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G-20 Leaders’ Summit, Set for Riyadh, to Now Be Held ‘Virtually’

The Kingdom Tower, operated by Kingdom Holding Co., centre, stands on the skyline above the King Fahd highway in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Monday, Nov. 28, 2016. Saudi Arabia and the emirate of Abu Dhabi plan to more than double their production of petrochemicals to cash in on growing demand. Photographer: Bloomberg/Bloomberg

The Group of 20 Leaders’ Summit, which had been planned for Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh, will now be held “virtually”, according to a statement posted to the G-20 website.

The G-20 summit gathers leaders of the world’s most powerful nations together for a multiday meeting. The agenda this year “will focus on protecting lives and restoring growth, by addressing vulnerabilities uncovered during the pandemic and by laying down the foundations for a better future”, according to the statement.
Saudi officials have been trying to salvage the set piece event, which would allow its rulers to host the world’s most important political leaders. It also offers a chance to rehabilitate the kingdom’s reputation after the murder of government critic Jamal Khashoggi two years ago.

But the annual schedule of multilateral meetings has been derailed by the coronavirus pandemic. The United Nations General Assembly, which usually brings 10,000 diplomats and scores of world leaders to Manhattan, was held virtually earlier this month.

As with the UN, the absence of an in-person G-20 summit will preclude the personal encounters among world leaders that sometimes offer glimmers of progress to seemingly intractable crises.

Saudi Arabia’s leadership of the G-20 is set to expire at the end of November. Italy will take over the secretariat on December 1 and responsibility for hosting next year’s gathering of world leaders – if the pandemic allows.

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