Senior Administration Official
July 31, 2023
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, all, and welcome to our background briefing on our presidency of the UN Security Council for the month of August 2023. As a reminder, this call is embargoed until completion and what you hear today is attributable to a senior administration official. For your awareness only and not for reporting, we have with us [Senior Administration Official].
With that, I will turn it over to you, [Senior Administration Official].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hey, thanks so much, and thanks, everybody, for joining today’s call. As you know, the United States will take the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council during August, starting tomorrow, and today I wanted to take the opportunity to outline two of the key priorities that we’ll be working on during the month as well as some of the other activities we can expect to see during the course of the month during the U.S. presidency of the Security Council in August.
For those of you who have been covering USUN under the Biden Administration, you’ll know that global food insecurity has consistently been a top priority for us – combating food insecurity but, more specifically, ending famine is the first of our two priorities that we’ll focus on during the course of this month.
As many of you will remember, this is an issue that was a focus of our presidency in 2021 and 2022. It’s an issue we continue to bring to the Security Council and it’s an issue we’ll be focusing on during our presidency this year as well.
Roughly 345 million people in 79 countries around the world face acute food insecurity. The international community must work together to combat food insecurity and hopefully work towards ending famine globally. This work must be done and that’s why we’re bringing the issue to the forefront for three years in a row. It can’t just be at the top of the United States list of priorities; it also, in our view, has to be at the top of the Security Council’s agenda as well. We can and we must take steps to end hunger and famine, and we must address one of the largest drivers of food insecurity around the world, and that is conflict.
That’s why on Thursday, Secretary Blinken will chair a high-level open debate in the UN Security Council focused on famine and conflict induced global food insecurity. The Secretary will have specific announcements and deliverables to speak to on Thursday, so stay tuned for that. This open debate will look at ways that the United Nations, Member States, civil society, and the private sector can strengthen, coordinate, and elevate food security initiatives and eliminate famine.
Our second priority during the course of the month will be continuing our defense of human rights and fundamental freedoms around the world. As you probably know, later this year we will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and commemorate that milestone we’ll integrate human rights issues into our meetings during the course of this presidency. We’ll bring civil society briefers and other voices into the Council to provide their insight on human rights violations occurring around the world.
We’ll also continue to focus the Council’s attention on Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.
Of course, throughout the month we will hold other regularly scheduled and critical Council meetings, which will be outlined in our own planned program of work, including on ISIL and the terrorist fight, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, the Middle East, Syria, and Yemen, among others. And we’ll be announcing some other meetings and activities during the course of the month as well.
The world is looking to the UN Security Council to fulfill its mandate and take on the most pressing global challenges of our time, from rooting out hunger to defending human rights to advancing international peace and security. The United States is committing – is committed to pursuing progress during our presidency and carrying that progress forward in the months to come, particularly next month as we enter High-level Week at the UN General Assembly and the Sustainable Development Goals Summit that we expect in September as well.
So this is in some ways a preview to a whole series of focused efforts that the U.S. Government will be taking with our international partners over the course of the next two months.
Thank you. Why don’t I stop there, and with that, I’ll welcome any questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you, [Senior Administration Official]. Moderator, if you’ll just please go over the procedure for asking questions and then we’ll get into it. Thanks.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, if you do wish to ask a question, please press 1 and then 0 on your telephone keypad. You can withdraw your question at any time by repeating the 1-0 command, and if you’re using a speaker phone, please pick up the handset before pressing those numbers. Again, if you have a question, please press 1-0 at this time.
Give us a moment here. Currently no questions in the phone lines. Again, it is 1-0. And we have a question. We’ll come – go to Elizabeth Hagedorn with Al-Monitor. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks for taking my call. You mentioned Syria as being part of the program next month. I’m wondering if you can give us an update on aid access to northwest Syria. Is there any effort right now within the Security Council to either hold another vote aimed at restoring the cross-border aid or is the U.S. and its partners looking at alternative means of aid delivery outside the UN mechanism? Thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, thanks so much for the question. We’ve obviously continue to strongly support humanitarian access to all Syrians in need through all modalities, including the cross-border modality. And of course we’ve long taken the position that the best way to ensure that aid continues to reach Syrians in need is through an extension of the UN Security Council cross-border mandate. Every member of the Council but Russia and China agreed on the importance of sustaining this cross-border aid recently, and we are very disappointed in Russia and China blocking the continuation of that aid.
