Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
August 1, 2023
MR. NATE EVANS: Hi, everyone. Happy August. So Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield is going to kick off with some remarks and then we’ll go to your questions. Thanks for being here.
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Sorry about that. Let me get this closed before I spill it. Let me start out by saying good afternoon and welcome all of you here, and let me thank you for all being here.
This is my third time that I will serve as the president of the UN Security Council since arriving here in late February of 2021. It really is an honor and a privilege to sit behind the president placard and for the United States to assume this role.
In my capacity as president of the Security Council, I will outline our planned program of work in August. I’ll start with our first priority, and that’s addressing conflict-induced famine and food insecurity. And as many of you know, this has been the focus of my past two presidencies of the Security Council. And I will bring this to the top of the Council’s agenda once again. The drivers of this global crisis are complex, but we know this for sure: where there is conflict, there is hunger.
And that’s why this Thursday, Secretary Blinken will chair a high-level open debate on famine and conflict-induced global food insecurity. The Council will look at ways the United Nations, Member States, civil society, and the private sector can strengthen, coordinate, evaluate food security initiatives, and eliminate famine. And the Secretary will have specific announcements and deliverables to speak about on Thursday. Food should never be used as a weapon of war and I urge all Member States to stand with us in combating food insecurity by signing our draft communique.
Our second area of focus is the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms around the world. As we approach the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we will integrate human rights into this month’s Council agenda. And we will bring in voices from civil society to brief the Council. In addition to these two priorities, we will continue to highlight the devastating consequences of Russia’s unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine. We will have a meeting on August 24th to discuss the protection of civilians in Ukraine, including children. And we will not hesitate to call additional meetings on Russia’s war of aggression and other issues of concern to international peace and security as needed throughout the month.
I also want to emphasize three meetings we will have on Syria – on chemical weapons on the 8th, the political situation on the 23rd, and humanitarian situation on the 29th. Of course, throughout the month, we will hold other critical regularly scheduled Council meetings which are outlined in our planned program of work.
I would now like to make a few comments in my national capacity. Our first priority, addressing famine and food insecurity, is deeply personal to me. I’ve seen firsthand what happens to people who have hunger thrust upon them – people who, but for the accident of time and place, are no different from any of us here today. Addressing famine and food insecurity has motivated my work throughout my career, and taking on this global crisis has been a top priority of the Biden Administration from day one. We know food security is national security, and we know without a shadow of a doubt it is within our power to feed the world and end famine.
But to do so, we must root out conflict-induced food insecurity. Around the world, hostilities breed hunger, fighting breeds famine, and we see this in places like Yemen and Sudan and Syria and elsewhere, and, of course, in Ukraine, where President Putin’s forces have weaponized food. Russia has launched a full-scale assault on the world’s breadbasket and it is dead-set on depriving the world of Ukraine’s grains. That’s why Moscow unilaterally withdrew from the Black Sea Grain Initiative and it’s why it mercilessly attacked the Odesa region and other ports in Ukraine. Conflict-induced hunger is a pressing matter of international peace and security and the Council must take action.
As I mentioned earlier this month, we will also focus the Council’s attention on grave human rights violations. As President Biden has said, human rights are at the center of United States foreign policy. And with that in mind, we will elevate human rights at every opportunity throughout our presidency by including civil society briefers in the Council’s meetings.
The world has made real progress since former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt spearheaded the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but our work is far from finished. We must continue to give voices to the voiceless, we must continue to tell the stories of those who are not free, and that will be done in the Council during our month.
It will be a busy month ahead and our presidency will lead into the United Nations’ second-busiest month for us this year, in September, when world leaders will descend on New York for High-level Week and the SDG Summit. This will be a critical moment for the world. It will be an opportunity to take action on food security, human rights on the 2030 Agenda. And the United States is committed to advancing all 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
There is no doubt the challenges before us will be great, but if we come together, we can take on the issues of our time; we can end famine and defend human rights; we can make meaningful progress on the 2030 Agenda; and we can build a more just, prosperous, and peaceful future for all.
Thank you and I look forward to your questions.
MR. EVANS: All right. We will kick it off with Edie here. Thanks, Edie.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Madam Ambassador, on behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association, for doing this briefing. You’re always welcome in this room.
My question first is on the U.S. reaction to ECOWAS’s demand that the president of Niger be restored to power in a week, otherwise there is a threat of military action, and the reaction to that of the military rulers of Burkina Faso and Mali, who say that they would see that as a declaration of war.
