Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
March 1, 2021
Good morning. Or is it afternoon, I think? Good afternoon [laughter.] Really, it’s an honor for me to be here, and I want to welcome all of you here. I look forward to having many such engagements with you in the future.
As you know, today the United States assumes the presidency of the United Nations Security Council, and we’re ready to get to work. Fortunately, I had the opportunity in my first three days here – I arrived here on Thursday morning – and in those first, since I arrived, I presented my credentials to the Secretary-General, and I’ve had the opportunity in a marathon three days to meet with all of the members of the Security Council so that I could be ready to start this morning.
In President Biden’s inaugural address, he declared America would engage with the world, we would repair our alliances, and be a strong and trusted partner for peace, progress, and security. He pledged that he would be, that we would be a nation that leads, in his words, not only “by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.”
This is how he has asked me to represent the United States at the United Nations. By re-engaging with the world, restoring our alliances and our partnerships, leading by example, and by keeping American principles – and the American people – at the center of our foreign policy agenda.
Already, the Biden-Harris Administration has put this vision into action. We have re-engaged with the world by renewing our leadership in vital international institutions, and we are repairing our alliances and restoring partnerships that advance our security and our prosperity.
Under President Biden’s leadership, we rejoined the World Health Organization. We made a commitment to continue to fund the organization because we knew how important it is for us to coordinate on COVID-19 and build better global preparedness for future pandemics to come. We believe we can make the WHO a smarter, nimbler, more dynamic organization by rolling up our sleeves and getting involved.
President Biden also has announced up to $4 billion in funding for COVAX, as a down payment on the work we need to do to stamp out the threat of COVID-19 worldwide.
We were proud to rejoin the Paris Agreement, which we helped form, because the only way to reverse the effects of climate change is to join forces. This is an issue that impacts every person, in every nation, on every continent. So, we’re encouraging everyone to join us in raising ambitions in advance of the climate summit the President plans to host for Earth Day.
We also restored financial and political support to the United Nations Population Fund, eliminating the global gag rule on reproductive rights.
And we immediately returned to the Human Rights Council, and we’ve announced our intention to seek election. This seat that would afford us the opportunity to advance our most-cherished democratic values around the globe and thwart efforts to undermine our principles and our democratic values.
And on the very first day he took office, President Biden took action to ensure America once again leads, as it put, as he put it, by the power of our example.
We ended the Muslim ban; we launched a government-wide initiative to advance racial equity; we are protecting Dreamers; we reversed the ban on transgender individuals serving in our military; and we restored our refugee admissions program. America is once again shining our light of liberty on those who need it most.
We are recommitting to defending democracy and human rights across the board and, as part of that effort, President Biden will be hosting a global Summit for Democracy to renew the spirit and shared purpose of the nations of the free world.
These actions not only reflect our values as Americans, they advance the security and the prosperity of Americans, as well as others around the world.
By rejoining the WHO, we will work to stamp out the pandemic that has taken more American lives than the battlefields of World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War combined.
By rejoining the Paris Agreement, we are fighting against the devastating hurricanes, wildfires, blackouts, and storms that have destroyed the homes and lives of so many millions of our friends and neighbors.
Of course, it’s not just in our interest. It’s also in the interest of our friends, and our allies, and even those who aren’t our friends, around the world, because diplomacy is not a zero-sum game. Peace, progress, prosperity, and security serve us all.
This is the spirit in which we approach our March Presidency of the United Nations Security Council. America is back at the table – literally and figuratively. We are engaging in a way, in, in a very new way.
March is Women’s History Month, and we are proud to be co-sponsoring an Arria-Formula meeting with Ireland, Mexico, Kenya, and Tunisia to call attention to the work that remains to be achieved on gender equity around the world. We will demand accountability for the rampant sexual exploitation and abuse that has increased during this pandemic.
And we will complement the work of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. We will pay special attention to this year’s topic focus: insisting upon women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life.
Building on the announcement Secretary Blinken made this morning, that the United States will be providing funding to alleviate the gut-wrenching humanitarian situation in Yemen, we will put urgent humanitarian crises in the spotlight. We will specifically look at conflict-induced starvation and hunger in Yemen and Ethiopia during our signature event on March 11.
