UN General Assembly kicks off in New York City

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 9:02 PM ET, Tue September 21, 2021
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2:31 p.m. ET, September 21, 2021

Iran's president slams US in UN speech, says world no longer cares about "America First"

From CNN's Caitlin Hu 

Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi remotely addresses the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly on September 21, 2021 in New York. 
Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi remotely addresses the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly on September 21, 2021 in New York.  Eduardo Munoz/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi took aim at the United States in a blunt pre-recorded speech Tuesday afternoon, invoking two moments that he said “made history” this year: the Capitol insurrection of Jan. 6, and Afghan civilians seen falling from American evacuation planes last month in Kabul.

In the light of such scenes, Raisi called for the US to refrain from trying to influence the world, saying the world no longer cares about “America First” or “America’s Back” — a jab at both President Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump.

“Freedom does not fit in the backpacks of soldiers coming from outside the region,” he added.

In his first address to the United Nations General Assembly since becoming president, Raisi also attacked the US for keeping sanctions on Iran, amid stalled negotiations to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.

“We want only what is rightfully ours. All powers must stay true to the nuclear deal in practice,” he said.

2:27 p.m. ET, September 21, 2021

Biden met with Iraq's president on sidelines at UN

From CNN's Jason Hoffman

John Minchillo/Pool/Getty Images
John Minchillo/Pool/Getty Images

President Biden met with Iraq's President Barham Salih on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the White House announced Tuesday in a readout of the meeting, saying the two "discussed strengthening the bilateral relationship and deepening cooperation on regional diplomatic initiatives."

"President Biden stressed the U.S. commitment to Iraq’s long-term stability and the leaders reaffirmed their respect for Iraq’s democracy, rule of law, and efforts to hold credible and transparent elections this October. He lauded recent initiatives such as the Baghdad Regional Summit and the historic visit of Pope Francis to Iraq earlier this year as an important symbol of Iraq’s contributions to regional stability and interfaith tolerance," the readout said.

The meeting was not listed on Biden's schedule released by the White House.

1:11 p.m. ET, September 21, 2021

Colombian president calls for free and fair elections in Venezuela to address the migration crisis

From CNN's Karol Suarez in Mexico City

Eduardo Munoz/Pool/Getty Images
Eduardo Munoz/Pool/Getty Images

Colombian President Iván Duque called on free and fair elections in Venezuela to address the “millions of Venezuelans fleeing the narco dictatorship and infamy,” and outlined the steps his government has undertaken to address the issue.

"The work with the United Nations and the office of Dr. Filippo Grandi, High Commissioner for Refugees, has shown great progress, such as providing temporary protection status to more than one million two hundred thousand Venezuelan migrants living in our country," Duque said during his UNGA speech Tuesday.

"We undertake this challenge not being a rich country and at an enormous fiscal cost. The situation requires that through the donor conferences that have been established, we now need to see the disbursements of the commitments of the international community, and I urge you to do that," Duque asked.

Duque said his government's goal is to naturalize the 1.8 million Venezuelan migrants living in Colombia.

With the temporary protection status, Venezuelans can legally work in Colombia and earn the same amount as a Colombian citizen would, according to a government statement from August.

Duque also addressed the talks between the government of Nicolás Maduro and Venezuelan opposition taking place in Mexico City, saying “those talks do give some hope” but the only effective solution to “the worst migration crisis affecting the planet” is holding a free and transparent presidential election that involved international observation as soon as possible.

"Any solution that perpetuates the shameful dictatorship and allows the regime to gain time will only exacerbate the humanitarian disaster that our continent is experiencing. The end of the dictatorship is the only viable way to move forward for the well-being of the Venezuelan people, it should, above all, be the purpose of international action," he said.

1:14 p.m. ET, September 21, 2021

Colombian president calls for fair distribution of vaccines

From CNN's Karol Suarez

Timothy A. Clary/Pool/Getty Images
Timothy A. Clary/Pool/Getty Images

Colombian President Iván Duque on Tuesday called for the fair distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.

"Today, I call upon the international community to strengthen multilateralism in the area of health and to make progress in the fair distribution of vaccines, delegates," Duque said during his address at the United Nations General Assembly, calling out what he called “shortcomings in multilateralism” in a coordinated response “during the most critical times.”

“The divides existing between nations with regard to the process of vaccination are unprecedented. While some nations are acquiring additional doses for six or seven times the size of their population and are also announcing third booster shots, others have not even been able to inject one single dose of hope in their population," he said.