And as a second question on Haiti, the State Department spokesman said yesterday that the United States was going to introduce a resolution to authorize a Kenya-led multinational police operation to help combat gang violence. Can you confirm when this is going to happen and how fast? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Good, thank you. First on the question of Niger, we support the efforts of ECOWAS to find a path forward that will lead to the democratically elected president of Niger to return to his place presiding over this country. We ourselves have called on the military to stand down and allow President Bazoum to assume his office. We have indicated our strong support for ECOWAS and the Security Council issued a statement to that effect as well.
Both the governments of Burkina Faso and Mali as well as Guinea are countries that are currently under the control of military governments, of governments that were not democratically elected. They have situations inside their countries that are particularly dire from the security standpoint, and we don’t want to see that situation continue in the country of Mali. Really, the strongest democracy in that region in the Sahel.
So we will continue to support ECOWAS, to support the African Union, and to support regional leaders in their efforts to find a way forward that leads back to the democratically elected government being re-established.
On Haiti, the U.S. is the penholder on Haiti resolutions, and we welcome Kenya’s decision to lead the multinational force. We will be working on a resolution to support that effort. The Government of Haiti asked for this support; they asked the Security Council to provide support, and we will be working with other members of the Security Council on a resolution that will give the Kenyans what they require to establish their presence in Haiti.
MR. EVANS: All right. We’ll go to Michelle next.
QUESTION: Thanks, Ambassador. Michelle Nichols from Reuters. I just wanted to ask you about food security. Well, first of all – sorry – on Niger. You spoke with the president last week, if you could tell us a little bit about that and how that came about and what he was like, how he sounded.
And then on food security, you mentioned how Russia has withdrawn from the Black Sea grain deal. There was also UN efforts underway to help Russia facilitate its own exports of grain and fertilizer, which the U.S. had helped with with some general licenses. JPMorgan was facilitating some payments for the Russian agricultural bank. Now that Russia has quit the deal, is that cooperation stopping? Has the government sort of said to JPMorgan don’t do this anymore? Or is the U.S. Government still helping the UN help Russia get its grain and fertilizer out to the world?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Good. On Niger, I did reach out to the president of Niger, who I’ve met on several occasions. The Security Council visited Niger about a year ago, and we had an opportunity to see the challenges that he was facing at that time, but also try to work with him to stabilize the situation in the country. I spoke to him last Thursday. He sounded good. He was under house arrest in his home with his family. He did not sound distressed, but I know that the situation he is in is currently quite stressful. Several others have spoken to him as well. I know the Secretary-General spoke to him; Secretary Blinken spoke to him; the president of Chad has met with him, I think; and others are reaching out to again try to get this situation back on a stable path forward.
On food cooperation and the Black Sea grain deal, the Secretary-General is continuing his efforts to find a path forward to bring the Russians back into the deal, being part of the deal, which was to provide some support for Russia’s fertilizer to get to the market. If they’re not in the deal, that part of the deal is no longer working.
MR. EVANS: We’ll go to Ibtisam.
QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Ibtisam Azem, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper. I have a quick follow-up on Niger. First, is the Council going to discuss the issue officially? And then also, it wasn’t clear for me from your answer whether the U.S. support use of force in case the junta doesn’t respond to the ECOWAS statement.
And my question is on Syria and cross-border, whether you – as you know, there is now negotiation between OCHA and the Syrian regime regarding Bab al-Hawa. And the question is two parts. First, whether you think this issue should come again in front of the Security Council? And do you believe that maybe Western countries made a mistake by not accepting the six months that the Russians were saying that they are willing to accept for the Bab al-Hawa, despite the fact that the UN wanted 12 months, but at least six months some would say better than nothing given the fact that the Syrian regime has now more power when it comes to delivering aid to countries that they don’t control? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Good. On Niger, we have not expressed our support for taking any actions by ECOWAS. We leave that to ECOWAS to decide how that institution, which is part of the region, will react to the situation on the ground. We did have a Council meeting, an AOB meeting, on the situation in Niger last week, and during our month as president I will be prepared and open to having additional meetings, including an open meeting on Niger if that is called for.
On Syria, we spoke with the penholders and they have not given up hope on getting a resolution passed that will allow for food to continue to cross into the border at Bab al-Hawa, and they are working on that while the UN is also in the process of negotiating with the Syrian Government.
