Remarks by a Senior Admin Official during a Telephonic Background Briefing on Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield’s Travel to Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Amman

U.S. Representative to the United Nations
Washington, D.C.
November 12, 2021


MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. Thanks for joining us for this background call. Before I turn it over to [Senior Administration Official] to say a few words and then answer some of your questions, just wanted to say a note on the background – on the ground rules for this call. This call is on background. [Senior Administration Official]’s comments can be attributed to a senior administration official, and the contents of the call are embargoed for the conclusion of the call.

With that, I will turn it over to [Senior Administration Official]. [Senior Administration Official]?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hey, thanks, [Moderator], and good morning, everyone. Thanks for taking the time to do this – to do this call. I just thought maybe it’d make sense to do a brief overview of our plans for this upcoming trip, and then obviously, as quickly as possible, get to your questions.

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield will be traveling to Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Amman to advance U.S. priorities on Middle East issues that figure so prominently in our work up in New York at the United Nations. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield will start the trip by traveling to Jerusalem, and as I think we noted in our announcement of the trip visit, she’ll be the first U.S. Cabinet official to visit Israel since the formation of its new government in June.

In Jerusalem, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield will meet with Prime Minister Bennett, President Herzog, and other senior officials across the government. She’ll reaffirm the strength of the U.S.-Israel partnership and explore new ways to expand our close cooperation at the United Nations. And obviously there’s a full range of issues on the agenda, including in the region, that the Ambassador will have an opportunity to compare notes and seek to make some progress.

The Biden administration is committed to defending Israel from one-sided and biased resolutions that consume too much time up at the United Nations and in UN bodies. The Ambassador’s been proud to stand up for Israel on these occasions, including in the Security Council. And the Ambassador will have an opportunity to discuss a positive agenda at the UN with the Israeli leadership, aimed at promoting Israel’s full participation in the UN system. This is something we feel very strongly is in the interest of Israel and the entire international community. She’ll also have an opportunity to discuss how we can make the normalization agreements, the Abraham Accords and other normalization agreements between Israel and its Arab and Muslim neighbors, felt at the UN, where we believe there are some new opportunities for cooperation. We’ll have an opportunity to check in on that.

We also have a full agenda of other activities in Jerusalem. The Ambassador will visit Yad Vashem to honor and remember those who perished in the Holocaust, which is particularly important to her personally and to the United States as we work to combat anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred across the globe, and that’s obviously a big part of our agenda in the United States and for the Ambassador in New York.

She will then travel to Ramallah, where she will continue the Biden administration’s efforts to rebuild ties with both Palestinian leaders and the Palestinian people. She will meet with Palestinian Authority President Abbas and several of his closest advisors as well as representatives of Palestinian civil society, and we’ll have more to say about that program in the days ahead. She will also discuss in Ramallah how we can help Palestinians and Israelis enjoy equal measures of security, of freedom, of prosperity and dignity, which is important in its own right, of course, but also for protecting the viability of a two-state solution.

To those ends, we see that UN organizations play a critical role in supporting the Palestinian people, especially the refugee population, and the Ambassador is going to be using this trip to get firsthand insight into how the United States can help these organizations better serve the Palestinian people.

And then finally, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield will travel to Amman, where she will meet with a range of folks in Jordan to reaffirm our commitment to our enduring and strategic partnership and discuss ways that we can address a whole range of regional issues, Jordan’s own economic prosperity agenda and challenges thereto, and convey our deep gratitude for Jordan’s generosity in hosting refugees from neighboring countries. She’ll have the opportunity to engage directly with refugee communities in Jordan and see the work being done to support refugees, which is a top priority for her and also for the Biden administration across the board.

So with that, why don’t we go to your questions?

MODERATOR: Great. Thanks, [Senior Administration Official]. Tani (ph), I think we can – if you want to give instructions for folks to get into the queue, we can take some questions now.

OPERATOR: Thank you. If you wish to ask a question, please press 1 then 0 on your telephone keypad. You may withdraw your question at any time by repeating the 1-0 command. One moment.

Our first question will come from the line of Jacob Magid with The Times of Israel. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, can you hear me?


QUESTION: Hi, great. Thanks for doing this. At the end of the Obama administration there was Resolution 2334 at the UN criticizing Israeli settlement expansion, which was a – the U.S. abstained. I was wondering, given plans in Israel to continue settlement expansion, if such a resolution were to come up if that would be the continued position of the next Democratic president under Joe Biden, whether there’d be an extension.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, Jacob, thanks for the question. I’ll just say the United States position on this is very clear. The United States opposes all unilateral actions that exacerbate tensions and take us further away from a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and we have that position whether we’re talking about settlement construction, demolitions, prisoner payment, or incitement to violence. That position is clear. I’m not going to speculate about future events, but I think our position on this – we have made clear, the Secretary has made clear, and we’ll have an opportunity to consult on these issues during this visit as well.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Ibtisam Azem with Alaraby. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Can you hear me?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, we’ve got you loud and clear.