This open debate in the Council will be an opportunity to bring awareness to the world about these growing and devastating humanitarian crises, and to call for leadership on the council for urgent, necessary solutions. In these regions, war and instability have left millions of people and two million children under the age of five at risk of starvation and acute malnutrition. We cannot stand idly by.
In addition, at the monthly briefing on Yemen on March 16th, we will focus on the depth of suffering and the extremity of the humanitarian crisis in that country. The humanitarian disaster is simply untenable, and we must address it head-on.
Turning to the African continent, we will have a briefing on South Sudan, UNMISS, on the 3rd, Sudan, UNITAMS, on the 9th, and a discussion on Libya on the 24th, and the DRC, MONUSCO, at the end of the month on the 30th.
I would again like to express our deep sadness and condolences for the tragic death of the Italian Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Luca Attanasio, and two others in an attack on a World Food Program convoy. Their work to advance democracy, human rights, and peace will not be forgotten. And I think the point there, to take into account, is that diplomats and humanitarian workers are always in the line of fire, and we need to work to protect them. Every effort should be made to find the perpetrators and hold them accountable.
March 15th marks the 10th-year anniversary of the Syrian conflict. Ten years of tremendous and completely preventable suffering. Ten years of unbearable conflict. Ten years of countless deaths of innocent civilians. The situation is only getting worse. So, our three monthly meetings on Syria will take an extra weight and seriousness. It’s time to find unity and agree on real solutions. The 11th anniversary cannot look like the 10th.
Turning to the rest of the broader region, we will have the quarterly debate on Afghanistan on the 23rd and the monthly briefing on Israel/Palestinian issues on the 26th. Both come at a crucial time, on issues of the utmost importance, and we’re looking forward to real, productive discussions to take place.
As we are prepared to elevate and bring to the table the critical, emerging crises happening around the world, including the situations in Ethiopia, Burma, and Haiti. The undemocratic coup in Burma is of particular concern, and we will be monitoring that very closely in our presidency. Also, in our presidency, we will make sure that the Council remains nimble and ready to act to take on threats to international peace and security wherever they may arise.
Throughout these briefings, debates, and discussions, the United States will seek to bring in briefers from NGOs and civil society members who are on the ground to give us a first-hand account of what is happening. Their invaluable perspectives will serve us immensely, ensuring our solutions are tailored and the needs – tailored to the needs of the people who need their help.
In addition to bringing in members of civil society, I expect we’ll have some very special guests throughout the month.
As you can see, we’ve set up an incredibly busy program of work. The issues on the table are urgent, they’re global, and place on us grave responsibilities, ones that we cannot take lightly.
President Biden is fond of saying that America – that in America, there’s no problem we can’t solve if we work together, and I know for a fact that that is true.
I also know, from my decades as a U.S. diplomat, on four continents across the globe, that the same is true when nations work in concert toward prosperity, security, and peace.
There’s no problem this body cannot solve if we decide to tackle it together.
Moreover, we are at our strongest when we find those opportunities, when we set aside our differences, search for common ground, and do right by the world.
That doesn’t mean we won’t disagree. It doesn’t mean we stop standing up for our values, or for our allies, for human rights, or for our basic interests. It does not mean we do not stand for the American people. But in fact, it means the opposite. By coming together, I firmly believe we will create more shared security, prosperity, and peace, and I look forward to doing that this month, and for the next, and many more to come.
So, thank you, and I look forward to your questions.
MS. DALTON: Thank you, Ambassador. And now we’re delighted to take some questions. We’ll start by observing a longstanding tradition in taking the first question from Valeria Robecco, the president of the UN Correspondents Association.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you so much, Olivia. Thank you, Ambassador, for this briefing, on behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association, and welcome to the United Nations. We are – we are happy to see you. I’m sorry I have to do it remote today, but we also hope that not only during this month of the U.S. presidency we have many chances to ask you our questions because you know we always have many. And I wish you, we wish you the best of luck for this month of presidency.
So, my question is: What are the first dossiers that will give priority – you give – priority to at the UN? And if you do expect any improvement in relations with Russia in the Security Council given that last week, the Deputy Permanent Representative said that he was in favor of cooperation and that he was – he is looking forward to interacting with you? Thank you so much.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, thank you, Valeria – thank you so much for your question and let me start by saying that I look forward to working with you and with all of your colleagues regularly during my tenure here at the UN. And as regards your question related to Russia, I met with the Russian Perm. Rep. last week, in fact last Friday, my second day here, and I look forward to engaging with him and with my colleagues there.