You know, Russia vetoed a resolution that would have allowed for an extension of 12 months*. They also did not support another resolution that did not give them all the benefits that they were asking for in the six-month resolution. They did not support that resolution. So Russia is responsible for this situation on the ground. The Syrian Government has not taken over the delivery of food. Food is not flowing through the Bab al-Hawa border and through the two borders that the Syrians themselves opened up previously, the amount of food, the quantity, does not meet the need. We need a cross-border resolution that will provide for UN monitoring, that will provide for transparency, and allow the UN to be able to engage with any party on the other side of the border. Russia is holding this resolution, they’re holding the Syrian people hostage, and they know that they are not the ones who are providing the humanitarian assistance. And it was never clear to me that what Russia put forward was even something that the Syrians themselves supported.
MR. EVANS: We’ll go to Benno and then Maryam and then –
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Benno Schwinghammer with the German Press Agency. Two follow-ups, one about Niger and one about food security.
About Niger, as far as I understood so far, the U.S. position is that the security aid to Niger is on the line while the military coup is happening. Can you clarify for us, does that mean that the United States rules out clearly the continuation of military aid if the democratic rule is not reinstated?
And regarding food security, you already talked about the SG trying to revive the deal. I wonder about your personal view. Is there any real-life basis to hope that Russia might turn back to this deal, or should it rather be assumed that it’s dead and we should move on and look for other ways?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yeah. You know, on Niger, our policy is not to support providing security assistance to a government that has been overthrown. We are still, however, very supportive of the democratically elected government and we’re assessing the situation on the ground before we make a final determination about what we will do as it relates to the military. Again, our hope and what we’re working on is that the military will stand down and allow President Bazoum to resume his authority.
QUESTION: And about the grain deal?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Oh, yeah. And about the grain deal, you asked for my personal views. I’m a glass-half-full kind of person. I always see the possibilities. I hope that Russia will come to understand the importance of this grain deal. They’ve benefited from this grain deal, and we have seen indications that they might be interested in returning to discussions. So we will wait to see whether that actually happens.
QUESTION: Can you clarify which indications you mean?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I have – what we have been told is that they are prepared to return to discussions, and we haven’t seen any evidence of that yet, but I suspect that they know if they want to get their fertilizer out to market, they want the continuation of the efforts to find a way to make the payments that they require, that they’re going to have to return to this deal. So I continue to be hopeful despite the fact that there’s not a lot to hope for.
MR. EVANS: We’ll go to Maryam.
QUESTION: Thank you, and I (inaudible) see you, Madam Ambassador. Maryam Rahmati, U.S. Volant Media. You mentioned that human rights will be a central focus during your presidency. Given that girls have been prohibited from attending school in Afghanistan for nearly two years now, and Afghanistan is the only country where such a restriction exists, what action can you take both domestically and in your role as the president of the Security Council for this month to address and rectify this appalling situation and help open the doors of education for girls in Afghanistan?
And also my second question is on the Iran’s UAVs exports. Iran’s UAVs have been used by the Russian forces in Ukraine against civilians, and now these UAVs are appearing in South American countries. Is the Security Council considering discussing this matter, and in your national capacity is U.S. worried about Iran drones transfers to South American countries? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: On Afghanistan, our position has been very clear on that. We believe Afghan girls should be allowed to return to school and Afghan women back to work. And we have continued to put pressure on the Taliban. We do not recognize the Taliban. We have not given any support to the Taliban as a result of their decision not to allow girls to return to school. As we address these human rights issues in the Council during our presidency, certainly Afghanistan will be at the top of that list.
And on the Iranian UAVs, use of Iranian UAVs is a violation of UN Resolution 2231. We have asked the UN for an investigation particularly as it relates to the use of these UAVs in Ukraine by Russia. And anyplace else where UAVs from Iran are being used should be condemned and part of an investigation because it does violate 2231.
MR. EVANS: We’ll go to Maggie.
QUESTION: Hi, Ambassador. Margaret Besheer, Voice of America. Good luck this month.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you.
QUESTION: Ambassador, on the human rights priority, do you expect any blowback perhaps from some of your other Council members on some of your briefers, maybe some procedural vote objections or something? Because we know in the past there’s been complaints from some members of the Council that human rights belong in other forums at the UN, not at the Security Council.
And I forgot the other part. (Laughter.) Go ahead, thanks.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Look, human rights belong in the Security Council because human rights are about peace and security. And where – places where human rights are being violated, we see situations of peace and security being destabilized. So we strongly support human rights being on the Council’s agenda and disagree with our colleagues who suggest otherwise.
You never know what to expect in terms of antics in the Council by some member states, so I am not going to try to predict what we might see. But we will continue to stand for the voices of civil society, of human rights organizations, of victims to be heard in the Security Council.
