Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
March 31, 2021
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, thank you all for being here today, and good afternoon. So today is my last day of the United States presidency of the Security Council.
I mentioned to you when I spoke to you a month ago that I was hitting the ground sprinting. Today I can take a little bit, just a tiny bit of a breather. At the beginning of this month, I said America was back at the table. I declared we would re-engage with the world, we would restore our alliances and our partnerships, and we would lead by example. And I said we would put American principles – and the American people – at the center of our foreign policy agenda. And during this month, we have shown just how serious we are.
In my first 48 hours here, I met with you all but I also met with all of the members of the Security Council, all of my counterparts. And over the course of the month, the Security Council engaged with President Biden, Secretary of State Blinken, and we brought Vice President Harris to the Commission on the Status of Women. At every stage, our engagements were guided by our desire to work with our partners and to lead with our values.
March is Women’s History Month. We were honored to co-host an Arria-formula meeting on Women, Peace, and Security on International Women’s Day. There, we announced we were proudly joining the UN Group of Friends for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. We also pressed to increase the full and meaningful participation of women in peace processes, aligning our efforts with the goals of the Commission on the Status of Women.
In the General Assembly, we observed the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery. Both were potent reminders of the work we have to do, in every society, to root out racism. Racial equity is a top priority for the Biden-Harris Administration, and we will continue to push for racial justice, both at home and in every corner of the globe.
At the signature event of our UN Security Council presidency, we called for urgent action to reduce conflict-induced hunger and malnutrition. We discussed breaking the vicious cycle of conflict-driven hunger in places like Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, the Tigrayan region of Ethiopia, and Yemen.
On March 16th, we continued our focus on Yemen, when the CARE Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa briefed us on the dire humanitarian situation on the ground and highlighted the perspectives of those trying to help such a vulnerable population. This powerful account clearly proved effective: two days later, the Security Council adopted a press statement on Yemen, calling for the “immediate end of the Houthi escalation in Marib,” and the first time a Council press statement has been done on this issue. The statement also called for a nationwide ceasefire and an inclusive political settlement of the conflict.
Turning to the African continent, the Security Council adopted a resolution that reinforced the core mission of UNMISS in South Sudan and empowered our peacekeeping efforts to be more mobile and responsive to emerging threats. The Security Council introduced a three-year strategic vision for UNMISS, which provides a clear expression of our expectations and the political objectives that we hope to achieve.
Sadly, this month, the Security Council marked the 10th anniversary of the Syrian conflict. I was deeply moved by Dr. Ballour’s briefing to the General Assembly* earlier this week. She’s on the front lines, and reported first-hand the desperate plight of the Syrian people. The Syrian people have been waiting, and waiting, and waiting, and waiting for the UN Security Council to come to their aid. And we can’t keep them waiting. As I’ve said throughout the month, the 11th anniversary of this horrific conflict in Syria has left so many hungry, desperate, and in need, and it just cannot look like the 10th.
We also addressed some of the emergent crises happening around the world, including the situations in Ethiopia, in Haiti, as well as in Burma. With Burma, the Security Council issued a Presidential Statement that highlighted our staunch unity against the coup and the terrible violence by the military forces that has followed. And with respect to Haiti, the Security Council adopted its first Presidential Statement since 2017.
Finally, throughout the month, we made sure to bring civil society – particularly women – to the forefront of every briefing. In the first six months of 2020, Security Council meetings had 40 percent fewer civil society briefers than before – and this was not because of COVID-19. We know some are trying to silence these necessary voices. So, this month, we placed a special emphasis on making sure civil society’s brave briefers brought us the ground truth. To keep them safe, we took measures to ensure briefers would not be harassed by their home countries for speaking to the Council. Their strong remarks informed us, they moved us – they moved us on issues ranging from climate change to sexual abuse and exploitation to acute hunger.
This March, we confronted our fair share of challenges. In many areas, we have a great deal more to do, from stopping brutal regimes from violently suppressing innocent people to feeding and providing aid to those who suffer from man-made hunger.
But we also saw how, when we come together, we have the potential to do great good. It’s that goal, and it is that promise, that keeps us coming back to the table. Because I believe, with all my heart, that when we come together, we can create more peace, more security, and more prosperity for us all. We look forward to doing that the next month and in the days and months and years to come.
Thank you, and I look forward to taking your questions.
MS. DALTON: Let’s start with James Bays with Al Jazeera.
QUESTION: Ambassador, James Bays from Al Jazeera. You’ve had two statements now from the Council on Myanmar. The generals have defied those statements and continue with the slaughter. Is the credibility of the Security Council now at stake?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I don’t think our credibility is at stake. I think what has to happen is we have to redouble our efforts. There is a meeting later today on Burma where we will be looking at what other things that we might do. But let me just say what the military is doing in Burma to the people – to the people of Burma, the violence, the attacks, the killings of children, they’re appalling and they are unacceptable. So we can’t just step back and allow this to happen. We have to keep pushing forward.
You may know that the U.S. did issue from our – the U.S. Trade Representative office ended all trade with Burma until the military steps back, and we’re looking at other measures that we might take in addition to the ones we’ve already taken.
MS DALTON: Let’s go to Pamela Falk with CBS, over here.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador. It’s Pamela Falk from CBS News.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Hi, Pamela.
