Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
September 16, 2022
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Good morning, everyone. It’s really great to be here with you. It seems like I was just here a few days ago and it was an entire year ago. So this is my second one of these previews during this most important week in the United Nations history.
As you may have heard me say in San Francisco, right now the United Nations faces a crisis of confidence. It’s a crisis of confidence that has been brought about by Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine. Even as the world was facing the threat of climate change, a pandemic, global food crisis, one of the Permanent Members of the Security Council invaded its neighbor. Russia violated national sovereignty and territorial integrity, it trampled on human rights, and it pursued outright war instead of a negotiated peace. A Permanent Member of the Security Council struck at the heart of the UN Charter.
This war tests the fundamental principles the UN was founded on, but our response to Russia’s flagrant violations cannot be to abandon the founding principles of this organization that we believe so strongly in. Instead, we have to double down. We must double down on our commitment to a peaceful world and hold even closer our deeply-held principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity, peace, and security.
And that’s why next week is so critical. We believe this is a moment to defend the United Nations and to demonstrate to the world that it can still take the world’s most pressing global challenges on. Which leads me to our three core UNGA priorities: addressing global food insecurity, advancing global health and global health security, and upholding the UN Charter in shaping the future of the United Nations.
Our first priority, global food insecurity, has never been more urgent. According to the World Food Program, over 828 millionpeople go to bed hungry every night. Eight hundred, twenty-eight million people. COVID-19, higher energy costs, and the climate crisis have all combined to contribute to this crisis, and conflicts, especially Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, have exacerbated it. You heard us discuss this in the Security Council meeting on this topic yesterday. Too often food is intentionally blocked or destroyed and used as a weapon of war. This unprecedented crisis calls for an unprecedented response.
So, since February, the United States has provided over $5.7 billion in humanitarian assistance to food security operations, but we know we can’t do this alone; other countries have an obligation to step up as well. In response to this growing global crisis, Secretary Blinken will co-chair with the European Union, the African Union, and Spain a food security summit on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. This continues conversations that we started in May when we brought together partners here in New York to craft a roadmap for global food security. And thanks to our leadership, 103 signatories are now focused on a common picture of this crisis and a common agenda to addressing it. We will be carrying forward that initiative with vigor next week through numerous meetings and events, including the Global Citizen Festival on September 24th, where I’m pleased to be participating in this year.
Second, we will again make global health a key focus on this year’s High-Level Week, because as COVID-19 reminded us, global health threats do not respect borders. We must tackle COVID-19, monkeypox, and other outbreaks and we must do it together. And let’s be clear: The COVID-19 pandemic is not over. So during UNGA 77 we will co-host a COVID-19 Global Action Plan Ministerial with the foreign ministers of Bangladesh, Botswana, and Spain. And at the same time we know funds for other public health threats have been depleted, so now is the time to replenish them, to stamp out threats today, and prepare for pandemics of tomorrow.
So on September 21st, President Biden will host the 7th Replenishment Conference for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. We’re committed to helping the Global Fund reach its $18 billion goal. That’s the number the Global Fund assesses that it needs at a minimum to get the world back on track toward ending HIV, TB, and malaria and to build resilient and sustainable health systems. President Biden has already pledged $2 billion U.S. dollars toward that goal and signaled the United States is prepared to give a dollar for every two dollars committed by other donors for a total pledge by the United States of $6 billion.
Our third and final priority gets back to where I started, and that is defending the UN Charter and shaping the future of the United Nations. The good news is that we’ve seen the vast majority of Member States reject Russia’s flagrant aggression. Earlier this year, we helped to win a historic vote to condemn Russia’s war of choice. We were able to successfully suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council and we continue to hold Russia accountable for its atrocities, most recently shining a spotlight on its horrific filtration campaign. More broadly, we are doubling down on the UN Charter and seeking to strengthen the UN system. Our goal is to demonstrate that we see our role as serving, not dominating, the people of the world. In that vein, you may have heard me outline a new set of six principles for Security Council members that we will be adhering to and encouraging others to do the same.
First and foremost, we pledge to defend and act strictly in accordance with the UN Charter. Second, we will engage pragmatically with all Council members to address threats to international peace and security. Bilateral disputes must never be an excuse for obstructing the Council’s mandate or forgoing one’s responsibilities. Third, we will refrain from the use of the veto except in rare, extraordinary circumstances. And I will note that since 2009, Russia has cast 26 vetoes, 12 of which they were joined with China, and the U.S. has only used our veto four times since 2009. Fourth, we will demonstrate leadership in defending human rights and fundamental freedoms. Fifth, we will enhance cooperation, inclusivity, transparency. Council members should engage frequently and substantively with the General Assembly and other UN bodies and UN Member States. And sixth and finally, we will advance efforts to reform the UN Security Council that includes forging consensus around sensible and credible proposals to expand Security Council membership.
