EXPLANATION: What you need to know about the UN General Assembly?

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UNITED NATIONS (TBEN) — After two years of virtual and hybrid summits, world leaders will gather again next week on the riverbank in New York at the UN General Assembly, an exercise in multilateralism born of the hope for lasting peace that followed World War II.

The opening of the 77th session comes as the planet is ravaged by crises on almost every front. Russia’s war in Ukraine, inflation and economic instability, terrorism and ideological extremism, environmental degradation and devastating floods, droughts and fires and the ongoing pandemic are just some of the rampant dangers.

The high-level meeting kicks off Monday with a summit on education, whose profound disruption during the coronavirus pandemic will reverberate for decades to come. Speeches from the many leaders present will begin on Tuesday and run through Monday, September 26.

While this year is heralded as a sort of return to the way things were, certain concessions have been made to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In addition to basic health protocols, few side events will take place at the UN’s Midtown Manhattan campus.

Here’s what you need to know about this year’s UN General Assembly, which will be chaired by Hungary’s Csaba Kőrösi:

WILL EVERYONE COME TO NEW YORK THIS YEAR?

Yes, usually. To speak at this year’s meeting, leaders or their senior representatives must show up in person – with one notable exception. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has not left the country since the war broke out in late February. The General Assembly voted Friday to allow him to submit a pre-recorded speech, which is expected to be broadcast in the second half of Wednesday’s session.

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WHAT IS THE REAL POINT OF ATTENDING THE GENERAL MEETING?

While the effectiveness of the United Nations has been questioned for so long, the benefits of participating are undeniable. From the stage, countries broadcast their agendas, grievances and calls to action to the whole world and a permanent record. This week is an important opportunity for countries often drowned out by what they decry as a hegemonic world order to grab the attention of a wider audience. It is also an opportunity for leaders – especially those from countries with tensions – to participate in sideline meetings on neutral ground. These meetings are often referred to as bilaterals or ‘bilats’.

HOW LONG MAY SPEECHES BE PERMITTED?

They should last 15 minutes. Delegates are “kindly reminded” on the UN’s website, but speeches take notoriously longer. The longest speech to the General Assembly clocked in at 269 minutes – almost 18 times that recommendation. It was delivered by Cuba’s Fidel Castro in 1960.

HOW IS THE ORDER OF THE SPEECH DETERMINED?

First above, as a rule: Brazil. It’s tradition. In the beginning, Brazil volunteered when no other country wanted to speak first. So now the South American country is entrenched as the first speaker. The United States, as the host nation, usually speaks second, but President Joe Biden’s presence at Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral will move his speech to Wednesday this year.

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Then the order is determined by who sends a country – heads of state for heads of government for ministers and other representatives – and other criteria, such as country preference and geographical balance.

IT’S CALLED A DEBATE, BUT A SEQUENCE OF SPEECHES DOESN’T SOUND VERY LIVELY. WHERE IS THE DRAMA?

The structure of the general debate doesn’t lend itself to obvious fireworks – no booing or interruptions or instant rebuttals – but that doesn’t mean intrigue and drama are absent.

First, the speeches can be a source of suggestive language and barbs – take Zelenskyy’s speech last year, given about five months before the start of the war, in which he denounced the UN himself as a “retired superhero” and the Russian President Vladimir Putin wryly quoted. Sometimes the message is veiled: While the deposed Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan last year called India’s Hindu nationalist government “fascist,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi targeted both Pakistan and China without naming either one.

Member States may also make use of the right of reply, in which they can refute criticisms expressed during the General Debate. These are often fiery exchanges, but not usually delivered by prominent members of a country’s delegation. The protracted enmity of India and Pakistan practically guarantees that they will make use of the right of reply.

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ARE THE MEMBER STATES THE ONLY AUTHORIZED TO TREAT THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY?

No. The State of Palestine, the Holy See (the Vatican) and the European Union are all permanent observers on the roll this year.

ARE THERE EXTENDED SPEAKERS TO VIEW THIS YEAR?

A lot. In addition to heavy hitters like Biden and Zelenskyy, you can expect speeches from the new British Prime Minister Liz Truss, French President Emmanuel Macron, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and new Kenyan President William Ruto.

Russia is sending its foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, whose visa to the US has been in doubt for some time, despite an agreement between the UN and the United States requiring the approval of visas “regardless of the relations that exist between the governments of the named persons” and the US government.

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The Bharat Express News chief of UN correspondent Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report. Follow Mallika Sen on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mallikavsen. For more TBEN coverage of the UN General Assembly, visit https://apnews.com/hub/united-nations-general-assembly.