Michele J. Sison, Assistant SecretaryBureau of International Organization Affairs
MR TEK: Hi, everybody. Good afternoon. Welcome to today’s briefing on the Secretary of State’s travel to the United Nations General Assembly. Today’s call is on-the-record and embargoed until the conclusion of the call. And it is our great pleasure to have with us today our Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs Michele Sison. I will now turn the floor over to our assistant secretary for a few opening remarks. Assistant Secretary Sison, over to you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SISON: Thank you, Nathan, and good afternoon, everyone.
As you know, next week is High-Level Week for the 77th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York, and it’s great to have time with you today to lay out the U.S. priorities for this session and to note some of the key events and activities on Secretary Blinken’s schedule.
Now, we were all saddened by the passing of Queen Elizabeth II and send our condolences to our partners in the United Kingdom. The funeral on Monday, September 19th, for the late Queen has required some adjustments in next week’s plan that are still being finalized.
And that said, I’ll run through some of what we know, including our expectation that the Secretary will travel to New York on Sunday, September 18th, and at this juncture intends to remain until the evening of Friday, September 23rd.
Now, this year’s High-Level Week will feature a noticeable resumption of in-person engagement. However, we have worked closely with the United Nations, with the CDC, and with New York City to put appropriate COVID-19 mitigation measures in place.
The United States is focusing on three priorities during this year’s UN General Assembly High-Level Week. First among them is combatting the global food insecurity crisis. I think we have all seen or heard the frightening numbers: 1.7 billion people – nearly a fifth of humanity – are at risk of poverty and hunger. The food crisis is the most urgent global challenge. It is a priority both for the U.S. at home and abroad, as well as with all of our government, civil society, and private sector partners in the international community.
For these reasons, it is essential to collectively scale up innovative solutions and invest both in the short term and long term to help mitigate against the drivers of the global food shortage, such as high fuel and fertilizer prices, a weak supply chain, strained food systems, and limited grain shipments caused by Russia’s war on Ukraine. At the same time, we must innovatively mitigate against climate-related food shocks.
So in this context, Secretary Blinken will co-chair with the African Union, the EU, and Spain a Global Food Security Summit on Tuesday, September 20th that will build on the President’s commitment to global food security at the G7 Leaders Summit in June, and also build on the Secretary’s ministerial event held in May during the U.S. presidency of the UN Security Council.
Now, since May, 103 UN member-states have signed the U.S.-led Roadmap for Global Food Security – Call to Action, so the September 20th Global Food Security Summit will be an important opportunity for world leaders to highlight innovative, concrete solutions that respond to acute food assistance needs, invest in food system resiliency, and build on the previous UN Food Systems Summit. The summit will also highlight global initiatives implemented to urgently respond to the food crisis.
The second priority for this year’s UN General Assembly is advancing global health and global health security. U.S. leadership in strengthening health systems, addressing health threats, and pandemic preparedness are priorities for the Biden administration.
To advance these efforts, next week the Seventh Global Fund Replenishment Pledging Conference will be held on September 21st. While the COVID-19 pandemic is not over, the world has made great strides in combating the pandemic, including by increasing access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, supporting our health workers, and strengthening our supply chain. But our combined efforts in this regard must not wane. The COVID-19 Global Action Plan has galvanized political will and coordination on efforts to both address the acute phase of the pandemic while strengthening our global health security architecture.
On Friday, September 23rd, the Secretary will co-host – with the foreign ministers of Bangladesh, Botswana, and Spain – a COVID-19 GAP ministerial to build on the Global Action Plan, the GAP’s achievements in enhancing international coordination and strengthen readiness for future pandemic threats.
The event will be used to review progress made through GAP lines of effort and solidify new commitments from GAP partners to advance the administration’s priority to end the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic and strengthen global health security. Finally, the U.S. will use the platform of UNGA 77 to return the world’s attention to the original purpose of the United Nations and urge a recommitment by its membership to UN’s core principles. Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine has brought into sharp focus the fact that the UN Charter is under direct threat. We must rededicate ourselves to strengthening its foundational purpose and shaping its future to serve people around the world.
Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield has recently spoken about the imperative to defend the UN Charter, and announced on September 8th in San Francisco and reiterated a little earlier today that the United States will subscribe to six clear principles for responsible behavior for Security Council members. 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; third, we will refrain from the use of the veto except in rare, extraordinary situations; fourth, we will demonstrate leadership in defending human rights and fundamental freedoms; fifth, we will enhance cooperation, inclusivity, and transparency; and sixth and finally, we will advance efforts to reform the UN Security Council.
