September 20, 2022: World leaders gather at UN General Assembly

By Adrienne Vogt, Mike Hayes, Aditi Sangal, Maureen Chowdhury and Elise Hammond, CNN

Updated 5:46 a.m. ET, September 21, 2022
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6:54 p.m. ET, September 20, 2022

"Ukraine will prevail": President of neighboring Poland reaffirms his support for refugees

Poland's President Andrzej Duda addresses the United Nations General Assembly.
Poland's President Andrzej Duda addresses the United Nations General Assembly. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

Polish President Andrzej Duda reiterated his country's support for Ukraine and for the refugees who have fled the war-torn country.

“I am one of those politicians that even before the war believed the Ukraine would successfully defend itself," Duda said during remarks at the UN General Assembly.

More than 6 million Ukrainian refugees have fled across the border to Poland since the start of the war, according to Duda. He said now, some of them are "permanent guests," with about 2 million people still living in his country, while others go back and forth between Poland and Ukraine.

“Today, I’m convinced that Ukraine will prevail, that the refugees will return to their homes, that Ukraine will be rebuilt," Duda said while pledging that Poland and its allies will do "the utmost to make this happen."

The Polish president also talked about food insecurity and shared concerns about Russian troops destroying crops or blocking shipments of grain. He said Poland will "go to great lengths" to help facilitate that grain moving forward, calling hunger a critical issue.

Duda said Russia was "not only threatening Ukraine but the entire world,” pointing to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and the threat of nuclear disaster in Europe.

Moving forward: Duda called on countries to increase aid to the Ukrainian civilian population, adding that humanitarian needs are currently greater than the funds that are available. He said while it was "very positive" that Western Europe rallied to support Ukraine during the war, he added, "Let's not become complacent."

6:44 p.m. ET, September 20, 2022

Belarusian opposition leader urges UN to hold Lukashenko accountable for crimes

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya on Tuesday called on the United Nations to seek accountability for the crimes committed by Alexander Lukashenko and said he should not be recognized as the legitimate leader of Belarus.

Speaking to CNN on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly — which she said she was attending to be “the voice of Belarusians” — Tsikhanouskaya said she believed the UN could do much more when confronting the crisis in Belarus.

Lukashenko, who has been called “Europe’s last dictator,” has clung to power in the eastern European nation for decades, and in 2020 remained in his position despite an election largely condemned as neither free nor fair.

Tsikhanouskaya called for the UN Security Council to hold hearings on Belarus, and said the UN could hold Lukashenko accountable for crimes, human rights abuses and torture. These included, she said, the “hijacking” of a Ryanair flight in 2021 to detain an activist, the creation of a migration crisis along the border with Poland and the possible deployment of nuclear weapons in Belarus.

“We realize that the whole attention now is on Ukraine, but Belarus is part of this crisis,” Tsikhanouskaya said, telling CNN that there are approximately 2,000 Russian troops training in Belarus, and said they must leave the country.

“We understand that at any moment, Russian troops can return,” she said. Lukashenko “freely gives our territory for Russian troops and equipment,” Tsikhanouskaya said, adding that Lukashenko has to be loyal to Russian President Vladimir Putin “because it's the only source of his power.”

Tsikhanouskaya also called for the international community to strengthen its sanctions against the regime, including secondary sanctions. She also called for increased support for civil society.  

5:48 p.m. ET, September 20, 2022

Biden arrives in New York for UN General Assembly

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

US President Joe Biden disembarks Air Force One at John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York on September 20.
US President Joe Biden disembarks Air Force One at John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York on September 20. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

US President Joe Biden has arrived in New York to attend high-level talks and deliver an address at the United Nations. 

Air Force One landed at JFK airport at 5:25 p.m. ET. 

Ukraine is expected to be a primary focus for Biden during his speech on Wednesday morning and in his talks with world leaders. 

Earlier, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Biden was coming to New York with the “wind at his back” having unified the West in punishing Russia for its invasion. 

5:41 p.m. ET, September 20, 2022

Blinken: Putin's "utter contempt and disdain" for UN on display this week

From CNN's Kylie Atwood

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Britain's Foreign Secretary James Cleverly hold a sidebar meeting during the 77th United Nations General Assembly.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Britain's Foreign Secretary James Cleverly hold a sidebar meeting during the 77th United Nations General Assembly. (David "Dee" Delgado/Pool/Reuters)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the fact that Russia is moving ahead with referendums in Ukrainian territory, and that Russian President Vladimir Putin is reportedly contemplating mobilizing more reserve forces while the United Nations General Assembly is happening, shows Putin’s “utter contempt and disdain” for the UN.