We understand that the UN is in negotiations with the Syrian authorities to continue UN aid deliveries through Bab al-Hawa, the existing hub used for this critical security assistance. We’re constantly in communication with our fellow Security Council members, the UN, and other partners about continuing this flow, and we are prepared to return to the Council if the UN cannot work out some operation that makes sense to continue this lifesaving aid.
We agree with the Secretary-General that conditions that the regime sought to impose on UN operations were unacceptable and unworkable, and that’s why that ongoing negotiation between the UN and Syrian authorities is so critically important.
OPERATOR: And again, ladies and gentlemen, if you’d like to ask a question, please press 1-0.
Okay, let me go to Abigail Williams with NBC News. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks so much for doing the call. I was wondering if you had – if you could say if there were other ministers who would be attending the Security Council meeting that will be chaired by Secretary Blinken. And then separately, could you give any details on what the U.S. will do with regards to Haiti and the need to have a UN Security Council meeting on the multinational force?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks so much. Well, on the first question I’ll just say I don’t have any updates on participation at this point, but I’ll check in with my colleagues after this call and if we get any updates in the near term, we can get them to you and others who are interested.
On Haiti, I would say the, you know, update, you know, from the last few days, of course, is that we’ve seen the news that – and have been involved in negotiations to try to develop a multinational force. We’re considering all options to respond to the security crisis that we see in Haiti. Kenya is positively considering serving as the lead nation for a multinational force, and Haiti, as we understand it, has welcomed that offer. And we’re prepared along with our co-penholder in Ecuador to seek a Security Council authorization for this mission as requested by Kenya, and we believe that fulfilling that request – Haiti’s urgent request for international assistance – would be fundamental to assisting the Haitian National Police as they try to curtail lawlessness and stop rampant gang violence.
So this is going to be an issue that we’re focused on intensely during the course of our presidency, during the course of this month, but I don’t have any specific meetings or updates on when the Council will take this up, but there will be intensive diplomacy happening on the margins of the UN Security Council but also around the world as we continue to work with partners in the region and around the world to identify countries that are willing to support the urgently needed efforts when it comes to Haiti.
OPERATOR: And next we can go to the line of Farnaz Fassihi with New York Times. Please go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you for having us on this call. I wanted to ask about Thursday’s meeting with Secretary Blinken, if you could provide us with a little bit more detail of what to expect. And also, will the grain deal and the situation between Russia and Ukraine be a big part of this because that’s contributing to global food insecurity, or will that be part of future or scheduled Ukraine sessions?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, thanks so much for the question. I guess I would say a couple of things. First, this session will be what we call in the UN parlance a high-level open debate, which is an opportunity for the Security Council to take up a particular issue and members of the Security Council are available to speak to that. So you’ll obviously expect Secretary Blinken in chairing that meeting to not only, you know, preside over this, you know, urgent meeting of the Security Council but also to speak in his capacity representing the United States to our own views on the issue.
I don’t want to get ahead of what the Secretary will say later this week, and as I said, we will have some specific announcements and deliverables that the Secretary will be able to speak to. I will leave that to him.
But I think in general terms, as I mentioned, we’re trying to look for ways to take this on as a global challenge. We recognize that a significant driver of food insecurity is conflict, a significant contributor to famine is conflict, and there’s been consistently an urgent priority for us, which is preventing the use of hunger and food as a weapon of conflict and a weapon of war. And so I think there’s an opportunity to dive into those issues in more detail, to address where they’re taking place in different parts of the world, and I think different member states will focus their remarks on efforts – concrete efforts – that we can take to address this set of issues as we move forward.
I have no doubt that around the consideration of this set of issues, Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and the impact that that is having on global food security will be a feature of the debate. We are continuing to press countries around the world to call on Russia to, you know, not only end the war – to end the war, of course – but also to return to sensible efforts like the Black Sea Grain Initiative to continue to allow Ukraine’s products to reach the world market and help prevent an alarming increase in food insecurity, and not just, you know, in the region but all over the world.
So I think that will be a focus, but I think there are other conflicts with an impact on food security that we see around the world that member states, including – and the Secretary will be able to speak to as well.
OPERATOR: And with no further questions in queue, I will remind everybody it is 1-0 to ask a question. And currently no questions in queue.
MODERATOR: All right, great. If there are no further questions, then, [Senior Administration Official], I will thank you. And just as a reminder for those on this call, what you heard is attributable to a senior administration official. The embargo is now lifted, and I thank you all for participating. Thanks, [Senior Administration Official].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, everybody.