The United Nations General Assembly, a landmark annual event for diplomacy that has been held for 75 years in New York, convened Monday morning, with world leaders attending virtually for the first time because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The covid-19 pandemic has laid bare the world’s fragilities. We can only address them together,” Secretary General António Guterres said at a high-level meeting to mark the opening of the session.
Diplomats already stationed at their missions to the United Nations, which physically occupies a space on Midtown Manhattan’s east side, will make up the majority of those attending in person. At the high-level meeting Monday morning, the General Assembly Hall was only partially full, with masked attendees separated by multiple empty seats.
Usually, thousands of out-of-town visitors are in New York this week to attend events at U.N. headquarters and side events throughout the city.
Although city residents may be grateful to avoid the customary gridlock imposed by visiting national delegations, some diplomats are worried that without the chance encounters and bilateral side meetings that typically accompany the General Assembly, chances for diplomatic breakthroughs will be lost.
But more heads of state and government are likely to appear this year, in large part due to the relative ease of delivering a video message, rather than traveling to New York personally. Both Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin are expected to speak Tuesday, marking both men’s first General Assembly appearances since 2015.
The White House confirmed in the past week that President Trump would not travel to New York for the event.