EXPLANATION: What you need to know about the United Nations General Assembly

THE UNITED NATIONS — After two years of virtual and hybrid summits, world leaders meet on the riverfront in New York this week for the United Nations General Assembly, an exercise in multilateralism born of hope for peace. lasting after the Second World War.

The opening of the 77th session comes at a time when the planet is in the throes of crises on almost all fronts. Russia’s war in Ukraine, inflation and economic instability, terrorism and ideological extremism, environmental degradation and devastating floods, droughts and fires and the ongoing pandemic are just a few -some of the endemic perils.

The high-level meeting opens Monday with a summit on education, the profound disruption of which during the coronavirus pandemic will reverberate for decades to come. Speeches by the dozens of leaders in attendance begin Tuesday and end Monday, September 26.

While this year is being touted as something of a return to where it is, some concessions to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic have been made. In addition to basic health protocols, few side events will take place on the UN campus in midtown Manhattan.

Here’s what you need to know about this year’s UN General Assembly, which will be chaired by Hungarian Csaba Kőrösi:

WILL EVERYBODY COME TO NEW YORK THIS YEAR?

Yes, mostly. To speak at this year’s gathering, leaders or their high-level delegates must appear in person — with one notable exception. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has not left the country since war broke out in late February. The General Assembly voted on Friday to allow him to submit a pre-recorded speech, which is expected to air during the second half of Wednesday’s session.

WHAT IS THE REAL BENEFIT OF ATTENDING THE GENERAL MEETING?

While the effectiveness of the UN has been questioned since its inception, the benefits of its participation are undeniable. From the stage, countries broadcast their agendas, grievances and calls for action around the world and a permanent record. This week is a key chance for countries often drowned out by what they decry as a hegemonic world order to capture the attention of a wider audience. It is also an opportunity for leaders – especially those from countries in tension – to engage in meetings on the fringes in neutral territory. These meetings are often called bilateral or “bilats”.

HOW LONG ARE SPEECH ALLOWED?

They are supposed to last 15 minutes. Delegates are “kindly reminded” of this on the UN website, but the speeches notoriously tend to take longer. The longest speech delivered to the General Assembly lasted 269 minutes, nearly 18 times that recommendation. It was delivered by the Cuban Fidel Castro in 1960.

HOW IS THE ORDER OF SPEECH DETERMINED?

First, as a general rule: Brazil. It is tradition. At the start, Brazil volunteered when no other country wanted to speak first. So now the South American country is consecrated as the first speaker. The United States, as the host nation, usually speaks second, but President Joe Biden’s attendance at Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral will push his speech to Wednesday this year.

After that, the order is determined by who a country sends — heads of state before heads of government before ministers and other officials — and other criteria, like country preference and geographical balance.

IT’S CALLED A DEBATE, BUT A SUCCESSION OF SPEECHES DOESN’T SOUND VERY LIVELY. WHERE IS THE DRAMA?

The structure of the general debate doesn’t lend itself to obvious fireworks — no boos, interruptions, or immediate rebuttals — but that doesn’t mean intrigue and drama are absent.

First, speeches can be a source of evocative language and barbs – take Zelenskyy’s speech last year, delivered about five months before the war started, in which he castigated the UN itself as a ” retired superhero” and ironically quoted Russian President Vladimir Putin. Sometimes the message is veiled: while ousted Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan called India’s Hindu nationalist government “fascist” last year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi targeted both Pakistan and China without mentioning neither by name.

Member States are also allowed to exercise the right of reply, in which they can refute criticisms made during the general debate. These are often heated exchanges, but they are usually not held by prominent members of a country’s delegation. The longstanding enmity between India and Pakistan virtually guarantees that they will use the right of reply.

ARE MEMBER STATES THE ONLY AUTHORIZED TO ADDRESS THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY?

No. Palestine, the Holy See (Vatican) and the European Union are all permanent observers registered this year.

ARE THERE ANY NOTABLE SPEAKERS TO KEEP AN EYE THIS YEAR?

Plenty. In addition to heavyweights like Biden and Zelenskyy, expect speeches from new British Prime Minister Liz Truss, French President Emmanuel Macron, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and new Kenyan President William Ruto, among many others.

Russia sends its foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, whose entry visa to the United States has been uncertain for some time despite an agreement between the United Nations and the United States that requires visa approval “irrespective of the relations existing between the governments of the persons concerned” and the United States government.

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Associated Press chief UN correspondent Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report. Follow Mallika Sen on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mallikavsen. For more AP coverage of the United Nations General Assembly, visit https://apnews.com/hub/united-nations-general-assembly.

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