World leaders send video instead of physical trip to UN for September meeting due to pandemic

World leaders will send videos instead of physically gathering at the United Nations in September due to the coronavirus pandemic, the General Assembly decided on Wednesday (22 July), a move that paves the way for people wary of traveling to the United States – like North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un – to participate.

The annual high-level meeting had been shaping up to be a week-long celebration of the 75th anniversary of the world body, but U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres suggested in May that leaders send video statements due to likely travel issues.

The 193-member General Assembly agreed on Wednesday to the special measures.

“Each Member State, observer State and the European Union can submit a pre-recorded statement of its Head of State, Vice-President, Crown Prince or Princess, Head of Government, Minister or Vice-Minister, which will be played in the General Assembly Hall … after introduction by their representative who is physically present,” according to the decision.

Traditionally hundreds of events are also held on the sidelines of the U.N. debate, but General Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande wrote in a letter to states that they were “encouraged to move all side events to virtual platforms to limit the footprint and number of people in the U.N. building.”

The coronavirus has infected at least 15.1 million people and there have been more than 619,000 known deaths worldwide, according to a Reuters tally. New York was a global epicenter earlier this year for the virus, which emerged in China late last year.

As U.N. host country the United States agreed to grant entry to leaders and diplomats from all U.N. member states. However, diplomats say it regularly limits the delegation size of some of its adversaries, like Iran.

While North Korea’s Kim has met three times with U.S. President Donald Trump since 2018 for now-stalled denuclearization talks, he has never traveled to the United States as leader or taken part in the U.N. General Assembly.

The country’s former foreign minister, Ri Yong Ho, traveled to New York to address the United Nations from 2016 to 2018, but he did not attend last year. North Korea’s U.N. mission did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether Kim would send a video statement for this year’s high-level meeting.

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