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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Sister to Sister Foundation Luncheon

Esther Brimmer
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Organization Affairs
Washington, DC
September 13, 2011


(Remarks As Prepared)

Good afternoon, and thank you, Lotti, for that introduction. Before I begin, let me express my appreciation to Mrs. Pollin’s Sister to Sister Foundation, for hosting this luncheon, and for the incredibly important work you are doing to promote women’s cardiovascular health.

Thanks also to the World Bank, for providing this lovely venue. I will note just briefly how important the close cooperation between the World Bank and the United Nations has been to global efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

And we all should thank the Hungarian and Royal Danish embassies, who prepared this wonderful heart-healthy meal that honors the Sister to Sister is doing to promote women’s cardiovascular health.

Madam Ambassadors, we meet in interesting times. Seismic political transformations are taking place across North Africa and the Middle East. New centers of influence are identifying the principles of their approach to the world in the 21st century. And global public health challenges have become an issue for all countries, large and small, rich and poor.

Given these trends, it is fitting that we are here together on the opening day of the 66th UN General Assembly, where the United States and our partners will work to address these and other pressing challenges. We do so cognizant that in our interconnected world, many of the threats faced by my country are shared by many of the countries represented here today, and vice versa. So, more and more, we find ourselves working across the UN system, to develop common global solutions to shared global challenges.

That includes global health. We long have worked through the World Health Organization, to provide technical support and guidance on responding to infectious disease outbreaks, and pandemic threats. But there is a growing, urgent need for international collaboration to address the global public health emergency posed by non-communicable diseases, including cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes, and, yes, cardiovascular disease.

NCDs affect every corner of the world, taking millions of lives prematurely each year. In many countries, the response to NCDs will determine whether a country achieves the Millennium Development Goals. So the senior attention the world will devote at next week’s UN high-level meeting on NCDs will provide a much-needed catalyst for action. UN agencies like the WHO, and representatives from civil society and the private sector, will join governments at next week’s high-level meeting, to raise awareness, share best practices, and find ways to strengthen national health systems.

The magnitude and complexity of the challenge demand this public-private partnership. This Administration successfully has employed such models on public health issues both at home and abroad, including, among others, for Secretary Clinton’s cookstoves initiative, which works to reduce respiratory infections caused by inefficient cooking fuels, and First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” program, which combats childhood obesity.

But global health is only one of many areas where the United States views robust engagement across the UN system, as key to achieving shared solutions to common global challenges.

Our multilateral engagement also includes efforts to promote universal values. Since joining the Human Rights Council in 2009, we have seen a dramatic improvement in that body’s effectiveness. Focused responses to human rights issues raised by the Arab Awakening, including in Libya, Syria, and Tunisia. Concrete steps to promote worldwide freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and women’s rights. And more regular and timely action to pressing human rights situations, accompanied by decreased – though still disproportionate and unfair – attention on Israel.

This shift has come about because of the hard work the United States and our partners – including many of your countries – have done to transform the HRC into a body worth of its name. For the United States, that change exemplifies the value of strong multilateral engagement across the UN system.

That value is also clear when we consider the role the UN has played on many of the world’s most difficult challenges to international peace and security. UN peacekeepers help prevent conflict and protect civilians around the globe. Security Council sanctions on Iran have had a significant effect on that regime, including by hampering its efforts to develop nuclear weapons. UN counterterrorism sanctions have isolated terrorists and frozen their assets and those of their supporters. And UN missions in Afghanistan and Iraq work to strengthen democracy and mediate local conflicts.

The Obama Administration knows well that we could not have achieved any of this from the sidelines. So we reject the calls being made from some corners that the United States to step back from our multilateral commitment, to withhold our UN assessments or withdraw from some UN bodies. It is neither in the U.S. interest or the world’s interest for America to step back from our committed multilateral engagement, and we will not cede our global leadership role by restricting our engagement with the United Nations.

As the 66th UN General Assembly opens today, there remains much work to be done, to help the United Nations adapt structures built in 1945, to better address the challenges of 2011, and beyond. The world has changed faster than the United Nations has, and we all face a difficult budget climate. We are pursuing reforms to help make the UN more effective, efficient, and transparent. But if we are to address global health challenges like non-communicable diseases, promote international peace and security, and advance universal values as an alternative to extremism, robust U.S. engagement in the United Nations is more essential than it has ever been.

Once again, thank you to the Sister to Sister Foundation for the work you do every day and for putting together this wonderful event.

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