Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
September 14, 2023
Thank you everyone for being here. Good morning.
And, before I dive into all things UNGA, I want to provide a readout of my trip last week to Chad – as I have not had the chance to brief most of you since my return. As you know, I went on this trip, on behalf of President Biden, to draw attention to the conflict in Sudan – to shed light on the ongoing atrocities being perpetrated by armed groups, and to meet with refugees in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.
And it really was a harrowing experience. I met families who were driven from their homes by unthinkable violence. I saw children wasting away in a makeshift hospital. And I heard stories of women and girls who faced sexual violence.
My takeaway from this trip was this: the international community must do more to help the Sudanese people. As we speak, Sudan’s Humanitarian Response Plan for 2023 is less than 30 percent funded. And that is truly unacceptable. And Member States that can give more must give more. And they must give more now.For our part, the United States is the world’s leading donor to Sudan’s emergency response. And while in Chad, I announced an additional $163 million in additional humanitarian assistance for the people of Sudan and neighboring countries. During my trip, I also announced U.S. sanctions on Abdelrahim Hamdan Dagalo – also known as Hemedti – for his connections to abuses by the RSF and associated militia against civilians in Sudan.
Additionally, we have imposed U.S. visa restrictions on RSF General and West Darfur Commander Abdul Rahman Juma for his involvement in a gross violation of human rights. We will continue to do everything possible to prevent and respond to ongoing atrocities – and to bring international attention to this brutal conflict. To hold those accountable who have committed these atrocities.
During my presidency of the Security Council last month, we held the first open debate on the conflict in Sudan. And I will continue to raise this issue in the Council, and will continue to focus on this during High-Level Week.
On the topic of High-Level Week, I would like to preview the United States’ priorities for the 78th UN General Assembly. This year, we have three core areas of focus.
First, we will work to strengthen partnerships – including with countries we sometimes disagree with. This is something Secretary Blinken spoke powerfully about yesterday. As the Secretary outlined, we are advancing critical partnerships – bilaterally and through the multilateral system, including here at the United Nations. These partnerships will help us tackle global challenges and advance the Sustainable Development Goals – which is the world’s blueprint for a more just, more peaceful, and more prosperous future.
We are just a few days away from the SDG Summit. This is a huge moment for the world. And during this summit, the United States will reaffirm our commitments to all 17 Sustainable Development Goals – and we will discuss tangible ways we’re working to meet them.
I’ll also note that, tomorrow morning, I will deliver a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations on our vision for sustainable development. This speech will focus on how we avoid the cynicism trap, as we work to advance the SDGs – at home and abroad. I hope you will have a chance to tune in.
Second, during this year’s UNGA, we will work to uphold the principles enshrined in the UN Charter – including respect for the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of all Member States. When Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, it struck at the heart of the UN Charter. We will continue to pursue a just and durable peace – in line with the UN Charter’s core principles. And we will continue to stand with Ukraine – for as long as it takes
As we approach the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we will also redouble our efforts – working alongside our partners – to defend the fundamental freedoms of all.
Third, we will continue to push for reforms to the multilateral system – reforms that will make international institutions more effective, inclusive, transparent, accountable, and fit for purpose in this century.
As in years past, leaders from across our government, including President Biden and Secretary Blinken, will be here for High-Level Week. The President will meet with world leaders to discuss collaboration on shared priorities. And he will address the General Assembly – where he will reaffirm our country’s leadership in countering threats to international peace and security, protecting human rights, and advancing global prosperity and development. I know the White House will have more to say about the President’s itinerary in the coming days – so stay tuned.
As President Biden often says, right now, we are at an inflection point. And the actions we take over the next week, and in the months ahead will be consequential.
So let us come together to end senseless conflicts in Sudan, Ukraine, and elsewhere – and to make progress on the Sustainable Development Goals, to defend the UN Charter and human rights, and to ensure our international system can meet today’s most pressing challenges.
Thank you. And with that, I’ll take your questions.
