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U.S. Priorities for the 71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly
NEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, 799 UNITED NATIONS PLAZA, 10TH FLOOR
MODERATOR: Good morning. Thank you for joining us today here at the New York Foreign Press Center. My name is Kathy Eagen. I’m the director here, and I’m very pleased to be able to have two of our State Department officials here to talk about UN priorities for the 71st session of the UN General Assembly. First to speak this morning will be our Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs Sheba Crocker, and second will be our Deputy Department Spokesperson Mark Toner. I’m going to give very short bios so we can get started with the meat of the stories, so I’ll move it over to Assistant Secretary Crocker. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CROCKER: Thanks so much. Good morning everyone. I’m very pleased to have the opportunity to sit down with you on this rainy morning here in New York and give you a bit of a sense of the U.S. priorities as we head into high-level week this year. And in particular, I will give a little bit of specificity around the multilateral events that the Secretary of State has agreed to do this year, and then we’ll turn it over to Mark to build that out, and then we can have some time for questions.
This session is obviously notable in particular to us as the United States but also as the global community for many reasons, including that it will be President Obama’s last UNGA as well as that of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. And I think I don’t need to describe for this group how, when President Obama came into office in 2009, he called for a new era of engagement. And in large part, that was focused on what the United States was going to be bringing in and trying to achieve through the multilateral system. And almost eight years later, it can be argued that there has perhaps never been a more multilateral era in human history, and the range and magnitude of actions that are taking place in UN spaces in recent years I think gives us ample reason to pause and to reflect on what we’ve achieved and what we still need to achieve.
Last year, as we came into UNGA, you may recall that there were activities across a range of issues, and events here last year during high-level week resulted in significant new commitments to undergird and strengthen UN peacekeeping, to strengthen the range of allies and actions to counter ISIL and violent extremism. We launched, obviously, the new Sustainable Development Goals in the 2030 Agenda and advanced the climate change negotiations to near-final status.
This year, as we head into UNGA, the United States will be focused on three top-line priorities, which are humanitarian response, peace and security, and countering terrorism and violent extremism. And in addition, we will take various opportunities this week both through multilateral events and bilateral events to move forward with UN member-states on other issues of continuing high importance, including climate change, sustainable development, human rights, nonproliferation, and UN reform.
So today, as I said, I will talk briefly about some of the confirmed multilateral events, and then turn it over to Mark. And I will begin with what was the Secretary’s first official event here, which actually took place yesterday morning, when he co-hosted a ministerial meeting on the Global Demining Initiative for Colombia with the Norwegian foreign minister. And during the meeting, the U.S., Norway, and 19 other countries and the European Union announced concrete commitments to help Colombia rid itself of landmines by 2021. The total amount pledged during the meeting was $105 million U.S.
This afternoon, Secretary Kerry will deliver the U.S. national statement at the General Assembly high-level plenary meeting focused on large-scale movements of refugees and migrants. And during this meeting, member-states are expected to adopt a declaration outlining and affirming key principles, including shared global responsibility and international cooperation and shared commitments to protecting and assisting refugees and vulnerable migrants. And I think you’ll see, as I go through the events, that there is an enormous focus this year both – this today with this high-level plenary and with the summit that the President will host – co-host tomorrow on the whole issue of forced displacement, as we’re obviously seeing now in the world a global crisis with more people displaced around the world than we’ve seen since the Second World War. And so then – and – so this event today precedes and also complements the President’s Leaders’ Summit on Refugees, which will take place tomorrow afternoon.
Tomorrow morning, President Obama will make his eighth and final speech to the General Assembly, and the Secretary of State will obviously be present for that and will also join the President’s meetings with the president of the General Assembly and with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, which will also take place tomorrow. And then in the afternoon, the Secretary will join the President for the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees, which will be co-hosted by the UN Secretary-General and leaders from Canada, Ethiopia, Germany, Sweden, Mexico, and Jordan. And the aim of the summit, which I’m happy to get into some further detail around during the questions if folks are interested, is not just to sort of address the immediate needs of today, but also to look more deeply at the broader and enduring strains on the humanitarian safety net that are being placed on it, both as a result of the global crisis around displacement and also just the number of humanitarian crises that the system is needing to respond to at the current time.
