NEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, 799 UNITED NATIONS PLAZA, 10TH FLOOR
MODERATOR: Thank you again for joining us. And we’d like to welcome everyone to the New York Foreign Press Center. Thank you again for joining us during this year’s UN General Assembly High-Level Week. My name is Najlaa Abdus-Samad and I am today’s moderator.
Today we have Ambassador Brian Nichols, U.S. Department of State’s Assistant Secretary Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. Ambassador Nichols will provide a readout of meetings and events this week and U.S. priorities in the Western Hemisphere, and then he’ll take questions.
When called on, please say your name, media outlet, and country. This briefing is on the record, livestreamed, and the transcript will be available on fpc.state.gov.
Ambassador Nichols, over to you, sir, for opening remarks.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS: Thank you. And thank you (for) all for joining us today to discuss outcomes from the 78th UN General Assembly High-Level Week that impact the Western Hemisphere.
First, I want to share key developments from Secretary Blinken’s and my meetings over the past week. We met with some of our closest partners and leaders to discuss today’s most pressing challenges. We focused on the following four priorities: Haiti and how to support the Haitian people; two, building partnerships to tackle shared challenges and advance Sustainable Development Goals; three, reinforcing the core principles of the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and four, modernizing our multilateral institutions to be more effective, inclusive, transparent, accountable, and fit for purpose.
On Tuesday, September 19th, President Biden addressed the General Assembly and said “The challenges we face today are great indeed, but our capacity is greater. Our commitment must be greater still.” In this hemisphere, we see firsthand the value of partnership to tackle sustained challenges. The humanitarian crisis in Haiti is one that requires a coordinated hemispheric response. As President Biden said, “The people of Haiti cannot wait much longer.”
Today, Secretary Blinken joined representatives from the governments of Haiti, Kenya, Ecuador, France, Canada, as well as CARICOM officials and many other nations – 34 in total – to support a multinational security support mission in Haiti. This multinational security support mission is a direct response to the multiple requests for assistance by the Government of Haiti, UN secretary-general, Organization of American States, CARICOM, civil society organizations, and the international community.
The United States intends to provide significant support to this mission. However, the multinational security support mission will not succeed without broader sustained support from the international community. Today we heard our partners step forward from around the hemisphere and around the world to commit to provide funding, equipment, training, and personnel. We commend Suriname, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Jamaica, and Senegal, and many others for their pledges of support.
Throughout the week, Secretary Biden – Secretary Blinken and I have underscored the United States commitment to advance democracy and human rights around the world. We prioritized partnerships across our region that advance inclusive economic growth, democracy, and prosperity for all.
We remain deeply concerned by the continued attempts to undermine free and fair elections and dismantle democratic institutions in the region. In Guatemala, the private sector, civil society, and voters have called on their government and judicial system to protect the country from repeated violations of their electoral law and constitution. We stand with the Guatemalan people, who are making their voices heard, protesting these undemocratic acts. The United States looks forward to working with President-elect Bernardo Arevalo now and after his January 14th inauguration.
As part of our commitment to create a more inclusive and prosperous hemisphere, President Biden and President Lula of Brazil launched a partnership for workers’ rights this week. Labor rights play a pivotal role in eradicating poverty and strengthening democracy. This initiative will create new jobs, advance worker-centered approaches to the clean energy transition, and tackle workplace discrimination.
This week, Secretary Blinken and leaders from 32 coastal Atlantic countries launched the Partnership for Atlantic Cooperation. This initiative is the first Atlantic-based collective that includes both north and south Atlantic countries to advance shared interests. It will usher in a new chapter of Atlantic cooperation on many priority issues, including sustainable development, innovation, and science and technology.
The Secretary also convened world leaders and representatives from international organizations, the private sector, and civil society to address the public health and security threats posed by synthetic drugs. Together we can more effectively detect, identify, and interdict synthetic drugs. Only collective action can dismantle criminal networks and hold accountable those responsible for making and selling the synthetic drugs that devastate communities here in the United States and around the world.
We cannot address the Western Hemisphere’s most pressing issues alone, and that’s why we place such a premium on partnership. We must continue to stand together, and we have much work to do.
Thanks for being here, and I look forward to your questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador. Appreciate your remarks. All right. May I start with a pre-submitted question – then I’ll open it to the floor? Ambassador, what is your reaction to reporting yesterday that the Biden administration’s plan aims to keep migrants away from the border, and are lawful pathways working?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS: Lawful pathways are working. We’ve seen dramatic reductions in the number of irregular migrants arriving at the southwest border of the United States. The parole programs that benefit Cubans, Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, and Haitians, all people from countries that have serious domestic internal problems, have diverted thousands of migrants into lawful pathways for migration.
