World leaders address United Nations General Assembly

Leaders of United Kingdom and Ukraine among those to speak as UNGA continues.

The 76th session of the UNGA has a hybrid format, with more than 100 leaders appearing in person and others giving speeches via video [File: Mary Altaffer/The Associated Press]

The leaders of the United Kingdom and Ukraine are among those set to speak at the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), which continues on Wednesday.

President Joe Biden announced the United States is doubling its purchase of Pfizer’s COVID-19 shots to one billion doses to share with the world, as he embraces the goal of vaccinating 70 percent of the global population within the next year.

The stepped-up commitment marks the cornerstone of the global vaccination summit Biden convened virtually on the sidelines of the assembly, where he encouraged well-off nations to do more to get the coronavirus under control.

Some 100 heads of state and government are attending the assembly in person amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Racism, the climate crisis, and the world’s worsening divisions have taken centre stage at the United Nations, a day after the UN chief issued a grim warning that “we are on the edge of an abyss”.

Here are all the latest updates:

US and Egypt discuss regional issues, human rights: State Department

The State Department has said relations between Washington and Cairo “would be facilitated” by improving human rights in Egypt.

Ned Price, a US spokesperson, said Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry discussed a range of issues at a meeting on the sidelines of the UNGA on Wednesday, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, diplomatic efforts in Libya and Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam.

Blinken and Shoukry also underscored the value of “strengthening and deepening” their ties, Price said.

“The Secretary noted that such a strengthened partnership would be facilitated by steps from the Government of Egypt to improve its protection of human rights, including by implementing measures in the National Strategy on Human Rights launched by the Egyptian government last week,” he added, referring to an initiative announced by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Blinken meets with Egypt’s foreign minister

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Egypt’s foreign ministry has announced, sharing a video from the talks where Cairo’s top diplomat stressed the importance of ties with Washington.

The meeting comes amid reports that the Biden administration will withhold $130m in aid to Egypt this year over human rights concerns.

Cairo receives $1.3bn in annual military assistance from Washington.

US announces $180m in new aid to Rohingya refugees

The US announced $180m in additional funding for Rohingya refugees from Myanmar’s Rakhine State on Wednesday.

The State Department said the new assistance brings the total of US aid to Rohingya refugees to $1.5bn since August 2017, “when more than 740,000 Rohingya were forced to flee ethnic cleansing and other horrific atrocities and abuses”.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said $1.2bn of the aid has gone to support humanitarian programmes for the refugees in Bangladesh.

“US humanitarian assistance for this crisis delivers across multiple realms, including education, food security, health, nutrition, protection, shelter, disaster response, water, sanitation and hygiene,” Price said in a statement.

US to give $336m in aid to Venezuelans: State Department

The United States is giving $247m in humanitarian aid and $89m in economic and development aid to Venezuelans, State Department spokesman Ned Price has said in a statement.

“This assistance supports more than 7 million of the most vulnerable Venezuelans with critical needs inside Venezuela, the nearly 5.7 million Venezuelans who have sought refuge in 17 countries across the region, and the host communities that have welcomed them,” Price said.

White House: Biden had ‘friendly’ call with Macron

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has said Biden had a “friendly” call with the French president and acknowledged his complaints about the submarine deal with Australia that sent relations between the longtime allies into a tailspin.

Psaki said Biden is hopeful the call was “a step in returning to normal in a long, important abiding relationship that the United States has with France”.

The White House says President Joe Biden spent about a half-hour on the phone with French counterpart Emmanuel Macron [Kevin Lamarque/Pool/Reuters]

US, EU step up Yemen aid but UN warns millions face hunger

Donors led by the US and European Union have pledged another $600m for Yemen, but the UN said that a financial shortfall meant that millions could go hungry.

The US promised an additional $290m but said the ultimate solution was to end the war.

“Humanitarian assistance makes a critical difference in people’s lives, but it alone cannot resolve this crisis,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement to a pledging event at the UN.

He called on Saudi Arabia, which has led a devastating air campaign in Yemen, as well as Houthi rebels and the government to help ensure the flow of fuel into the country, one factor that has destabilised the economy and kept staples out of reach for many Yemenis.