The equitable distribution of the Covid-19 “is our moral duty," he said, adding that Colombia is making progress in the national vaccination plan "to cover as the minimum 70% of our citizens."

1:13 p.m. ET, September 21, 2021

Biden hails relationship with Australia just days after new partnership drew ire from France

From CNN's Betsy Klein

Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

President Biden met with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison Tuesday on the sidelines of the United Nations.

The two leaders touted the US-Australian relationship just days after the announcement of their new partnership drew the ire of France.

“The United States has no closer or more reliable ally than Australia. Our nations have stood together for a long, long time, and we can rely on one another, and that’s really reassuring. And we’re grateful for our partnership and what we’ve accomplished together over 70 years,” Biden said as he kicked off the meeting, calling Morrison a “friend.”

He said they would be discussing a free and open Indo-Pacific, conversations that will continue with the first in-person Quad leaders meeting Friday at the White House with leaders from India and Japan.

Biden said Australia is working “in lockstep” with the US on challenges including Covid-19, climate change, and defending democracy, reiterating his view that the world is at an “inflection point.”

Morrison thanked Biden for his leadership and touted the US-Australian partnership, saying the two nations have always stood together to pursue freedom.

“So, Mr. President, I want to thank you for your leadership and your focus on the Indo-Pacific region. There's no doubt – you get it,” Morrison said.

Biden told Morrison the two had a “lot of work to do” as the spray concluded. He did not respond to shouted questions.

Some background: Biden's comments come following tension between European leaders and the White House over a scuppered submarine deal. The French government has been seething since last week, when Australia abandoned a huge deal to buy conventional submarines from France. Instead, the US and UK announced they would help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines as part of a new security pact called AUKUS.

The move has opened a new fissure in the Western alliance and sparked growing public criticism from other European officials.

You can read more about the submarine deal here.

12:33 p.m. ET, September 21, 2021

Biden on border situation: "We're getting it under control"

From CNN's Betsy Klein

A United States Border Patrol agent on horseback tries to stop a Haitian migrant from entering an encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande near the Acuna Del Rio International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas on September 19, 2021.
A United States Border Patrol agent on horseback tries to stop a Haitian migrant from entering an encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande near the Acuna Del Rio International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas on September 19, 2021. Paul Ratje/AFP/Getty Images

President Biden took a shouted question on the situation on the southern border as he departed the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday.

"We're getting it under control," he said.

What we know: Videos taken by Al Jazeera and Reuters appear to show law enforcement officers on horseback using aggressive tactics when confronting migrants, including authorities swinging long reins near migrants who crossed the US-Mexico border near Del Rio, Texas.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Tuesday said he was "horrified" by the images.

"I was horrified by what I saw," Mayorkas told CNN's Brianna Keilar on "New Day." "I'm going to let the investigation run its course. But the pictures that I observed troubled me profoundly. That defies all of the values that we seek to instill in our people."

Thousands of migrants – many of them Haitian – have gathered in a temporary site under the Del Rio International Bridge in Texas as they wait to be processed by US immigration authorities. They sleep in the dirt, surrounded by growing piles of garbage, exposed to the elements and without much food and water, in hopes of being processed by the overwhelmed US Border Patrol.

12:26 p.m. ET, September 21, 2021

Aerial images of Amazon rainforest contradict Bolsonaro's UNGA speech, organizations say 

From CNN's AnneClaire Stapleton 

Aerial view from Sept. 15 of an area in the Amazon that Greenpeace says has been deforested for the expansion of livestock, in Lábrea, Amazonas state.
Aerial view from Sept. 15 of an area in the Amazon that Greenpeace says has been deforested for the expansion of livestock, in Lábrea, Amazonas state. Victor Moriyama/Amazônia em Chamas/Greenpeace

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's speech at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) is contradicted by data and aerial images, non-governmental organizations say. 

Bolsonaro said in his remarks that the Amazon had “a 32% reduction in deforestation in the month of August when compared to August of the previous year.”

Brazil's president used numbers from the Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE) released on Friday that points to a 918 square kilometers deforestation rate for August.

The number is almost double of what was registered in August 2018, before the Bolsonaro administration. Data from the Amazon Institute of Man and Environment (Imazon) – which monitors the deforested areas by satellite – however, points to 1.606 square kilometers of deforestation in August, a 7% rise in comparison to the same month of 2020. It is also the highest rate for August in a decade, according to Imazon´s satellites imagery.