We have our differences, and most of you know what those differences are. But we also have areas where we hope to be able to cooperate with the Russians, particularly as we work together on the Security Council to bring peace, prosperity, and security to the world. It’s incumbent that we find ways to find common ground, as I said in my speech. Thank you.
MS. DALTON: We’ll go next to Michelle Nichols with Reuters.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador. Michelle Nichols from Reuters.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Where is she?
QUESTION: Right here.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Oh, okay.
QUESTION: In the room. No worries. It’s a bit tricky with these COVID times. I have two questions for you. First of all, on Tigray, does the United States believe that Ethiopian troops are carrying out ethnic cleansing in Tigray?
And on Myanmar, you would have seen the news on Saturday that the Myanmar military fired the Myanmar ambassador to the UN, but obviously they haven’t notified the United Nations that there’s been a change of government or any change to representation here. So it sort of sets us up for a possible clash over who is going to represent Myanmar. Who does the United States recognize as representing Myanmar at the United Nations and in D.C., and are you willing to take any action or back any action at the UN to make sure whoever you believe represents Myanmar continues to represent Myanmar? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you for both of your questions. First, on Ethiopia, I hope that over the weekend you saw Secretary of State Blinken’s very strong statement on the situation in Ethiopia. The United States is very concerned about the reports of atrocities and the overall deteriorating security situation in Tigray, and we have strongly condemned the killings and the forced removals and displacements as well as reports of sexual assault and other extremely serious human rights violations. And so – and we are concerned that that situation seems to be – and we know is – worsening the humanitarian crisis in that region. The Secretary spoke to President* Abiy early on and we have had conversations with the Ethiopian government, and we have encouraged them to allow for humanitarian access and also to allow for internationals in to do an assessment of the situation on the ground in Ethiopia, and we will be working to achieve that over the coming weeks.
On the Myanmar Perm. Rep., you may have heard my statement. I spoke a little bit after him at the General Assembly, and we were very encouraged by his brave statement. We have not seen any official evidence – or request that he be removed, and for the time being he is the representative of the Myanmar Government.
MS. DALTON: Thanks so much. Edie Lederer, AP.
QUESTION: Thank you so much, Madam Ambassador. And Ambassador DeLaurentis, welcome back to the UN. It’s so nice to see you, even hiding behind the TV screen. [Laughter.]
I have – I also have two questions. First, on U.S. relations with China, during President Trump’s administration he was exceedingly tough on China. I wonder if you could describe in any detail what areas you see of possible cooperation with China, particularly in the Security Council. We all know that there certainly are some differences.
And on Israeli-Palestinian relations, there has been some calls, some pressure to revive the Quartet. Is this something that the United States will support as a possible way of reviving negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you. I also had the – on China, I had the opportunity to meet with my Chinese counterpart as well, and let me just say we – our relationship is very complex. There will be areas where we will significantly disagree, in particular as it relates to human rights. But there are some areas where there will be times when we hope to work with the Chinese in a cooperative way, and I would give as an example there working with them on climate change. But as we look at our relationship moving forward and the importance of diplomacy, we will never give up on diplomacy and trying to achieve what are our ultimate goals, and that is to put values and transparency into how the United Nations works, and we hope to be able to work with the Chinese on improving that.
MS. DALTON: Thanks. Let’s go to Richard Roth, one virtually.
QUESTION: Israel and Palestine?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Oh, I’m sorry. And on – I will get back to you on the Quartet, but I will just say on that issue is that we would hope to find a way to find a peaceful solution that provides security and safety for Israel and security for the Palestinians.
MS. DALTON: Let’s take one virtually. Let’s go to Richard, CNN.
QUESTION: Thank you. Madam President, welcome to New York. Good to see you, Olivia and colleagues. Thank you for not lecturing us to say good afternoon. We had Ambassador Haley’s first press appearance; we were lectured on we had to say, “Good morning.”
Moving past that, you have – you represent an administration which is pledging a need for diversity and change and gender rights and a whole panoply of different things. You have arrived in time for the selection of a Secretary-General term, whether it will be a renewal or a new candidate. Speaking in your national capacity and speaking as a woman, don’t you think after 76 years it’s time for more than half the population in the world to be represented at the United Nations by a woman as Secretary-General? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: [Laughter.] That’s a loaded question, and I will take it as a loaded question. We will support the most qualified candidate for the job, but we absolutely believe in and support diversity. We want to support gender balance, and we will look at the candidates who are presented to us and review them accordingly.