Bosnia urges climate action in address

The chair of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s tripartite presidency Zeljko Komsic has said that responding to climate change will be costly, but “it will cost even more if we do not take the need to accelerate climate change mitigation activities seriously”.

Komsic said ensuring the survival of humankind, along with mitigation against increasing temperatures, is a value “we must defend at all costs”.

Brazil’s Bolsonaro in COVID isolation after trip to UN

President Jair Bolsonaro, just back from the UN, has isolated himself at home and has cancelled a trip after his health minister tested positive for COVID-19 and had to stay in quarantine in New York.

Brazil’s health regulator Anvisa recommended that the entire presidential delegation to the UNGA remain in isolation and undergo more tests. Bolsonaro’s only appointment on Wednesday was changed to a remote meeting.

Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga tested positive hours after accompanying Bolsonaro to give the first speech from a head of state at the annual assembly on Tuesday, the government said. It added that the other delegation members all tested negative.

Maduro calls for a new world free from colonialism, imperialism.

Addressing the assembly, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has called for a “new human community … free of hegemonic empires.

“It must be liberated from any hegemonies or any empires’ attempts at economic, financial, military or political domination; liberated from those who over centuries plundered, dominated, exploited and oppressed people throughout the world with their old, rapacious colonialism,” Maduro said.

“There are those who are today attempting to impose new forms of colonialism on our people, new forms of domination, looting, oppression and exploitation of people throughout the world.

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro addresses via video the United Nations General Assembly in New York City [Eduardo Munoz/Pool/Getty Images/AFP]

“That is why in this general assembly… Venezuela is calling for a new world free from colonialism, a new world without imperialism, a new world without any dominant hegemony,” Maduro said.

Iran minister expressed ‘very clear intent’ to return to nuclear talks: Ireland

Iran’s foreign minister has expressed a “very clear intent” to return to nuclear talks in Vienna, Ireland’s foreign minister has said after he met with his Iranian counterpart on the sidelines of the UNGA.

“That may not happen for a number of weeks, as the new Iranian government finalises their approach towards those negotiations. But certainly, he expressed a very clear intent to return to those negotiations,” Simon Coveney, Ireland’s foreign minister, told reporters.

Maduro calls for US, EU to end sanctions on Venezuela

Addressing the assembly, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has called for the US and the EU to end sanctions against Venezuela.

“We once again call for – indeed demand – that all the criminal sanctions imposed on the Venezuelan economy and society by the US and the EU be lifted. Our demand is morally just and we are making it on behalf of 30 million Venezuelan men and women,” Maduro said.

Italy triples pledge to provide other nations with COVID-19 vaccines

Italy plans to give other countries 45 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines before the end of the year, three times its original pledge, Prime Minister Mario Draghi has said.

In a video message to a US-hosted global COVID-19 Summit, Draghi said his government had previously promised to donate 15 million vaccine doses by the end of the year.

“Nearly half of these have already been delivered and today I am glad to announce that we will triple our efforts. We will donate another 30 million additional doses by the end of the year to reach 45 million,” he said.

Saudi king tells UN kingdom supports efforts to prevent nuclear Iran

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz has told the assembly that his kingdom supports efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, as world leaders prepare to resume talks with Tehran to reinstate a 2015 nuclear pact.

“The kingdom insists on the importance of keeping the Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, on this basis we support international efforts aiming at preventing Iran from having nuclear weapons,” he said in a pre-recorded video address to the annual gathering.

“Iran is a neighbouring country, and we hope that our initial talks with it will lead to concrete results to build confidence… based on… respect of sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs,” King Salman said.

US announces additional humanitarian assistance for Yemen

The US is providing more than $290m in additional humanitarian assistance for Yemen, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said, part of an additional $600bn in new donations globally.

“The United States remains committed to delivering aid to the most vulnerable in Yemen, and calls for an end to obstructions and bureaucratic hurdles,” Blinken said in a statement. He urged donor nations to fulfil their pledges as soon as possible.