The U.S. southern border is closed; we are not allowing people without a legal purpose to stay in the United States. But we are providing ample ways through new safe migration offices, parole programs, and other means to be able to access the United States. And we encourage people to apply for those programs through the different portals – whether it’s CBP One, whether it’s going to a safe migration office in the region and applying if they’re interested in emigrating or applying for asylum.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador. Enrico, may I hand it over to you, since you were the first one here today? And I appreciate that. Please state your name and organization.
QUESTION: Enrico Woolford from Guyana. I’ll bet I don’t have to explain where that is now. Under Secretary, the issue of Guyana-Venezuela relations – you made a statement about it earlier on. Do you have anything else to add with regard to what action (are) the United States might be willing to take to encourage the area to become a zone of peace?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS: Well, we continue to call upon all parties to respect international law, to seek peaceful means through international law to resolve any outstanding differences. And we note that the – Guyana and the state of Venezuela are engaged in a process through the International Court of Justice to resolve their differences, and we call on both parties to respect that legal process.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Can I go around the table?
QUESTION: Sure. Jorge Dastis. I’m with Spanish news agency EFE. I have a couple of questions for – the first is about Haiti. Is it your understanding that the – can we expect the security resolution to be presented next week? And if that is the case, what is the timeline that we’re looking at that? Do you expect there to be many hurdles? What are those hurdles? And then secondly, on Guatemala, have you had any – has President Giammattei given you any assurances that he plans to step down when the time comes throughout the week?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS: The – with regard to Haiti, we – I expect the Security Council to resume debate on the draft resolution that would create a multinational security support mission in Haiti, led by Kenya. That debate should start at the beginning of next week. The international community, both today and yesterday – in a meeting hosted by Secretary Blinken today and a meeting hosted by Prime Minister Trudeau yesterday – we heard scores of calls of support for a Chapter VII resolution to create this mission. And we expect that the council will act expeditiously next week.
We continue to work very closely with our co-penholder Ecuador and other council members, a a number of whom were present in the meeting this morning hosted by Secretary Blinken. And there’s just an overwhelming sense that this – it’s urgently overdue. It’s been a long time, as I said in my opening remarks, since the president – or the Secretary-General of the UN and the Prime Minister of Haiti and the Haitian Government have requested this assistance.
I’m sorry, what else did you ask me?
QUESTION: On Guatemala, have you received any assurances from —
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS: Guatemala, yes. So the remarks that President Giammattei has made publicly, as well as what he has said privately, as well as what other officials of his government – the foreign minister, the ambassador to the United States – have all said that President Giammattei intends to carry out a normal transition and to hand over power and leave office, as mandated by their constitution. We believe that is very welcome, and we encourage Guatemalan officials to support the transition process, to take steps to avoid legal attacks on President-elect Arévalo’s Semilla party, and to respect the will of the voters.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador.
QUESTION: Thanks a lot, Under* Secretary, for doing this briefing for us. I’m Alejandro Rincon with NTN 24 international news channel. First, I have a follow-up on the legal pathways for migration. Earlier today, Mexican Foreign Minister Affairs Alicia Bárcena, here in New York said that the Mexican Government sees or is concerned about the decision to grant TPS to around half a million Venezuelans who arrived in the country until July the 31st. So in that context and following that voice of concern by the Mexican Government, I wonder if you could give us your reaction to that.
And secondly, this is around another very important issue for the region, for Latin America in particular, and that is on Tuesday, shortly after President Biden gave his speech, we heard at least three leaders from Latin America, President Petro of Colombia, then President Lula – that was before President Biden – and then Miguel Díaz-Canel from Cuba, asking the U.S. to remove Cuba from the list of states that sponsor terrorism. In this context, is the White House currently at any level considering this? Could this happen in the future? Are there any discussions? Can you share with us something about this?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS: Well, on Temporary Protected Status and migration, there have been a number of steps that we have taken – I just talked about some of them – to promote lawful pathways. President Biden hosted, during the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles a year ago in June, the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration Protection meeting that really focused on this hemispheric challenge of irregular migrants. And there are literally millions of migrants moving around our hemisphere, particularly Venezuelans. And it’s not just an issue for the United States, it’s an issue for Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama – you name it, these are – the countries are facing challenges. And we need to work collectively to address those challenges.
With regard to Temporary Protected Status for – the designation for Venezuelans, which will cover about 474,000 Venezuelans who were already present in the United States by July 31st of this year, this means that these people will be able to work. They’ll be able to support themselves. They’ll be able to contribute to the economy. Until now, they have been a burden on cities like New York. This is an important step for these people to take care of themselves and to contribute to the broader society. And that’s a positive matter.
The work to promote legal pathways, to dismantle the networks that promote human smuggling and other irregular migration, are also ongoing. Steps to ensure that our border and our partner nations’ borders around the hemisphere are as secure as they can be through information sharing, training, cooperation, are also ongoing. And while we can appreciate that there could be concerns about a pull factor created by this, we believe that this is what’s best for our cities or our – in the United States, the communities that are hosting migrants, the migrants themselves, and that the robust law enforcement and migration control measures that we’re working on with our partners around the hemisphere will also have the desired effect.
