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UN General Assembly Day 1 — as it happened

September 24, 2019

Emmanuel Macron has urged the US and Iran to resume talks, following German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who met separately with the leaders of both countries. Technology, peace and patriotism also featured in speeches.

UN in New York | Antonio Guterres, UN-Generalsekretär
Image: Reuters/B. Mcdermid
  • World leaders are convening at the annual UN General Assembly with climate change and regional conflicts among the topics high on the agenda.
  • UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres opened the proceedings warning of the perils of a world appearing to grow ever more divided.
  • US President Donald Trump urged world leaders to assert his belief in the importance of national sovereignty over international concerns.

All times UTC/GMT

Good morning or goodnight to you all, be sure to check out the article on today's events here.

0155: Embattled British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had technology at the heart of his speech, even praising the EU's efforts in this area. He mentioned the perils of technology before saying he was "profoundly optimistic" about its future — if humanity finds "the right balance between freedom and control."

0135: Japan's Shinzo Abe expressed concerns about the Middle East situation and urged Iran to take actions "grounded in the wisdom derived from its rich history".

Abe called the attacks on Saudi oil plant "an extremely contemptible crime that holds the international economic order hostage."

He did not say who Japan thought was behind the attacks, though.

Abe, meanwhile, conveyed his backing for US President Trump's North Korean policy.

"The approach by which the two leaders talk candidly with each other and try to work out the issues at hand while seeing a
bright future ahead has changed the dynamics surrounding North Korea," he said.

0110: New Zealand's Premier Jacinda Ardern began her speech in Maori, one of the country's official languages. She then spoke of the terrorist attack that resulted in the deaths of 51 people after attacks on two mosques in Christchurch. Ardern said she dreamed of a "borderless world" where "technology unleashes human potential, not the worst in us."

Ardern's words were in stark contrast to her US counterpart, who earlier spoke of stronger borders, more patriotism and less globalization, as she said: "If instead of fierce nationalism or self-interest, we seek to form our tribes based on concepts that can and should be universal."

"What if we no longer see ourselves based on what we look like, what religion we practice, or where we live, but by what we value?" Ardern asked.

The New Zealand Prime Minster also talked up the dangers of the internet, in relation to the Christchurch attack. "The alleged terrorist used social media as a weapon. The attack demonstrated how the internet, with extraordinary power to do good, can be perverted and used as a tool for terrorists," she said.

Read more: New Zealand seeks answers from Facebook over livestreamed massacre

0050: Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez is up next. Sanchez said the inability to maintain the 2015 Iran Nuclear deal, that is now in tatters, was "a great international failure" because that pact "constitutes a key element in the fight against nuclear proliferation and an essential milestone for the security of the region."

0000: A notable contribution from Poland's President Andrzej Duda as he warns of the dangers of history repeating itself. The president said that Warsaw supports the territorial integrity of Ukraine and Georgia. In 2014, Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea in retaliation for Kiev dislodging its pro-Russian president. Moscow also backs the pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine's east as well as breakaway Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Duda said there were "dangerous illusions of making pacts with the aggressor at the expense of others."

2100: Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa of Portugal enthused over national identity saying "We are all patriots here," while acknowledging that the world has changed a lot and that there "used to be two superpowers, now there is one. We must never return to the League of Nations," in a reference to the body which was a precursor to the United Nations that essentially fell apart due to its inability to maintain peace.

1920: Emmanuel Macron urged the US and Iran to resume negotiations, following German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who met separately with the leaders of both countries Tuesday. "Now more than ever is the time for negotiations among Iran, the United States, the signatories of the JCPOA and regional powers, centered on the region's security and stability," the French president said, referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the formal name of the 2015 multinational nuclear deal.

Macron also talked about France's engagement with its former colonies in Africa and the country's efforts to support women's movements throughout the continent. He encouraged the global community to be bolder with climate measures to achieve carbon neutrality and to work together to help save the Amazon, known as the lungs of the Earth, and preserve biodiversity.

French President Emmanuel Macron addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly
Macron issued a surprising economic critique, saying contemporary capitalism was dysfunctional Image: Reuters/C. Allegri

"We need to take concrete steps," Macron said. "We need to change our collective approach. We need to strive to change the way we act together with our entire societies."

