UN prepares for General Assembly in September without world leaders

Linda J. Dodson

NEW YORK — United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has told officials at the world body to weigh holding this year’s General Assembly in September on schedule but with pre-recorded statements from world leaders rather than in-person speeches, people familiar with the matter said.

Guterres said it is not his wish to postpone the opening of the next General Assembly because of the coronavirus pandemic this year, which marks the 75th anniversary of the U.N.’s founding, though the matter is up to member states to decide, sources said. 

The U.N. General Assembly session is slated for Sept. 15 to Sept. 30, with the general debate featuring speeches from world leaders to begin Sept. 22.

Heads of state or their representatives from the body’s more than 190 member states typically attend the annual event, accompanied by entourages of officials and press. The General Assembly also provides one of the year’s biggest opportunities for bilateral meetings among world leaders.

But with the coronavirus pandemic showing no clear signs of abating, there is a risk that restrictions on international travel will remain in September.

Guterres has proposed pre-recorded statements as an alternative to in-person appearances by world leaders, people familiar with the matter said. Depending on the whether the coronavirus has been contained in New York at the time, attendees could be limited to one per member state, the secretary-general reportedly suggested. 

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