These principles are the start of a dialogue, one that President Biden, Secretary Blinken, and myself and so many others will pick up and take into our conversations during High-Level Week and in the weeks ahead. Our hope is to rally the world behind the Charter that we all committed to 77 years ago in San Francisco. And together, we will work to shape and reform it and the system it has created for the future.
This is an ambitious agenda, but when faced with climate crisis, with public health threats, and raging conflict, we cannot afford to be coy. We must tackle global issues head-on and challenge other countries to do the same. So with that, I welcome your questions.
MODERATOR: We’ll start with Valeria.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you so much and thank you, Ambassador, on behalf of UNCA for doing this press briefing. Valeria Robecco from ANSA News Agency. So my question is: Do you expect that next week will be overall dominated by the war in Ukraine? And do you foresee that in the meetings during UNGA there will be conversations on the price cap for natural gas? Thanks.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear the second part. Conversations on —
QUESTION: Price cap for natural gas. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you for that question. No, next week will not be dominated by Ukraine, but we will not ignore Ukraine. We know that as this horrible war rages across Ukraine, we cannot ignore the rest of the world. There are conflicts taking place elsewhere, there are issues that impact us all, which is why we are focusing on food insecurity – that relates to Ukraine certainly, but is not all about Ukraine. We’re going to be focused on climate change, we’re going to be focused on health, and we’re going to be focused on supporting and building on commitments to the UN Charter.
There will be meetings next week on Haiti. There will be meetings that deal with other parts of the world. So no, we’re not going to just focus on Ukraine, but we won’t ignore Ukraine. And I – there won’t be any discussions as far as I know on – you said the price cap on fuel?
QUESTION: Natural gas.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: On natural gas. But I’m sure that that will come into the conversations that we are having, particularly as it impacts Europe.
MODERATOR: Let’s go to Pam.
QUESTION: Thank you, Nate. Thank you, Ambassador, for the briefing. It’s Pamela Falk from CBS News. You mentioned the UN Charter, you’ve spoken very passionately in San Francisco and here about the UN Charter. Back to Ukraine. Any kind of peace talks have been elusive even though there’s been the grain deal and other things that have gone on. Do you think – you said there probably won’t be meetings with – or will there be meetings between the Foreign Minister Lavrov of Russia and foreign minister of Ukraine and U.S., or anything like that? And if not, is the UN fit for purpose, so to speak, on its first goal of peace and security, in your mind? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Let me answer that last question first and say, absolutely, the UN is fit for purpose, but it is not perfect. So this is why we are talking about UN reform and how we can make it even more fit for purpose for the future. We will be having meetings with the Ukrainians. There are no plans at this time to have meetings with the Russians. They have not indicated that they have an interest in diplomacy. What they are interested in is continuing to wage this unprovoked war on Ukraine, and the Ukrainians are working diligently to defend themselves.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: We’ll go to Michelle next.
QUESTION: Thanks, Ambassador.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Where are you? Oh, okay.
QUESTION: Hi, I’m here. Thank you for the briefing. I’m a little surprised that you say next week won’t be dominated by Ukraine. We’ve been hearing from a lot of other missions that there will be a lot of chat about Ukraine. How are you expecting – sorry, let me rephrase that. There is a lot of attention focused on the United States and the West versus Russia and possibly China in vying for influence with particularly the Global South, and that has been heightened a lot as a result of Ukraine. What are you expecting next week in terms of that? Are you expecting Russia and China to step up their actions next week?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I can’t speak for Russia and China. I suspect that they will do everything they possibly can to continue their disinformation and their attacks on the West, but again, the rest of the world is still churning. And yes, we will talk about Ukraine, there will be lots of discussion about Ukraine next week, but it will not be the only thing that we are dealing with. We cannot ignore the rest of the world and what is happening in the rest of the world – the impact of climate change, the impact of the pandemic, conflicts elsewhere in the world. So we will be talking about all of those issues next week, as well as Ukraine.
QUESTION: And are these concerns that some of your colleagues from the Global South have raised with you that Ukraine is – has been dominating and they would like to see more discussion about other crises?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Certainly, other countries have expressed a concern that we have not – as we focus on Ukraine, we are not paying attention to what is happening in other crises around the world. And again, that is not the case. We’re going to be having a series of bilateral meetings. We have a huge delegation coming from Washington to, of course, include the President and the Secretary of State, but also other Cabinet members. And we will be meeting with countries across the board.