We expect the gathering to result in significant new, sustained commitments to UN humanitarian appeals from a financing perspective, to expanded refugee resettlement programs or alternative legal pathways for admission, and to new opportunities for refugees and their host communities to benefit from improved refugee access to education and legal employment.
So then we move on to Wednesday, September 21st. The Secretary will attend an event that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is hosting on the landmark climate change agreement that was adopted by nearly 200 countries in Paris last December. The event comes on the heels of the United States and China formally joining the Paris Agreement, which happened on September 3rd, and is focused on encouraging other countries to do the same with the goal of bringing the agreement into force by the end of the year.
Later that morning, the Secretary will attend a Security Council session focused on Syria that has been called by New Zealand, which has the presidency of the Security Council this month. And in the afternoon, the Secretary will attend the second 2016 U.S.-Africa Business Forum, which will focus on trade and investment opportunities on the African continent and is co-hosted by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Moving on to Thursday, September 22nd, in terms of multilateral events, the Secretary will begin his day with a ministerial event on Libya that he is hosting with his Italian counterpart. And also on Thursday morning the U.S. and Croatia are co-hosting a meeting of the Equal Futures Partnership, where we expect the Secretary to deliver remarks. And the event will celebrate the achievements of the partnership, which is an – it was an innovative multilateral initiative that was launched by President Obama at UNGA 66, so five years ago, that supports the increased women’s economic and political – supports increased women’s political and economic participation.
Later that day, the Secretary will host the Coalition to Secure Ambition, which is another one of the major climate events that will be occurring this week. It’s an event that will focus on concrete action to advance the goals of the Montreal Protocol and is pushing to advance negotiations to adopt an ambition – an ambitious hydrofluorocarbons phasedown amendment this year in time for a meeting of the parties to the Montreal Protocol that will take place next month in Kigali, Rwanda.
And that evening, the Secretary – so Thursday evening, the Secretary will host the Transatlantic Dinner for his EU counterparts, NATO allies, and other European partners, which is one of the traditional events that he does at the UN General Assembly every year.
And then that brings us to Friday, the 23rd of September. Secretary Kerry will, again, participate in another event related to climate change. He will host a special foreign minister session of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, and the dialogue there is expected to continue to be focused on concrete initiatives and joint ventures that increase access to clean energy while cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
So that’s just a glimpse of the multilateral events. You all are aware that there are many, many, many more that are going on this week, but I’ve just given you a sense of those that the Secretary of State is expected to participate in this week. And we will, of course, keep you updated as additional events are confirmed, and I will now turn it over to Mark.
MR TONER: Thank you. Thanks, everybody, for joining us. As Assistant Secretary Crocker said, it’s not of the most pleasant of mornings to be out and about, so appreciate it. So that was a rundown on the major multilateral muscle movements of the next week. In terms of bilateral issues and meetings, I’ll be very brief, because I’ll open it up to your questions, which I think will be more – will allow for a more focused exchange. But, obviously, one of the big issues, topics on people’s minds here this week is the situation in Syria with the nascent cessation of hostilities in place and what the next steps are given some of the events of the past several days and the fact that we continue to see – while we’ve seen a small degree of improvement on the humanitarian assistance front, we need to see a lot more.
One of the meetings that will take place tomorrow morning is the ISSG meeting, the International Syria Support Group meeting, and that will be, obviously, a very important signals check for the members of this group to assess the agreement, the state of the agreement that was reached with the U.S. and Russia a little over a week ago, and where we are and what next steps need to be taken and where we need to see more improvement.
In terms of other bilateral events, Secretary Kerry has likened the week at UNGA to diplomatic speed dating, which is a humorous way of putting it, but it really speaks to the fact that in one place for one week you rarely get to see this concentration of world leaders, so it’s an opportunity for the Secretary to speak to all of his counterparts – or a wide range of his counterparts, rather, on many important issues, whether it’s the most pressing issues of the day, i.e. Syria, but a broad range of regions and other issues. And to that end, he did take part in yesterday’s meeting with the foreign ministers of the Republic of Korea as well as Japan, where they talked about a number of issues on our trilateral agenda, but namely about continued threats and how we deal with and respond to the continued threats that the DPRK, North Korea, poses to the region.
I think I’ll stop there and we’ll just open it up to your questions.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you, Assistant Secretary Crocker and Spokesperson Toner. I would like to open it up for questions. When you ask a question, please give me your name and then your media affiliation.
