Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield U.S. Representative to the United Nations New York, New York July 31, 2023
MODERATOR: Welcome, everyone, to the New York Foreign Press Center. We are honored to have Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield with us today. Today’s topic: the United States to bring food security to the forefront of the United Nations agenda during presidency of the UN Security Council. My name is Melissa Waheibi. I’ll be your moderator today. This briefing is on the record and being recorded. A transcript will be posted on our website later today at fpc.state.gov. As we begin, we ask that you change your Zoom profile to reflect your name and media outlet. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield will offer opening remarks and then I will moderate the Q&A. At this time, ma’am, the floor is yours.
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Good morning, everyone. Thank you all for joining us on today’s call. I want to take this opportunity to outline our planned program of work for our August presidency of the UN Security Council and to take some questions.
This is the third time I will have the privilege of serving as president of the Council, and when my team came to me to discuss our priorities for the month, I think they already knew what I was going to say. I told them that, once again, addressing famine and food insecurity would be one of our key priorities. As many of you will remember, this was the focus of my last two presidencies, and this year we will set an ambitious goal for the international community to end famine forever.
In a world abundant with food, no one should ever starve to death – ever. This is a humanitarian issue, this is a moral issue, and this is a security issue. And we must address the most insidious driver of famine and food insecurity: conflict. That’s why this Thursday Secretary Blinken will chair a high-level open debate on famine and conflict-induced global food insecurity. The Council will look at ways the United Nations, Member States, civil society, and the private sector can strengthen, coordinate, elevate food security initiatives and eliminate famine. At a time when more than 345 million people in 79 countries face acute food insecurity, we all have a responsibility to do more and to give more.
Our second priority is the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms around the world. As we approach the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we will integrate human rights into this month’s council meetings, and we will bring in voices from civil society to brief the Council on human rights abuses happening around the world. Of course, throughout the month we will hold other critical, regularly scheduled council meetings, which are outlined in our planned program of action.
We will call additional meetings on Russia’s war of aggression, as needed. The world is looking at the Security Council to take on the issues of our time, to root out hunger and famine, to defend human rights, to advance international peace and security. The United States is committed to advancing progress this month and carrying that progress forward during high-level week and the SDG summit.
The next two months are a test: can we live up to the ideals set out in the UN Charter? Can we put people over politics, progress over power? I believe we can, but we must work together and we must act with urgency.
Thank you very much, and with that, I welcome your questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. It’s now time for the Q&A portion of this event. You can ask your question, as some of you already have, by indicating you have one. You can also type it in the chat, and if there’s time, I can ask that on your behalf. I did receive a few pre-submitted questions, and if there’s time I’ll offer those as well.
Dmitry, I see you have your hand raised? Dimitry from Inter TV, Ukraine. Please enable your microphone and video, if you choose.
QUESTION: Good morning. Thank you so very much for organizing this. Madam Ambassador, I got a question about the grain deal as one of the obvious priorities of the presidency. Did you believe the same deal may be restored or negotiated? Do you believe that the grain deal can be saved? Or you think it’s a time to negotiate about the new deal, maybe, with the new players, some different conditions? And secondly, if I may, I know there’s no decision, there is no even high-level discussion, but what is your personal opinion about that idea, which was in the media, that maybe they – the military convoys or the vessels for carrying grain maybe —
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Say, Dmitry, I can’t hear that second question. You came in really broken.
QUESTION: Yeah. So I would like, firstly, do you believe that the existing deal may be negotiated? Do you believe the existing grain deal may be saved? Or we need to negotiate a new one with the new players, by the new rules? And secondly, do you believe that that idea, which was in the media, about the military convoy might be realized somehow? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Look, on the grain deal, we know how important that deal was to getting grain to countries in need in Africa and the Middle East. And so we are supportive of efforts by the Secretary-General, by the Government of Türkiye, as well as others, to encourage Russia to come back into the deal and resume the movements of grain through the Black Sea. So I know discussions are going on behind the scenes. We encourage those discussions. We encourage others to pressure Russia to come back to the deal because we know how important that deal is to so many countries.
And on your second question on the use of military convoys, I really don’t have anything on that. I know that efforts are being made across the board to look for alternatives to the Black Sea Grain Initiative, but we know that through that initiative thousands of tons of food will move to the Global South. And we know that that is the most efficient way, the most effective way, to get the most grain to the market and to the mouths of people in need.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Dmitry. I see we have a question from Marcin from TVN Poland. Please enable your microphone and camera.
QUESTION: Good morning, Mrs. Ambassador, and thank you for doing this briefing. I have two questions. Firstly, how worried are you that Russians may attack civilians’ ships in the Black Sea region after withdrawing from the Black Sea Grain Initiative? And the second question is extremely important for my country, for Poland. How worried is the United States by the presence of some of Wagner mercenaries close to the Polish border in Belarus? Is this, Madam Ambassador, in your opinion a real threat to NATO?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Martin, thank you for both of those questions. And Russia has said itself directly that they may attack civilian ships using the Black Sea. This is not the actions that we would expect again of a permanent member of the Security Council. They’re going against all norms, all the values of the UN Charter, and those actions should be roundly condemned by everyone.
And we have raised our concerns about the Wagner Group long before they got in the press for actually attacking their own government. We have seen their malign efforts on the continent of Africa. So we certainly worry that this group, at the behest of the Russian Government – because they do not work independently of the Russian Government – is a threat to all of us. And we have to ensure that the message is clear that any attacks by the Wagner Group will be seen as an attack by the Russian Government.
QUESTION: Thank you so much.
MODERATOR: Thank you. On the topic of food security and Latin America, we received a pre-submitted question from Juan Silva with W Radio in Colombia. The question is: “What’s the situation of Colombia and Latin America in terms of food security? For example, in a Colombian region named Guajira, there is a big data of children struggling with hunger.” Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you so much for that question, Juan Silva. This is a concern for all of us. The impact of food insecurity around the world is being addressed here as not just about what we see happening in Ukraine, it’s about the impact of what is happening in Ukraine on the rest of the world. And my concern over children going to bed hungry wherever they are is certainly a part of this discussion as something that we want to draw attention to during our presidency, but more than drawing attention to, we want to find solutions. And that’s what we will be working on.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We have a question from Kemi Osukoya from Africa Bazaar Magazine. Please open up your mic and camera if you choose.
QUESTION: Hello. Can you hear me?
MODERATOR: Yes, we can.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yes, Kemi, I can hear you.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you so much for taking my question and nice to see you virtually, Madam Ambassador. My question is: I spoke recently – I interviewed the chief scientist for the UN agency, the FAO – the Food and Agriculture Organization – and she mentioned during the interview that there are various example of indigenous grains that are specific to Africa, and that Africa – not only can Africa feed itself, it can also feed the rest of the world.
So my question is: What is the U.S. doing to work with organizations like this, if you can share some specific details with us, to bring about – because we are talking about the grain regarding Ukraine. And as you mentioned, we continue to see issues of war that disrupt food security around the world. So – and she mentioned that this way – there are different way that we can stop this by producing – using this indigenous grain in order food security within each continent, and also being able – that we stop dependency. So can you talk about what the U.S. is doing to work with agencies like this and with scientists like this to address the issue of food security?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Kemi, look, we are the largest funder of FAO. We work very, very closely with the FAO. We want to support the work of scientists who can find solutions for us. We do think there are solutions to dealing with issues of food insecurity. There are scientific solutions, there are technical solutions, and this is why we want to bring everyone to the table – the private sector, UN agencies, NGOs, local NGOs that are working on these issues.
And you said something that I have said over and over again, and I’ll say it here. There is no reason the continent of Africa cannot grow enough food to feed itself. We just have to find the mechanisms to do that and give the enabling environment to farmers and businesses to do that on the continent of Africa. Indigenous grain certainly is an element that we need to pay more attention to, to figure out how those grains might be developed so that they can be used more widely across the continent of Africa. So I very much appreciate your question, and please know that FAO is one of the UN agencies that we work most closely with on these issues.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Kemi, for your question. We’ll go over to Jiha Ham with VOA.
QUESTION: Good morning, Ambassador. My name is Jiha Ham. I’m with VOA. We heard from the White House a few months ago that Russia has attempted to trade North Korea food in exchange for weapons. So this is a violation of UN sanctions, but it also suggests that North Korea is facing a food insecurity problem. So I would like to hear your thoughts on what the United States or the Security Council can do to address the food insecurity in North Korea, but I would like to also ask you if you have raised this issue, the violation of UN sanctions, with Russia or if you have any plans to do so while during your presidency. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Look, we have regularly raised our concerns about the breaking of sanctions as they relate to North Korea. But let me be clear: food is not one of those areas that is sanctioned. We are very aware of the food insecurity issues in North Korea. It is something that we know that we can be helpful with if the government just allowed that to happen.