QUESTION: Thank you, [Moderator]. Thank you, [Senior Administration Official]. I have first a follow-up on your remarks at the beginning regarding the meeting with the civil society in Ramallah. Could you elaborate if this is – who is she meeting with, and if these are part of the six civil society groups, human rights groups that were designated by Israel as so-called terrorist organizations. And my question on the issue of the American embassy, East Jerusalem: It seems to be that the Israelis are not going to allow the U.S. to reopen it, so what’s the latest on that and is this going to be also discussed? Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great. Thank you so much for the question. I don’t have further details on the specific meetings that we have planned on this trip. There’s a whole range of things that we’re going to be doing on each of the three places where the Ambassador is traveling. We’ll have more details on the specific meetings as we go forward, and of course we’ll be reading out. A number of the meetings she’ll be doing are private, of course, but we’ll be reading out those conversations after the fact.

On your question about the U.S. embassy, or I take it from your question you may have also been asking about the consulate.


SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On the U.S. embassy – yeah, oh, on the consulate. Okay. On the consulate, I would just say that Secretary Blinken has spoken on this issue, and I don’t have anything further to add on it. Thank you.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Nabil Abi Saab with Alaraby. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, good morning. Nabil Abi Saab, Alaraby TV. Thank you. So my question is on Syria. Where is Syria in this trip? We know that Jordan is leading Arab or regional efforts to re-engage with the Syrian Government, with Bashar Assad; also, the Emirati foreign minister was in Damascus, for example, yesterday. So is Madam Ambassador going to discuss the regional concept or efforts about re-engaging with Syria? And we know that also there are security arrangements are discussed for southern Syria, and Israel is very concerned about them. So can you tell us about that? Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, thank you for the question. I do think that this will be a topic high on the agenda for the Ambassador’s visit, both in Jerusalem and Amman. As you know, and as we’ve been discussing, we’ve been focused in the Biden administration on a number of objectives when it comes to Syria. That includes expanding humanitarian access given the increasingly dire humanitarian situation in Syria and to make sure that critically needed humanitarian assistance is going to Syrians across Syria and also to support to those countries that are hosting and providing assistance to refugees across the region. The United States remains the top contributor in the world by far to these programs, and Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield has been personally involved in the diplomacy around the recent UN Security Council resolution that continues critical cross-border assistance to Syria to make sure that we’re reaching as many people in need as possible.

We’re also – we’ve also been focused in sustaining the U.S. and coalition campaign against ISIS and al-Qaida, and that – those counterterrorism efforts are part of our agenda as well; and also, in sustaining the ceasefires that – and the relative calm that has been maintained so far in parts of Syria, and I think that is also an issue that’s high on the security agenda for Israel as well. And I suspect that this will be an active part of the discussion during our conversations on this trip.

We have a number of enduring security interests, and many of those overlap with Israel’s. And I think the Ambassador will have an opportunity to compare notes with the Israeli leadership on this set of issues and hopefully make some progress on a way forward.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Ali Barada with Asharq Al Aswat. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, [Moderator]. Thank you, [Senior Administration Official]. I have a question whether the Ambassador has any chance to meet civil society activists in East Jerusalem from the Palestinian side and of course on the Israeli side. And the other question, whether there is going to be any discussion about the demarcation of the maritime border between Lebanon and Israel, and also the pipeline from Egypt, Jordan, Syria to Lebanon as well. Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks so much. Well, when it comes to civil society, obviously I will just say generally this has been a important focus for the United States across the board, and it is, frankly, for senior U.S. officials, Cabinet-level officials, whenever they travel. And that certainly is true for Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield. So I know she’ll be looking forward to not just meeting with senior leaders in the different stops on this visit, but also engaging actively with advocates and civil society. And as I said, we’ll have more to say about the specifics on that. We’ll be able to read out some of those conversations. But rest assured that this will be an important part of her agenda on this trip.

I won’t go into the details of the discussions around the critical need to help address the crisis in Lebanon by, in particular, providing opportunities for energy security and addressing the critical challenges there. That’s an active part of our diplomacy right now. There’s a whole range of issues, many of which have an active agenda at the United Nations as well when it comes to Lebanon, and many of them are central to security and other concerns in Israel as well. And this’ll be an important part of the agenda in her meetings during this visit as well. We have very active diplomatic efforts underway, and this visit will also be taking place in that context as well.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of David Wainer with Bloomberg. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you so much for doing this. The Ambassador is visiting Israel at a time when Israel has approved more settlements as well as Israel is refusing to budge on the consulate issue. To what degree will there be any tough conversations during this trip? To what degree will the Ambassador draw a red line around some of these topics? And also, we haven’t really mentioned Iran. Is Iran going to come up? Is this part of this visit as the talks resume later this month? Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, thanks so much for that. Just a moment ago I had an opportunity to answer a question about settlements, and I think that I’ll sort of leave it at that. I also addressed the consulate question. Needless to say, we’ve got a pretty full agenda on this trip. Obviously, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield is going to be focused, as I mentioned at the outset, on what she’s seeing and doing actively at the United Nations day in and day out. That includes a whole range of issues related to the UN, and as I mentioned, I think we see some real opportunities to continue our close partnership with Israel, including at the United Nations, and increase Israel’s opportunity to participate, fully participate, in the UN system as well.

So that will certainly be on the agenda. But that diplomacy in New York also involves – and the Ambassador’s involvement as a Cabinet member in this administration also involves the full range of regional issues and bilateral issues that we will have, both in Jerusalem and Ramallah and Amman. So I think you can expect an active diplomatic conversation. I’m not going to preview any of those specifics, but we’ll have more to say about the topics that we’re covering and those conversations during the course of this visit.

I’m glad you mentioned Iran. There – I think this will be a significant topic of conversation on this trip. Obviously, we are actively working on the Iran nuclear issue and have made clear that a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA is the ideal diplomatic outcome. That would help restore the nonproliferation achievements of the deal, and this administration believes that diplomacy, in coordination with our allies and regional partners, is the best path to achieve our fundamental goal, which President Biden has made very clear, that the United States is firmly committed to ensuring that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon.

We also have a whole range of other concerns when it comes to Iran beyond the JCPOA. That includes support for terrorism, its ballistic missile program, destabilizing actions in the region. We just talked about Syria; I think that’s certainly a piece of this. And threats to Israel and certainly to our own military personnel are a piece of that discussion as well.

We are also firmly opposed to Iran’s abhorrent practice of using wrongfully detained U.S. citizens and foreign nationals as political tools. This is going to be part of the conversation as well. But we’re focused on right now, and I think you’ll see a number of diplomatic efforts, including, concurrent to this trip, you also will see Special Envoy Rob Malley in the region pursing these discussions as well. We’ll be comparing notes along the way. Our objective is to pursue the path of meaningful diplomacy to achieve a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, and we want to build on that to address a number of other issues as part of a comprehensive approach. And that’s an active conversation with Israel. Almost daily we are in contact on that, and that’s going to be a focus of this visit as well. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Before we move on to the next question, I just want to return to a prior to question. I believe a colleague just shared that I believe a portion of the question that Ibtisam had asked about the civil society meetings had cut out. And so we did not hear the portion of the question about whether there were plans for Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield to meet with the six NGOs that were designated by the Israeli Government. And I just wanted to clarify that we are not currently planning to meet with any of those entities.

Operator, we can take the next question.

OPERATOR: Thank you. Our final question will be from Margaret Besheer with Voice of America. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. Good morning. Thank you. Just wondering: You’re facing really a trust deficit with the Palestinians left over from the previous administration. So is the Ambassador taking any incentive packages or anything – like how does she plan to rebuild ties with the Palestinians? Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, thanks for that. We are in the process of and actively engaged in re-establishing those connections with the Palestinian people and leadership, recognizing that that’s been absent from U.S. diplomacy for the last few years. That’s something that this administration is committed to doing. And I think the meetings that Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield will have with the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian people will be part of this effort to rebuild those ties.

And I think top of the agenda in those conversations are going to be discussing how we can best help Palestinians in their effort to enjoy equal measures of security and prosperity, democracy, and frankly, dignity, which is important in its own right and critically important, we believe, to protecting the viability of a two-state solution.

So that’s going to be part of the agenda. There’s a number of other issues I’m sure we’ll have an opportunity to discuss, including the role that the UN plays in helping support Palestinians, obviously in Ramallah and the West Bank but also the region. So that’s how we’re planning to approach this, and we’ll obviously have more to say on this, on the other issues that we’ve discussed on this call, and on the trip itself during the trip.

So I just want to thank all of you for taking the time on this call, and obviously we’re available for questions along the way and look forward to talking to you during the course of the trip.

MODERATOR: Thanks, [Senior Administration Official]. Thanks, Operator.

OPERATOR: Thank you. I’d like to turn it back to [Moderator] or [Senior Administration Official] for any final words.

MODERATOR: I think we are all set. Thank you, everyone, for joining this call today, and you know where to find us if you have any further questions. Thanks.