EU calls for ‘stronger confidence’ with US after France spat

EU top diplomat Josep Borrell has called for greater confidence with the US as he met Secretary of State Antony Blinken following a spat between Paris and Washington.

“We can build a stronger confidence among us,” Borrell told Blinken after a telephone conversation between Biden and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron.

Jordan King calls for resolution of Middle East conflict

Jordan’s monarch has recalled this past year’s war in the Gaza Strip in his speech before the UN, saying the conflict was a reminder that the status quo is unsustainable.

“The bitter war on Gaza this past year was a reminder that the current situation is simply unsustainable,” said King Abdullah, who delivered his pre-recorded remarks remotely to the UNGA.

“Genuine security for either side – indeed, for the whole world – can only be achieved through the two-state solution.”

He called for the continued support of UNRWA, the UN agency that assists millions of Palestinian refugees, among them the majority of Gaza’s two million residents.

Spain to donate 15 million more COVID-19 vaccine doses via COVAX

Spain will donate 7.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to Latin America and the Caribbean and a further 7.5 million to sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Europe, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has said.

The latest pledge increases Spain’s overall commitment to the COVAX vaccine sharing programme to 30 million doses, Sanchez told reporters before appearing at the UNGA in New York.

Riyadh has worked with OPEC to stabilise oil market: King Salman

In a pre-recorded address to the UNGA, King Salman of Saudi Arabia has said that Riyadh has worked with OPEC and other allies to stabilise the oil market.

Regarding the war in Yemen, he said that the Houthis were rejecting peaceful initiatives to end the war and that the kingdom would defend itself against ballistic missiles and armed drones.

Ethnic tensions threaten Bosnia’s integrity

Zeljko Komsic, the chair of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s presidency has called upon the United Nations to uphold its commitment to human rights, citing ethnic inequality within his own country.

Komsic spoke of neighbours’ intentions to annex parts of his country by fomenting ethnic tensions within.

He said the Dayton Peace Agreement, which ended the war in Bosnia in 1995, created complex institutions that make it difficult for the country to come to a political consensus that would allow it to move toward “a functioning state”.

Biden, Macron to meet in Europe in October: White House

Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron will meet in Europe in October, the White House has said following a call between the two leaders.

Macron to send envoy back to US, Paris says after Biden call

French President Emmanuel Macron will next week send his ambassador back to the US after Biden agreed that consulting France before announcing a security pact with Australia could have prevented a diplomatic row, Macron’s office has said.

France’s ambassador to the US will “start intensive work with senior US officials,” the White House said in a statement.

Philanthropists pledge record $5bn to protect nature

Philanthropists and investors have committed $5bn to nature restoration and conservation, a move environmental activists welcomed as the highest sum of private funding ever pledged.

The funding, pledged at an event on the sidelines of the UNGA, will focus on the “30by30” target, which aims to protect 30 percent of the planet’s land and water over the next decade.

Scientists and conservationists say this is key to protecting biodiversity, which encompasses millions of species and natural processes in ecosystems such as rainforests and oceans, and is under threat from human-driven activities such as industrial agriculture, fishing, and greenhouse gas emissions.

Turkey says US failing to help Afghan refugees

After two decades in Afghanistan, the US should do more to help the country’s refugees, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said.

Turkey hosts the world’s largest refugee population – some four million, mostly Syrians – and has warned that it cannot accept any more arrivals from Afghanistan.

“Right now, the US is failing to meet its obligations. We have more than 300,000 Afghan refugees and we will no longer be able to afford to welcome any more Afghan refugees in Turkey,” Erdogan said in a preview of a CBS interview due to be broadcast Sunday.

“Of course, the US should do a lot and should invest a lot because the US has been there for the last 20 years but why, why? First, these questions should be answered by the US.”

‘Grow up’: UK’s Johnson says world must face climate change

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will tell world leaders at the United Nations that humanity has to “grow up” and tackle climate change, saying humans must stop trashing the planet like a teenager on a bender.

Johnson is due to host a major United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland in six weeks’ time. He is using a trip to the UNGA in New York to press governments for tougher emissions-cutting targets and more money to help poor countries clean up their economies.

In a speech to the General Assembly on Wednesday, Johnson said he will say it’s now or never if the world is to meet its goal of limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5C (2.7F) above pre-industrial levels.

Biden doubles US global donation of COVID-19 vaccine shots

Biden has said the US will provide $370m to help administer vaccine shots globally and that a EU-US COVID-19 vaccine partnership will be launched to work more closely together.

He said the US will buy 500 million more COVID-19 vaccine doses to donate to low and middle income countries.

The US purchase of another 500 million shots brings the total US vaccination commitment to more than 1.1 billion doses through 2022.

US President Joe Biden speaks during a virtual COVID-19 summit of the United Nations General Assembly in Washington, DC [Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP]

US, French top diplomats shake hands amid row

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken shook hands with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, in the highest-level contact between the allies since a crisis erupted last week about a submarine contract.

The two were attending a meeting at the United Nations on troubled Libya’s peace process and did not speak to each other at length, although they could hold a separate meeting later, a French academic source said.

The encounter comes as Biden prepares to speak by telephone with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron in a bid to calm the outrage in Paris.

Germany says Taliban ‘show’ at UNGA would serve no purpose

Germany has voiced opposition to the Taliban’s request to address the UNGA, saying the “show” by Afghanistan’s new rulers would serve no purpose.

“To schedule a show at the United Nations won’t serve anything,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

“What’s important are concrete deeds and not just words, including on human rights and in particular, the rights of women and on an inclusive government and distancing from terrorist groups,” he said.

The UN’s credentials committee, which determines who is recognised as a representative of a particular country, is not expected to make a decision on Afghanistan until after the current week of high level meetings and speeches.

EU top diplomat met with Iran’s new foreign minister

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell met Iran’s new Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian on Tuesday on the sidelines of the UNGA, the EU said in a statement on Wednesday.

The meeting was scheduled in the absence of a ministerial meeting of the parties to the 2015 nuclear deal, which the US and European countries have been scrambling to revive, in New York during the annual UN gathering of world leaders.

“The Iranian Foreign Minister assured of the willingness to resume negotiations at an early date,” the EU said in a statement. “High Representative Borrell … underlined once again the great importance of a quick resumption of the Vienna talks.”

The EU’s Josep Borrell met new Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian on Tuesday [File: David ‘Dee’ Delgado/Reuters]

WHO sets higher, tougher bar for air quality during UNGA

The World Health Organization has said that the harmful health effects of air pollution kick in at lower levels than it previously thought and it is setting a higher bar for policymakers and the public in its first update to its air quality guidelines in 15 years.

The UN health agency released its revised Air Quality Guidelines as climate change is a leading topic at the UNGA.

The guidelines, which are not legally binding and intended as a reference for policymakers, advocacy groups and academics, lower the advised concentrations of six pollutants known to have impacts on health: two types of particulate matter known as PM 2.5 and PM 10, as well as ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide.

US to double global vaccine doses as Biden hosts summit

Biden is set to announce that the US  will double its purchase of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccines to send 1.1 billion doses to other countries.

The commitment will increase doses purchased by the US for global distribution by 500 million through 2022, two senior Biden administration officials said, hours before Biden is set to host a virtual vaccine summit on Wednesday on the sidelines of the UNGA.

The first shipment of Pfizer’s COVID vaccine arrives in Baghdad airport, Iraq on April 11 [File: Khalid Mohammed/The Associated Press]

Brazil’s health minister tests positive for COVID at UNGA

Brazil’s Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga has tested positive for COVID-19 after attending the UNGA, where Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro was the first world leader to speak on Tuesday.

Queiroga, who had received a COVID-19 vaccine, was the second member of Bolsonaro’s entourage to test positive for the virus since arriving in New York, the Brazilian government said in a statement.

Notably, he had been with Bolsonaro, who has chafed at the prospect of vaccine requirements for the event, during a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday.

Read more here.

A photo of Brazil’s president and his entourage eating pizza on a New York City street on Sunday, where proof of vaccination is required for indoor dining [File: Reuters]
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies