NEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, 799 UNITED NATIONS PLAZA, 10TH FLOOR
MODERATOR: So good afternoon. Welcome to the New York Foreign Press Center’s briefing with the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield. We’re honored to have them both virtually with us today.
My name is Melissa Waheibi. I’m the deputy director of the New York Foreign Press Center, and I’ll be the moderator of today’s briefing.
Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield and Secretary Blinken will offer opening remarks, and then I will moderate the Q&A portion of this event. Thank you for indicating that you had a question as you logged in. We selected some of you and already moved you to the panelist section of Zoom. If you’re chosen to ask your question, please wait until I call on you, and at that point you can turn on your camera and activate your microphone.
This event is on the record, and transcription of the briefing will be posted on our website after it concludes.
So with that, I offer the virtual floor to you, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield. Thank you so much for being here.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS–GREENFIELD: Thank you so much, Melissa. It really is a pleasure for me to be here with the members of the New York Foreign Press Center and our UN correspondents, and to welcome Secretary Blinken – albeit virtually – to New York City.
When he nominated me as ambassador, President Biden asked me to represent the United States at the United Nations by re-engaging with the world, restoring our alliances and our partnerships, and leading by example, and to do all that while keeping American principles and the American people at the center of our foreign policy agenda. Since I arrived one month ago – and I will stress that again, it has only been one month – we have wasted no time in putting that vision into action. I was pleased to take my fellow Security Council representatives on a virtual visit to the White House to hear firsthand from President Biden. He told them about the importance he places on working with global partners and through multilateral institutions, whether to end the pandemic, improve global health security, or ensure our nation’s drive and equitable and sustainable economic economy.
And I was also proud to co-lead with Vice President Harris a historically diverse delegation to the Commission on the Status of Women. This was the first time the United States has been represented at the White House level at CSW. And it was the first time public members of our delegation truly included women and girls in all their diversity. The Biden-Harris administration is making both gender and racial equity a top priority and central to our strategy.
On International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, I shared my personal story as a person of African descent and the descendant of slaves. And I called on all member states to expose the racism and racial discrimination endemic in every society around the world. We used our signature event during the United States presidency of the Security Council to shine a spotlight on the urgent issue of conflict-driven hunger, and in our modern era, hunger is manmade. It causes tens of millions of real people to suffer each day. Compassionate humanitarian diplomacy can save lives, and that’s what we’re about. That same compassionate impulse is why the Secretary chaired this morning’s Security Council meeting on the humanitarian situation in Syria.
This continues a trend you can expect to see from us at the UN, placing humanitarian issues at the forefront of our engagement. It’s why I will be representing the United States tomorrow at the fifth Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region. The United States is the world’s most important forum for bringing people – sorry, the United Nations is the most important forum for bringing people and countries together. And President Biden believes that to his core, and I believe that as well. And I know Secretary Blinken does, too.
I feel very fortunate to be working in partnership with Secretary Blinken, who I know to be a passionate advocate for the world’s most vulnerable. If you heard his speech today where he referred to his children, I have to tell you, Tony, it brought tears to our eyes. Because we all think about how the impact of these situations that we know thousands of people, millions of people around the world are going through, how they would impact us and our families directly.
Together and with the rest of the wonderfully diverse cabinet President Biden has assembled, we’re working to build a more secure, peaceful, and compassionate world. So it gives me great pleasure to introduce Secretary Blinken to you, in his official New York debut, to share his thoughts on his meetings today and the ways we’re engaging our partners and allies around the world.
Mr. Secretary, over to you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, good afternoon, everyone. It has been a packed day at the UN, even virtually. And Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, thank you. Thank you for that introduction, but more to the point, thank you for the extraordinary leadership that you’ve shown every day since you’ve gotten there. We are so fortunate to have Linda Thomas-Greenfield as our Ambassador to the United Nations. Thirty-five years of experience as a diplomat, bringing all of that experience to this role. I know, Linda, you understand to your core – as you’ve said – that effective diplomacy is rooted in the power of compassion and kindness, in building human relationships – including with people with whom we may not see eye to eye. And I just can’t imagine a more capable champion of America’s interests and our values. So we’re so pleased to have you representing the United States at the United Nations.
A fundamental priority of the Biden-Harris administration – and of the State Department in which Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield and I have the privilege of serving – is ensuring that our foreign policy delivers for the American people. We are always better able to do that when we engage fully in multilateral institutions, whether it’s at the UN Security Council or the UN Human Rights Council, in NATO, or the World Health Organization, not because we think these institutions are perfect, but rather because we know that when America doesn’t engage, one of two things is likely to happen. Either others will step up to fill the void, including those who may not share our interests or values, or no one steps up, leaving only chaos. Either way, that’s not good for our own citizens, and I would argue it’s not good for people around the world.