QUESTION: And on Cuba?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS: The – I don’t have a new announcement for you on State Sponsor of Terrorism designation. We’ve – we’re very much aware of Cuba’s request. I’ve discussed this issue with Cuban officials myself. And right now I have nothing more to report.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador. Sir.
QUESTION: Hi. I’m Daisuke Nakai from Asahi Shimbun, Japan. Thank you very much for the briefing. I’d like to ask a follow-up on TPS question. First, why only Venezuelans at this moment in time? Because there’s a large amount of Haitians who are in the same situation. But why only Venezuelans?
And do you – there has been talk that if you grant TPS, it will send an incentive to people that if they go to the U.S., they will actually be able to get work quickly, and so more people might try to make the journey. What are your thoughts on that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS: The U.S. Government has a number of lawful pathways and also a TPS program that covers Haitians. So Haitians have their own TPS status. This was a re-designation for Venezuelans, who form the largest group of irregular migrants in the United States at this time. The special parole program that was announced at the beginning of the year for Cubans, Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, and Haitians has been very successful in reducing irregular migration for the Haitian community, and again, they already have their own separate designation under TPS from an earlier time frame.
We can never completely ignore the risk that people will believe that migrating to the United States without a legal pathway is something that they think will be successful. But the reality is we continue to put in place measures that will, one, provide lawful pathways, and we encourage people to take them; but two, to prevent irregular migration to the United States: strengthening border controls, not just in the United States but around the hemisphere, working with countries in the region to facilitate the repatriation of irregular migrants in their borders, working with countries to provide TPS-like mechanisms in the region – for example, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru have in the past implemented those types of programs, and Colombia has some 2 million people who are covered in different programs in that country, and we’re deeply grateful to them for their generosity and their cooperation and their commitment on this issue. But working with them, working with Panama, Costa Rica, and Mexico in particular is a vital partner for us, and we look forward to continuing to cooperate with the Mexican Government.
QUESTION: And if I can ask just one more follow-up on that, when you say “legal pathway,” there’s also the long-established right to claim asylum, and the United States has been very obvious in that it respects that right. But how do you balance your definition of “legal pathway” with the right to claim asylum at the U.S. border?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS: So we absolutely respect those rights, but the overwhelming majority of migrants who arrive at the U.S. are economic migrants. Those who have a specific, well-founded fear of persecution can present their claim. They’ll be adjudicated as quickly as we can, but our ability to resolve these issues also depends on broader reforms in our own system that will increase the number of officials working on asylum and migration issues, and that’s something that President Biden has repeatedly called for. This is a systemic challenge, and we need a broad system to be able to address this.
Our work to promote legal pathways also includes important partnerships with international organizations like the International Organization for Migration. I was very happy to see the director general, Amy Pope, here attending High-Level Week at the General Assembly. And her election and her commitment to facilitating legal migration, while doing all that we can to combat irregular migration and protecting people’s fundamental freedoms to seek asylum and other rights, is one of the reasons we strongly supported her candidacy to lead the IOM.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Assistant Secretary, here is another pre-submitted question about Haiti: “Will the U.S. fund Kenya’s troops in Haiti or otherwise provide support? Why does the security situation keep deteriorating in Haiti in spite of U.S. interventions?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS: So the United States – as Secretary Blinken announced this morning, the Department of State will provide $100 million, subject to congressional approval, for the multinational security support mission in Haiti. And similarly, the Department of Defense, subject to congressional approval, will provide a similar amount of funding that will go to logistics, airlift, medevac support, equipment needs.
During today’s meeting chaired by Secretary Blinken, dozens of countries expressed their support for this effort. During the course of the coming week, we will see both the Government of Kenya and the council, through the debate of the resolution, further define the needs for the mission, and that will allow partner nations to further define their contributions. But it was very heartening to hear countries from every region of the world – Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia, Africa – talk about their willingness to provide resources and personnel for this effort. And while the United States is committed to making its own robust commitment, we’re not alone in doing so, and that’s very positive. And I want to again underscore the incredible gratitude that the international community feels for Kenya’s offer to lead this effort.
The effort in Haiti is part of a longer-term strategy that involves promoting political consensus, or at least a broader political agreement; moving toward elections in a secure environment that can be free, fair, and transparent, and give the Haitian people confidence in participating; and then longer-term efforts to strengthen Haiti’s institutions. And one of the key elements that Kenya will focus on – and we’re already working on as well, a number of other countries – is training and capacity-building and equipping for the Haitian National Police, which will be an important effort in this regard.