“ The very principles that we're here to uphold this week in the charter of sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, are what are being violently aggressed by Russia,” Blinken said, “including through the attempts to proceed with these referenda and putting even more forces into the effort to seize Ukrainian sovereign territory.”

Blinken also said it was not a surprise that Russia was making these moves now, after recent battlefield losses and more widespread concern globally about the war in Ukraine. 

“We've seen in the last weeks significant gains by Ukraine in taking that the land its land, seized by Russian forces since the aggression began in Feb. 24. It's also a time when Russia itself is seeing serious reverses on the battlefield, and even some of its closest partners are clearly raising their deep concerns about what Russia is doing, and the consequences this is having for countries around the world,” Blinken said.

Blinken reiterated that the US will never recognize the sham Russian-backed referendums in Ukraine, or any move by Russia to annex Ukrainian territory. He said it is important for other countries to also make that clear.

Blinken said that these actions are a sign of weakness.

“It is a sign of Russian failure,” Blinken said of Russia’s recent actions and Putin’s reported plans.

5:45 p.m. ET, September 20, 2022

Lithuania calls for special war crimes tribunal to be established for Ukraine

From Jonny Hallam

Lithuania's President Gitanas Nauseda addresses the United Nations General Assembly.
Lithuania's President Gitanas Nauseda addresses the United Nations General Assembly. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

President of Lithuania Gitanas Nausėda reiterated his support Tuesday for the people of Ukraine and called on UN members to do more to help the country that was invaded by Russia.

"We must ensure that all those responsible for this unprecedented assault on European peace and security are held accountable," Nausėda told the UN General Assembly.

He also urged members to address the atrocities that are being committed in Ukraine.

I call on the global community to establish this special tribunal to address the war crimes," Nausėda said.

On Zaporizhzhia: Nausėda spoke of the real threat of a looming nuclear disaster in Europe, calling the deployment of Russian military personnel and weaponry at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant "alarming and totally unacceptable."

The Lithuanian leader said the staging of military forces at nuclear facilities "disregards the safety and security principles that all members of the International Atomic Energy Agency have committed to respect." 

He called on UN members to "collectively condemn such actions" and require Russia to "immediately and unconditionally withdraw all its troops from the entire territory of Ukraine," including Zaporizhzhia.

Some historical context: Nausėda called Russia a "dangerous imperial power" that was seeking to occupy and annex its neighbors. It's a fear that runs deeply in Lithuania, a former part of the Soviet Union that is now a member of the EU and NATO. Tens of thousands of Lithuanians were forcibly deported to gulags in Siberia and the far north by the Soviets in the 1940s and 1950s. Almost 30,000 Lithuanian prisoners perished in the forced labor camps.

7:03 p.m. ET, September 20, 2022

Honduras hails "historic event" at UN after 13 years of dictatorship

From CNN's Jonny Hallam

Honduras’ President Iris Xiomara Castro Sarmiento addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday.
Honduras’ President Iris Xiomara Castro Sarmiento addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday. (Amr Alfiky/Reuters)

The President of Honduras, Iris Xiomara Castro Sarmiento, hailed her speech at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Tuesday as a "historic event."

"I stand before this global rostrum in what for my country is a historic event," Castro said.

"Not only because I am the first woman to have the honor of leading our Central American nation, but also because I represent the first democratically elected government after our country moved through 13 years of dictatorship," she said.

Castro said only when the world understands the difficulties faced by the people in Honduras following "the 2009 coup, which saw was mired in cruel killings, and death squadrons to fraudulent elections, pandemic and two hurricanes,' would people understand why migrant caravans travel north towards the United States.

"It is impossible to understand the Honduran people, men and women and the huge caravans of migrants without recognizing this context of cruel suffering, which we have been forced to endure," Castro said.