NATE EVANS: Thanks everyone. We will start with Valeria. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Thank you, Ambassador, and we wish you the best of luck for the busy week ahead. And thank you, on behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association. Valeria Robecco, Ansa News Wire. So, the Secretary-General yesterday announced that he is going to meet with President Zelensky, President Erdogan, and Foreign Minister Lavrov next week. Do you see any glimpse of hope to make progress of any sort on the Black Sea Grain Initiative? And, more general, if you see any other area of possible cooperation and progress during the major issues next week? Thank you so much.
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Look, we appreciate the Secretary-General continuing to actively engage on trying to find a path forward to bring the Russians back into the Black Sea Grain Initiative and we hope that he succeeds in doing that in the meetings that he will be having next week with the various partners. And I think next week really offers an opportunity for world leaders to engage on these critical issues, whether it’s dealing with the conflict in Sudan, dealing with the situation in Haiti, dealing with the humanitarian issues that we’re all seeing unfold before our eyes today with the flooding in Libya and the earthquake in Morocco. These are issues of peace and security. These are issues that Member States should be addressing here at the Security Council. And they’re issues in which I know the Secretary-General has prioritized in his engagements with all of us.
EVANS: In honor of Michelle’s birthday yesterday –
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Happy birthday. I won’t sing [Laughter].
QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador. A lot of – a lot of people, actually – diplomats, and those surrounding the UN – have spoken about the rivalry, competition, between big powers and how that is sort of hanging over the General Assembly next week, and the competition between big powers to sort of win over developing countries – keep them onside, get them onside for whatever causes they might need them for. What’s your sort of response to that? How do you think we might see that play out next week? And can we expect any High-level meetings between U.S. and Chinese diplomats? It doesn’t appear that Wang Yi is coming – is the U.S. disappointed by that?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, let me say that next week is an opportunity for smaller countries – for the world – to lay out their priorities in front of us. So, I don’t see next week as being a competition between big powers. I see next week being an opportunity for smaller countries – for countries that have needs to lay out their priorities to us. And this is an opportunity, particularly for the Sustainable Development Goals Summit, for those 17 priorities to be laid out and for us to reaffirm our commitments to those priorities. So, that’s our goal. Our goal is to support smaller countries – to let them know that we are as committed to them as we always have been. And we want to hear from them.
In terms of meetings next week for the Secretary, I can’t advance any information on those meetings. I know that the Secretary’s team will provide that information at a later date.
EVANS: Alright, we’ll take as many as we can. Again, we might need to leave sort of abruptly. So, we’ll go to Sherwin and, in the back, we can try Maggie and – so in that order.
QUESTION: Thanks, Nate, and good morning, Ambassador. I wonder about a possible bilateral between President Biden and President Ramaphosa of South Africa, particular in the context of the African Peace Initiative in Ukraine. But, also, in the aftermath of some tensions between Washington and Pretoria in relation to U.S. allegations that South Africa transferred weapons and ammunitions onto a sanctioned Russian cargo vessel in South Africa last December. Subsequently, a panel led by a retired judge found no evidence to validate those allegations. There’s been no walk-back from the United States. Can you sort of just frame us as to why that might be? And also, President Biden talked about Security Council reform last year. I know you’ve had multiple consultations and engagements on this over the last year. Where are we at in that conversation? Thanks.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, good. In terms of our relationship with South Africa – we have a strong partnership with South Africa. It is a partnership we respect, and it is a partnership that we want to build on in the coming years. As you know, we will be hosting South Africa, we will be hosting the signature economic business forum that we have the agora for and we will continue to engage with them on issues where we agree, issues where we disagree, and that happens between countries, you know, all the time. So, we will be engaging further with South Africa on all of those issues that you listed. And then your second question was –
QUESTION: Was on Security Council reform –
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yes.
QUESTION: And will there be a bilat between Biden and Ramaphosa?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Again, I can’t preview who the Secretary will – I mean, sorry, who the President will be meeting with during High-Level Week. I’ll leave that to the White House to share.