We also know that we’re better able to advance the interests and values of the American people when we confront tough challenges with allies and partners. The basic fact of life that we have to, I think, all understand and acknowledge is that when you think about virtually all of the challenges that we have to deal with, the ones that affect our citizens every single day, not a single one can be dealt with effectively by any one nation acting alone, even the United States. And we also have to join together to defend the rules-based international order, which is essential to our shared security and prosperity. There has to be a system that regulates how countries interact, how nations relate to one another. And that rules-based order is the one that, over the last 75 years, has created an environment that has prevented wars between the great powers and it has created an open, predictable system in which other countries could emerge and millions could be lifted out of poverty.
That’s a message I brought directly to our allies over recent weeks in visits to Japan and South Korea with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, in my visits last week to NATO and the European Union. It’s also a message that I shared with Secretary-General Guterres and President Bozkir of the United Nations General Assembly in our meetings a little bit earlier today. As you all know, the United States holds the presidency at the Security Council this month, and today I had the opportunity to chair a session on the humanitarian crisis in Syria, as Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield referred to.
Ten years since the grassroots uprising against the Assad regime, that crisis is more dire than ever. An estimated 13.4 million people, two in every three Syrians, are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. Sixty percent of Syrians are at serious risk of going hungry. And, of course, we see these numbers, we hear these numbers, and we have to remember that behind every number is a human being, a mother, a father, a son, a daughter. And if we lose sight of this human dimension, then we will all be lost.
The message I brought to the Security Council is that while many of the challenges it grapples with are complex, getting vital humanitarian aid to millions of Syrians shouldn’t be. The Council has the responsibility to ensure serious basic needs are met. To that end, the Council should reauthorize all three border crossings for humanitarian assistance, including two its unconscionably allowed to close. Security Council members should stop taking part in or making excuses for attacks that close these pathways, and they should stop targeting humanitarian workers and Syrian civilians. And Council members should stop making humanitarian assistance a political issue. I hope the Council will act swiftly because the lives of millions of Syrians depend on it.
With that, we’re happy to take some questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador and Mr. Secretary, for those remarks. We’ll now transition to the question-and-answer portion of today’s briefing. Our first question goes to Si Haeng Jeong from Chosun Ilbo, Korea. Miss Jeong, at this time, you may activate your microphone – and yes, thank you, opening your camera. Go ahead. You may ask your question.
QUESTION: Hello, my name is Si Haeng Jeong, Chosun Ilbo daily newspaper of the Republic of Korea. Thank you for having us today. My first question is on North Korea. Do you think there’s still room for starting conversation negotiation for the denuclearization and human rights progress of North Korea while its only response is just a few missile launches and (inaudible) as of now? What do you think the most important difference between President Biden’s access to North Korea and that of the Trump administration? And secondly, what is your expectation for Asian allies like Korea and Japan in tackling China’s human rights issues and its rule-breaking behaviors like blame its neighbors in terms of history distortion, military expansion, and unfair trade practices? Do you think the Korean Government is a reliable ally who is – which is on the same page with the States?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Right. Thank you very much. I’m happy to kick it off. Let me just say to put this in context a little bit, I returned just a short while ago from a trip to the Indo-Pacific, met with our counterparts in Japan and South Korea, and North Korea was a primary topic of conversation in both countries. And we also discussed it with our Chinese counterparts in Anchorage, Alaska a couple of days later. And this is one of those areas where I think we have at least some alignment of interest with Beijing. Following that trip, the national security advisors of Japan and South Korea will be in Washington to meet with Jake Sullivan, the National Security Advisor. We know how important coordination is among the United States, South Korea, and Japan when it comes to North Korea, and we’re gratified to have the opportunity to advance trilateral cooperation.
As I think you know, we are in the midst of reviewing our policy and approach to North Korea, and the conversations that we had with our allies and partners were very important in helping to inform that review. So I took a lot of what I heard back to Washington to share with the President, to share with my colleagues. The review is coming to conclusion, and we very much look forward to discussing it with our allies and implementing it in very close coordination with them.
We know as a matter of general principle that we are much better positioned to take on any challenge when we do so in concert with our allies. That certainly applies to North Korea. We’ve, of course, had recent provocations and we’ve condemned them. These destabilizing ballistic missile launches are subject to our condemnation and those of allies and partners, including in the UN system, because they violate multiple UN Security Council resolutions and threaten the region and the broader international community.