Why have previous efforts not been lasting? One of the issues that’s been discussed is the importance of making changes and updates to the Haitian constitution. The Haitian constitution requires a lot of elections – every three years there’s going to be an election in Haiti – and the number of elected officials is very large. Haiti has what’s called a two-headed government – a president and a prime minister – under its constitution, and that system has also ill-served the country, I would argue, over time.
And it’s for Haitians to debate how they will address this, but I think if Haiti can make governance improvements, constitutional improvements, and the international community can provide robust and lasting support on security, Haiti can have a much better future. I would also add that the United States in the Global Fragility Act has a long term 10 year strategy and separate funding that will promote long-term, lasting solutions in Haiti, and this is a key focus area for us.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador. Are there any other questions in the room?
QUESTION: Could I follow up on Haiti?
MODERATOR: Of course.
QUESTION: Assistant Secretary, Enrico Woolford from Capitol News once again. The issue with Haiti, do you see it as more political – you just mentioned the legal concerns with regards to the constitution – or do you see it as economic? And how do you see the response of the Caribbean Community countries in restricting Haitians from coming into their countries with visa requirements when Haiti is also part of the Caribbean Community?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS: So Haiti faces a multidimensional crisis, and that means an economic crisis, a security crisis, a political crisis – and all those issues need to be addressed. The United States Biden administration as well as many members of Congress have called for the renewal of the HOPE and HELP legislation which provides economic and trade benefits to Haiti, which will be important in promoting private sector investment in Haiti.
The issue of CARICOM’s role – I know the CARICOM states have been key leaders in pushing the international community to help Haiti. The Eminent Persons Group, which includes three retired prime ministers from the Caribbean, have been pushing and encouraging parties in Haiti to come together around a political accord, and we view that as an important effort that contributes to a solution. The key Caribbean countries have pledged to provide forces and resources for a multinational support mission.
There are Haitian communities and migrants in many countries in the Caribbean, maybe most countries in the Caribbean. And speaking to prime ministers and foreign ministers, I’ve heard from so many of them that they’re seeking to manage the migration issue themselves. And going back to the earlier question, every country in our hemisphere and most of the countries around the world are dealing with unprecedented levels of migration. And it is not unreasonable under those circumstances for countries to implement visa requirements for travel and to ensure that people who are traveling to their nations are doing so for a lawful purpose and to try and avoid situations where irregular migration can flourish.
At the same time, we all have a commitment to make sure that Haiti has the kind of future that will make its people want to stay there. Nobody picks up and leaves their home and moves to a different country where they don’t – if you don’t speak the language, you don’t know anyone if they had better options at home. And we need to make sure that people across our hemisphere, but particularly in Haiti, have better options at home.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador. So with respect —
QUESTION: Can I just ask for a quick follow-up on migration as well? Even with the special paroles in place, the number of people going through the Darién Gap is at record numbers. Panama is saying that it might have to shut down the border with Colombia. What are the United States’ thoughts on that and how can you prevent people from undertaking that journey?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS: So this is a key focus area for us. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Verma visited Colombia as did Homeland Security Advisor Liz Sherwood-Randall. We’re in constant communication, and even this week we’ve had meetings with both Colombia and Panama to talk about the importance of addressing the challenge of irregular migration through the Darién. It puts a tremendous strain on all the countries in the migration route. And the way to address the challenge is through improved enforcement on both sides of the Darién Gap through providing safe, lawful alternative pathways for migrants, to expedite the removal of migrants who do not have a lawful reason to be where they are, and to address the illicit economy that has grown up around irregular migration, particularly through the Darién, which has been well documented in the press over the last couple weeks.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador. Would you like to offer any closing remarks?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY NICHOLS: Thank you. I think that’s my closing remark. No. This has been a really powerful and successful week in addressing the challenges that we face in our hemisphere. And again, I talked about some of these broad efforts, whether it’s strengthening our cooperation around the Atlantic Basin, whether it’s helping demonstrate democracies delivering for their people and to give the best possible toolkit for democracies to do so, whether it’s addressing the challenges of irregular migration, and particularly in our efforts to support the people of Haiti, we have done so.
I should have noted earlier in my remarks that the United States has also designated five additional individuals under our visa sanctions program in Haiti, and we will continue to use all the tools available to us to promote increased security for the people of Haiti.
This work has been important, but it’s by no means sufficient. And I am heartened by President Biden and Secretary Blinken’s intense engagement in our region. I didn’t mention the really excellent bilateral meeting that Presidents Lula and Biden had on those issues, the work that we’re doing on climate change in the region, and the upcoming conversations that we’ll have for APEC in November as well as America’s Partnership for Economic Prosperity.
So we’ve got a lot moving in our hemisphere and we’re going to continue to work to the benefit of the people of the United States and the peoples throughout the Americas. Thanks very much.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador. Thank you all for attending. This concludes this briefing.