The president of the United Nations General Assembly wasn’t happy that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio rejected a meeting with him to discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the work of the 193-member world organization -- and he issued a rare statement Friday expressing sadness and concern at the snub.
Volker Bozkir said the United Nations “has been proud to call the city its home since the middle of the last century” and is “happy to generate billions of dollars in economic benefits and tens of thousands of jobs in New York City.”
But the Turkish politician and former diplomat said he was disappointed at the mayor’s refusal to meet him because “the policies devised by the city of New York directly affect the work of the United Nations and by extension millions of lives across the globe.”
“COVID-19 has deeply hurt New Yorkers, including the United Nations staff and delegates who consider the city to be their hometown,” Bozkir said. “In order to defeat the virus, we all need to band together in solidarity. The United Nations and New York must collaborate more closely than ever… This lack of interaction concerns me.”
Bozkir, who was elected by U.N. members and took over the one-year presidency of the General Assembly in mid-September, has been pressing for more in-person meetings and is hoping to hold a U.N. summit on COVID-19 later this year.
His spokesman, Brenden Varma, told reporters that Bozkir reached out about two weeks ago to ask for an appointment with the mayor, and offered to go to de Blasio’s office for an in-person meeting. But the assembly president received a response a few days ago declining the request, without an explanation, he said.
“I think for him it’s very important to foster this kind of coordination between the top elected official of the United Nations and the top elected official of New York City, so that we can make sure the General Assembly is functioning properly and that everyone is safe,” Varma said. “For him, there were certain messages that certain member states were interested in having him transmit to the mayor.”
Varma was asked about the messages and whether Bozkir was trying to get exemptions on restrictions imposed by the city because of COVID-19, but he wouldn’t give any details of the assembly president’s agenda for a meeting that never happened.
Bozkir also requested a meeting with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Oct. 16, Varma said, “and we’re waiting to hear back whether that meeting will happen or not.”
Penny Abeywardena, New York City’s commissioner for international affairs, responded to the assembly president’s statement, but she never mentioned the mayor’s decision not to meet Bozkir.
She pointed to de Blasio’s “excellent relationship” with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and “deeply collaborative relationship with Mr. Bozkir’s predecessors,” and said the city looks forward “to continuing our partnership with the United Nations.”
Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, Abeywardena said, her office “has worked closely with senior U.N. leadership to communicate the city’s ongoing response and policies, briefed virtual gatherings of the General Assembly, and held several virtual meetings to keep the diplomatic community informed about the services and resources available to them and their constituents.”
Varma said Bozkir “hopes the mayor will understand how important this meeting was to him — the fact that he wants to ensure this kind of coordination and dialogue both among U.N. leaders but also with leaders of the city and eventually of the state as well.”