Remarks by Senior Administration Official During a Background Briefing on Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s Travel to Ghana, Mozambique, and Kenya

Senior Administration Official
January 23, 2023


MODERATOR:  Thanks so much and welcome, everyone. The focus of today’s call will be on Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s upcoming travel to Ghana, Mozambique, and Kenya.  This call is on background and you can attribute what you hear to a senior administration official. For your knowledge only and not for reporting purposes, I’m happy to let you know that we have on the line with us today [Senior Administration Official]. Again, you can attribute what our briefer says to a senior administration official, and the call is embargoed until its conclusion.

And with that, I will turn it over to you, [Senior Administration Official].

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thanks so much, and thanks, everybody, for joining us today. Appreciate you hopping on. As you saw us announce yesterday, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. Representative to the United Nations, is traveling to Ghana, Kenya, and Mozambique from January 25 to 29. As you know, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield has a long history with Africa, having spent many years on the continent in different capacities during her more than four decades of public service.

This is Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield’s third trip to Sub-Saharan Africa since she took up her position as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. It comes on the heels of last month’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, in which she and many other members of the President’s cabinet participated, and builds on President Biden’s commitment to expand and modernize our partnerships in Africa.

As the President said during the summit, the real measure of success is not in the announcements at the summit, it’s in the follow-through. And this trip is part and parcel of delivering on the President’s commitment to step up our engagement across Africa, and I think you’ll see enhanced engagement from across the President’s cabinet during the course of this year and beyond.

We have four main objectives that I would highlight for all of you as we go into this trip. First, we’ll affirm and strengthen our partnerships with current and former UN Security Council members, including Mozambique, which just began its first-ever term as a non-Permanent Member of the Security Council. This year the Security Council, of course, will continue to work to fulfill its mandate to address critical issues related to international peace and security all over the world, but including on the African continent, and partnership with elected members of the Council will prove vital to our own diplomatic success. It’s central to our strategy for approaching issues at the Security Council, and we’re investing in these relationships and looking for ways to partner in the year to come and beyond. So that’s the first objective.

Second, as I mentioned, this visit is one of a series of high-level U.S. Government travel to Africa aimed at following up on and advancing shared priorities that we moved forward during the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit last month. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield will be focused in particular on addressing regional security issues, strengthening food security – a focus that we’ve had at the UN and in New York over the course of the last year – supporting African resilience and recovery, and mitigating the effects of climate change.

In addition to Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield’s travel, I’m sure you’re tracking that Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen is also in the region this week to deepen U.S.-Africa economic ties by expanding trade and investment flows and working with partners across the continent on economic and trade issues. And you’ll see more engagement on the continent from the administration this year – indeed, in the coming weeks and months – so stay tuned on that.

Third, we will continue to shine a light on humanitarian issues and put them at the forefront of our affirmative agenda across the region. During her stops in Mozambique and Kenya, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield will engage with key humanitarian partners and leaders from UN agencies and the international NGO community and local leaders to discuss food insecurity, refugee issues, and other humanitarian needs across the continent. The U.S. remains the largest donor to these efforts around the world, and we’ll want to check in on those investments and make sure that we’re meeting the acute needs that we’re seeing across the region.

Finally, this is an opportunity to continue our consultations on UN reform to ensure that the United Nations is fit for purpose and reflects the world as it is today, not as it was nearly eight decades ago when these institutions were first built. As President Biden announced in September, the U.S. supports increasing the number of permanent and non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council, including for Africa, which has long been under-represented. And we’ll be looking to follow up those consultations on this trip as well.

During her trip, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield will meet with government officials, as well as young African leaders and entrepreneurs who are leading climate change adaptation efforts and the transition to a green economy. She’ll spend significant time engaging with UN agencies, particularly those responding to drought and other climate shocks and critical food insecurity issues, and those coordinating humanitarian and refugee resettlement efforts.

