World leaders speak at United Nations General Assembly

The annual General Debate begins on Tuesday with speeches from leaders of US, Qatar, Iran, Turkey and China.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the 76th session of the UN General Assembly [File: Eduardo Munoz/The Associated Press]

Several days of speeches from heads of state and government began on Tuesday as the General Debate of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) kicked off.

Climate change, COVID-19 and security are set to dominate discussion during the annual gathering, which has a hybrid format after being forced almost entirely online last year.

On Tuesday, top world leaders took the stage throughout the day, including UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, US President Joe Biden, China’s President Xi Jinping and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi.

Here are all the latest updates:

Taliban asks to address UNGA, name new envoy

A UN spokesman says the Taliban’s new foreign minister has asked to address the General Assembly meeting.

The ambassador of the Afghan government removed by the Taliban last month has also requested to speak, with the UN yet to decide who will represent the country at the world body.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres received a letter from Taliban-appointed Amir Khan Muttaqi “requesting to participate” in the high-level debate, Stephane Dujarric told the AFP news agency.

It was dated Monday, September 20 – the day before the session got underway – and listed Muttaqi as “Minister of Foreign Affairs,” he added.

The letter also indicated that Ghulam Isaczai “no longer represents” Afghanistan at the United Nations, and that the Taliban had nominated Doha-based spokesman Suhail Shaheen as Afghanistan’s permanent representative.

The spokesman said Guterres had also received a separate letter from Isaczai, dated September 15, including a list of Afghanistan’s delegation.

A nine-member credentials committee is due to rule on the competing requests.


US climate envoy welcomes China’s climate announcement

US Climate Envoy John Kerry said he was “absolutely delighted” by Xi Jinping’s announcement that China would not build any more coal-fired power plants abroad.

“We’ve been talking to China for quite some period of time about this. And I’m absolutely delighted to hear that President Xi has made this important decision,” Kerry said in a statement.

China has been under heavy diplomatic pressure to put an end to its coal financing overseas because it could make it easier for the world to stay on course to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement to reduce carbon emissions.

China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, is still heavily reliant on coal for its domestic energy needs.

Guterres welcomes China and US climate pledges

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he welcomes China’s announcement to end financing of coal-fired power plants abroad and support green energy instead.

“Accelerating the global phase out of coal is the single most important step to keep the 1.5-degree goal of the Paris Agreement within reach,” Guterres said in a statement.

During his UNGA address, China’s President Xi Jinping said his country will stop funding coal projects overseas, reducing a key source of pollution behind climate change.

Guterres said he also welcomes Biden’s announcement to increase its financial contribution towards climate change to $11.4bn a year – bringing developed countries closer to meeting their collective commitment to mobilise $100bn a year.

“While today’s announcements are welcome, we still have a long way to go to make COP26 a success and ensure that it marks a turning point in our collective efforts to address the climate crisis,” Guterres said.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “encouraged” by the announcements made at the General Assembly by the US and China regarding their commitment to climate action [Timothy A. Clary/Pool via Reuters]

US and Turkey pledge to continue to cooperate on Afghanistan

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu on the sidelines of the UNGA speeches on Tuesday.

“We’re so grateful to Turkey for its very strong partnership in Afghanistan and the work that we continue to do together there,” Blinken said ahead of the meeting, adding that the US and Turkey would “stand together as strong partners and NATO Allies”.

Cavusoglu reiterated that his country would continue to cooperate with the US on Afghanistan as well as strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries.

Xi tells UN China will stop funding coal projects overseas

China will stop funding coal projects overseas, reducing a key source of pollution behind climate change, President Xi Jinping told the UNGA.

“China will step up support for other developing countries in developing green and low carbon energy and will not build new coal-fired power projects abroad,” Xi said in a pre-recorded address.

He also reiterated that China aims to provide two billion COVID-19 vaccine doses to the world by the end of the year, and stressed China’s peaceful intentions in international relations, saying that China would never invade or bully others, or seek hegemony.

Turkey to ratify Paris climate agreement: Erdogan tells UN

The Turkish government next month will submit the Paris Agreement on climate change for ratification to parliament, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told the United Nations General Assembly.

“I would like to announce to the whole world here from the United Nations General Assembly the decision we have taken following the progress made within the framework of the agreement. We plan to submit the Paris Climate Agreement for approval to our parliament next month,” Erdogan said.