MODERATOR: We’ll go to Betül.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Ambassador. Betül Yürük, Turkish News Agency Anadolu. Can you tell us a bit about what bilaterals President Biden and Secretary Blinken will be having? And do they plan to meet their Turkish counterparts, Turkish president and Turkish foreign minister? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Okay. I can’t preview the bilats that the President and Secretary will be having, but they will be having bilats across the board and you’ll hear about them as they happen or as they are announced. But again, we’re trying to see as many people as possible who we know are important to our bilateral relationships moving forward and also important to dealing with some of the global issues that we’re all dealing with.
MODERATOR: We’ll go to Edie, then Benno after.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Madam Ambassador. Two questions. First, is the United States involved at all in this effort to now try to move Russian fertilizers through Black Sea ports? And does the U.S. support that idea?
And second, on the food security summit, can you give us some details on exactly what the U.S. is hoping to come out of that?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Okay. So the – on the fertilizer deal going through the Black Sea, that was part of the arrangements that were negotiated by the Secretary-General and the Turkish Government with the Russians and the Ukrainians, and we are supportive of moving fertilizer as well as wheat out of Russia to get into the market. So, again, this is a work in progress, but we have not put sanctions on Russian fertilizer. So if they can get their fertilizer out, we certainly are supportive of that.
And your second question on food security? I’m sorry.
QUESTION: The food security – I believe that President Biden is supposed to be hosting a meeting, some kind of a summit meeting. Can you give us some details and what the U.S. is hoping to come out of that meeting?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Okay. The meeting is going to be hosted by Secretary Blinken with the AU and the UN. As you know, the President’s schedule changed due to the funeral. But what we’re hoping to do is really bring the world together to address all of the issues related to food insecurity. So it’s bringing both the south as well as countries – developing countries and donor countries together in the room to address these issues and how we move forward so that we can avoid the crisis that we are actually experiencing right now and see if we can make the situation better in the coming months.
We have been consistently a large donor on the humanitarian side. That addresses the immediate needs, but we also have contributed to addressing the long-term capacity needs related to food insecurity, and we’ll be working with our partners to see how we can do a better job. And it’s both the AU, the EU, the U.S., and Spain hosting this.
QUESTION: Is that going to be open to media coverage?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I don’t know.
MODERATOR: We’ll follow up on that, Edie. We’ll follow up (inaudible).
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yeah.
MODERATOR: Benno, yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador. Benno Schwinghammer with the German Press Agency. You already laid out or you already mentioned the principles you laid out in San Francisco about expanding and reforming the Security Council. How do you go on from there in the next week? Will there be maybe even meetings with countries like Germany, India, Japan? How do you want to convince China and Russia about this idea?
And maybe if I may, all the countries of the JCPOA will be in town next week as well. The Iranian president will be there. Can you see any meeting or progress happening there?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: First, on UN reform, what I spoke about in New York and here today is sort of the start of that discussion. We will be having discussions with our P3 colleagues as well as others on the way forward. The President will present a bit more on this in his speech. The Secretary, Secretary Blinken, will also be engaging this week on the commitments we’ve made and how we see the process moving forward. And we will have further discussions with other Member States on how we can just move the needle on this so that we can make some progress on UN reform and Security Council reform.
QUESTION: And JCPOA?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Oh, and JCPOA – I don’t have anything on that at the moment. As far as I know, no meetings are planned.
MODERATOR: Let me go there.
QUESTION: Thank you so much, Ambassador, for doing this briefing today. I have a question regarding Afghanistan and one regarding JCPOA.
Recently, the Board of Governors of IAEA issued a statement, which U.S. was part of it – they expressed a serious concern about the traces of uranium that was found in nuclear facilities in Iran. And regarding IAEA, is there a time limit that the U.S. will refer Iran’s case of not answering IAEA questions to the Security Council, or they just keep going?
Do you want me to ask the Afghanistan question now or after?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yeah, just on – I don’t have anything specific on that as it relates to Iran, other than the fact that we will continue the pressure for them to respond to the IAEA.
QUESTION: Regarding Afghanistan, the U.S. is moving $3.5 billion money to a trust fund account, and that is going to, as said, going to benefit people of Afghanistan. I was wondering if you can shed light on that a little bit more, and also how is it going to work and what is going to happen to the rest of the frozen assets of Afghanistan? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Okay. Let me just say that the United States has remained committed to supporting the people of Afghanistan despite the situation with the Taliban, but ensuring that they continue to get support, even though the Taliban are doing everything possible not to allow that support to happen.
