Photographer: Michael Gottschalk/Photothek via Getty Images

Five Days of Gridlock: Your Guide to UN General Assembly Week

The Syrian ceasefire and U.S. elections are the hot topics at the annual gathering in New York

It's that time of year again when world leaders gather at the United Nations and New Yorkers avoid the East Side. There is plenty for them to pore over, both from the podium and on the side lines: Can a Syria truce hold? How will Brexit unfurl? Will Donald Trump be joining them next year? How hard is it to get a ticket to Hamilton?

Here is a rundown of what to look out for during a week of bumper-to-bumper traffic.


An Afghan immigrant was detained Monday late morning after a police shootout in connection to a series of blasts and failed detonations in the New York-area, including one in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan that left 29 injured. The incidents have added further layers of security and anxiety to what is already an extremely policed gathering of dignitaries. The blasts, timed so soon after the Sept. 11 anniversary, come as cities in Europe have been on high alert on the heels of fatal terror attacks in France and Belgium.

The New Face of Brazil

It will be the debut on the international stage for Michel Temer, the 75-year-old law professor who has been president of Latin America’s largest nation for less than a month, following the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff. He will be the first head of state to address the 193-member Assembly on Tuesday morning and his words will be parsed for indications of how he plans to fix a crumbling economy in a deeply divided nation.

Goodbye Obama, Hello Trump?

After eight years and many more grey hairs, this is Barack Obama's final appearance at the annual UN gathering. At once a public platform where he's taken aim at Russia and lamented the many failings in the Middle East, the UN has also been a backdrop for some of his signature diplomatic achievements. Last year, for instance, Obama shook hands with Iran's foreign minister as a prelude to a nuclear deal implemented a few months later.

One question at the back of every diplomat's mind is who'll stand in his place at next year's jamboree: Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton?

From her years as Secretary of State, Clinton is no stranger to the UN. She will stop by to meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. No official word yet on whether Trump will make an appearance, though the implications of his "America First" presidency for the rest of the world make for interesting water cooler conversation up and down the UN's corridors of power.

Brexit Means What?


Theresa May is fond of repeating "Brexit means Brexit," though almost three months after the U.K. shocked the world by voting to leave the European Union it's not any clearer what the country's new prime minister means by that. With eight ministers in tow, she is in New York for barely a day. Having face time with her will be a priority for any leader eager for clues on how the divorce from the 28-nation bloc will unfold. While the U.K. remains one of five veto-wielding Security Council members, the fact that it'll no longer be part of the single largest voting bloc in the UN is of some significance.

Syria & Refugees

No issue looms larger or highlights more the shortcomings of the international community than the ongoing carnage in Syria, where a delicate truce was just struck. There will be a Summit for Refugees and Migrants on Monday, an Obama-hosted Leaders' Summit on the Global Refugee Crisis on Tuesday and a Security Council member meeting on Wednesday to discuss the Syrian conflict. While there has been no lack of talk, there has been little in the way of actionable progress. As the conflict heads into its seventh year, the effects have reverberated far and wide. The surge in the number of refugees fleeing the violence has deeply tested the European project, sullied the U.S. presidential campaign and helped make up the mind of Britons to quit the EU.

Syria Asylum Application Map

New UN Secretary General

Who should succeed Ban Ki-moon as Secretary General when his second term ends on Dec. 31 is yet to be decided. While there has been an effort to make the selection process more transparent, it's still everything but. There have been four rounds of straw polls, with another one due Sept. 26, and plenty of bartering behind closed doors so anything can happen. 

As things stand, though, Portugal's Antonio Guterres is the front runner. He is UN High Commissioner for Refugees and a former prime minister. But there has been a lot of noise about the possibility of a first-ever female in the top job and a geographic rotation rule should make it Eastern Europe’s turn to lead. That puts two Bulgarian women, UNESCO head Irinia Bokova and European Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, in contention.

Sorry, Am Busy

Conspicuous in his absence is Russian President Vladimir Putin, who last year took the West to task for the rise of Islamic State and the instability in the Middle East. On his return to Moscow, he sent war planes into Syria while stunned leaders at the UN scrambled to formulate a response.

The star last year was Pope Francis and his appeal to save the planet from environmental ruin. A climate change deal was reached in Paris in December so this year the popemobile is staying put, to the relief of security staff and city drivers. Chinese President Xi Jinping decided against the long-haul flight and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, facing defeat in region elections, is staying home to weather the political backlash for her willingness to welcome refugees.

And what about those Hamilton tickets? The Richard Rodgers Theater says the next batch of tickets—for June, July and August 2017—will go on sale soon. Good luck.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.