UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations has decided to let world leaders attend their annual gathering at the U.N. General Assembly in September in person — or deliver pre-recorded speeches if COVID-19 restrictions prevent them from traveling.
General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir, a strong supporter of in-person meetings, said in a note from his office to the 193 U.N. member nations circulated Monday that significant efforts have been made to ensure that the U.N. is able to host an in-person high-level week from Sept. 21-30.
Last year, the COVID-19 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.
This year, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters Monday it will be “a hybrid set-up” with some leaders delivering their speeches in person in the assembly chamber and some video statements.
Bozkir’s office said the assembly president worked closely with member states and the U.N. system to ensure that high-level week could “benefit from in-person diplomacy” among leaders.
As the situation for COVID-19 has improved in New York, Bozkir has allowed the number of delegates in the General Assembly Hall to increase from one to two, and for the high-level week a speaker plus three delegates will be allowed in the vast chamber, according to the note.
The 193 member nations will now be able to determine their level of representation at the high-level meeting, known officially as the general debate, it said.
“To ensure that all member states have an equal opportunity to participate in high-level week the option for member states to send a pre-recorded video statement was included if delegations are unable to travel due to ongoing COVID-related concerns,” Bozkir’s office said. “This option is not intended to replace in-person attendance but rather provide delegations with an alternative means to attend that is mindful of the disparity in the implications of the pandemic on delegations, including due to the matter of vaccine equity.”
There has been growing pressure from some countries whose leaders want to come to New York to have an in-person meeting, but presidents, prime ministers and monarchs travel with large delegations which became an issue in terms of the number of people allowed into U.N. headquarters.
During high-level weeks, there are usually thousands of people in the U.N. complex and hundreds of side events. The note makes no mention of where or whether side events will take place. U.N. diplomats expect almost all to be held away from the U.N. headquarters complex.
But Bozkir’s office said in the note that visiting dignitaries will be able to hold bilateral meetings as usual in booths set up annually at headquarters.