U.N. General Assembly – The New York Times

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The General Assembly will begin its annual speeches by world leaders on Tuesday, but on Monday it held a separate and largely virtual gathering to commemorate the passage of the United Nations into its fourth quarter-century.

In the cavernous hall at the headquarters of the organization, each delegation was limited to one or two envoys spaced far apart and wearing masks. The new president of the General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir of Turkey, opened the commemoration by declaring the organization’s commitment to multilateralism, a tenet of the United Nations Charter that obliges nations large and small to work together.

“Without your continued commitment to multilateralism, we would not be sitting here today,” he said.

The secretary-general, António Guterres, told the gathering that the avoidance of a third world war was a “great achievement of which member states can be proud — and which we must all strive to preserve.”

Add to that the rise of xenophobic strongmen around the world, climate change and a new cold war between the United States and China, and the magnitude of the problems confronting the world body become clear.

Mr. Trump has been a critic of the United Nations over his first term, renouncing membership in agencies including the Human Rights Council and World Health Organization, and rejecting accords such as the Paris Climate agreement and the Iran nuclear agreement. Still, the United States remains the biggest single donor to the United Nations budget.

There had already been a lot of speculation, but in June, U.N. leaders made it official: For the first time in the organization’s history, world leaders would not be gathering in personfor their annual meeting.

No pointed provocations from pariahs at the podium. No fervent pleas for world peace. No speeches ostensibly aimed at the assembled luminaries but really intended for constituencies back home.

At least, not in person, anyway. Not in a time of pandemic. This is no year for an entourage.

“World leaders cannot come to New York, because they cannot come simply as individuals,” the General Assembly’s outgoing president, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande of Nigeria, said in announcing the bad news inherited by his successor, Volkan Bozkir of Turkey. “A president doesn’t travel alone. Leaders don’t travel alone.”

So when world leaders give their addresses this week during the General Debate, it will be in prerecorded videos shown on a giant screen in the General Assembly Hall at the U.N.’s Manhattan headquarters. But most viewers — like the speakers themselves — will be nowhere in the vicinity.

The speeches can, however, be introduced in person by representatives of member states who are based in New York. (The 75th anniversary commemoration will be handled in similar fashion.)

As it happens, should a world leader turn up intent on speaking in person — if to a largely empty chamber — he or she will not be turned away. And as recently as a few days ago, there was speculation that some, including President Trump, might opt to appear. But last week, aides said he had decided against it.

The signers of the letter made note of the pandemic, which U.N. officials have called the greatest challenge in the organization’s history. “We must not sleepwalk into a crisis of even greater proportions than the one we have experienced this year,” they said.

Even as the United Nations was commemorating its birth at the close of World War II, that war’s continuing and deadly legacy was driven home by the news that an old bomb had killed two explosives experts on the island of Guadalcanal, in the South Pacific nation of the Solomon Islands.

The victims — Stephen Atkinson, 57, of Britain; and Trent Lee, 40, of Australia — were working to map unexploded munitions left over from the war. After finding the bomb, they apparently took it to the house they shared in a residential area near the capital, Honiara, where it detonated.

An official investigation is underway, and the site is being treated as a crime scene, said Clifford Tunuki, the police inspector. It was unclear whether nearby homes were damaged.

The Solomon Islands, a mountainous archipelago about 1,000 miles northeast of Australia, is littered with shells and bombs left behind by Japanese and Allied forces during World War II. Guadalcanal, in particular, was the scene of one of the bloodiest campaigns of the Pacific war.

Though unexploded munitions from the war pose a threat all over the world, they have been particularly deadly in the Solomon Islands, where more than 75 percent of the population works as agricultural laborers in the fields where the bombs once fell. Experts estimate that around 20 people are hurt or killed by them each year.

As for next fall, when it is time for the 76th General Assembly? First, restaurants need to make it through the winter, when the outdoor dining that has sustained many of them will become a lot more difficult.

“We have a deep hope that next year for U.N. Week, our city’s restaurants will be operating at 100-percent indoor occupancy, so we can welcome our worlds’s diplomats inside with a hospitality they’ve become accustomed to all the years,” Mr. Rigie said.

Rick Gladstone, Eric Nagourney, Livia Albeck-Ripka and Jason Gutierrez contributed reporting.

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