What is happening inside of North Korea is that this government is spending all of its money on the development of weapons to threaten the world instead of using the funds that they have to support the well-being of their people. They closed off their borders to humanitarian assistance, and if they open those borders we as well as others would be there to provide assistance, needed assistance, to the people of North Korea.
We will continue to raise our concerns about this in the Security Council, as you’ve seen we’ve done in the past, and push our counterparts from Russia and China to support efforts to hold North Korea accountable for violations of human rights and as well violations of Security Council resolutions.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We’ll go to Alex of Azerbaijan. Please open your microphone and camera.
QUESTION: Yes, Melissa, can you hear me?
MODERATOR: Yes, thank you.
QUESTION: Ambassador, thank you so very much for your time. Just I wanted to get your reaction to the latest developments on this topic. Ukraine said today that 180,000 tons of grain destroyed in nine days of Russian strikes. Does it constitute a war crime, and if so if there’s any step that you are planning to take, whether within the UN or outside of the UN? And secondly, the latest development on this, Ukraine and Croatia have agreed on the possibility of using Croatian ports on the Danube and the Adriatic Sea for the export of Ukrainian grain. I wanted to get your reaction to that development. Thanks so much.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Look, Russia has consistently, since they pulled out of the grain deal, attacked Ukrainian agricultural infrastructure. They did destroy 180,000 tons of grain. And we saw from the UN that that grain could have fed in a year tens of thousands of people around the world. So this is a concern for us. We have raised it in the Security Council and will continue to raise our concerns about that, including in our meeting on Thursday.
I had not heard specifically about the use of Croatian ports, but I know that Ukraine has been looking for alternatives to the Black Sea ports. We know some of those alternatives have already been put in place. But they cannot accommodate the capacity, the tons of wheat that need to get to the market that the Black Sea, if it were working efficiently, could provide. So we, again, support those alternative efforts, but we will continue to support the efforts of the Secretary-General and others to find a path forward to resuming the Black Sea Grain Initiative through the Black Sea ports in Odesa.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We have time for one more question. Sandra, we will end with you. Please state your full name and organization and ask your question.
QUESTION: Yes, sorry, I can’t – I can’t have a video. Can you hear me?
MODERATOR: Yes, thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yes.
QUESTION: I’m so sorry. So yes, I’m French – Sandra Muller from La Lettre de l’Audiovisuel. So I have two question for you. You spoke about pressure Russian to go back to the deal, and then behind the scene there is some discussion. How positive are you? It’s my first question. And my second question – I apologize, I just had some trouble, a technical issue. I don’t know if you spoke about this or not. But now with climate change that can affect the food needs, so do you have some data about the food needs in the following years with the climate change? Did you make some comparison or some links? Thank you so much. And sorry for the video.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Good. Thank you so much, Sandra, for your question. You asked how positive am I that the Russians will go back into the grain deal. I can only hope that Russia will re-enter this grain deal. It’s beneficial to the world, not that we’ve seen any efforts by the Russians to care about what’s happening to people around the world. But we’re certainly supportive of the Secretary-General and others’ efforts to try to find a path that will get Russia to come back into this deal.
And then you ask about climate change. We know that climate change has impacted food insecurity. We have seen the drought in the Sahel. We have seen the impact of flooding on agriculture. We have seen the impact on livelihoods, on people being able to actually farm and move. We’ve seen farmers being encroached upon in the Sahel by herders who are bringing their herds into agricultural areas.
So the impact of climate change is also significant on food insecurity. And it’s why the President made the decision – one of the first decisions he made at the start of the administration was for us to go back into the Paris climate deal and for us to proactively engage with our partners on these issues. Former Secretary of State Kerry has been actively supporting these efforts and engaging on these efforts, and it’s something that we are working very, very diligently on.
The impact of climate is not a problem for tomorrow, it’s a problem for today. The Secretary-General has described it as an existential threat. It is something that we feel every day as we look at the patterns of heat across the globe, the patterns of flooding, intensified storms. We absolutely have to work together to address these issues today.
QUESTION: Thank you so much.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Sandra. Thank you all for your questions. This concludes our briefing for today. Thank you, Madam Ambassador.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you, everyone.
MODERATOR: Yep. And just as a reminder, the transcript will be on our website later today at fpc.state.gov. Have a good day.