The Belgian prime minister said: ‘How encouraging to see the General Assembly meet again in person. Don’t we all aspire to get back to normal?’
The UN General Assembly in New York City ended yesterday, but without speeches by those in power in Afghanistan and Myanmar, one of many quirks at this year’s diplomatic marathon that saw 100 leaders defy COVID-19 fears to meet in person.
The UN representative of Afghanistan’s former regime was expected to defy the Taliban with an address on Monday after the group requested its new foreign minister be allowed to speak instead.
The Taliban had last week sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres requesting that Amir Khan Muttaqi be allowed to “participate.”
The letter said that Ghulam Isaczai, Afghanistan’s UN envoy under former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, “no longer represents” Afghanistan at the UN.
The plea was due to be considered by a committee that included the US, Russia and China, but a UN official said that the meeting did not take place.
A diplomat said that the Taliban sent their request “too late” — paving the way for Isaczai, who the UN still recognizes as Afghanistan’s representative, to speak.
If he does take the opportunity, he could demand a strengthening of sanctions against the Taliban, as he did during a Security Council meeting on Sept. 9.
The week of speeches was originally due to end with Afghanistan, Myanmar and Guinea, but the situation of the latter two countries also stirred up further intrigue going into the final day.
A high-level UN diplomat said that “an agreement” had been reached between the US, Russia and China preventing Myanmar’s UN ambassador — an outspoken supporter of the democracy movement who has refused the military government’s orders to quit — from speaking.
Kyaw Moe Tun, chosen by former civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, is supported by the international community and has retained his seat at the UN since the Feb. 1 military coup in Myanmar.
In May, the military government appointed a former general to replace him, but the UN has not yet approved the appointment.
Kyaw Moe Tun was the victim of a recent alleged conspiracy foiled by US investigators that plotted to either force him to resign or kill him if he refused.
He said that his plans for the General Assembly were “low-profile.”
However, diplomats are expecting to hear from Guinean Representative to the UN Aly Diane, even though he is an appointee of the former president who was earlier this month deposed in a military coup.
It is another curiosity at this year’s high-level meet, which saw about 100 leaders descend on the UN Headquarters after last year’s event was mostly virtual.
“How encouraging to see the General Assembly meet again in person,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said on Friday last week. “Don’t we all aspire to get back to normal?”
UN General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid agreed in an interview with Agence France-Presse.
“It is clear that diplomacy greatly benefits from the creativity, exchange of ideas, discussions and flexibility that comes with in-person meetings,” he said.
However, many leaders chose instead to send pre-recorded video messages.
French President Emmanuel Macron initially said that he would attend, before opting to send a video message that was to be played the day after US President Joe Biden spoke.
Yesterday, French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian was to speak for France, whose presence all week was overshadowed by a spat with the US over a canceled submarine deal with Australia.
The address was to be delivered via a pre-recorded video message, despite Le Drian having been at the UN for five days.
“It is rare for one of the five permanent members of the Security Council to intervene on the last day. I’ve never seen it,” a European diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
However, despite the tensions and concern over a growing lack of mutual trust in the international community, Shahid said that this year’s General Assembly led him “to the conclusion that we all share the same concerns and wish the same outcome.”
Washington, fearing the event would be a hotbed for COVID-19, had tried to dissuade leaders from traveling to New York City, where a vaccine mandate is in place.
Strict rules over masks and social distancing were imposed, with only seven people per delegation allowed, even though US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was flanked by 20 people when he walked the corridors of the UN.
Ultimately, only four positive cases were reported, all in the delegation of Brazil, whose President Jair Bolsonaro is a vaccine skeptic, although his wife did receive a shot while in New York City.
The restrictions meant that on the first day of the debate, only 1,929 people passed through the security gates at the UN Headquarters, compared with 26,000 in 2019, the UN said.
In all, more than 200 speeches were delivered, many focusing on international collaboration on climate change and COVID-19.
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