MS. DALTON: Thanks so much. Let’s go to Pamela Falk, CBS.
QUESTION: Thank you, Olivia, and thank you, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, and nice to see you, Ambassador DeLaurentis. My – it’s Pamela Falk from CBS News. My question is about Iran. The IAEA this morning did say – I think we’re allowed to take these off while we’re asking – the IAEA did say, the DG Grossi this morning mentioned that countries shouldn’t get caught up in issues in order to move forward on negotiations, and there’s obviously a lot going on with the U.S.-backed efforts in Vienna. My question – and end in Geneva. My question is: It is a UN resolution and a lot of the negotiations in its initiation went – took place here. What do you think the U.S. can do, and with partners, to move the ball forward on what President Biden said he wants to do on negotiations?
And then as a secondary, sort of separate big question – I thought Richard Roth would ask one of these – is: What keeps you up at night? I mean now that you’re in the – not general, not personally speaking, but in your job now that you’re here at the UN headquarters. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you for both questions, and very nice to meet you. President Biden made very clear during the campaign, and we have heard him speak on this issue since he has moved into the presidency: We are looking for opportunities to encourage the Iranians to go back to compliance. And if they make that decision, we are prepared to also rejoin the JCPOA. I will tell you that we were disappointed by Iran’s decision to suspend implementation of the Additional Protocol and the transparency measures under the JCPOA. We think it’s an opportunity that they have really lost, and we hope that they will reconsider that.
Specifically, on the IAEA, I’ll refer you to them on that. But we support their efforts to continue to engage and investigate the situation in Iran.
QUESTION: And is there anything that can be done here at headquarters with the partners?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It’s interesting you ask that question. Among the many, many topics that I discussed with all 15 of the members of the Security Council over the weekend, Iran was one of those topics, and I do think it is something that we will engage on here.
QUESTION: Finally, just what keeps you up at night?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Oh, yeah. Oh, what keeps me up? Right now what is keeping me up at night, or at least over the weekend, was getting ready for you guys today. [Laughter.] But broadly, I think, as we watch situations around the world, we are always worried about what – where the next crisis will be. To hear that 300 young girls were kidnapped in Nigeria last week was horrifying, and that is the kind of thing that will keep me up at night, but also, any issue that might lead to the world becoming insecure.
I don’t know where the next crisis will be. None of us thought that we would be in crisis in Ethiopia now when we look at Ethiopia a year ago, but all of those crises that lead to humanitarian situations that cause people to lose their lives and suffer. I’m a humanitarian at heart; I spent half my career working in the humanitarian area, not on Africa but actually working on refugees and migration issues. I served in Geneva. And those are the issues that worry me the most because it leads to so much suffering.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. DALTON: Let’s go to James Bayes with Al Jazeera.
QUESTION: James Bayes, Al Jazeera. Ambassador and Madam President, welcome. Can I go back to Myanmar? Because you were in the room and you spoke pretty soon after, so you probably had a chance to reflect on the ambassador’s words. Can I ask you what you thought of his speech and the bravery involved? And given he said that and we’ve only seen the bloodshed get worse – in fact, the worst day of violence now – what can the Security Council do? Is it time to try and have an open meeting? What do you do next?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you for that question. And I was extraordinarily moved by the ambassador’s statement. I think it caught all of us off guard. None of us expected to hear that. And I commend him for his bravery. I commend him for his compassion. And I send words of support to him and as well as the people of Myanmar. We stand strongly with them, and the U.S. is committed to using our renewed engagement here in New York but around – but internationally to press the military to reverse its actions and restore a democratically elected government. But the violence we are seeing happening now does not indicate that they are ready to make that what I would consider easy decision for them to make.
So we do have to ramp up the pressure. The Security Council, I was pleased, expressed in a unanimous press statement its concerns about the situation in Burma. So that’s a sign that we can come together and cooperate in areas where it matters. So I hope to use our time on – as president of the Council, to push for more intense discussions on that issue.