So what the President did was enable $3.5 billion of the Afghan central bank reserves to be used for the benefit of the people of Afghanistan, but keeping that money out of the hands of the Taliban. So a foundation called the Afghan Fund was established in Switzerland. The fund will protect, preserve, and make targeted disbursements of that $3.5 billion to help provide greater stability to the Afghan economy. And the assets are intended to be preserved and used for promoting microeconomic stability, but not for humanitarian assistance.
QUESTION: Is girls’ education in Afghanistan going to be a topic during High-Level Week?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: There is a meeting with Afghan women. I don’t remember the date of it. And absolutely, girls’ education will be something that we will consider.
MODERATOR: Let’s go in the back. Yes. Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador. Stefano Vaccara, La Voce di New York. Two questions. One is about Libya. Just 10 years ago your colleague, Ambassador Stevens, died in Libya and while he was working to try this – to help this country. And since then the United States, I would say, has not been as involved as how the – how the country expected. So what do you think the policy of United States – what is new about Libya in the next months ahead?
And then it’s a question about your speech on 8th of September in San Francisco. That speech, let’s say, was about defending the UN Charter, and I have to say that you admitted that U.S. didn’t do a good job in the past, and probably this has to do with credibility – because you need credibility to say that you defend the Charter. Today we received from the press officer of President Xi of China kind of a speech that was saying almost the same thing in another way, but China defends the Charter and will defend the Charter. So my question is, how are you going to convince the country in these days that United States is committed like you say, has a plan, six plan, and this plan will follow no matter who will be president in two years?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We’re talking about the commitments that we are making to the United Nations right now. And wait, before I move, let me just say we welcome the Chinese commitment to defending the UN Charter. We are – the U.S. has always been committed to the United States* and as difficult as it may have been four years ago, that commitment, while not as strongly promoted, was supported by many Americans, NGOs, state governments, and we will continue, hopefully, to push this forward.
But our goal is to do it now and put those commitments in stone so that we can move forward in making this organization that we are a part of, that represents us, continue to function in a way. We have nothing better than the United Nations. It’s not perfect, and I say that all the time. It is not perfect, but it’s what we have. And we’re one Member State, but there are other Member States that will continue this effort along with us, whether it’s today or five years from now.
MODERATOR: I think we might have time for one or two more, so we can go with Margaret.
QUESTION: And sorry, anything about Libya?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Oh, yes, I’m sorry. I wrote that down. We’re committed to Libya. I mean, we’re absolutely committed to Libya. We have an embassy there. Our ambassador serves – Ambassador Norland as the special envoy. We have been very, very strong in our support for what the UN is doing in Libya, including pushing the UN to announce a new special envoy, which they have. And we will continue to work with our partners to find a solution moving forward. Our commitment has not wavered on Libya.
MODERATOR: We’ll go to Margaret and we have time for one more.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador. Margaret Besheer from Voice of America. You mentioned the President has some schedule changes next week. Could you just confirm for us when his speech to the general debate will be?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I – let me see. It’s Wednesday, right?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Okay, so —
QUESTION: And do you have a time? Morning, midday, afternoon?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I think it’s going to be morning, but I don’t have an exact time.
MODERATOR: You’ll hear more from the White House about that.
QUESTION: Okay. And then my proper question: President Putin sort of acknowledged yesterday China’s concerns about his war in Ukraine, and I’m wondering if you have sensed or heard any changes from your counterpart here, the Chinese ambassador, in a similar vein about concerns about Ukraine’s war?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I haven’t had a direct conversation with him on that, but I can say that his actions in the Security Council shows to us that they’ve been uncomfortable leaning in with the Russians on this war. China has always spoken strongly about the importance of the sovereignty of nations and the integrity of borders, so I am not surprised that the president of China would have made that statement.
MODERATOR: All right. Well, and this is the last one we can take, and then any follow-ups, please reach out to our office and we’ll do our best to —
QUESTION: Thank you, Madam Ambassador. Nataliia Lutsenko from Ukrainian TV station, and I’m a part of the Dag Hammarskjöld program. Yeah. After the past six months, even more after Russian invasion to Ukraine, is there any success in persuading those countries who were staying neutral against – I mean in a letter of sanctioning Russia – is there any progress on that matter? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I can tell you it’s something that we work on every single day because I think when there is an attack on the UN Charter, an attack on the sovereignty of an independent country, that you can’t be neutral. And this is the message that we have said to other countries: If this were happening to their country, we would defend them in exactly the same way. And so we have encouraged other countries to rethink their neutral positions, but there are still others who believe that it is important for them to remain neutral, and we’ll keep trying to press them to reconsider.
MODERATOR: I’m sorry, that’s all we have time for today. Please reach out to our office if you have any follow-ups.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you all. Appreciate it.