Now, on this last point, Security Council reform, we do not believe the United States should defend an outdated status quo. While we’re clear eyed about the obstacles to Security Council reform, we will make a serious call for countries to forge consensus around credible, realistic proposals for the way forward. To remain credible into the 21st century, the Council needs to better reflect global realities and incorporate regional perspectives.
So with those overarching priorities in mind, I’ll add just a few other elements of the Secretary’s schedule during next week and will then welcome your questions. Now, this isn’t an exhaustive list and is, of course, subject to change.
As I noted, the Secretary intends to arrive on Sunday, September 18th. On Monday, September 19th, much of the day will be occupied with bilateral meetings, and that lineup of meetings is still in development. At noon, the Secretary will participate in a round table with journalists and civil society representatives at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations focused on the importance of and threats to freedom of expression around the world. Later that afternoon, he’ll drop by a UN LGBTQIA+ core group event to give voice to the administration’s firm support for LGBTQIA+ rights.
On Tuesday, September 20th, Secretary Blinken will make remarks at a launch initiative to support Afghan women to an audience of government officials, NGOs, and prominent Afghan diaspora. The Secretary will then give remarks at the Alliance for Development and Democracy Ministerial. Other participants at this event include the foreign ministers and economy finance trade ministers of Panama, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, and Ecuador. As already mentioned, that afternoon Secretary Blinken will cochair the Global Food Security Summit alongside the EU, Senegal as the AU Commission president, and Spain. The event cohosts are Indonesia, the European Commission, Germany, Nigeria, and Colombia. Each of these co-chairs will offer opening remarks.
Now, we’re still on Tuesday, and the Secretary will speak at USAID’s Democracy Delivered event hosted by USAID Administrator Samantha Power. This event will focus on Armenia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Honduras, Malawi, Maldives, Moldova, Nepal, Tanzania, and Zambia. The event will bring together leaders from the public and private sectors and civil society with governments experiencing democratic breakthroughs to help them deliver on the needs of their people.
On Wednesday evening, the Secretary will participate in a G7 dinner focused on Ukraine and hosted by German Foreign Minister Baerbock. On Thursday, September 22, the Secretary will have a breakfast meeting with C5+1 – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan – after which, the group will issue a joint statement. The breakfast will afford the C5+1 ministers an opportunity to discuss regional action to mitigate the political, economic, and citizen security-related consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Now, later that morning on September 22nd, the Secretary will participate in the UN Security Council Ministerial on the maintenance of peace and security in Ukraine. This will be an open press event, and we intend to focus global attention on Russia’s ongoing brutal war in Ukraine and its implications for the UN Charter. We understand that foreign ministers from all P5 countries are likely to attend as well as the Foreign Minister of Ukraine.
In the afternoon, Secretary Blinken will speak at a forum with the new Feed the Future countries along with USAID Administrator Power. The Secretary is looking forward to engaging with the eight newly-added Feed the Future countries – DRC, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Zambia – and addressing head-on the disinformation on the causes of food insecurity impacting partners in Africa.
On Friday, September 23rd, Secretary Blinken will join a breakfast meeting with the Gulf Cooperation Council+3. The breakfast will advance the issues President Biden discussed with his GCC+3 counterparts this past summer and ensure continued high-level conversation on high-priority issues, including Iran, Russia/Ukraine, food security, and global health.
The Secretary will then meet with his counterparts in the Indo-Pacific Quad to coordinate views on the strategic rules-based environment and key deliverables, including the signing of Quad humanitarian assistance and disaster relief guidelines. There’ll be open press during the ceremonial signing. And as noted, that afternoon the Secretary will give opening and closing remarks at the COVID-19 Global Action Plan Ministerial, which again he will co-host alongside Bangladesh, Botswana, and Spain.
So those are the broad outlines of the upcoming week, which is shaping up to be – both be very busy and productive. I’ll stop there and will endeavor to answer your questions related to UNGA 77. Back to you, Nathan.
MR TEK: Thank you so much, Assistant Secretary Sison. Operator, could you please repeat the instructions for joining the queue to pose a question?
OPERATOR: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. If you wish to ask a question, please press 1 then 0 on your telephone keypad. You may withdraw your question at any time by repeating the 1-0 command. If you are using a speakerphone, please pick up the handset before pressing the numbers. Once again, if you have a question, you may press 1 then 0 at this time.
MR TEK: Great. Thank you so much. Operator, could we please go to the line of Shaun Tandon?