After Bolsonaro's speech in New York, Amazon in Flames Alliance, a group formed by NGOs Amazon Watch, Greenpeace Brazil, and the Brazilian Climate Observatory, released aerial images of an expedition at Rondonia and Amazonas states on Brazilian Amazon between Sept. 14 and 17.

The images show large areas of the Amazon deforested in July, already consumed by fire, scars from mining activities within protected areas, illegal landing strips, large plots of land being prepared for planting, and cattle grazing alongside recent fires.

“While Bolsonaro was en route to New York, we flew over the Amazon to record the reality of the destruction of the largest tropical rainforest in the world: illegal deforestation and burning. The images don’t lie, but the same cannot be said of the President's speech at the UN,” says Stela Herschmann, climate policy specialist at the Climate Observatory.

Some background: Under the Bolsonaro administration, Amazonas surpassed Rondonia as the third state with the worst level of deforestation, according to INPE. In August alone, 8.588 fire spots were registered in the state, surpassing the record for the same month in 2020, which, in turn, had surpassed that of 2019. Fires are used by land grabbers and ranchers as a tool to deforest areas and take the land.

“Enforcement agencies such as IBAMA need to recover their capacity to act. Losing the southern Amazon, considered the heart of the Amazon, could bring us even closer to the forest’s tipping point. This is a time to act against the crimes, and not to cover them up,” says Ana Paula Vargas, Amazon Watch Brazil Program director.

Aerial view from Sept. 15 of an area in the Amazon that Greenpeace says has been deforested for the expansion of livestock, in Lábrea, Amazonas state.
Aerial view from Sept. 15 of an area in the Amazon that Greenpeace says has been deforested for the expansion of livestock, in Lábrea, Amazonas state. Victor Moriyama/Amazônia em Chamas/Greenpeace

An aerial image released by NGOs Amazon Watch, Greenpeace Brazil, and the Brazilian Climate Observatory from an expedition in the Amazonas states.
An aerial image released by NGOs Amazon Watch, Greenpeace Brazil, and the Brazilian Climate Observatory from an expedition in the Amazonas states. Victor Moriyama/Amazônia em Chamas/Greenpeace

11:03 a.m. ET, September 21, 2021

Unvaccinated Brazilian president tells UN General Assembly he wants to fight Covid-19

From CNN's Hira Humayun

(Timothy A. Clary/Pool/AP)
(Timothy A. Clary/Pool/AP)

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has been criticized for his handling of the global pandemic, told the UN General Assembly that Covid-19 “caught everyone by surprise” in 2020.

“I have always advocated that we should fight the virus, and unemployment at the same time, and with the same sense of responsibility," he said.

Bolsonaro, who is unvaccinated against the virus, said lockdown measures "left a legacy of inflation, particularly in foodstuffs, all over the world."

“In Brazil, to cater to the needs of the low-income population, who were forced to stay at home by decisions taken by governors and mayors, people who lost their income, we granted an emergency aid of 800 US dollars to 68 million people in 2020.”

The Brazilian president has publicly spoken out against lockdowns, receiving criticism from governors, such as São Paulo governor João Doria.

However, Bolsonaro said that by November this year, all citizens “who have chosen to be vaccinated in Brazil will be duly covered."

"We support vaccination efforts," he said, although he acknowledged his own government's lack of wider vaccine participation. “However, my administration has not supported a vaccine or health passport, or any other vaccine related obligation.”

10:59 a.m. ET, September 21, 2021

Biden wraps remarks with optimistic call for global community to rally behind "a better future"

From CNN's Jasmine Wright

(Evan Vucci/AP)
(Evan Vucci/AP)

President Biden wrapped his more than 30 minutes remarks to the UN General Assembly with an optimistic call for the global community to rally behind building “a better future,” by meeting the list of challenges he laid out in his first address as president. 

“Let me be clear, I am not agnostic about the future we want for the world,” Biden said. “The future will belong to those who embrace human dignity. Not trample it. The future belongs to those who unleash the potential of their people, not those who stifle it.”

Biden said democracy lives in peaceful protesters, human rights advocates, journalists, women fighting for freedom among others in countries like Belarus, Zambia, Syria and Cuba, while nodding to the US’ own struggles in democracy. 

“I stand here today the first time in 20 years the United States is not at war. We’ve turned the page. All the unmatched strength, energy, commitment, will and resources, our nation are now fully and squarely focused on what's ahead of us, not what was behind," he said.