3:48 p.m. ET, September 20, 2022

These are the leaders slated to speak at the UN General Assembly this afternoon

U.N. security members patrol outside the building during the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. Headquarters in New York City.
U.N. security members patrol outside the building during the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. Headquarters in New York City. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

For the first time in three years, world leaders are gathering in person for the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

After a short break, remarks continued this afternoon. Here's who is expected to speak next:

  • Iris Xiomara Castro Sarmiento, president of Honduras
  • Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos, president of the Philippines
  • Gitanas Nausėda, president of Lithuania
  • Klaus Werner Iohannis, president of Romania
  • Luis Alberto Arce Catacora, constitutional president of Bolivia
  • Pedro Castillo Terrones, president of Peru
  • David Kabua, president of the Marshall Islands
  • Rodrigo Chaves Robles, President of Costa Rica
  • Wavel Ramkalawan, president of Seychelles
  • Alberto Fernández, president of Argentina
  • Andrzej Duda, president of Poland
  • Alejandro Giammattei Falla, president of Guatemala
  • Nayib Armando Bukele, president of El Salvador
  • Félix-Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo, president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Faustin Archange Touadera, head of state of the Central African Republic
2:54 p.m. ET, September 20, 2022

Macron tells Iranian leader that progress on nuclear deal is up to Tehran

From CNN’s Pierre Bairin and Hira Humayun

France's President Emmanuel Macron arrives to address the United Nations General Assembly.
France's President Emmanuel Macron arrives to address the United Nations General Assembly. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

French President Emmanuel Macron told his Iranian counterpart President Ebrahim Raisi that the ball is in Iran’s court regarding a nuclear deal, according to an on-camera interview the French president gave to CNN affiliate BFM TV following the meeting between the two presidents.

It was Raisi's first high-level meeting with a Western leader since he took office last year.

Raisi said improving Iran’s relationship with Europe depended on European nations remaining independent from the “will and opinions" of the US, according to a statement on Raisi’s official website. 

In his remarks to BFM, Macron said he had a long discussion with Raisi and that it would be followed by other “technical exchanges.”

“The ball is now in Iran's court to say whether or not it accepts the conditions that have been formally proposed by the Americans and the Europeans,” Macron said, “President Raisi expressed to me his concern about historical issues and about guarantees on the issues looked at by the IAEA. If this is a precondition, then the IAEA must do its work independently. I have insisted on this. It is not a political enquiry. There will be no political intervention. The independence of the IAEA must be preserved.” 

The French president reiterated that France wants to see a “sincere framework,” verifiable by the International Atomic Energy Agency to preserve the security of the region. 

“I've been clear on the framework and you can't play with trust and security,” he said.

The Iranian president said his country was ready to reach a “fair and stable” agreement but that Iran’s open cases with the IAEA needed to be closed, according to the statement from Raisi’s office.

Raisi said Iran’s activities in the region were “peace-making” and helped prevent the spread of terrorism in Europe.

2:58 p.m. ET, September 20, 2022

Women in power discuss strategies and challenges to preparing next generation of female leaders

From CNN's Caitlin Hu

At a gathering of women leaders at the United Nations General Assembly, the number of attending heads of state or government reflected the sparse distribution of women in power globally.

But while “they may be small in number ... they pack a punch,” said former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, who was chairing the event. 

As the hashtag #womenleaders glowed on screens around the chamber, multiple speakers cited the same sobering statistic: Given the current rate of female representation at the highest levels of power, it could take the world 130 years to reach gender parity.

Speaking first, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir of Iceland urged nations to consider lessons learned in her country, where female officials served in primary roles in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Iceland chose not to shutter preschools, primary schools or domestic abuse shelters in order to maintain vital services that primarily affect women, she said. Jakobsdóttir also noted that incidents of rape in Iceland dropped by 43% during the pandemic, which she attributed to the closure of bars and clubs. 

Aruba’s Prime Minister Evelyn Wever-Croes, in contrast, directed the chamber’s attention toward the future. After acknowledging that leaders are grappling with simultaneous challenges from Covid-19, climate change, and conflict, she said, “I’m asking myself — are we preparing enough female leaders to take over?”

“We climbed to the top … and there will come a time when we have to take the elevator back down. Are we doing enough in our positions now to prepare women? We cannot leave it to chance,” she said.

Hungarian President Katalin Novák focused on family, calling on leaders to make it possible for women to have both children and fulfilling professional lives, citing examples of Hungary’s financial incentives for women who have multiple children.

“If we give up on having children, we won’t have daughters to fulfill what we started,” she said, describing the need for a world in which her daughter “won’t have to prove at every moment that she is capable.” 

Novak also reflected on the event itself: “I hope that in later years that this room will be filled with women leaders,” she said, adding that perhaps one day there might no longer be a need for a separate event for women leaders at all.