QUESTION: The big picture question is: What did you learn during this month in terms of breaking the impasse on many issues that the Security Council has had? And specifically, will there be repercussions on the North Korea missile launches that violated UN treaty? Thank you so much and congratulations for a busy month.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yes. Good, thank you for that question. And what I learned is that when we’re at the table and when we’re working together, we can accomplish some things. And I am very happy we were able to get a statement out on Burma. We were able to have some very intense discussions on Ethiopia and how we might move forward in addressing the situation in that country. And I’m very, very proud of our discussion on food security, bringing that to the forefront and bringing it out into – in a public way I think was extraordinarily important. And I mentioned also in my remarks the fact that we were able to bring civil society voices to the table and have them heard on the international stage was a major accomplishment.
I’m optimistic that we can do more. I have found in the one month that I’ve been here that our friends, as well as those who may not be considered our friends, are happy to have us at the table. They want us at the table and they have welcomed us with open arms. So I look forward to my engagements with them over the next year – months and years ahead.
QUESTION: And on North Korea?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: On North Korea, we – you may know we have another meeting on that this afternoon**. We had a 1718 Sanctions Committee meeting. The Sanctions Committee made the decision that they would ask the group of experts to review the situation and come back and report to us, but the – we will be meeting on this issue again in the context of the Security Council.
QUESTION: Thank you so much.
MS DALTON: Edie Lederer, Associated Press.
QUESTION: I’m going to yell. (Laughter.) Thank you, Madam Ambassador, and congratulations on surviving your first presidency of the Security Council in pretty good form. (Laughter.)
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you.
MS DALTON: A follow-up on Myanmar and then a question. The follow-up on Myanmar is that you mentioned when Secretary of State Blinken was here that the Biden Administration is considering additional actions. What kind of actions did – are you considering?
And secondly, the President has had some pretty harsh words about both Russia and China, and you’ve just talked about the importance of everybody working together. I wonder if you could tell us about your relations with both the Russian and the Chinese ambassadors this month, and whether you think that you can work together and how – or particularly on a lot of critical issues before the council.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Good. On Myanmar, I mean, we’re still reviewing that situation. It’s a work in progress. The decision by USTR yesterday was one of those things that we were looking at and has come to fruition, and we’re hopeful that the situation will eventually resolve and the military will go back to their barracks and allow the democratically-elected government to take its place. But if they do not do that and they continue the attacks that they’re making on civilian populations, then we have to look at how we might do more in that area. I can’t define that for you right now, but it’s not something that we’re going to push aside.
And then in terms of working with my counterparts in the security council, I know that there are areas – and this is a discussion that I’ve had both with – with both my Russian and Chinese colleagues – we know that there are red lines. There are areas where we have serious concerns, and we’ve been open and we’ve been frank about those concerns. In China, what is happening with the Uyghurs, for example. With Russia, in Syria, and there are many others. We know what the red lines are.
We tried to bridge those gaps, but we also try to find those areas where we have common ground. We’ve been able to find common ground on Burma. With the Chinese, we’re working on climate change in, I think, a very positive way. We’re not in the exact same place, but it’s an area where we can have conversations with each other.
So as the top U.S. diplomat in New York, it is my responsibility to find common ground so that we can achieve common goals, but not to give either country a pass when they are breaking human rights values or pushing in directions that we find unacceptable.
MS. DALTON: Final question, let’s go to Valeria Robecco, president of the UN Correspondents Association.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Ambassador, and congratulations for this busy month. Yeah, actually, my question was on China and Russia, so I have a follow-up.
On personal level, did you find good relations with the ambassadors from China and Russia? And did you have the feeling that there are, like, I mean, the chances of building good relations at least on some common ground that you just mentioned? Thank you so much.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yeah. I mean, I – as I said, I really look for those areas where we have commonality and try to promote those discussions. And in areas where we have differences – and there are a lot of those areas; you all know what they are – we don’t pull any punches. You saw that during the meeting in Anchorage that the Secretary held and in my discussions with the Chinese and my public statements. You’ve seen we called out the Russians on Syria and we called out the Chinese on the genocide that is happening against the Uyghurs.
So again, we know that we have to work together, but we also know that we can’t – I can’t give them a pass where there are areas that cause us major concerns, and that’s particularly on the area of human rights.
QUESTION: Question about Syria and Iran? Can I ask a question?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Sure.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Ambassador. My name is Majeed Gly from Rudaw Media Network. It’s good to see you for first time in person.
My question on Syria: There was some cautious optimism from the special envoy in the last meeting about the political tribe. Do you see any concrete evidence of optimism in this political process that has failed in the past 10 years?
And my second question is: The renewal of UNAMI, the Iraq – UN Mission in Iraq is coming up, and Iraq is going through major crisis right now, including the problem between Kurdistan Regional Government and the Central Government and the reemergence of ISIS. Do you think the United Nations should do more in terms of ensuring stability in Iraq so it won’t go back to the situation it was a few years back? Thank you very much.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: So on Syria, any optimism is fine with me and I – if the SRSG saw some optimism, I’m pleased with that. And as I’ve said over and over this past month, the situation is bad and it can’t continue to remain as bad as it’s been for the past two years, so I’m going to be hopeful that, as I’ve said, that for the 11th anniversary we will achieve some success. And particularly right now, we’re working on making sure that we keep the one humanitarian corridor that we have open to keep that open, but you may have heard Secretary Blinken’s speech in which he indicated that it’s not just that one. That one corridor is not enough. We need to open up the other corridors as well, because the humanitarian needs in Syria are so extraordinary.
And then I don’t have a lot on the Iraq question other than, of course, we want to see nations do more to pursue peace. But again, that continues to be a work in progress. So thank you.
Thank you all.
*UN Security Council
** you may know we had another meeting on that yesterday afternoon