UN General Assembly Kicks Off in New York City

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More than 140 heads of state and government gathered in New York City Tuesday for the 69th annual United Nations general assembly.

This year’s agenda is crowded with talks and speeches on new crises, including the rise of Islamic State extremists in Syria and Iraq, the ongoing civil strife in Ukraine, and the deadly Ebola outbreak, as well as old standards such as climate change and nuclear disarmament.

Topping the agenda is the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). The UN security council will convene a special session on Wednesday in the hopes of forging an international agreement to sever the flow of funds, arms and fighters into ISIS strongholds in Iraq and Syria. President Barack Obama will chair the security council session, the first time he has done so since 2009, the Guardian reports.

On Wednesday each head of state will have 15 minutes at the lectern to address the General Assembly. Notable newcomers include Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi—who has booked out Madison Square Garden to address the Indian diaspora on Sunday—and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Russian President Vladimir Putin will not attend this year’s meeting, neither will Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the second year running, but, surprisingly, North Korea will send its first high-level delegate in 15 years, foreign minister minister Ri Su-yong, according to South Korea’s Joongang Daily .

Thursday will include a summit on the Ebola outbreak in west Africa, which has claimed more than 2,700 lives according to the World Health Organization. President Obama will address the gathering world leaders in a bid to raise funds and secure more commitments of aid to the affected countries, ABC News reports.

And once again, the un-choreographed action behind the scenes, when representatives from rival states might rub shoulders or shake hands, will be closely watched by diplomats and press corps alike. Last year’s meeting was preceded by anticipation of a hand shake between Iranian and U.S. leaders, never fulfilled in deed.

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