OPERATOR: Thank you. Shaun, your line is open. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, there. Thanks for doing this. Quite a week. Could I follow up on your statement about the serious call for countries to have – to get a consensus around credible, realistic proposals on Security Council reform? Does the U.S. have ideas of its own about how it wants to go ahead with this? Or, as you know, there’s been a longstanding proposal to have four additional members there. Is that something you think needs to – can be advanced? Does the U.S. support that? Just do you have some more details on what you – what you mean and what the Secretary means about Security Council reform right now? Thanks.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SISON: Yeah. Thanks for that question, Shaun. And again, the focus is on advancing efforts to reform the council so that it better reflects the current global realities and incorporates more geographically diverse perspectives. We want to see also, I should mention, enhanced cooperation, inclusivity, and transparency, engaging frequently with the General Assembly, with other UN bodies, and so forth.
So the – there is a lot of interest on reform. We want to emphasize our commitment to the UN Charter, to the modernization and reform of the multilateral system. We of course are going to continue to focus on the principles, as I said, of responsible behavior of UN Security Council members, focusing and explaining how Russia’s war in Ukraine is threatening the credibility of the council. Frustration with the council is growing. And we are – as you noted, we’re renewing our call on countries to forge consensus around credible, realistic proposals for the way forward. We don’t want to defend an outdated status quo. And we really want to have further consultations about reform at the Security Council and in the UN more broadly.
Back to you, Nathan.
MR TEK: Thank you so much. Operator, could you please go to the line of Will Mauldin.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Will, your line is open. Please, go ahead. Will, your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi. Sorry about that. Thanks so much, and sorry I dialed in a bit late. I just wanted to see if you could expand a little bit upon Secretary Blinken’s planned meeting involving Ukraine and other issues. And what’s the goal there in terms of dealing with countries that are – that remain neutral or supportive of Russia in this conflict, and how much overall the U.S. focus for Secretary Blinken, President Biden, and others will be on the Ukraine issue and this Security Council reform versus the other issues of health, climate, and – health, climate, and the other issues? Thanks.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SISON: Yeah. Thank you, Will. And again, we are lifting up the importance of the UN Charter. We are focusing on the fact that Russia’s unprovoked, unjustified war against Ukraine has really sharpened the focus on the fact that the charter is under threat. As I mentioned, there is a Thursday, September 22nd UN Security Council session on maintenance of peace and security of Ukraine. Secretary Blinken will be participating in that important session.
And I’m going to come back again – as we look at the priorities for this General Assembly High-Level Week – the UN provides a vital platform. We need to address the most pressing global challenges that are affecting all of us, including global food security, including global health crises and global health security. So the key policy priorities – combating food insecurity, advancing global health and global health security, upholding the UN Charter, shaping the UN’s future – all of these priorities are part of our commitment to continuing to work with and through the UN system to confront these global challenges and to support the American people and the world’s citizens in confronting these global challenges. We have a big role to play as the U.S. in helping shape a future UN that can deliver on its mandate.
Back to you, Nathan.
MR TEK: Thank you so much. Operator, could you please go to the line of Jennifer Hansler?
OPERATOR: Thank you. Jennifer, your line is open. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks for doing the call. I was wondering if you could tell us who the Secretary plans to meet with in a bilateral fashion. Will he be meeting with any Iranian officials, for example, while he’s up in UNGA? And then on that Thursday meeting, is there any planned discussion about the war crimes or potential genocide in Ukraine, especially given what has been discovered in Izyum this week? How does the Secretary plan to address that? And are you concerned about any – to follow up on Will’s question, any tensions between some of these P5 members who have been supportive of the war or perpetrating the war? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SISON: Thanks, Jennifer, for that question. Obviously we don’t view this year’s General Assembly as business as usual. Russia’s unprovoked, ongoing assault on Ukraine raises serious questions about its commitment to diplomacy, the UN Charter, and the territorial integrity of nations. So again, the Security Council will be meeting on the 22nd of September in the open session on maintenance of peace and security of Ukraine. I don’t want to get ahead of the Secretary’s remarks during that meeting.
But I will say also that we are still – on the question on the schedule, the schedule remains dynamic. We continue to work on the bilat schedule. It will be changing, I’m sure, on a daily basis. We have a lot of important business to discuss both with our traditional partners and with those who are most affected by the global food insecurity and global health security challenges.
So this annual High-Level Week at the UN General Assembly is really important. It’s an indispensable opportunity for member states, including us, to advance our respective diplomatic goals. And of course, we want to listen to the priorities of the delegations coming from around the world.
Back to you, Nathan.
MR TEK: Thank you so much. Unfortunately, that is all the time we have for this afternoon. I want to thank Assistant Secretary Sison once again for being so generous with her time with us today. That concludes our call. Thank you all very much. Have a great day.