Africa is a key geopolitical and economic player for the United States, one that has shaped our past, is shaping our present, and will shape our future, and we look forward to a very productive trip.

Why don’t I stop there. We’ll take your questions, and look forward to working with you as we embark on this travel.

MODERATOR:  Thanks, [Senior Administration Official].  Again, if you joined late, this call is on background, and you can attribute what you hear to a senior administration official. I’ll ask our moderator to review the instructions for joining the queue and then we’ll proceed.

OPERATOR:  Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, if you do wish to ask a question, please press 1 and then 0 on your telephone keypad. You can withdraw your question at any time by repeating the 1-0 command. And if using a speaker phone, please pick up the handset before pressing those numbers. Again, it’s 1-0 to ask a question.

And give us a moment here. And we’ll go first to Pamela Falk with CBS. Please go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much. You can hear me?


QUESTION:  Okay. Thank you, [Senior Administration Official].  Thank you, [Moderator].  It’s Pam Falk, CBS.  My question is about the trip itself. You – [Senior Administration Official], you didn’t mention China or Russia. All the sense of President Biden’s December Africa summit comments were that there was an interest in countering the both trade and military relationships with China and [inaudible] in addition to UN Security Council, of how much that’s a part of the agenda. Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, thanks for the question. Look, I would just say a couple of things about that. First, that as the President made clear during the Africa Leaders Summit and as we’ve made clear on our prior travel to the region, our view is that African voices, African leadership, African innovation are critical to addressing the most pressing global challenges and, as the President put it, realizing the vision we all share – a world that’s free, that’s open, prosperous, and secure. And so when we engage in diplomacy with our partners across Africa, we’re focused on the issues that they’re focused on. We’re focused on the pressing global challenges that we’re working together, and particularly with members of the UN Security Council, those partnerships are about addressing the issues of the day.

Now, obviously that includes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It includes the destabilizing impact on global food markets and food insecurity across the region. That’s part of what we’ve been addressing in our diplomacy in New York and that the ambassador will have a chance to check in with partners across Africa during this trip, on efforts to promote resilience in food systems, promote efforts to adapt to climate change, promote efforts to address acute humanitarian crises.

So look, we’re working on building these relationships for their own sake. This is something that we believe in very deeply, the President has committed us to doing, and we see enormous opportunity for the United States and our partnerships with countries across Africa. That’s why you see Secretary Yellen on the road this week. That’s why you see Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield about to take this trip, and I think you’ll see other members of the President’s cabinet and other senior officials on the road before too long as well.

So we’ll be looking to talk about the full range of regional and global challenges, but in particular continuing to sustain and build on these critical partnerships that we have for developing a shared set of goals, shared prosperity, and shared regional security objectives.

OPERATOR:  And again, it’s 1-0 to ask a question. Next we’ll go to Michelle Nichols with Reuters. Please go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you, and thanks so much for the briefing, [Senior Administration Official].  Just wanted to ask if there was any concerns as we come up to the first anniversary of the Ukraine war or Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Are there any concerns that support might be starting to wane for action at the UN as a lot of these countries, particularly in Africa, are probably going to be feeling the effects of the war even more so this year? The UN’s been warning that last year they had enough food, they couldn’t get it around, but this year there may just not be enough food, full stop, because of the lack of fertilizers. So how – are there – first of all, are there concerns that support for action might be waning among African countries?

And then specifically with Mozambique, you said you’d be looking to get support for U.S. diplomatic initiatives on the Security Council. They’ve abstained on every General Assembly resolution on Ukraine. Are you looking to sort of put them to a yes? And are there any other particular issues on the Council that you’re concerned they may not provide support for? Thanks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thanks for that; really helpful questions. I guess I would say a couple of – well, let me just say a couple of things in response. The first is on Ukraine, we’ve obviously been working nonstop over the course of the last year to use all the diplomatic tools available in New York, at the UN, to call out what we see as obviously a very fundamental challenge to the world order, to the UN Charter and everything that it stands for.  And we believe it’s critical for the entire international community to demonstrate unity and speak with one voice against Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and in support of the principles that we’ve all agreed to when we signed on to the UN Charter: sovereignty, to territorial integrity, to peaceful resolution of disputes, to protection of civilians.

