United Nations, Aug 3 (IANS) Prime Minister Narendra Modi will not be attending the General Assembly summit next month, according to a provisional programme released by the UN and confirmed by diplomatic sources.
Modi, who was in Washington in June to address the US Congress, had attended the last two UN summits.
According to the provisional schedule, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is to speak on September 26, the last day of the general debate, which is the summit part of the Assembly session.
The president-elect of the 71st Assembly session, Peter Thomson of Fji, has set as its theme, “The Sustainable Development Goals: A Universal Push to Transform Our World.” It follows up “Agenda 30”, the 17 sustainable development goals to be reached by 2030, that last year’s 70th UN anniversary summit adopted.
In 2014, as the newly elected Prime Minister, Modi presented at the UN summit his vision for India’s foreign policy that decisively moved away from the vestiges of the polemics of the anti-colonial era while committing to promotion of global democracy. He also pitched the creation of International Yoga Day, which was quickly adopted by the Assembly.
Last year Modi’s address spotlighted his development agenda. At a summit on peacekeeping convened at the UN by US President Barack Obama, he reaffirmed India’s commitment to UN peacekeeping operations with an offer to increase India’s personnel contribution by sending three police units made up mostly of women and 850 troops.
On the provisional list of those attending this year are 101 heads of state and 48 prime ministers from the 193 member countries.
While the speeches get the limelight, the real action at the summit is in the series of meetings between world leaders gathered at one place. They are organised like speed-dating as they flit from one meeting to the next to maximise the face-to-face contacts.
Who meets who – and who doesn’t meet who – and subtle gestures like a wave or an unscheduled meeting or informal chat send messages for pundits of diplomacy to analyse.
Newly-minted British Prime Minister Theresa May is to make her debut on the world stage at the summit. Presidents Barack Obama of the United States and Francois Hollande of France, and Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang are also scheduled to be there. But Russian President Vladimir Putin is not and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is to represent his country.
From South Asia, Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan, Sheikh Hasina Wazed of Bangladesh, and Tshering Tobgay of Bhutan, and President Maithrapala Sirisena of Sri Lanka are expected at the session, as is the Prime Minister of Nepal.
According to custom, Brazil’s president is the first speaker at the opening of an Assembly general debate. Brazil is in the throes of a political crisis and it is not certain who will take the black marble podium when the session starts on September 20.
The summit will be preceded on September 19 by a high-level meeting on refugees and migrants. The world leaders will discuss the refugee crisis that has sent waves of hundreds of thousands of people into Europe while millions of the displaced languish in squalor in Turkey, Jordan and elsewhere in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. UN estimates that there are about 20 million refugees world-wide.
Meanwhile, in a related matter of international diplomacy, a big question mark hangs over the 17th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement that Venezuela is supposed to host. The meeting was originally set for last year but was postponed because of the political and economic upheavals there.
According to Venezuelan media reports, the government of President Nicolas Maduro, had announced the summit would take place in July but couldn’t pull it off while the internal situation worsened. Now sources at the UN say that Caracas is scrambling to organise the summit around the time of the UN summit that is barely a month away. Venezuela’s Permanent Mission did not respond to calls by IANS.
(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected])