World leaders converge on New York for UN General Assembly

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More than 100 world leaders and heads of government are converging on the New York headquarters of the United Nations this week for days of events and speeches to mark the beginning of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly.

The UN’s most prominent gathering – coming a year after it celebrated its 75th anniversary – began on Monday with high-level and bilateral meetings as well as a speech from South Korean supergroup BTS that drew a million viewers to its YouTube channel.

On Tuesday, nine days of the annual General Debate will begin. That will include opportunities for world leaders to address the wider international community, often with an eye to their home audience.

The gathering itself – a partial return to normalcy after the last year’s event were forced almost entirely online – reflects the reality of the world struggling to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic.

With delegations limited in size, and at least 60 government heads still opting to deliver their speeches virtually, the event’s usual potential for sideline diplomacy is likely to remain hobbled, Alynna Lyon, a United Nations expert at the University of New Hampshire, told Al Jazeera.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and other officials have increasingly sought to convince members of the relevancy of the organisation as the world faces a “pivotal point in both the global security issues with COVID and climate policy”.

“The UN system was built while the bombs were still flying during World War II to create exactly a forum for diplomacy and political solutions, rather than resort to violence and war,” Lyon said.

“So all of the plumbing is in place for countries to do that here within the UN system. It’s just whether or not those individual countries want to turn on that water and whether they have the capacity to.” (Al Jazeera)

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