Read more: Opinion: Iran must save P5+1 nuclear deal — not the EU

Macron, a neoliberal who won the French presidency with a center-right campaign, defeating the nationalist Marine Le Pen, also delivered a surprising economic critique. "Contemporary capitalism is dysfunctional," he said. "It has produced a level of inequalities that is unprecedented" — those include health, gender and climate inequalities.

1800: South Korean President Moon Jae-in used his time at the podium on Tuesday to call for economic engagement with the North in return for progress on nuclear disarmament. Moon said mutual security assurances would expedite the process and pave the way for peace on the peninsula, which remains technically in a state of war over 66 years after the Korean War ended with no formal treaty.

Moon called for an "international peace zone" between the Koreas, with UN offices and other international groups stationed there. South Korea "will guarantee the security of North Korea," Moon said. "I hope North Korea will do the same for South Korea."

Read more: North Korea blasts 'thoughtless remarks' from US Secretary of State

Despite a string of summits between Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump and Kim, the standoff continues on how to get the country to abandon its nuclear and missile programs.

1705: Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed Iran and trade issues with US President Donald Trump for about 30 minutes on the sidelines of the General Assembly, a German government spokesman said on Tuesday. Afterward, she met with Trump's Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani.

Merkel was hoping to smooth over the differences between the nations on the 2015 nuclear pact negotiated between Iran and six global superpowers. The United States withdrew from the agreement under Trump and reimposed sanctions, leading Iran to resume the enrichment of uranium to levels that had been prohibited by the accord.

"I would welcome it if it came to talks between the United States and Iran, but it won't work that all the sanctions are first taken off the table and then there are talks," Merkel said after meeting with the presidents on Tuesday. "I think that is not realistic." 

Speaking to the press earlier in the day, Rouhani said he was open to "small changes, additions or amendments" to the 2015 international nuclear deal that Iran had negotiated with the United States, Germany and four other countries if it would put an end to US sanctions.

UN: Merkel and Hassan Rouhani
Merkel and Rouhani held a cordial talk after Trump delivered a fiery indictment of IranImage: picture-alliance/dpa/K. Nietfeld

1650: Qatar's Emir Tamim Hamad Al Thani used his time at the podium to condemn the ongoing economic blockade of Qatar by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and allied countries. "The strategic importance of the gulf makes stability in that region a regional and international need," Al Thani said. "Stirring up tension and dictating the will by blockading is not in the interest of any of these states," he added.

Al Thani condemned international interference in Libya's civil war, saying the offensive on Tripoli by troops under the command of Khalifa Haftar — with the diplomatic support of France, Saudi Arabia and other countries — had thwarted efforts by the United Nations for a peaceful resolution.

UN-Generalversammlung in New York | Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Präsident Türkei
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country had been betrayed by the EU on the refugee issueImage: Reuters/L. Jackson

The emir also backed Palestinians and called for an end to Israel's occupation to achieve a "permanent peace based on justice."

1630: Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi used his speech at the UN General Assembly to amplify a call to get neighboring Sudan off the US's list of countries deemed sponsors of terrorism. El-Sissi told world leaders that removing the country from the list would help Sudan tackle economic problems and reclaim "the place it deserves among the international family."

The president also said a stalemate in talks over a dam that Ethiopia has begun constructing on the Nile would have a negative effect on regional stability. Earlier this month, Egypt's government announced the failure of the talks after Ethiopia rejected a proposal on the filling and operating of the dam.

"The continued stalemate in the negotiations on the Renaissance dam will have negative consequences on the stability and development in the region and Egypt," el-Sissi said.

1545: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said all nations should have access to atomic energy or it should be categorically banned across the globe. And then he returned to some of his more common themes: Cyprus, Kurdish liberation groups and the European Union's reneging on a 2016 deportation deal inked with Turkey.

