembly speech, he sought to distinguish China from the isolationist posture that Mr. Trump took. Mr. Xi described China as a responsible global citizen and champion of multilateralism that also gave a greater voice to the developing world.
President BidenDoug Mills/The New York Times
Secretary-General Antonio GuterresPool photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez
A chair for a head of statePool photo by Timothy A. Clary
Xi Jinping, China’s top leaderUnited Nations Web TV, via Associated Press
A protest against Iranian governmentJason Decrow/Associated Press
A closed portion of Second AvenueJason Decrow/Associated Press
The headquartersEd Jones/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
As world leaders addressed the annual gathering of the 193-member United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, they vowed to make progress on issues of global importance.
The seven members of the Korean pop group BTS — a multibillion-dollar act known for its dynamic dance moves, catchy lyrics and frenzied fans — promoted coronavirus vaccines and lauded young people for their resilience during a nearly seven-minute speech at the U.N. headquarters on Monday.
Accompanying President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, who designated them as special presidential envoy for future generations and culture, the band then showed a video of their hit song “Permission to Dance.”
The video showed the young crooners dancing in the empty aisles of the Assembly Hall — where presidents and autocrats have lobbed threats of annihilation and diplomats have staged walkouts — and later outside the complex.
The band’s legion of fans followed along intently on the U.N.’s YouTube channel, flooding a live chat with gushing messages, many with purple heart emojis that have become a calling card.
“I’ve heard that people in their teens and 20s today are being referred to as Covid’s lost generation,” said Kim Nam-joon, the band’s lead singer, who performs under the stage name RM (formerly Rap Monster). “But I think it’s a stretch to say they’re lost just because the path they tread can’t be seen by grown-up eyes.”
It was not the first time that the band, a dominant force in the Korean pop music space known as K-pop, had appeared at the United Nations. In 2018, BTS visited the United Nations to help UNICEF promote Generation Unlimited, a campaign dedicated to educating young people and providing them vocational training.
On Monday, a livestream of the band’s appearance on the U.N.’s YouTube channel racked up about one million views. Later in the day, the view count surpassed six million.
Threatened by wars, climate change and a continuing pandemic, the world is becoming increasingly divided, the United Nations secretary general, Antonio Guterres, warned on Tuesday in a sobering speech that called on nations to act.
“I am here to sound the alarm: The world must wake up,” Mr. Guterres said in the opening address of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, adding that the world faced “the greatest cascade of crises in our lifetimes.”
Covid-19 has exposed glaring inequalities, he said, pointing to a surplus of vaccines in wealthier nations while poorer countries remain largely unvaccinated. A window for combating climate change, which has already been blamed for driving scorching temperatures and other disasters, was “rapidly closing,” he said.
Peace remained “a distant dream” in places like Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Myanmar, Mr. Guterres noted, adding that misinformation and mistrust in institutions had polarized people.
And although he did not refer to the countries by name, he vocalized fears that a deepening competition between China and the United States, the world’s two largest economies, would further divide the world geopolitically — calling it “far less predictable than the Cold War.”
“Instead of the path of solidarity,” Mr. Guterres said, “we are on a dead end to destruction.”
The remarks were an indictment of the state of world affairs at the opening of a meeting meant to foster multilateralism and to demonstrate solidarity against global challenges. Mr. Guterres called on nations to create an agenda of peace and to institute climate-friendly fiscal and political overhauls.
Countries, he added, also needed to protect rights for women, who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, and address power imbalances between genders.
Nonetheless, hinting at hope for the future, Mr. Guterres, a Portuguese statesman who is serving his second term as secretary general, said: “The problems we have created are problems we can solve.”
President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil kicked off the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday by defending the use of ineffective drugs to treat the coronavirus and by pushing back on criticism of his government’s environmental record.
Brazil’s far-right president said doctors should have had more leeway in administering untested medications for Covid-19, adding that he had been among those who recovered after “off label” treatment with an anti-malaria pill that studies have found ineffective to treat the disease.
“History and science will hold everyone accountable,” said Mr. Bolsonaro, whose handling of the pandemic in South America’s largest country has been widely criticized.