There are fundamental issues at stake, and I think we’ve been successful over the course of the last year in making that clear and, frankly, in rallying the world to uphold and stand for those principles as well – to reject Russia’s purported annexation of Ukrainian territory; to stand united, the overwhelming majority of countries of the world, to stand united against what Russia has done here.

So we’ll continue to have this as an agenda item. We’ll be talking to all of our partners on the Council about that. Obviously membership and participation in the Security Council is a very important, very important role that any country – Permanent or non-Permanent Member – plays.  We know that members take these responsibilities seriously, and we use our diplomatic engagement to make sure that we’re as much as possible on the same page when these critical issues are at stake. So I think you can expect that we’ll be continuing to invest in our relationships on the Council and continuing to make the case for some of the fundamental issues that are at stake when it comes to international peace and security.

When it comes to the approach more generally, I would just say – well, I guess when it comes to Africa itself, let me just say – let me just take one example, which is – which you mentioned, which is obviously the food insecurity issue. We know that African nations are already feeling the impact of Russia’s war on global food security. That’s one of the reasons Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield has been so focused on rallying support in New York as part of an overall U.S. Government effort to develop a roadmap for food security, to rally and mobilize support to address the impact that Russia’s invasion on Ukraine has had on global food prices and global food supplies.

We strongly support the lifesaving Black Sea Grain Initiative, which was brokered in part by the UN and Türkiye, which has opened up desperately needed exports from three of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports and brought prices down. But we’re also very concerned about the slowdown of operations that we’ve seen through that corridor, and we know there are dozens of ships that are waiting to depart. And Russia has deliberately slowed down inspections of these ships and essentially throttled the operation of this corridor. That’s having an impact obviously not just for Ukraine but for the entire world. That means extra expense, extra delay for millions of tons of grain, and we think that this initiative should be operating as it was envisioned – that we should have 5 million tons of food moving per month and there are consumers of that grain, but more importantly, those facing humanitarian crises around the world, food insecurity around the world who need the global food markets to operate as efficiently as possible, and we need that cooperation to be scaled up.

So even though Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield will be traveling in Africa, Africa has a huge stake in ensuring that these efforts in part to address the global food crisis continue, and that the United States will continue to work with countries across the region to make sure that we’re addressing the acute humanitarian emergencies as well and remain the largest investor in those efforts. But we also want to rally others to step up and contribute to help make sure that we avoid famine and that we address the impacts of drought, of conflict, and other – climate change – and other contributors to food insecurity around the world.

OPERATOR:  And currently no further questions in queue. I’ll remind everybody it is 1-0 to ask a question.

MODERATOR:  All right. Well, [Senior Administration Official], I will give you the opportunity to offer any final thoughts, if you’d like.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yeah, I would just say we’re really looking forward to this trip. As I mentioned, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, this is her third trip to Africa since she took office, and I think we’re going to see in some ways – one way to think about this trip is to connect it to the charge that the President gave to his cabinet and to the entire U.S. Government to really step up our engagement, our work on these critical issues – on refugee issues, on climate issues, on humanitarian issues, on economic and trade issues – over the course of the next few months.

So I hope you’ll follow along on this trip, and we’re happy to talk to you offline about the ways in which it connects to some of what we’re seeing right now with Secretary Yellen and some of what we will be seeing with other travel that we expect in the weeks and months to come.

So thanks, everybody, for taking the time today.

MODERATOR:  Thanks, everyone. Again, this call can be attributed to a senior administration official. And with that, the embargo is lifted. Thanks so much for joining us.