UNITED NATIONS (AP) — A very high number of heads of state and government — 157 — say they plan to attend September’s first totally in-person gathering of world leaders at the UN General Assembly since the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020.
The 104 heads of state on the provisional list of speakers include US President Joe Biden, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, King Abdullah II of Jordan and the presidents of Iran, France, Brazil, Colombia, South Korea, South Africa, Egypt and Venezuela.
The 53 heads of government on the list include the still-to-be-chosen new prime minister of the United Kingdom, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the prime ministers of Japan, Israel, Iraq and Pakistan. China is sending its deputy prime minister and Russia is sending a minister, probably Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov who has represented the country in recent years.
The Palestinians are a non-member state of the United Nations and their president, Mahmoud Abbas, is also on the speakers list as is the head of government of the Holy See, a permanent UN observer.
In September 2020, the pandemic kept world leaders from coming to New York for their annual meeting for the first time in the 75-year history of the United Nations. Instead, pre-recorded speeches from leaders were shown in the General Assembly Hall, introduced by a single diplomat from each country.
Last September, the UN decided on a hybrid format — allowing world leaders to attend the annual gathering in person — or deliver pre-recorded speeches if COVID-19 restrictions prevent them from traveling, an option 72 leaders chose.
General Assembly spokeswoman Paulina Kubiak said Tuesday there will be no pre-recorded speeches allowed this year.
Despite the continuing pandemic, it’s clear from the provisional speakers list released Monday night that over 80% of leaders of the UN’s 193 member nations want to address the annual gathering in person and engage in many of the off-the-record meetings and conversations where a lot of international business is conducted.
This year, the leaders and ministers will have worrying new issues to tackle — Europe’s first major war in decades in Ukraine, a global food crisis that has left millions of people severely hungry and sparked fears of famine, high inflation and rising food and energy costs plus record heat in many parts of the world signaling that much more must be done to tackle global warming.
There has been growing pressure from leaders for an in-person meeting, but presidents, prime ministers and monarchs travel with large delegations which became an issue last year in terms of the number of people allowed into UN headquarters.
During high-level weeks, there are usually thousands of people in the UN complex, and hundreds of side events, many taking place in the UN’s confines. There is no word yet on whether there will be restrictions on the number of people allowed in the UN headquarters complex, or requirements for those who do enter.