In terms of UN reform, we are committed. The President made that very, very clear in his statement last year. The Secretary has amplified on that. And, as you know, I have been engaging almost on a weekly basis with countries here. So, our commitment is ironclad – to see that the UN and the particularly the Security Council is fit for purpose for the next generation. And the Security Council as it exists today does not represent the world that exists today. So, we’re looking at what kinds of changes that we can make that make sense, that are achievable, and that reflect the changes that we want to see happen. So those discussions are continuing and the engagement on that will continue.
EVANS: We’ll go to the back. I think I said Maggie. We’ll take as many as we can, so we’ll come –
QUESTION: Thanks, Ambassador.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: [Laughter]. And I will apologize. They’re going to give me the hand and I am just going to run so that I can give my statement.
EVANS: We have four more? Ok.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Alright.
EVANS: You can keep us [inaudible]. I’m trying to keep us – [Laughter].
QUESTION: Okay, Ambassador –
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: [Laughter]. But I want to at least hear the person in front of me before I start speaking, so. Go, go.
QUESTION: Ambassador, thank you, It’s Margaret, VOA. I understand the U.S. is going to be hosting the Central Asia Summit on the side lines. Could you just give us a little more detail about that? And are you hoping this will be a counter to Russia – Russian and Chinese influence in that region? And could I just ask you one little follow up to something that happened in the Security Council last week on the UNIFIL renewal. I’ve seen there’s been some pushback from some corners of Capitol Hill saying that the resolution somehow changed or altered U.S. recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. I don’t think any of us maybe saw that here. So, could you clarify that please?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yes. And thanks for both questions. On the C5, this is – this is about further developing and enhancing our partnership with countries in the C5. We don’t see this as competing with China for influence with these countries. We see it as building on a relationship that we already have.
And on the UNIFIL resolution – let me be clear: our policy on the Golan Heights has not changed. This vote did not signal any change in that policy. And our decision in 2019 remains in effect. And I can’t say that more clearly than that.
EVANS: Alright –
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Can I just take one more and then run? [Laughter]. I don’t want to walk in and speak the moment I sit down in the chair. [Laughter].
EVANS: If we can be really quick, James and then we can do – but James and then Pam –
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I’m sorry guys, I really [inaudible].
QUESTION: Ambassador, quick – quick question – question on Sudan that you were talking about earlier on. Situation is not getting better. The SRSG felt he had to quit. And at the same time, there’s so many different peace efforts that don’t seem to be coordinating. You’ve got the AU, IGAD, you’ve got you and the Saudis, you’ve got you as part of the Troika, you’ve got Egypt involved – isn’t it time for the Security Council to try and coordinate this mediation effort – try and get everyone on the same page – and try and achieve something?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: First let me say how disappointed I was at Volker Perthes’ announcement yesterday that he was leaving. He’s done an extraordinary job under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, and he really should be applauded for that.
We support a coordinated to find the peaceful way forward. And that means having the AU, the Arab League, the neighboring countries all come together to find a path forward, because the Sudanese warring parties are kind of form shopping on who they will allow to negotiate a settlement – and that should not be the case. We have to come together so that, that does not happen.
EVANS: If we could keep it to one minute. We have one minute. Pam.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: One more. [Laughter].
QUESTION: Thanks – I’ll be fast. Thanks so much, Ambassador. Pam Falk from CBS News. The question is – the P5 – of the permanent five members, only the United States President is coming. Do you think it’s any reflection, and what do you expect out of the Security Council meeting on Wednesday? Thanks.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I can’t speak for the other P5 members. I can only speak for us. We’re committed to the UN. The President’s committed. His mantra was multilateralism is back. So, he is here to reinforce that belief and to engage across the board. I – I –
QUESTION: Is it in any way disappointing?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I think it’s important that countries participate in this form. It happens only once a year. I won’t say I’m disappointed. I will say that you can talk to them about why – you know, I don’t know why they made the decisions not to come. You can raise that with them. [Laughter].
QUESTION: And on the Security Council?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We’re looking forward to the Security Council meeting on the 20th. It’s on Ukraine and the issues there. And I think it will be an important message to the world on the support for Ukraine.
EVANS: We would have love to take – just email us with other questions. We would’ve loved to take more. I’m sorry.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I’m so sorry. I promise.