Our commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan is ironclad. What we see from these unlawful nuclear and ballistic missile programs is a serious threat to international peace and security, and some think it undermines as well the global nonproliferation regime in which we all have strong interest. And I think that the United States, South Korea, Japan are united in our commitment to standing up against these provocations and advancing the denuclearization of the peninsula.
Most important, I would just say that what we’re seeing from Pyongyang in terms of these provocations does nothing to shake the resolve of our three countries, along with allies and partners around the world, to approach North Korea from a position of strength in order to diminish the threat that it poses to the region and beyond. That’s exactly what we’re doing. And again, we’ll have more when we complete our review and are able to share it.
Linda, is there anything you wanted to add to that?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I would just briefly add that we have engaged on this here in New York as well. We consulted with both our Japanese and South Korean counterparts on the way forward. We held a committee meeting of the 1718 Committee on Sanctions, and we’re looking at additional actions that we might take here in New York.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Our second question goes to Paolo Mastrolilli from La Stampa, Italy. Paolo, you may turn on your camera and your microphone.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for the briefing. In Brussels you said that the United States will not force the allies into a choice between us and them in terms of the relationship with China. However, there are several European countries that have developed a strong commercial relationship with China, including Italy that joined the Belt and Road Initiative. Is being part of the Belt and Road Initiative compatible with the new strategy of NATO and the U.S. toward China? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much, Paolo. Let me first say that I think that our relationship with Beijing – and I think this also reflects the relationship with many of our allies and partners have with Beijing – is competitive in some places, it’s collaborative in other places, and it’s adversarial in still others. But there is a common denominator whether the relationship is adversarial, whether it’s competitive, whether it’s cooperative, and the common denominator is the need to engage China from a position of strength. And that position of strength starts with strong alliances and partnerships with collaboration and coordination.
You’re right that the United States won’t force our allies to choose between the United States and China, and that’s for a simple reason. First, this is not about containing China or keeping China down. It’s about holding up the international rules-based system that all of us have invested so much into over the last 75 years. And it has served our interests and our values very well, whatever its imperfections.
And so when anyone challenges that system, when anyone – whether it’s China or any or country – doesn’t play by the rules or tries to undermine the rules and commitments that everyone has made, we all have reason to stand up for that, to stand up against that, and to stand up for the system that we’ve invested in.
So that’s what this is about. It’s about defending, preserving, and strengthening the rules-based order. And when we see China taking actions, the Government of Beijing taking actions that undermine that order – whether it’s by violations of human rights, which are violations of international commitments in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for example, or other solemn commitments that the government in Beijing has made – then we come together, we speak out, we act together in support of that order.
And I think what’s also very important is that we know that our allies have complex relationships with China that won’t always align perfectly. And just as we may have areas that are ripe for cooperation with China, so too do some of our allies. And we recognize that, but we also, I think, see the need to navigate these challenges together. And that means working with our allies to close gaps in areas where Beijing is trying to drive us apart. And I think that was really a very important aspect of the trips that I’ve taken recently, the conversations that I’ve had with close allies and partners in Asia as well as in Europe.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question goes to Carolina Cimenti from Globo Brazil. Ms. Cimenti, you may now ask your question.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thanks for having us for this conversation. Well, I imagine that at this point you know that the foreign minister of Brazil has resigned today, and so I’d like to ask you about the U.S. and the Brazil relations. And what is your view of the current government of President Bolsonaro’s foreign policy?
And also I’d like to add another question if – has the Brazilian Government requested to buy the surplus doses of vaccines from the U.S.?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you very much. Let me speak generally to the relationship and the partnership because I think it’s very important, and it’s important ultimately to both of our countries and the people in both the United States and Brazil for a whole host of reasons. It’s also important, I would argue, for people throughout the region and indeed, in many ways, on a global scale, especially when we consider things like climate change.
But fundamentally, there is – what unites the United States and Brazil fundamentally is a shared commitment to democratic values that spans both of our countries. As I see it, as we see it, as President Biden sees it, partnering with Brazil is critical to effectively tackling the shared global challenge of climate change, the existential challenge of our time.
We also share, as you know, a remarkable bilateral economic relationship. It’s valued right now at more than a hundred billion dollars. We’re proud to be Brazil’s largest trading partner in value-added goods; and that’s a partnership that, when you think about it practically, is supporting thousands of jobs, many thousands of jobs, in both our countries.
