193 speeches? UNGA chief says it’s just right


DNA Sunday (Mumbai) - - W RLD - —AFP

United Na­tions: The UN Gen­eral Assem­bly may be one of the most un­wieldy events on the diplo­matic cal­en­dar, with non-stop speeches by 193 lead­ers and hun­dreds more side events, all in a few blocks along New York’s East River.

But for Maria Fer­nanda Espinosa, the newly-elected pres­i­dent of the Gen­eral Assem­bly who watches over the gath­er­ing, the for­mat is spot-on.

The United Na­tions is “the only place in the world where heads of state and gov­ern­ment can come and say what they think and have bi­lat­eral con­tacts with far-away coun­tries,” said Espinosa, 54, a poet with a doc­tor­ate in phi­los­o­phy who has held a num­ber of se­nior min­is­te­rial posts in Ecuador.

“Europe can speak with Pa­cific is­lands, the Pa­cific is­lands with Latin Amer­ica, and the Caribbean with Africa and Asia,” she said.

For a full week from 9 am to 9 pm, world lead­ers take their turns at the Gen­eral Assem­bly ros­trum. Some draw at­ten­tion -- such as New Zealand’s PM Jacinda Ardern, who came with her three-month-old baby -- but of­ten the speeches are ig­nored by all but ju­nior del­e­gates and each na­tion’s me­dia.

And this year, in a rar­ity, the Gen­eral Assem­bly saw laugh­ter -- when US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump be­gan boast­ing in su­perla­tive terms of his do­mes­tic record, as is his wont in front of do­mes­tic au­di­ences.

Was the Gen­eral Assem­bly laugh­ing at him or with him? “I re­ally don’t know,” Espinosa said diplo­mat­i­cally. “His come­back was very sharp, say­ing that he wasn’t ex­pect­ing that re­ac­tion and smil­ing as well.”

The Gen­eral Assem­bly has a clear guide­line of 15 min­utes per speech but the UN is re­luc­tant to en­force it. Venezue­lan Pres­i­dent Nico­las Maduro, rush­ing to New York to ap­pear af­ter threats by Trump, spoke for 50 min­utes. The week of di­plo­macy also fea­tured 450 side events on ev­ery­thing from ban­ning nukes to fight­ing tu­ber­cu­lo­sis. The num­ber of events is go­ing up each year, of­ten emp­ty­ing the Gen­eral Assem­bly. Espinosa said she had urged every del­e­ga­tion to lis­ten to the speak­ers. The at­ten­dance, she said, is “sym­bol­i­cally very im­por­tant.”

“Many an­a­lysts say that mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism is no longer ef­fi­cient and lead­ers are call­ing it into ques­tion,” she said, af­ter speeches no­tably by Trump that em­pha­sised go­ing it alone. “But at the same time, this week, New York was the cap­i­tal of global power.”


French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron’s ad­dress to the Gen­eral De­bate of the 73rd ses­sion of the Gen­eral Assem­bly at the United Na­tions

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