Speaking about COVID-19 vaccines, he said, “As tens of millions of people are still in the grip of the virus, it is a disgrace to humanity that vaccine nationalism is being carried out. Our locally made vaccine TURKOVAC will soon be made available for the benefit of all humanity and our nation.”

He also touched the subject of the Syrian conflict, saying, “The International community cannot allow the Syrian crisis to continue for another 10 years. It is unnaceptable to differentiate between terror groups in the region and use them as proxies.”

Qatar’s emir urges world leaders not to boycott Taliban

The emir of Qatar, whose nation has played a pivotal role in Afghanistan in the wake of the US withdrawal, urged world leaders gathered at the United Nations against turning their backs on the country’s Taliban rulers.

Speaking from the podium of the UN General Assembly, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani stressed “the necessity of continuing dialogue with Taliban because boycott only leads to polarisation and reactions, whereas dialogue could bring in positive results”.

His warning was directed at the many heads of state worried about engaging with the Taliban and recognising their takeover of Afghanistan.

South Korean leader repeats call for declaration to end Korean War

South Korea President Moon Jae-in has addressed the UNGA and repeated a call for a declaration to formally end the 1950-1953 Korean War.

“I once again urge the community of nations to mobilize its strengths for the end-of-war declaration on the Korean Peninsula,” Moon said in a speech to the annual gathering of the world body.

“I propose that three parties of the two Koreas and the US, or four parties of the two Koreas, the US and China come together and declare that the war on the Korean Peninsula is over,” he said.

DRC leader tells UNGA ‘Africa does not need charity’

The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s President Felix-Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo told the UN General Assembly that “Africa does not need charity.”

He did, however, in his speech to the assembly insist on the need for the whole African continent to benefit from “constructive, win-win partnerships”.

“Africa does not need charity. Africa is fighting to gain spaces for liberty and action in a world which is constantly competing to forge a better destiny and to contribute more to the general progress of humanity,” he said.

“Africa needs constructive, win-win partnerships to make the most of its fabulous natural wealth, to endow itself with development infrastructure and to improve the living conditions of its people. Clearly, achieving these objectives will require strong, stable democratic institutions, as well as adequate public policy, good governance and regional integration.”

Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo [Timothy A Clary/Pool via Reuters]

Iran’s Raisi blasts US influence and sanctions

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi dedicated most of his UNGA speech, delivered in the form of a pre-recorded video message, to blasting the US actions on Iran and the Middle East.

He referred to US sanctions on Iran, imposed after the US unilaterally withdrew from the country 2015 nuclear deal with world powers in 2018, as “organised crimes against humanity” that didn’t let up during the COVID-19 pandemic and also impacted vaccine imports.

The president added that Iran will only participate in negotiations to restore the nuclear deal, which have stalled since late July to allow him to form his administration, if they lead to the lifting of the sanctions.

Raisi further defended Iran’s “peaceful” nuclear programme that he said has no place in the country’s defence doctrine, adding that “science beneficial for humanity is not sanctionable”.

A handout picture provided by the Iranian presidency shows Raisi addressing the UNGA from Tehran [Iranian Presidency/AFP]

Raisi pointed to the January attack on the US Capitol and last month’s US exit from Afghanistan’s Kabul airport, when at least two people fell off an American plane, as “history-making” and as discrediting to the US and its hegemony.

He also denounced American and Israeli influence across the region, saying they must pull out their forces and allow nations like Yemen, Iraq and Palestine to make decisions for themselves through fair elections. He further reiterated Iran’s call for an “inclusive” government in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Biden meets with his Iraqi counterpart on UNGA sidelines

US President Joe Biden has met with Iraq’s President Barham Saleh on the margins of the UN General Assembly, according to the White House.

“Together they discussed strengthening the bilateral relationship and deepening cooperation on regional diplomatic initiatives,” the White House statement said.

“President Biden stressed the U.S. commitment to Iraq’s long-term stability and the leaders reaffirmed their respect for Iraq’s democracy, rule of law, and efforts to hold credible and transparent elections this October,” it said.

“He lauded recent initiatives such as the Baghdad Regional Summit and the historic visit of Pope Francis to Iraq earlier this year as an important symbol of Iraq’s contributions to regional stability and interfaith tolerance.”

Our effort in Afghanistan was not in vain: NATO chief

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has told Al Jazeera outside the United Nations that the 20 years of fighting against the Taliban in Afghanistan “was not in vain” despite the recent takeover of the country by the armed group.

Asked about at least 3,600 US and NATO troop deaths over the duration of the war in Afghanistan, Stoltenberg said, “We have all paid the very high price in blood and treasure, NATO allies, partners but not least the Afghans, but the effort was not in vain.”

“We went in there to fight international terrorism, to prevent attacks against NATO allies as we saw on 9/11. No terrorist attack has been organised from Afghanistan over these last 20 years. Then we also helped the international community and Afghans make enourmous social and economic progress,” he said.

Stoltenberg also said that “what is happening now in Afghanistan is a tragedy for the Afghans and it is heartbreaking for all of us who supported Afghanistan for all these years. But that doesn’t mean that the effort was in vain.”

‘Rational dialogue’ only solution to disagreements with Iran: Qatar’s emir

Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has addressed the conflicts in the Middle East, including “the disagreements and differences with Iran”.

“Honorable attendees, conflicts loom large in the United Nations agenda and places heavy burdens on its shoulders since its foundation. Unfortunately, the Middle East region is a source of many of these burdens. Hence Qatar believes that contributing to the peaceful settlement of conflicts as one of its priorities including suggesting concepts of collective security as there can be no security, stability, development or decent human life under conflicts.

“We have always endeavoured for an environment of peace, stability and cooperation in the region. For example, in the Gulf region – our immediate environment – we have repeatedly stressed the importance of the Gulf Cooperation Council and our commitment to settle any differences through constructive dialogue.”

He also said, “Rational dialogue underpinned on mutual respect is the only solution to the disagreements and differences with Iran. This is also applicable on the return to the nuclear agreement with Iran. I do not think there are alternatives to this approach, including among those who oppose the return to this agreement.”

Qatar’s emir highlights flaws, vulnerabilities revealed by pandemic

Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has told the UNGA that the coronavirus pandemic “has revealed the flaws and vulnerabilities of our collective security system”.

He also said the coronavirus crisis also taught the world many lessons which include “the importance of balancing the concern for people’s health and maintaining the economic cycle to secure their livelihoods”.

“It also includes the importance of integration between the indispensable role of the state played within its borders on the one hand and its role in confronting cross-border issues and joint commitments to counter challenges, crises and disasters on the other hand.”

“We affirm our support to the priorities included in this session’s vision, emphasising the need for the equitable distribution of vaccines, ensuring their accessibility to the countries in the southern hemisphere.”

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani speaks during the 76th session of the General Assembly at UN Headquarters in New York [Timothy A Clary/Pool via Reuters]

Bolsonaro tells UN Brazil is committed to environmental protection

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has told the United Nation’s General Assembly that his country’s environmental laws should serve as a model for the world, reinforcing his government’s commitment to eliminating illegal deforestation.

The far-right leader, who has pushed to open more of the Amazon rainforest to mining and agriculture, has come under criticism for surging deforestation under his government.

But in a conciliatory tone, he told the UN that his government was taking the protection of the Amazon seriously and doubling funding for environmental enforcement to combat illegal deforestation.

US seeks to double climate change aid for developing nations: Biden

President Joe Biden has told the UNGA he will work with Congress to double funds for helping developing nations deal with climate change.

“In April, I announced the United States will double our public international financing to help developing nations tackling climate crisis. Today, I’m proud to announce that we’ll work with the Congress to double that number again, including for adaptation efforts, to make the United States the leader of public climate finance,” he said.

Biden delivers remarks to the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly [Evan Vucci/AP]

Biden addresses Israel-Palestine, Iran, and ‘new cold war’

Biden said the US continues to support a two-state solution for Israel-Palestine, while adding that US support for an “independent Jewish state is unequivocal”.

He added the US is willing to return full compliance on the Iran nuclear deal if Tehran does the same.

Biden also said the US is “not seeking a new Cold War”, an apparent reference to Secretary-General Guterres’s warning to the US and China before the assembly.

Biden: US seeks to ‘rally the world to action’

Biden assured US engagement in the UN, while seeking to reassure allies.