Mr. Bolsonaro’s decision to not get vaccinated against the coronavirus has loomed large over his first couple of days in New York. It made for an awkward moment during a meeting on Monday with Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, who hailed the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was developed at Oxford University.
“Get AstraZeneca vaccines,” Mr. Johnson said during his meeting with the Brazilian president. “I’ve had it twice.”
Mr. Bolsonaro pointed to himself and said: “Not yet.”
Brazil’s president has led one of the world’s most criticized responses to the pandemic. Mr. Bolsonaro repeatedly downplayed the threat the virus posed, railed against quarantine measures and was fined for refusing to wear a mask in the capital.
His government was slow to secure access to coronavirus vaccines even as the virus overwhelmed hospitals across the country. Covid-19 has killed more than 590,000 people in Brazil.
Mr. Bolsonaro, who had a mild case of Covid-19 in July of last year, has said he is in no hurry to get a shot. Earlier this year, the president said he was undecided about getting a vaccine.
“After the last Brazilian gets vaccinated, if there’s a spare shot, I will decide whether or not I get vaccinated,” he said in a televised video, adding, “that’s the example the boss must provide.”
His unvaccinated status has caused logistical problems when it comes to finding a place to eat in New York, where restaurants require that patrons show proof of inoculation for indoor seating. Mr. Bolsonaro and his traveling party have been taking the rule in stride. On Sunday, one of his ministers posted a photo on Twitter of the president and several top aides eating pizza standing up on the street.
“A luxurious dinner in NYC,” joked the minister, Luiz Ramos.
On Tuesday, Mr. Bolsonaro started his speech by telling the assembly that his nation was unfairly portrayed in the press.
“I came here to show a Brazil that is different from what is shown in the newspapers and on television,” he said. “Brazil has changed, and a lot, since we assumed office in January 2019.”
Mr. Bolsonaro’s government has weakened enforcement of environmental laws and hollowed out the agencies responsible for enforcing them. Yet on Tuesday he argued that Brazil should be applauded for how much of its forests remain intact and said the country could sustainably develop land in environmentally critical regions like the Amazon.
“The future of green jobs is in Brazil,” he said.
At last year’s General Assembly, which was held almost entirely virtually because of the pandemic, the first 51 leaders to speak were men, presenting optics that contradicted the organization’s avowed commitment to gender parity.
This year, the first woman to speak was No. 6 on the list.
The speaker, President Zuzana Caputova of Slovakia, delivered her address via prerecorded video, following live addresses by the presidents of Brazil, the United States, the Maldives and Colombia and the emir of Qatar.
Protocol for the General Assembly’s speaker schedule is based partly on a first-come, first-served basis. But the glaring absence of prominent women last year raised concerns that gender should be taken into consideration.
Ms. Caputova made a point of raising women’s rights in her speech on Tuesday, including remarks on the threat to women created by the Taliban’s triumph in Afghanistan.
She and other female leaders, including the prime ministers of Iceland and New Zealand, have organized a call to support Afghan women and girls, and she called on other countries “to join forces to ensure this turns into concrete steps.”
The Slovak leader concluded her speech by emphasizing inclusiveness.
“We cannot save our planet if we leave out the vulnerable — the women, the girls, the minorities,” she said. “The silent pandemic of gender-based violence can prove lethal to the health of our societies.”
The Taliban’s triumphal return to power in Afghanistan last month and Myanmar’s brutal military coup early this year are among the crises confronting the U.N. General Assembly this week. They have also created a conundrum for the world’s biggest diplomatic gathering: Who is the rightful representative of each country?
The Taliban — the violent, extremist Islamic movement that retook power in Afghanistan as the American-backed government collapsed — is expected to seek diplomatic representation, replacing an ambassador appointed just a few months earlier with one of its own.
The Myanmar junta, which seized power in February and has been widely condemned for a deadly crackdown on opponents, has sought to replace the U.N. ambassador of the deposed government with a junta loyalist.
The idea that a Taliban militant on a terrorism watch list or a Myanmar putschist could become a credentialed U.N. envoy may sound dumbfounding. But theoretically it is possible — if the government that person represents is deemed legitimate in the eyes of the United Nations.
