Ukraine is the spotlight at UN leaders’ gathering, but is there room for other global priorities?

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The war in Ukraine and its visiting president take center stage at the United Nations this week, but developing countries will be vying for the spotlight as well as they push for faster action on poverty and inequality at the first full-on meeting of world leaders since the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted travel three years ago.

The annual meeting at the U.N. General Assembly takes place at a polarizing and divisive juncture in history — the most fraught and dangerous since the Cold War, according to many analysts and diplomats.

They point to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, which upended already difficult relations among major powers as well as the ongoing impact of the pandemic, high food prices, the worsening climate emergency, escalating conflicts, and the world’s failure to tackle poverty, hunger and gender inequality.

For developing countries, the top priority is the U.N.’s two-day summit starting Monday aimed at generating action by world leaders to achieve 17 wide-ranging and badly lagging global goals by 2030. In addition to ending extreme poverty and hunger, the goals include ensuring quality secondary education for all children, achieving gender equality and taking urgent action to combat climate change. At current rates, not a single one will be achieved.

High-level meetings on issues including pandemic prevention and universal health care are also on tap.

“We find ourselves at a critical juncture in human history,” former Liberian president and Nobel peace laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said last week.When the annual high-level meeting of the 193-member General Assembly begins Tuesday, presidents, prime ministers and monarchs from 145 countries are scheduled to speak, a very high number that reflects the multitude of global crises and lack of action.

Chinese President Xi Jinping attended last month’s Johannesburg summit of the BRICS bloc of developing economies — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Russian President Vladimir Putin, sought by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes in Ukraine, didn’t go to South Africa and isn’t coming to New York. French President Emmanuel Macron, who attended last year, opted out to host Britain’s King Charles in Paris next week, and Rishi Sunak will be the first British prime minister to skip the General Assembly in a decade, officially due to a busy schedule.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters last week that he didn’t think a leader’s presence “is more relevant or less relevant.” What counts, he said, is whether their government is prepared to make commitments on the U.N. goals and many other issues during the week. “So this is not a vanity fair,” he said.

For the first time in years, U.S. President Joe Biden will be the only leader from the five powerful veto-wielding nations on the U.N. Security Council attending in person. This has sparked private grumbling from developing-country diplomats that key global players won’t be listening to their demands, which need billions of dollars to implement.

Guterres, who will deliver his state-of-the-world address at Tuesday’s opening of what is called the General Debate, says he will tell world leaders that now is not a time for “posturing or positioning,” or for “indifference or indecision.”

“This is a time to come together for real, practical solutions,” the U.N. chief said. “It is time for compromise for a better tomorrow.”

U.S. President Joe Biden arrived in New York on Sunday evening, well ahead of his Tuesday address to the General Assembly, so he and first lady Jill Biden could celebrate a granddaughter’s birthday with family. On Monday, Biden will take part in two campaign fundraisers in New York.

Edith M. Lederer, chief U.N. correspondent for the AP

Related Articles

Back to top button