QUESTION: Actually, I just remembered the other little bit, if I could ask you. (Laughter.) On your – the Russian deputy ambassador came to the stakeout a bit earlier –
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I heard.
QUESTION: – and said that they objected to your program of work, specifically over a Ukraine meeting that was on the schedule. But I see that it’s still on the schedule, so I’m a little confused. Maybe it’s the – I thought it had to be consensus. Maybe I’m wrong. But I still see it’s on there for the 24th, so can you just clarify?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It’s a little stunt. It’s a little stunt that the Russians have pulled, but it will not interfere, it will not stop us from carrying out our responsibilities in the Council and completing our planned work of action during our month as president. So we will conduct ourselves appropriately during this month and put the agenda on a daily basis on the table that we intend to follow.
MR. EVANS: We’ll go to Yuya.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador. So my name is Yuya Shinohara from Kyodo News. So my question is a follow-up question about human rights. So you say that you are focused on the human rights, so could you share with me more detail what are you planning for, including 21st August?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: There are human rights being violated all over the world – when we look at the situation in Ukraine, we look at the situation in Yemen; I’m very concerned right now about the situation in Sudan, where we are seeing violations occur, and Burma. So we will be looking at human rights across the board, not just on the 21st but in other discussions, as well, and look to bring voices of civil society to the Council on the 21st to talk about these issues across the board.
MR. EVANS: Anade.
QUESTION: I just wanted to give a question, if that’s okay. I just wanted to do an Al Jazeera handover. (Laughter.)
MR. EVANS: Oh, okay.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Madam Ambassador. Kristen Saloomey from Al Jazeera English. I’m wondering if you can shed some light on the international force that’s being considered for Haiti? How does that work? If this is a non-UN force, what role does the Security Council play in authorizing it? And how do you – has there been anything like that, that you know of, in the UN history, where the UN is saying yes, go in there, but we’re not in charge? And if we’re not in charge, who is Kenya going to be answering to? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, certainly Kenya will be answering to the Security Council, because we hope that this resolution will give them the guidance that they need to go in to establish their presence on the ground. And yes, it’s unusual. But what is happening in Haiti is unusual. This is not a traditional peacekeeping force. This is not a traditional security situation. We have gangs that have overtaken – taken over the country, taken over communities, that are terrorizing civilians every single day.
So it is very much a police action to stabilize the country, so that the country can get back on the path of democracy, that they can move forward with a political process that will lead to a stable government that will be able to deal with this situation in the future.
MR. EVANS: All right. We’ll go to Linda.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I was going to tell you to go to the back of the room. But I want to hear from Linda. (Laughter.) There are a lot of people in the back, I don’t know who.
QUESTION: It’s good to sit in the front.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yeah, it is good to sit in the front.
QUESTION: Anyway, thank you, Nate. Thank you, Ambassador. My question is in regard to Haiti and in terms of – you said that Haiti has asked the Security Council to take up the issue and to – and that you’d like to see the Kenyan troops get what they need. My question is this: We know that Russia and the United States have generally been on the opposite side of the fence on key issues. We know them – Ukraine, Syria, et cetera. But is this an issue you think where there might be more cooperation between the two countries?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, thank you. And that’s a great question, because actually we passed a Ukraine** resolution with unanimous support, which means Russia voted for it. And I think there’s a sense across the board that the situation in Haiti requires the attention of the Security Council. So I do hope and expect that Russia will join the consensus on supporting the actions of the Kenyan government to take on this responsibility.
MR. EVANS: All right. We will go to the back. (Laughter.) Yeah, we’ll go back – yeah. Thanks.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador. Nabil Abi-Saab from Al Araby TV station. On Lebanon, you will vote on UNIFIL mandate by the end of the month. Do you think that the mandate needs to be updated, given the recent incidents at the border and across the border? Also, the U.S. brokered the deal between Lebanon and Israel on the maritime borders. Do you think that you will also put the same effort to demark the borders between Lebanon and Israel?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Look, we are working on the resolution right now in the Council, and we’ll vote on the resolution. I can’t advance exactly what will be included in the resolution, but we hope that it is a resolution that gets consensus across the Council. The U.S. will be actively engaged on this, and we are hopeful that the situation along the Israeli-Lebanon border does improve.
MR. EVANS: All right. We can go all the way to Shiho, very back.