Also, the Human Rights Council in Geneva has urged for full respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law in Burma as well, and we would support any actions taken there. It’s clear that the world is watching the situation in Burma, and it’s clear that we can’t sit still and watch people continue to be brutalized and their human rights to be destroyed. So I take this very seriously and look forward to discussing it in the coming days.
MS. DALTON: I’m going to try to – sorry, Ambassador. I’m going to try to squeeze in a few more, so please just keep it to one question. Let’s go to Benno with the German Press Agency.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Benno Schwinghammer with the German Press Agency, DPA. Ambassador, thank you so much for doing this briefing. I wish you all of the success for your presidency. My question is actually a follow-up about Iran. So the stalemate regarding the JCPOA seems to be a problem of who wants to move first, and right now, no side seems to want this. So were you, in New York, in discussions with your counterpart, with your Iranian counterpart, to solve this problem? And what steps should, in your opinion, now follow to start a process? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Okay. Thank you for that question. I have not yet met with the Iranian PR here, and not given instructions to do that. But I will tell you that we are in lockstep with our allies on these issues. I will note that in this regard, the strong E3 statement yesterday that has condemned Iran’s action. And President Biden has been clear. We have stated unequivocally that Iran will never obtain a nuclear weapon. And we are concerned that Iran is moving further away from compliance with its nuclear commitments.
So this has been the case since the last administration pulled out of the JCPOA, and it’s why the U.S. has made clear that if Iran is prepared to resume full compliance with its commitments, that we – the U.S. is prepared to do the same. We also have said that we would be willing to attend a meeting convened by the EU to work toward that end, and we hope that Iran will do the same. So that’s the next step in this process.
MS. DALTON: Let’s go to David Wainer, Bloomberg.
QUESTION: Are you planning to actually speak with your counterpart?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: As I said, I’ve not been given guidance or instructions on that. I can get back to you on it.
MS. DALTON: David?
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Ambassador. North Korea has continued its development of its nuclear program. What role do you see for the U.S. at the UN Security Council to advance this issue and jumpstart negotiations?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, certainly this is an issue that we can deal with at the Security Council since so many members of the Security Council are very closely connected, with China being on the border. We do believe that North Korea constitutes a serious threat to our peace and security and to the globe. And so we have a vital interest in trying to deter North Korea toward that goal, and also in defending against its provocations or use of force. And above all, we are concerned about making sure that we keep the American people and our allies safe.
President Biden has made clear that we’re going to engage in a principled diplomacy, together with our allies and partners, and we will keep pressing toward a de-nuclearized North Korea. We will consider all available information as the administration undertakes its North Korea policy review that is taking place right now.
MS. DALTON: Philippe, AFP.
QUESTION: Thank you, Olivia. Bonjour, Madame Ambassadrice.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Bonjour.
QUESTION: Bonjour. It was working in French the other day. A quick follow-up on Myanmar. Do you plan a meeting this week and – for the Security Council? And second question about the Guernica tapestry. As an American, as the President of the Security Council, do you plan to call Mr. Rockefeller, Jr. to change his mind and have the tapestry back? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, thank you for both questions. And yes, on Myanmar, we do plan to have discussions on that in – during our presidency, and sooner rather than later. It was an issue that I discussed individually with all of the members of the Security Council, and this morning we – it is on our agenda.
And as far as the tapestry goes, all I can say is I thank the Rockefeller Foundation for loaning such an amazing tapestry to the United Nations. I will not call them in to discuss that, but I will miss seeing it here in these chambers.
MS. DALTON: Okay. One last question.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you, Olivia. Thank you, Olivia. Thank you, Madam Ambassador, for the briefing. My name is Carrie Nooten. I’m working for Le Monde. I know it’s not on the official program of this month, but you are arriving just at the time MINUSMA mandate is going to be renegotiated. The Trump administration was not favorable to give the mission a stronger mandate, and you were talking about these kidnappings in Nigeria last week. What’s your position? Are the U.S. ready to reinforce also the operational cooperation in the field?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, we will work with our colleagues on the Security Council to see how we can work to better make MINUSMA more effective and efficient on the ground. I know that this is a major concern for the French, and I expect that they will be proactively leading our discussions on that. But we are willing to participate in those.
MS. DALTON: Thank you all for joining us here today. We look forward to doing it again very, very soon. And please just reach out with any additional questions. Thanks again.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you all very, very much, and I look forward again to engaging with you. Thank you.