Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
January 30, 2024
Hello, everyone. Let me just make a brief statement.
As you just heard, the Security Council received a briefing today from Sigrid Kaag. The Council once again just endorsed her efforts and I’m here to say that I’m certain she is really the right person for the job. Now, she needs continued backing of the Council and the entire international community. She needs the support of the United Nations.
This position was created thanks to a resolution the United States worked closely on with the UAE and other Council members. And indeed, the idea to create this role emerged from discussions I had with representatives from the Arab Group and other Member States, and the United States fully supports Senior Coordinator Kaag’s efforts to streamline and accelerate the delivery of lifesaving humanitarian assistance.
Her success is the UN’s success. It is the Council’s success. And her work is essential. As was just mentioned, more humanitarian assistance – including food, medicine, fuel, and other supplies – need to get in the hands of civilians in Gaza. Expanding commercial access is also critical to meeting basic needs and addressing food insecurity. And every party in the region must work with Senior Coordinator Kaag and her team to sustainably scale up aid deliveries. Everyone.
This needs to happen and it needs to happen quickly. For the child in Gaza who will again go to bed hungry tonight. For the elderly woman who has run out of her heart medication. And for the family that is now living in the street, under a makeshift tent made of cloth and plastic. For all of those impacted, we will continue to push all parties to facilitate the expanded delivery of humanitarian aid in Gaza.
Equally important, we will continue to work toward an agreement that secures the release of all hostages and allows for an extended pause in the fighting, because there cannot be progress towards a durable peace without a resolution of the hostage crisis.
As Secretary Blinken noted yesterday, the proposal on the table is strong and compelling. It envisions a longer humanitarian pause than we saw in November which would provide an opportunity to get more hostages out and lifesaving humanitarian assistance in: food for the hungry child, medicine for the elderly woman in need, shelter for the family that has been displaced multiple times.
Of course, if Hamas actually cared about the needs of the Palestinians in Gaza, they would end this conflict today. This is a conflict Hamas set in motion on October 7, when they carried out the deadliest attack against Jews since the Holocaust. And so, the entire international community should call on Hamas to lay down its arms, to stop using civilians as human shields, and to release every single hostage. And I would ask all of my colleagues here in New York – from every region in the world – to speak with one voice, send that clear message to Hamas.
MODERATOR: We’re running very late, so we have time for two. Let’s start with Michelle.
QUESTION: Hi, Ambassador.
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Hi, Michelle.
QUESTION: Thank you for coming to talk to us. I wanted to ask you about UNRWA and the pause to U.S. funding. What will it take? What do you want to see from the UN for the U.S. to resume this funding? What are you hoping to hear from the Secretary-General in his briefing this afternoon? And how important is or how concerned are you that if UNWRA does have to stop operations in March or at the end of February? How would that affect the current aid operation in Gaza?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: The United States was extremely troubled by the allegations that 12 UNRWA employees may have been involved in the attack on October 7. And as you know, the Department has temporarily, as you noted, temporarily paused additional funding to UNRWA while we review these allegations and the steps that the United Nations is taking to address them. We welcome the decision by the UN to conduct an investigation and a comprehensive and independent assessment and review of UNRWA, as well as the Secretary-General’s pledge that he made very quickly to take decisive action to respond should the allegations prove accurate.
There has to be accountability for anyone who participated in this attack on October 7. But we also know that UNRWA plays a critical – critical – role in providing lifesaving assistance to Palestinians, including essential food and medicine, shelter and other vital humanitarian support. So, the United States has reached out to the Government of Israel to seek more information about these allegations, we briefed members of Congress, and we will remain in close contact with the United Nations as well as with the Government of Israel regarding this matter.
MODERATOR: Time for one more. Edie.
QUESTION: Madam Ambassador, UNRWA and the UN say that their money will run out at the end of February – that’s only a few weeks from now. Do you expect the United States to make a decision on whether to maintain the suspension or lifted before the end of February?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you, Edie. And as you know, UNRWA brought this information to us, and they are conducting an investigation. They’re taking it very seriously. So, I’m not going to get ahead of the investigation that they are conducting, but I know that we need to see fundamental changes before we can resume providing funding directly to UNRWA. And as you know, we shouldn’t let that cloud the great work that UNRWA does. UNRWA has provided essential humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people and UNRWA is the only organization on the ground that has the capacity to continue to provide that assistance. And their personnel have done extraordinary work – they’ve literally saved thousands of lives, and it’s unfortunate that this information has raised some doubts about UNRWA.
And we shouldn’t – let me be clear, we shouldn’t let this information, these facts undermine the efforts that UNRWA is making to provide lifesaving assistance. We will be meeting with the Secretary-General later today as donors to discuss with him the path moving forward. But we want to ensure that humanitarian assistance continues to flow to the Palestinian people.
QUESTION: When you said, when you talked about fundamental changes, what fundamental changes do you want to see?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, we need to look at the organization, how it operates in Gaza, how they manage their staff, and to ensure that people who commit criminal acts, such as these 12 individuals, are held accountable immediately so that UNRWA can continue the essential work that it is doing.