QUESTION: Thank you, from the back. Shiho Matsuoka from Japan’s Nippon Television. My question is on North Korea. In the program of work, I don’t see any meeting planned for the DPRK, other than 1780 committee on the 30th. And they have been launching missiles over and over again, and the Council hasn’t been able to speak in one voice. So I’m wondering if there’s any update or even ongoing negotiation that you wanted to push for, presidential statement, or even press element. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Every single time there’s a test, we have worked in the Council with likeminded members to push the Council to produce a product to condemn the actions of the DPRK, and we will continue to do that. We will continue to try to push our Chinese and Russian colleagues to join consensus on condemning these actions. Doing something as simple as a press statement should be easy, given in the past that we were unified in our condemnation of DPRK’s actions.
So yes, if there is another test, we will certainly push. But we have not given up on our previous actions either.
MR. EVANS: All right. I think we have time for one or two more, depending on how quick they are. So we can go third row. Okay. Yeah, thanks.
QUESTION: Thank you. This is Lovlu Ansar from Bangladesh Pratidin. Thank you, Ambassador, for your briefing today. We congratulate the U.S. delegation for assuming the presidency of the Security Council for this month. We came to know from your briefing that an open debate is going to be held at the Security Council very soon on conflict and food insecurity. I think this is very timely debate, and food insecurity caused by conflict is on the rise. The situation is worse for countries facing negative impacts of climate change and also humanitarian emergency, such as Bangladesh.
Excellency, you are aware that Bangladesh is hosting more than 1.2 million Rohingya who have fled persecution and violence in Burma. The situation in Burma has not improved, and not a single Rohingya has been able to return. They live in cramped shelters in Bangladesh with the support of international partners and the UN. Bangladesh is providing basic humanitarian assistance to the Rohingyas.
The people of Bangladesh are grateful to United States for its contribution in this regard. However, due to ongoing conflicts and multiple humanitarian emergencies, funding for Rohingya humanitarian response plan has been severely reduced. The UN and the other humanitarian partners are facing funding shortfalls to support the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Already, World Food Program and two – twice implement rations cut in the camp, first from $12 per person – it is relevant to understand everything – first from $12 per person per month to $10.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Let me just start to respond to that.
QUESTION: This is already making their life more difficult.
QUESTION: What’s your question, sir?
MR. EVANS: Hey, I’m –
QUESTION: Given the above –
MR. EVANS: Sorry to – sorry –
QUESTION: – how do you plan to raise awareness on the plight of the Rohingya, including by helping them return to Burma?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Look, let me just say this is a situation we are very aware of. We have worked closely with the UN on addressing these issues related to the Rohingya. In fact, one of the planned trips that I have on my agenda is to go to visit that area so that I can highlight the plight of the Rohingya in Bangladesh. I also just want to commend and thank and appreciate Bangladesh for hosting the close to a million refugees that they’ve been hosting over many, many years. We will work with Bangladesh, we will work with the UN and NGOs to ensure that we are responsive to the needs there. And while we are the largest donor, we can’t do it all, so we also work to encourage other donors to participate. Thank you for your question.
MR. EVANS: All right, next we have time for one last one, and we will go on the screen to Iftikhar Ali, and we’ll close it out there.
QUESTION: Thank you. Madam Ambassador, congratulations on assuming the presidency for the third time. My question was on Afghanistan. It has been asked, and you have answered, but may I ask you that now the United States has entered into direct negotiations with the Taliban and two sessions were held in Doha a couple of days ago, do you sense – do you feel – do you sense any sign of progress in those negotiations, although the State Department press release doesn’t mention any sign of progress except the raising of the key questions about the matter?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yeah, I – progress clearly is yet to be seen in Afghanistan, but that’s why we have engaged with the Taliban so that we can push the Taliban on these issues related to human rights. They have cracked down on the press. They have restricted girls from school, restricted women from working. All of these issues were raised with the Taliban. We noted that they had made a decision on restricting the growth of poppy, and that was, again, noted, but there’s still a lot of work to be done, a lot of pressure to be put on the Taliban so that the Taliban can honor its international commitment, it can respect the human rights of women and girls and of ordinary citizens.
I have also, during the course of my time here at the UN, visited Afghan refugees who have been resettled in the United States, many of them who came from Afghanistan recently. I met a family in L.A. about two weeks ago. And I have to say I was pleasantly surprised and pleased that this family has been able to resettle and find a path forward. Of course, they still have family members that they worry about inside of Afghanistan, and for that reason, we will continue to do everything we can to find a path that will allow for Afghans, civilians, to be able to live in security inside of Afghanistan.
MR. EVANS: All right, that’s all we have time for, 45 minutes on the dot. But thanks, everyone, and look forward to seeing you around this month.