QUESTION: Hi. Good morning. My name is Manik Mehta. I am a syndicated journalist. Question to Mr. Toner: Secretary Kerry had his first meeting today with Pakistan’s prime minister. Could you tell us something more about it?
MR TONER: Well, I know we’ll issue a readout shortly after that meeting. I’m trying to actually get the – yes, it was at 9:00 a.m. this morning. I mean, look, it’s obviously a very important relationship. There’s a lot on the bilateral agenda but also on the regional agenda. I think he’s – they’re going to discuss ongoing efforts by Pakistan at economic reform, but certainly security will also be on the agenda, and we’ll continue to urge Pakistan to take additional steps to deal with all of the terrorist threats that it faces on its own territory but also those groups that – frankly, that seek refuge or safe refuge within Pakistan’s borders and how to deal with those groups in an effective way. We’ve seen some progress; we want to see more, and I think moving forward we’ll just continue to work closely and try to encourage greater counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan but also within the region.
MODERATOR: Right here. We’ll go here and then —
QUESTION: Thank you very much. My name is Abdelhamid Abdeljaber from the Arabic daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi that is based in London. My question, Mr. Toner, about the Quartet. Will there be a meeting and will there be kind of energizing the Quartet? It has been almost dormant, doing nothing for the last number of years, and as you know and everyone knows that the two-state solution is almost coming to a halt. Thank you.
MR TONER: Sure. There – I can confirm that there will be a meeting of the Quartet on Thursday. There was the —
MR TONER: I’m sorry, did – there was the Quartet report not too long ago that looked at the state of efforts to – towards a two-state solution. Again, I think this will be an important opportunity for the Secretary and for his counterparts to touch base on the state of affairs regarding a two-state solution.
We have seen in the past weeks or week – recent days, I’ll put it that way – a serious uptick in violence, and that’s a matter of concern. I think that not just in the Quartet meeting but also in the Secretary’s meeting with Abbas – President Abbas – he’ll again push the message that we need to see de-escalation and we need to see both sides work towards creating the conditions that would be conducive to an environment where negotiations could possibly begin again. And I think that’s the point we’re at now, where we just want to see the climate – the right climate – put in place, and we’re not there yet.
We’ve seen, as I said, actions on both sides that have escalated tensions, and we want to see both sides, obviously, calm the situation. And I wouldn’t say that, though – your – first part of your question said that prospects for a two-state solution or a two-state settlement are dead. I don’t think we believe that. I know the Secretary wants to work very hard in his remaining months in office towards putting in place a process towards getting the parties back to the negotiating table. But we’re not there yet.
QUESTION: Hi. My name is Evgeny Maslov, Russian TV International. Mr. Toner, some official in Moscow saying that recent events in Syria – I mean, attacks of international coalition that affected the Syrian forces could affect the truce agreement between Moscow and Washington. Do you think it’s exaggeration or it is really possible that they will affect it?
MR TONER: Well, I’m aware of some of those comments. Obviously – and you saw over the weekend that we did express regret over that incident. It was, quite simply, a case of misidentification of forces on the ground. Obviously, we were going for strikes against ISIL or Daesh on the ground and mistakenly struck Syrian regime forces.
I think more broadly though our concern about the state of the cessation of hostilities is focused on the fact that we’ve continued to see violations. While we’ve seen a significant reduction in violence, and that is promising, but we haven’t seen enough on the humanitarian assistance front. So if I could put it in kind of two categories, we need to see the reduction in violence. We’ve seen that significant reduction in violence, although there were airstrikes in Aleppo yesterday that are concerning. But we’ve been encouraged enough that we want to keep this moving forward. But I think on the other side of the coin, which is the humanitarian assistance, we’ve said we want to see a sustained delivery of humanitarian assistance to besieged areas within Syria. We have not seen that.
Now, today, there are preliminary reports, I think from the UN, that some of these trucks are now moving over the border. I think Secretary Kerry said yesterday we didn’t expect this to happen overnight, that – with regard to humanitarian assistance. It’s taken some days. But it was concerning after a week that we weren’t seeing this assistance flowing. Now we see some flowing. We want to see that sustained.
So I think where we are a week into this is – it’s been challenged, the overall cessation of hostilities, but we’re still encouraged by the reduction in violence. If we see the sustained humanitarian assistance delivered, then we’ll continue to assess, with the next step being, if we get there, it would be the establishment of this joint center to then coordinate airstrikes with Russia against Nusrah and Daesh. But we’re not there yet.
QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Sylviane Zehil from L’Orient le Jour, Beirut. My question is on Lebanon, about the refugees and migrant and the meeting this morning, today, and tomorrow. What is – what are the ideas that you’re coming up for new ideas for Lebanon, new sum of money for Lebanon in 2016, 2017? And also for education and infrastructure, do you need – do you think that we need some help from the United States and other countries to send expert there to help? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CROCKER: So let me try to address this a little bit from a global perspective and then maybe take the specific piece. As I noted, the aim – so the aim of the event today, which is – has a broader focus than the event tomorrow – today’s is focused on refugees and migrants – I think is an opportunity, in large part, for the membership of the United Nations broadly to make some recommitments on the political side to some very important fundamental principles in terms of support and protection of refugees around the world and also put in place a process to try to reach a global compact around migrants.
The aim of the summit that the President will cohost tomorrow is more – is focused on refugees and is focused on three very specific things for refugees, all of which in a way touch on the question that you’ve just asked. Because in part, you were asking about assistance and support for countries like Lebanon that are hosting now large numbers of refugees. In the Lebanon case, obviously refugees coming across from Syria, but in fact it’s also always important to remember that this is a global crisis and there are countries in South Asia, there are countries in Asia, there are countries in Africa that have also been hosting large numbers of refugees for many, many years.
And so, this – so the first aim of the summit is to – it was to try to ensure that this year we secured at least $3 billion more than had been secured last year in terms of humanitarian financing, financing going toward UN appeals and humanitarian agencies to try to help address the refugee crisis and the humanitarian crises that we’re facing writ large.
The second aim of the summit was to try to double the number of spaces that are available in terms of third-country resettlement, either through formal resettlement slots or through alternative pathways for admission. And then the third piece of the summit is focused on really those countries like Lebanon that are hosting large populations of refugees with an aim to try to encourage greater opportunities for inclusion and self-reliance by refugees, and there a specific focus on education and work.
And so I think, while I can’t answer the specific question about exactly what might be needed in the Lebanon case in terms of if its technical assistance or particular kinds of support, I can say that what we will see tomorrow is a series of countries participating in the summit who will come forward; and as the countries themselves, in the case of Lebanon, for example, explain what it is that they are making commitments around in those two areas; and in the case of the donor and resettlement countries, explain the commitments that they have made in advance of the summit, in terms of providing the right kinds of support to countries – Lebanon and other countries around the world.
QUESTION: Thank you. Ivan Pilshchikov of TASS News Agency. There is a chance that UN Security Council will adopt a resolution this week calling countries to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. If this happens, will it be any additional obligations for Washington to ratify the treaty?
MR TONER: I’m sorry, will there be?
QUESTION: Additional obligation.
MR TONER: Obligation. Again, I don’t want to speak to – I don’t know if you want to speak to this or not.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CROCKER: Yeah, I —
MR TONER: But I wouldn’t speak to resolutions that have yet to be passed. Our position on this CTBT, Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, hasn’t changed.
QUESTION: Ali Abaday, TV 24. Now, Iraqi Government continue to reject the presence of Turkish troops in Bashiqa and called their withdrawal the Iraqi territory and put end of the crisis. There is a one crisis between Iraq and Turkey.
Then, now, Ahmet Altan and Mehmet Altan, two brothers were detained in Turkey who were accused of some of – giving subliminal message to rallies, coup supporters on television panel show broadcast July 14th, one day before the coup attempt. But they are also President of Iraq’s Fuad Masum’s cousin, and Mr. Masum wants to release their cousins immediately, but Turkey don’t give any response about that. Ten days they were detained. Two countries tried to improve their relations —
MODERATOR: I’m sorry. Sir, do you have a question (inaudible)?
QUESTION: Yes. Two countries —
MODERATOR: Because we don’t have much time.
QUESTION: Two countries tried to improve their relations. What is the U.S. position, these issues? Do you think they talk both sides?
MR TONER: So I’m unaware of the particular case you’re talking about. I know you started your question with concerns from the Iraqi Government about continued Turkish —
QUESTION: Turkish troops in —
MR TONER: — troops in Iraq. Yeah, the training. They’re providing some training and equipping of – yeah – forces there.