Envoys from all kinds of political systems, including parliamentary democracies, monarchies and dictatorships, have long worked at the 193-member United Nations, the one place in the world where even governments that reject one another’s ideologies enjoy some measure of equal standing. Still, there are standards to verify the legitimacy of both the envoys and the governments they represent.
“Normally a country has the right to nominate somebody,” Volkan Bozkir, a Turkish statesman and the departing president of the General Assembly, told reporters at his farewell news conference this month.
“We can’t say, ‘I don’t like this government,'” Mr. Bozkir said, when seeking to resolve United Nations disputes over who is — and is not — a country’s rightful envoy.
A seat at the United Nations carries symbolic significance, a benchmark of a government’s credibility and acceptance in the world community even if rivals oppose it.
United Nations membership affords governments an opportunity not only to speak and be heard in the General Assembly, but also to participate in a range of other U.N. agencies like the World Health Organization and Human Rights Council. So the credentialing of a country’s ambassador to speak on its behalf is enormously important.
A top European Union official made a plea on Tuesday to “pause and reset” the relationship between the bloc and the United States as a diplomatic spat between France and the Biden administration has become a European issue.
“There is a growing feeling in Europe — and I say this with regret — that something is broken in our trans-Atlantic relations,” Thierry Breton, the E.U. trade commissioner, said at a virtual event organized by the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based research organization, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
“Trust is not a given,” Mr. Breton said. “And after the latest events, there is a strong perception that trust between the E.U. and U.S. has been eroded.”
Mr. Breton was the latest official from the bloc to question the Biden administration’s commitment to a strong alliance with the European Union. Tensions have escalated in recent days after Australia scrapped a $66 billion agreement to buy French-built submarines in favor of U.S.-manufactured, nuclear-powered ones.
France has reacted with anger to the security deal among the United States, Britain and Australia, and recalled its ambassadors to the United States and Australia last week.
The submarine deal came after a chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan about which European leaders said they had not been consulted. Many officials who had welcomed the election of President Biden — and his pledge that “America is back” — are now expressing concerns.
While the Biden administration has tried to play down the spat, European officials have sharpened their tone, although they’ve stopped short of concrete action.
“What does it mean, ‘America is back’?” Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, which represents the leaders of the bloc’s 27 members, told reporters in New York on Monday. “Is America back in America or somewhere else? We don’t know.”
The words of Mr. Breton and Mr. Michel have echoed the position of Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, the European Union’s executive arm, who on Monday told CNN that she would seek to “know what happened and why” before the bloc could “keep on going with business as usual” with the United States.
But despite such rhetoric from France and E.U. officials, there is concern in some European capitals that the dispute could hurt the bloc’s wider interests. Though European countries have showed solidarity to France in public, in private some officials have called the clash a bilateral matter between France and the United States.
A European diplomat said that President Emmanuel Macron of France had often taken a leading role in promoting more “strategic autonomy” for Europe, only to realize that not many E.U. members were following.
And a lawmaker at the European Parliament took a nuanced view. “Of course we cannot act as if nothing had happened,” Reinhard Butikofer, the lawmaker, said on Monday. “But how the E.U. will react is not decided unilaterally by Paris.”
Several prominent leaders delivered in-person addresses at the U.N. General Assembly meeting on Tuesday, including President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, an avowed Covid skeptic whose mismanagement of the pandemic threatens his political future. Mr. Bolsonaro also created a stir by vowing to defy the meeting’s vaccination requirement.
Many leaders are opting to use prerecorded video, as was done last year, or to have a lower-ranking representative speak in person, and the absence of a particular country’s leader this year can send a message.
Perhaps the most prominent leader to skip a personal appearance at the General Assembly is President Xi Jinping of China, an increasingly important financial contributor to the United Nations and a rival with the United States for influence there, an underlying source of tension.
Mr. Xi originally intended to have his deputy prime minister represent China, but in a last-minute change posted Monday by U.N. officials, Mr. Xi will address the General Assembly by prerecorded video. His speech was scheduled for later on Tuesday. .
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia will not attend either, and his foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, will speak instead.
In what may be another sign of France’s anger at the United States over a secret arms deal with Australia, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, has abandoned the idea of speaking at the gathering even by video. Instead he tapped his foreign minister, Jean-Yves LeDrian, to speak, which now could happen on the final day.
