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US President Donald Trump speaks during a press briefing in New Delhi. Photo: PTI

Donald Trump may be only world leader to attend UN General Assembly session in person

US President Donald Trump is likely to travel to New York to attend the annual UN General Assembly session in September, the only world leader to address this year’s virtual high-level week in person, the US envoy to the UN said.

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US President Donald Trump is likely to travel to New York to attend the annual UN General Assembly session in September, the only world leader to address this year’s virtual high-level week in person, the US envoy to the UN said.

“We’re hoping that President Trump will actually be speaking in person in the General Assembly. He will be the only world leader to be speaking in person,” US ambassador Kelly Craft said on Thursday (July 30) at a virtual briefing.

Craft added that with the UN commemorating its 75th anniversary this year, “that makes it even more special that we really take the virtual and amplify it to be able to celebrate the 75th and obviously we’re going to be focused on human rights issues, on transparency, accountability because anytime during COVID where the American taxpayers have really stepped up on a personal level, it’s now.” For the first time in the UN’s 75-year history, the annual General Assembly session will be held virtually and Heads of state and government will not be physically attending the annual gathering due to the coronavirus pandemic.

World leaders will submit pre-recorded video statements for the high-level week, the 193-member organisation had decided last week.

US is the host country of the United Nations and there is a possibility that Trump could travel to New York to address the General Debate of the 75th session of the Assembly on September 22.

The US is traditionally the second speaker at the debate after Brazil. This would be Trump’s final address to the General Assembly of the first term of his presidency before the US heads into elections in November and Trump could use the UN platform to highlight his foreign policy achievements while also tout his campaign agenda. In taking the decision for a virtual UNGA, the General Assembly had noted “with concern” the situation regarding the coronavirus pandemic and the “limitations recommended on meetings within the United Nations premises as precautionary measures aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19.”

The new format will mean that it will be for the first time in the world organisation’s 75-year history that Heads of State and Government and Ministers will not gather here for the high-level week that annually brings thousands of diplomats, government officials, civil society members and media persons from around the world to New York City.

Addressing a virtual press conference in June, General Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande had said that world leaders cannot come to New York for the annual UN General Assembly session in September because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“World leaders cannot come to New York because they cannot come as single individuals. A president doesn’t travel alone. We don’t expect therefore to have presidents here,” Muhammad-Bande had said.

Farhan Haq, Deputy Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General, responding to a question on Trump addressing the UNGA session in person, said that the UN Secretariat will be in touch, through the Office of the President of the General Assembly, with the member states on their representation.

“When it comes to it, we have made clear what the conditions in the building are, what the need is for a scaled back ceremony….the member states are aware that they have different options, including recorded messages, or in some cases, appearances. We trust and expect that all member states will abide by the need to keep the numbers low, and we’ll see what they do in terms of their preparations.” Haq added that the UN has made clear to all member states the need to keep the delegations’ number low during the high-level week. “There is an absolute upper limit of how many people we can safely accommodate, and all Member States have been made aware of that. How they will adjust is a matter ultimately of discussion between the Member States and the United Nations.” Along with the General Debate and 75th anniversary commemoration, key high-level sessions will also be held virtually at the UN.

The Summit on Biodiversity will be held on September 30, high-level meeting of the General Assembly on the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women on October 1 and the high-level meeting to commemorate and promote the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons on October 2. Member states will submit their pre-recorded video statements for these high-level meetings as well.

Each country would be encouraged to observe the time limit of 15 minutes in the General Debate that would include remarks in the Assembly Hall to introduce the pre-recorded video and the video itself.

Muhammad-Bande has told Member States that with a view to limit the footprint and the number of people into the UN building, physical access and presence will be limited to one or, if the situation allows, two delegates in the General Assembly hall. Further, he said member states “are encouraged to move all side events to virtual platforms to limit the footprint and number of people in the UN building.”

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