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U.N. General Assembly opens Tuesday; Biden to speak Sept. 21

The General Debate, at which each leader gets to address the General Assembly, won't start for another week, but some of the important actions will begin Tuesday with the body formally electing the new president, Abdulla Shahid of the Maldives. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
The General Debate, at which each leader gets to address the General Assembly, won't start for another week, but some of the important actions will begin Tuesday with the body formally electing the new president, Abdulla Shahid of the Maldives. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 14 (UPI) -- The United Nations is expecting at least 83 world leaders to participate in the 76th General Assembly, which formally opens Tuesday in New York City and is the first in-person assembly to occur since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The United Nations, however, will enforce strict rules to mitigate the spread of the virus at this year's event, including mandates for masks and vaccination for staff at U.N. headquarters in Manhattan. Countries have also been asked to slim down their usually large entourages.

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The General Debate, at which each leader gets to address the General Assembly, won't start for another week, but some of the important actions will begin Tuesday with the body formally electing the new president, Abdulla Shahid of the Maldives.

"[The session will build] resilience through hope -- to recover from COVID-19, rebuild sustainability, respond to the needs of the planet, respect the rights of people, and revitalize the United Nations," Shahid said before the session, according to Al Jazeera.

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On Monday, the White House named four U.S. representatives to the General Assembly -- including Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and French Hill, R-Ark, renewal energy developer Tom Carnahan and Sim Farar, chair of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy.

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U.S. President Joe Biden is scheduled to speak during the General Debate next Tuesday, when he's expected to strike a different tone from the isolationist mood of former President Donald Trump during his four years in office.

In his remarks to the UNGA a year ago, Trump blamed China and the World Health Organization for the COVID-19 outbreak and repeatedly called the coronavirus the "China virus." In his 2019 speech, he again criticized China and called relaxed U.S. immigration policies "evil."

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In 2018, Trump's speech drew laughter from the assembly when he boasted that his administration had achieved more than any other in American history -- and in 2017, in his first speech at the UNGA, he threatened to "totally destroy North Korea" if necessary.

Although this year's event is mostly in-person, some leaders have opted to send pre-recorded speeches.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who was elected to a second five-year term in June, said last week that he favors in-person meetings but applauded efforts last year to stage the General Assembly virtually.

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"I hope that with the support of technology, we will be able to minimize the negative dimension of a general assembly that is not done in the full presence of full delegations from all over the world," Guterres said, according to The New York Times.

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The 76th U.N. General Assembly runs until Sept. 27.

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