Iran’s new president, Ebrahim Raisi, also sent a prerecorded speech, skipping the opportunity for personal diplomacy that could help save Iran’s near-moribund nuclear agreement with major powers.
Mr. Bolsonaro was the first head of state to address the gathering when speeches began Tuesday morning. Brazil has spoken first since the mid-1950s, and U.N. protocol officials say that the tradition began because at the time no other country’s leader was willing to take on that role. That position is now considered a coveted slot that can help set the tone of the week.
Among the other first-day speakers are the presidents of Turkey, Mexico, South Korea, Poland and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The order of speakers generally adheres to the principle that the leader of the host country goes second, followed by other heads of state, heads of government, vice presidents, crown princes, foreign ministers, then deputies and ambassadors. It is also determined by the date when each of the 193 members makes the request.
In another sign of New York City’s steady recovery from the pandemic, another fall tradition is returning to its streets: United Nations gridlock.
Traffic jams and security-related street closures are expected to turn Midtown Manhattan into a labyrinth this week as the General Assembly meets in person again. World leaders, including President Biden, and their motorcades will be descending upon streets that were largely cleared of traffic at the height of the pandemic but have steadily grown more congested as regular life resumes.
“There will be multiple closures, detours and checkpoints around the Midtown area,” Kim Y. Royster, the New York Police Department’s chief of transportation, said at a news conference.
Whereas last year’s gathering was held virtually, this week a large chunk of the east side of Midtown Manhattan, from 42nd Street to 57th Street and from First Avenue to Fifth Avenue, will be closed or restricted to traffic from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., Chief Royster said.
Other streets, including a stretch of the F.D.R. Drive, a major north-south artery through Manhattan, could also be closed at times through Sept. 30, according to a city transportation agency website.
Chief Royster asked people to avoid driving or making deliveries in East Midtown during the U.N. meeting. Only vehicles that pass a checkpoint will be allowed in the area right around the United Nations, along 42nd Street between First and Second Avenues.
City transportation officials have also issued gridlock alert days — an annual warning of the worst congestion — for this week, the first time they have done so since 2019. There are 19 gridlock alert days for 2021, including Sept. 20-24 and Sept. 27, plus around the holiday season in November and December.
On Monday, a man was arrested and accused of threatening to kill the president of the Dominican Republic during his trip to New York. Beyond that, law enforcement officials said there were no credible threats against the U.N. meeting, though they were expecting widespread disruptions from crowds and dozens of protests.
“Our traffic agents will be deployed to intersections to make sure that the traffic is flowing and make sure that we provide safety to the pedestrians and bicyclists alike,” Chief Royster said, adding: “The city is opening up and we want to make sure the city continues to move and make sure everyone is safe.”
Unlike in 2020, when the U.N. General Assembly session was conducted almost entirely virtually because of the pandemic, more than 100 world leaders and other high-ranking representatives intend to deliver their speeches in person this year.
But access to the 16-acre United Nations complex in Manhattan remains strictly limited, with mandatory mask-wearing and other Covid prevention measures. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield of the United States told reporters that the measures were meant to ensure that the General Assembly “does not become a superspreader event.”
Confusion erupted last week over a New York City requirement that all General Assembly participants show proof of vaccination. This year’s president of the General Assembly, Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid of the Maldives, endorsed the requirement. But exactly how it will be enforced is unclear.
U.N. officials have said that the organization’s headquarters staff must be vaccinated, but that an honor system remains in place for visiting V.I.P.’s and other guests.
In what appeared to be a good-will gesture, New York City’s municipal government deployed a mobile vaccine clinic outside the United Nations complex, offering free testing and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
Many speakers this year still chose to deliver their addresses via prerecorded video, as was done by all leaders last year when vaccines were still under development and each delegation in the General Assembly hall was limited to two people. Nearly all events at the 2020 event were conducted virtually.
This year each member state may seat as many as four people in the General Assembly hall.
President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, an avowed vaccine skeptic whose popularity has fallen at home partly over what critics call his disastrous handling of the pandemic, vowed ahead of his speech that he would not be vaccinated.
He was infected with Covid more than a year ago and then claimed to have cured himself by taking hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug that has not been shown to be effective in Covid treatment.