Erdogan praised Turkey's policies toward Syrians displaced by the eight-year civil war, even employing a picture of Alan Kurdi, a 3-year-old boy who drowned as his family attempted to cross the Mediterranean Sea, seeking asylum in the European Union. He said the EU had not upheld its end of the 2016 deal, which saw people whose asylum applications had been rejected shipped to Turkey in exchange for "legal" Syrian refugees. Under the initial terms, the European Union had promised €6 billion to help Turkey support displaced people sheltered there.

"We were left alone in our selfless sacrifice toward asylum-seekers," Erdogan said.

Read more: Turkey threatens to 'open the gates' to Europe for refugees

Erdogan delivered a rousing statement of support for Palestinians and criticized global Islamophobia, invoking the terror attack by a white nationalist that killed 51 people at a mosque in New Zealand in March. "This scourge can only be defeated by common will and efforts," he said. He added that Islamic nations could work together to put an end to the battles between Sunni and Shiite groups.

1450: In his own wide-ranging speech to the General Assembly, US President Donald Trump tapped into his long-standing insistence on border security, saying protecting national frontiers preserves human rights. "When you undermine border security, you are undermining human rights and human dignity," said Trump, whose harsh policies have seen detention facilities erected on the US's southern borders in which six children have died in the past year. He bashed "open-border activists" saying their "cruel and evil" advocacy for humane migration policies had empowered smuggling networks designed to circumvent the US's borders and allow refugees to make asylum claims.

US President Donald Trump
Trump also tapped into his long-standing insistence on border securityImage: AFP/S. Loeb

Trump praised UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and promised a "magnificent new trade deal" after Brexit.

"Wise leaders always put the good of their own country first," Trump said. "The future does not belong to globalists. The future belongs to patriots."

Read more: US to send troops to Saudi Arabia after oil strike

The president assailed China, Iran and Venezuela, and praised his administration's economic measures against the countries; the Chinese and Iranian delegates watched stone-faced, and Venezuela's read a book.

In a lengthy closing statement to a speech that had already well exceeded its allotted 15 minutes, Trump told his fellow global leaders that "tyranny advances under many names and many theories, but it always comes down to the desire for domination."

1435: Brazil's nationalist president, Jair Bolsonaro, who has drawn heat for the wildfires raging in the Amazon, told the international community not to interfere when it came to the rainforest, which he called his country's sovereign territory.

"It is a fallacy to say that the Amazon is the heritage of humankind, and a misconception confirmed by scientists to say that our Amazon forests are the lungs of the world," Bolsonaro said, drawing a stark contrast between his own views and those of global climate researchers. He then hit out at detractors, saying reporting the scientific consensus in the international media had "aroused our patriotic sentiments." Bolsonaro summarily contradicted all coverage: "The Amazon is not being devastated nor is it being consumed by fire as the media misleadingly says."

Jair Bolsonaro
Bolsonaro drew a stark contrast between his own views and those of climate researchersImage: Reuters/C. Allegri

Brazilian dissidents took to social media to criticize their president.

1430: So far, only Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has spoken.

In his state-of-the-planet address to the annual gathering of global leaders on Tuesday, Guterres said the world risked splitting into two polarities, with China and its allies on one side and the United States and countries within its economic orbit on the other.

The provocative statement came as world leaders convened at the UN General Assembly.

Read more: Greta Thunberg tells UN 'you've stolen my childhood with your empty words'

Guterres said the possibility of a global schism "may not yet be large, but it is real." He added that "we must do everything possible to avert the great fracture" and maintain a universal economy in a multipolar world.

The secretary-general also painted a grim picture of a deeply divided and anxious planet facing a climate crisis, "the alarming possibility" of a Gulf conflict, the spread of terrorism and rising global inequality.

Tuesday's lineup of speakers — beginning with Brazilian President Bolsonaro and continuing with counterparts who've also been criticized for strongman styles of governing: the US's Trump, Turkey's Erdogan, Egypt's Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi — has drawn the attention of global rights advocates.

At the UN General Assembly leaders plan to discuss climate change, regional conflicts and a potential dispute in the Middle East that could have an impact the entire planet.
Read more: Anger boils over Xinjiang visit by UN counterterrorism chief

Designed to promote a multilateral world, the United Nations has struggled in the face of increasing unilateralism by countries that favor going it alone.

mkg/rc (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)

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