Look, what we’ve always said about that is that we encourage dialogue, obviously, between Turkey and Iraq with regards to Turkey’s role in Iraq fighting Daesh and countering ISIL on the ground. Turkey is a member of the anti-Daesh coalition, is playing a constructive role within – along the border, its own border with Syria, most recently clearing and securing parts of the border area. We want to see that cooperation continue. But with regards to its role in Iraq, that’s something for Turkey and the Iraqi Government to work through.
QUESTION: Do you think (inaudible) role, or do you want to continue to talk both of them to solve that crisis?
MR TONER: That’s correct.
MODERATOR: Sorry. This is going to be our final question.
QUESTION: Hi. This is Alejandro Rincon with NTN 24 International News. I would like to do a follow-up on the refugee meetings, and I’m wondering if these meetings will also contemplate the idea and the possibility of finding new compromises or ways to act to solve the refugee crisis in the U.S. border with the Central American minors, unaccompanied ones, that are risking their lives. Will you look forward to make new compromises on this level? Any new action that you will take or – to take here on this issue in particular, or is it going to be part of this meeting as well?
MR TONER: You’re talking about —
QUESTION: The crisis in the southern border of the U.S. on the crisis of the unaccompanied minors that is also part of this overall global crisis on refugees.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CROCKER: So, I mean, I think what you will see tomorrow, as I said, is countries coming forward and making statements across a range of issues that will be particular to the ones that they are facing. And so I – while I can’t speak yet to what any particular country might say tomorrow, I think you will see that – should countries from that region be involved in the summit, that you will see them speaking particularly to the issues that they face. But I think what you will see from the United States perspective is sort of a broader conversation about what we are doing both on the financing side and in terms of refugee resettlement in this country as part of our commitment toward the summit.
MR TONER: Also, just to – final point, circling back to the question on CTBT, my understanding is there’ll be no additional obligations with regard to the United States, just to answer your question. Thanks.
We can take one more, I think, if we – yeah.
QUESTION: Hi. My name is Ibtisam Azem from the daily AlAraby Aljadeed newspaper, pan-Arab daily newspaper. I have a follow-up question regarding the Quartet. Do you expect to have any significant outcome, and whether there will be any bilateral meetings between Secretary Kerry and Israeli officials or Palestinian officials?
And the second one, on Syria: Do you think that there will be or do you know when is – or can you tell us when the bilateral meeting between Secretary Kerry and Lavrov is going to take place?
MR TONER: There – sorry. So in answer to your second question first, I’m not sure that there’s a time and date – no, they’ll – I can assure you they’ll most likely meet, certainly in the context of the ISSG, but they’ll have a separate bilateral meeting as well. I just don’t have the date and time certain in front of me yet. And as I think I mentioned previously, they’ve been talking – I called it a signals check, but obviously in close touch over the past week since the agreement has come into force, and as – again, they’ll meet this week.
Your first question was about the Quartet. I don’t – I honestly can’t predict what will come out of the meeting, except to say that, obviously, it’ll be an opportunity to talk about the state of the peace process and, I think, efforts to get that back on track. And there are efforts out there and there are ideas out there, and that’ll be an opportunity for the members of the Quartet to consult about that. I can’t predict what the outcome.
You had one other question.
QUESTION: Yes, if there’s any meetings between Secretary Kerry and Israeli or Palestinian –officials.
MR TONER: Oh, right. Yeah. So I understand – I mean, obviously, this – I believe the President will meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu this week. I’m not sure what additional meetings that Secretary Kerry may have with Israeli officials. I don’t have that in front of me. Thanks.
Anything else, or are we —
QUESTION: I just – can I follow up with that?
MR TONER: Of course. Last question now. I’m keeping Sheba here. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Secretary of State Kerry, he led eight months’ attempt —
MR TONER: He did.
QUESTION: — to get back the talks on track, and he failed. And from your remarks, you seem to put the blame on both equally. There is one occupied and one is occupier. How could the blame be divided equally?
MR TONER: So first of all, you said that he failed. On the contrary, I would say that it was a failure for the two parties to want to resolve this. And that’s ultimately where we come down on this is, there is a way forward here, but it will require both parties to want to take the steps necessary to get there. We, the United States and our other partners, stand ready to help them get there, but ultimately this is a matter of the two parties wanting to get there.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CROCKER: Thank you.