World leaders jostle for high-level audiences at UN's revolving doors of events

From dawn to dusk, this week is a constant rush of speeches, discussions and private briefings, long-planned or impromptu

Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan arrives ahead of the start of the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York City, New York, US, September 24, 2019. Reuters
Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan arrives ahead of the start of the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York City, New York, US, September 24, 2019. Reuters

Visiting world leaders entering New York for the week of the UN General Assembly are immediately engaged in a scramble for an audience in the famously loud and fast-moving city.

Each has a 15 minute slot, which is often abused for a half-hour or more, to make a speech to the world from the UN's green marble podium.

Most fly in with a team of press and a retinue of cabinet colleagues with packed schedules of events at the UN and beyond.

The rubber hits the road with the speeches, round-table discussions and private briefings that are staged across mid-town Manhattan.

With the constant road closures and rolling security measures, it's vital to stay close to the UN headquarters on the East River.

Conferences, such as Concordia, the World Economic Forum and Bloomberg, provide a platform for key note speakers at the head of state or government level. Some of these interventions can be more sophisticated or illuminating than others.

Fayez Al Sarraj, the Libyan Prime Minister, was at Concordia on Monday where he spoke at length about his country’s geographic size and location.

“Libya is small in its population, great in its history and big in size and wealth,” he said.

Although New York is America’s unrivalled global city, there is one area where it is overshadowed by the federal home of government, Washington DC. It has fewer think tanks to offer a high-level audience for foreign leaders.

The Council on Foreign Relations is a notable exception. On Tuesday it hosted Adel Al Jubeir, the Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, who was able to discuss regional tension with opinion formers and experts on international relations.

At times these events can be elevated beyond the immediate issues of the day to give an insight into the character of the leader.

That was certainly the case on Monday with Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan and former captain of the nation’s world champion cricket team.

Asked about the pressures of managing confrontation with India, he acknowledged the interest in how two nuclear armed powers could manage a crisis.

Mr Khan referred to his cricket career as a charismatic all-rounder and his connection at that time with Indian fans of the game.

He said the pressures of having a hand on the nuclear button was nothing compared to those at the top level of the cricket.

“Nothing beats the pressure of walking 70 yards to the middle of the ground in front of 90,000 people, with the fear of getting out first ball,” Mr Khan said.

At the UN there is a host of gatherings designed to show support for dozens of initiatives, including the millennium development goals and, this year, the climate action summit.

With social media campaigns, government officials can exchange ideas with international partners and build the public profile of their work to an audience outside the room.

Finally there are bilateral meetings and conference room huddles for media and analysts.

From dawn to dusk, the UN General Assembly is a revolving door of events that are either long-planned or impromptu.

Updated: September 25, 2019 12:10 AM

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