We’ve done good work, I think, in recent months to further strengthen the partnership. Last year, we updated our agreement on trade and economic cooperation. That’s important. We are by far the largest investor in Brazil, including – I think this is significant – in many of Brazil’s most innovative and growth-focused companies. We’ve got a strong track record of job creation in Brazil with a focus upon these growth sectors and high-value employment.
Collaboration with the Brazilian Government and American and Brazilian companies under the CEO Forum that you may know about that’s actually been in place for almost 15 years, that’s continuing to strengthen the bilateral trade and investment relationship, and particularly by increasing private-sector participation in commercial and trade policy.
We have an energy forum established back in 2019. That is also strengthening both commercial and technological partnerships with Brazil in the energy sector. There are a series of other agreements that really help to shape the cooperation and collaboration that we’re doing.
So I say all this because I think it’s important for people to remember that we have a partnership that’s engaged together in tackling global challenges and a partnership that’s making a difference every single day in the lives of our citizens.
When it comes to COVID-19, let me just say a couple of things as well. As you know, one of the first things that we did in coming into office was to rejoin the World Health Organization. And that’s vitally important for helping to deal with COVID-19 now as well as setting up a stronger global health security system going forward so that we can help prevent or, if necessary, mitigate the next pandemic.
We’ve contributed $2 billion to COVAX to make access to vaccines greater around with the world, with another $2 billion committed between now and 2022 as other nations increase their own commitments. We, as you may have seen, have an arrangement with Japan, Australia, and India together where we will make access to vaccines over time even greater around the world. And finally, we’ve started to make some contributions to our nearest neighbors in Mexico and in Canada with vaccines.
I anticipate that as we continue to vaccinate the entire American population that we will be able to do even more around the world. And in the months ahead and over time, the United States, I am convinced, will be the leader in advancing access to vaccines around the world.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Due to time, this next question will be our final question. It goes to Lionel Gendron from RTL France. Lionel, you may turn on your camera and mike. Thank you.
QUESTION: Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary. The United States has been out of the Paris Agreement during four years. Europe, especially in France, some say they need a boost from the U.S.A. in the fight against global warming. How do you plan to catch up the delay and to give this boost expected by partners?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, thank you very much for that question, and I think the answer, I hope at least, is already apparent in the sense that we quite literally hit the ground running on climate on day one. Of course, we rejoined the Paris Agreement. The President issued immediately an executive order to ensure that climate is a core national security and foreign policy priority, so I’m working under those instructions. He commissioned a National Intelligence Estimate to help us understand the scope of the climate threat. He directed the department that he entrusted me with, the State Department, as well as other U.S. agencies to integrate climate considerations into everything we do – into our planning, into our operations, into our policy.
It’s also why he appointed John Kerry as special presidential envoy for climate. John has been incredibly busy talking with, working with world leaders on this subject, but I’ve got to tell you he’s not alone in this effort. I raise the issue in virtually every conversation I have with my counterparts, and it’s been a focus of the President’s engagements as well.
We know how high the stakes are and we know that this year in particular is critical. Gina McCarthy, the President’s national climate advisor, and her team are preparing our new emissions target under the Paris Agreement, and we plan to announce it, the new nationally determined contribution, in April, probably coincident with the leaders’ summit that President Biden has convened on Earth Day, on April 22nd. That’s going to be a very important milestone on the way to COP26 in Glasgow toward the end of the year.
We’ve invited 40 world leaders to join us for that summit April 22nd and April 23rd. And the major purpose of it is to really rally the major economies of the world and other key stakeholders to raise our collective ambition, to raise our sights, and to set the global community up for success in the coming months and years. And as I said, that will be an important marker on the road to COP26.
I think above all else, if you ask around the world, we’re showing up again. We’re listening to our partners. We’re recommitting the U.S. Government to this issue across the board. And it isn’t a narrow-band priority for the administration. It really goes to the heart of our effort to build a safer and more prosperous world.
Ultimately, we strongly believe as well – and this is important – that by addressing the climate crisis, the United States also can revitalize our economy, create millions of good jobs, and build sustainable infrastructure. This really is and, as the President sees it, has to be a whole-of-government approach to put us on an irreversible path to net-zero emissions by 2050.
So I think our partners are seeing that around the world. It is at the heart of our foreign policy. And I feel very positive about the fact that we have been able to jumpstart American re-engagement on climate. And we have to and we will use this critical year to make real progress.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Lionel, and I want to thank all the journalists for your participation today, and a special thank you to Secretary Blinken and Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield for your time addressing members of the Foreign Press Center. Transcription and video of this event will be uploaded shortly, and with that, this concludes today’s briefing. Thank you, everyone, and have a good afternoon.