World Powers Set for Virtual UN Debate 09/22 06:01
The U.N.'s first virtual meeting of world leaders was set to start Tuesday
with pre-recorded speeches from some of the planet's biggest powers, kept at
home by the coronavirus pandemic that will likely be a dominant theme at their
video gathering this year.
UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The U.N.'s first virtual meeting of world leaders was
set to start Tuesday with pre-recorded speeches from some of the planet's
biggest powers, kept at home by the coronavirus pandemic that will likely be a
dominant theme at their video gathering this year.
Among those expected to speak Tuesday are U.S. President Donald Trump and
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, whose countries have reported the highest
and second-highest coronavirus death tolls, respectively. Also on deck are
President Xi Jinping of China, where the virus originated, and President
Vladimir Putin of Russia, which has raised international eyebrows with its
rapid vaccine development.
After Monday's introductory session marking the U.N.'s 75th anniversary, the
meeting's central event --- speeches from each of its 193 member nations ---
start Tuesday. They traditionally serve as a platform for countries to tout
accomplishments, seek support, stoke rivalries and express views on global
This year, the platform is online, and there is a pressing new priority in
the pandemic that has killed over 960,000 people worldwide.
"When we met in New York a year ago, no one could have imagined that 2020
would arrange such a powerful crash test for our world," Ukrainian President
Volodymyr Zelenskiy remarked in his video speech for Monday's anniversary
By custom, Brazil speaks first and the U.S. second as the host country in
the annual meeting's "general debate," which is generally less a dialogue than
a series of declarations.
The coronavirus has inflicted heavy tolls on both countries, close to
200,000 people in the U.S. and over 136,000 in Brazil, according to statistics
collected by Johns Hopkins University.
Both Bolsonaro and Trump have been at odds, at least at times, with
governors and health experts over the pandemic and have emphasized the economic
consequences of shutdowns.
Both also are contending with plenty of other issues that command world
attention, including Bolsonaro's plans to develop the Amazon and Trump's 2018
decision to pull the U.S. out of Iran's nuclear deal with world powers.
Washington took a further step this weekend with a unilateral, and disputed,
declaration that all U.N. penalties eased under the 2015 nuclear deal had been
restored, setting up a likely showdown at the assembly --- where Iran's speech
is also scheduled Tuesday.
So is Turkey's, a day after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the U.N. has
"flunked during the pandemic."
The virus was first detected in Wuhan, China, late last year. After building
field hospitals and imposing a draconian 76-day lockdown to battle the virus
there, China has said of late that it is seeing relatively few cases, mostly
among people arriving from other countries. China, the world's most populous
nation, has reported over 4,700 deaths.
Russia, where the death toll is over 19,000, last month became the first
country to approve a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus. Russian President Vladimir
Putin trumpeted the development, saying one of his adult daughters had already
been inoculated. But international health experts have expressed caution about
the vaccine's effectiveness and safety because of the small study sample and
A record number of heads of states and governments are due to speak at the
virtual meeting, rather than sending ministers or diplomats. That's a good
thing, "but the idea that prime ministers and presidents are going to be
sitting at home with a bucket of popcorn watching each other's televised
speeches is a bit silly," said Richard Gowan, who oversees U.N. issues for
Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank.
Still, German U.N. Ambassador Christoph Heusgen sees the assembly as a
chance for a global meeting of minds when it's needed more than ever.
"Even in a digital format, UNGA-75 is an opportunity --- especially in the
face of international conflicts and dramatic challenges such as climate change
or COVID-19," he said.