That comes after the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan and amid a diplomatic spat with France over a new security alliance with the UK and Australia – all part of a larger pivot to focus on China.

“As the United States turns our focus to the priorities, and the regions of the world, like the Indo Pacific, that are most consequential today and tomorrow we’ll do so with our allies and partners through cooperation of multilateral institutions like the United Nations to amplify our collective strength and speed are progress in dealing with global challenges,” he said.

He also decried “authoritarians” who “seek to proclaim the end of the age of democracy”.

President Joe Biden delivers remarks to the 76th session of the UN General Assembly [File: Evan Vucci/The Associated Press]

US President Joe Biden: Next decade ‘must be decisive’

Biden laid out a stark choice for world leaders – cooperate or face the perils of various world challenges alone.

“This is the clear and urgent choice that we face here at the dawning of what must be a decisive decade for our world,” he said.

“A decade that will quite literally determine our future as a global community,” he said.

Unvaccinated Bolsonaro first world leader to speak

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who is vocally unvaccinated, has chafed against coronavirus restrictions.

The UN is requiring vaccinations on an “honour system”. New York City, however, requires proof of vaccination at some indoor locations – including restaurants, gyms, and entertainment venues.

In his speech, Bolsonaro decried coronavirus restrictions that he said have hobbled economies. He said his government supports vaccinations.

“However, my administration has not supported a vaccine or health passport, or any other vaccine-related obligation,” he said.

Jair Bolsonaro, president of Brazil, arrives at United Nations headquarters [John Minchillo/The Associated Press]

UNGA President welcomes leaders back ‘in person’

Incoming UNGA President Abdulla Shahid of the Maldives welcomed world leaders to the 76th session of the assembly.

“I’m honoured to welcome you all to the opening of the general debate, as we kick off the high-level week of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly,” he said.

“I’m even more pleased to welcome all of you back to an in-person session of the General Assembly,” he said.

After being given the option, more than 100 world leaders opted to appear in person this year. Others will deliver speeches via video.

UNGA President Abdulla Shahid addresses the 76th session of the assembly [File: Eduardo Munoz/The Associated Press]

Guterres: UN scope too limited

Guterres called for more comprehensive multilateral organisations.

“Today’s multilateral system is too limited in its instruments and capacities, in relation to what is needed for effective governance of managing global public goods,” he said.

He said the world must address six “great divides”: Peace, wealth, gender, digital, and generational.

“COVID-19 and the climate crisis have exposed profound fragilities as societies and as a planet. Yet instead of humility in the face of these epic challenges, we see hubris. Instead of the path of solidarity, we are on a dead-end to destruction. At the same time, another disease is spreading in our world today: a malady of mistrust,” he said.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the 76th session of the UN General Assembly [Timothy A Clary/The Associated Press]

Guterres: ‘I am here to sound the alarm’

Guterres addressed the UNGA with a stark warning: “I am here to sound the alarm: The world must wake up. We are on the edge of an abyss -and moving in the wrong direction.”

In sweeping speech beginning the General Debate, Guterres decried inequality, distrust, misinformation, an “assault” on science, and upheaval in Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Yemen.

He decried geopolitical divides that hinder international cooperation, specifically referencing the confrontational stance of the world’s two biggest economies – the US and China – without naming them.

Guterres to pull no punches in speech

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will deliver a speech that pulls no punches, painting a dire picture of the world and a pressing need for leaders to engage with the global body.

“Those that have seen the speech say it’s an extremely strong speech and extremely pessimistic about the direction of the world,” said Al Jazeera’s James Bays, reporting from New York.

“One UN insider, who has worked for the UN for many years, says it’s the strongest speech they’ve ever seen by a secretary-general.”

Guterres will address world leaders at the 76th UNGA [File: Susana Vera/Reuters]

Five things to watch

Following last year’s 75th anniversary celebration, this year’s UNGA will be indicative of just how seriously countries are taking their pledges to reinvigorate the UN and a wider commitment to multilateralism.

Of particular interest will be how Guterres approaches his second – and final term – in the role, with many observers expecting a more resolute and dire tone.

Also closely watched will be how competition between the US and China will play out in the General Assembly Hall, if leaders will make concrete commitments to address climate change and vaccine inequality, and how leaders approach human rights concerns.

Read more here.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies