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United Nations General Assembly in NYC: What to know about this year’s session

About 200 world leaders and dignitaries are converging on Manhattan's East Side.

President Donald Trump addresses the 73rd United Nations

President Donald Trump addresses the 73rd United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday in New York City. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Spencer Platt

Every September, the United Nations General Assembly brings leaders from around the world to Manhattan to discuss key issues on a global scale.

The General Assembly, one of the six main branches of the UN, kicked off last week and runs through Oct. 5. But the part of the General Assembly that most New Yorkers are familiar with — the General Debate, when many world leaders come to town — began Tuesday.

This year marks the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly and the General Debate’s theme is “Making the United Nations Relevant to All People: Global Leadership and Shared Responsibilities for Peaceful, Equitable and Sustainable Societies.”

Scroll down to learn more about the UN General Assembly and this year’s General Debate.

A brief summary of the UN General Assembly

The General Assembly was created under the United Nations charter in 1945. The assembly’s 193 members, each representing one country, are considered the chief deliberators and policymakers for the United Nations. It is the only UN body that has equal representation from every member nation and often has a hand in the codification of international laws.

Where and when the General Assembly takes place

The General Assembly will convene at UN headquarters, 405 E. 42nd St. in Manhattan, every weekday from Sept. 18 to Oct. 5.

The General Debate runs from Tuesday through Oct 5. Per rules, it should last nine days, but the debate’s goals can typically be accomplished in a shorter amount of time. There are two sessions per day, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m., though end times are flexible depending on how closely speakers stick to their time allotment.  

What will be discussed at this year’s General Debate

Among other events, there will be a high-level meeting on Sept. 24 related to global peace in honor of what would have been Nelson Mandela's 100th birthday; a meeting to discuss the fight against tuberculosis will be held on Sept. 26; and on Sept. 27, the UN will host a one-day review of the progress made on preventing and controlling noncommunicable diseases.

Will President Donald Trump attend?

Trump addressed the General Assembly on Tuesday, delivering a 35 minute speech that was critical of Iran and boasted of his administration's "America first" policies.

In addition to blasting Iran as a "corrupt dictatorship" that is plundering its people to pay for aggression abroad, Trump also blasted China for its trade practices but made no mention of Russia's interference in Syria or meddling in U.S. elections.

The president also relied on much of the same rhetoric that he employs during his political campaign rallies, telling his fellow world leaders he had accomplished more than almost any previous U.S. president.

The remark led to some murmuring and laughter in the crowd, taking the president slightly aback. "I didn’t expect that reaction, but that's okay," he said.

While in the city, Trump will also preside over the United Nations Security Council, which is convening at the same time. The role of chairman of the UN Security Council rotates, and the last time a U.S. president was in charge of the meeting was in 2014.

General Debate speakers

There are dozens of speakers from member nations scheduled on each day of the General Debate, including representatives from the U.S., Mexico, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Canada and the United Kingdom.

Each speaker is generally given about 15 minutes to deliver their statement. Brazil has been the first member nation to speak at the General Debate since 1955, a tradition mainly because it had historically always offered to speak first while other member nations were reluctant to start the dialogue. The United States is always second since it is the host country, and the speaking order from the third slot forward is decided based on myriad criteria, including preference, level of representation and geographic balance.

NYC traffic due to the General Assembly

Aside from the politics, the General Assembly has gained a reputation in the city for the traffic it causes. With so many notable world leaders in the same place at the same time, security on the East Side of Manhattan near the UN building is beefed up and the NYPD regularly closes streets for short periods of time throughout the day while presidents, prime ministers and other dignitaries are ferried back and forth between where they’re staying and UN headquarters. For a list of street closures broken down by each day of the workweek, click here.

With Reuters

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