Briefing with Bureau of International Organization Affairs Senior Official Erica Barks-Ruggles On U.S. Participation at the 76th UN General Assembly

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Briefing with Bureau of International Organization Affairs Senior Official Erica Barks-Ruggles On U.S. Participation at the 76th UN General Assembly

The USA,20 September 2021

Ambassador Erica Barks-Ruggles, Senior Bureau OfficialBureau of International Organization Affairs

Via Teleconference

MR PRICE: Good morning, everyone, and thanks very much for joining this call. We wanted to take the opportunity to preview for you Secretary Blinken’s engagements at the UN General Assembly High-Level Week, over the next few days. As you know, we’ll be traveling to New York this afternoon, and we’ll remain there for much of the week. We have with us on the call Erica – Erica Barks-Ruggles. She is the senior bureau official in our Bureau of International Organization Affairs. She will have some opening remarks at the top, and then we’ll look forward to taking your questions. Just a reminder, this call is on the record, but it is embargoed until the conclusion of the call. So, with that, I will turn it over to Erica. Please go ahead.

MS BARKS-RUGGLES: Good morning and thanks, Ned.

As everybody knows, Secretary Blinken will travel today to attend the 76th session of the UN General Assembly, or UNGA as it is otherwise known – the High-Level Week.

Tomorrow, the Secretary will attend President Biden’s address to the General Assembly. He’ll also participate in several bilateral and multilateral meetings. Secretary Blinken is expected to participate in the virtual COVID-19 summit that will be hosted by the White House on Wednesday. Also, on Wednesday, he will attend a G20 meeting on Afghanistan, and he is scheduled to meet with his P5 counterparts. Finally, I’d like to highlight the Secretary’s participation in the UN Security Council event on climate and security, scheduled for Thursday. He plans to return to Washington on Thursday evening.

As you know, High-Level Week will look very different this year given the ongoing pandemic. The safety of the UNGA participants, U.S. personnel, and the City of New York are our top priority. Our delegation will be small, and we have worked closely with the UN, the CDC, and New York City to put strong COVID mitigation practices in place.

As defeating COVID-19 is the highest priority for the United States, it is also a top priority of ours during the UN General Assembly. The United States is the largest bilateral donor of global health assistance and is well positioned to lead the conversation on COVID-19 response globally. We are building a global coalition to accelerate vaccine production and expand access to lifesaving treatments around the world. We look forward to working with our international partners to end this pandemic and advance global health security for the future.

Also, at UNGA, we will be focusing on urging the international community to make ambitious commitments to combat climate change. The United States is leading by example. We are committed to significantly reducing emissions and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, as has been previously announced. We will be strongly encouraging other countries to commit to keeping the goal – keeping to the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The U.S. is strengthening its efforts under the Paris Agreement, and demonstrating that climate action equals new jobs, opportunities, and economic growth.

Finally, the U.S. will also be focusing on using its platform at the UN General Assembly to voice support for human rights, democratic values, and the rules-based international system. We will be stressing our commitment to building a more perfect union at home as we dismantle systemic racism, combat the rise of domestic terrorism, fight inequality, and promote values-based immigration reform. Defending these values at home and around the world is essential to our national strength, and advancing our interests globally. With that, I’ll close and take your questions.

MR PRICE: Great. Thanks very much. Operator, if you want to repeat the instructions for asking a question.

OPERATOR: Certainly, and once again, for any questions or comments, you may press 1 and then 0 to queue up for your question – 1 and then 0. To allow your full question to be heard, please wait for me to announce that your line is open before you begin speaking. Once again, it’s 1 and then 0 for your questions or comments.

MR PRICE: We’ll start with the line of Francesco Fontemaggi.

OPERATOR: One moment. Francesco, your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you. Good morning. I wanted to ask – you mentioned several bilaterals. I wanted to ask you if there is a bilateral meeting previewed with the French foreign minister after the crisis of the – that erupted last week, and what would be the message to the French which – who for now are not pleased with the – with any of what they have heard. And they are still asking for a redefinition of the relationship. Thank you.

MS BARKS-RUGGLES: Great. Thank you for that question. As has been said by the Secretary and others in the administration, France is our longest ally, our longest friend and partner, and continues to be an extremely valuable ally across a huge range of issues. We will obviously be seeing the French as part of the P5 meeting, and we anticipate that the schedule will remain dynamic as it always does up at UNGA as we work to – to schedule bilateral, multilateral meetings.

MR PRICE: We’ll go to the line of Humeyra Pamuk.

OPERATOR: One moment. And Humeyra, your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks. Thanks for doing this. I just want to follow up on Francesco’s question a little bit more. When you say the agenda is dynamic – and I understand and appreciate that – can you say the United States has sought an appointment or, like, a bilateral meeting with the French foreign minister? And what would the message be in that meeting?

And super quickly, I just want to ask you about COVID vaccine inequity. This is going to be a theme across the week, and what is the U.S. message given that COVAX is, like, lagging way behind its target? Is the U.S. going to try to pledge more or is it going to try to ask the rest of the world to do more? What is the strategy there? Thank you.

MS BARKS-RUGGLES: Great, thanks for those two questions. On the first one, obviously, schedule being dynamic means just that. I think all of you are aware how crazy UNGA schedules can get, and we’re continuing to work on the schedule, and anticipate that it will be changing on a daily basis. And I think I’ve already spoken a bit to the message that we’ll be talking about with the French – the long friendship we have with them, to serious need to work together on a huge range of global issues from climate change to COVID, to the transatlantic partnership, as well as a huge range of security issues around the world.

On COVID and inequity, what we are looking for with the COVID summit is to try and create a bigger tent, rallying civil society, NGOs, philanthropists, and other government, as well as industry, to try and really put an end to this pandemic – really looking at how do we do this faster, how do we accelerate our efforts, how do we have greater ambition to get vaccines into arms quickly. And we understand that this has got to be an ongoing effort, so this is going to be – this isn’t a one-off. This is a continuation of a series of events that’s been going on since April, and it will continue with meetings at heads of state level, at the G7, at the World Health Assembly, and at the G20 summit, trying to, at every opportunity, push hard to get to the end of this pandemic.

We are already the leading supplier of both vaccines, and the leading contributor to COVAX. And we’re fully committed to increasing our ambition as we go forward. What we’re trying to do is also make sure, though, that we are looking at the equity piece, because we do understand that this has not been spread around equally. The Delta variant has been ravaging countries across the world, but even more so in places where people are less vaccinated. And so, what we’ve got to do is make sure that all of us are keeping our pledges. The U.S. has already shipped more than 140 million doses to date. We’ve committed to more – sending another 560 million on top of that, and sharing with – through COVAX, without strings attached, to make sure that these doses are going where they’re most desperately needed.

We are pushing others to do the same – to increase the number of doses they’re sharing, to increase their support for COVAX to make sure that we can get shots into arms quickly. So that’s part of the whole point of doing this is to make sure that we get after that. As the President has said, and as the Secretary, has said, these variants are going to continue if we don’t get on this, and so none of us are safe, really, until all of us are vaccinated.

MR PRICE: Go to Michele Kelemen.

OPERATOR: One moment. And Michele, your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. You mentioned the G20 meeting on Afghanistan, but I saw in another schedule that there’s a ministerial on Afghanistan on Tuesday. Is the U.S. taking part in that? What role does the U.S. want to see the UN play in Afghanistan now? And are there any plans for the Secretary to meet Iran’s new foreign minister who’s there? If not, why not?

MS BARKS-RUGGLES: Great, yes. So, the ministerial on Afghanistan, yes, the U.S. is going to be taking part in that, is my understanding. And as far as the UN role, I think we’ve talked about this before. We are very, very committed to making sure that the UN and NGO partners are able to continue to deliver humanitarian assistance, lifesaving food, medical help, as well as to work – continue vital work on ensuring human rights are respected, including, importantly, the rights of women, children, and minorities. We are working very closely with the UN, as they are continuing their presence on the ground, to make sure that they are able to deliver food and that they can pre-position food and medicine before winter as well.

And we anticipate that that will be part of the discussion, as we go forward, but also working with others both in the region and globally on how we can ensure that the Taliban live up to the commitments that they have made of ensuring that Afghanistan is not used ever again as a support base for terrorism; that they are living up to their commitments for humanitarian access, to allow those who wish to leave Afghanistan, including foreign nationals and Afghans, to do so, and that they are respecting the rights of women, children, and minorities. So, we very much anticipate that all those will be part of the discussion.

As far as Iran goes, we remain committed to the path that we have been pursuing of meaningful diplomacy to achieve a mutual return to compliance of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and the administration will continue to consult with the P5+1 on these issues as well as other friends and allies in the region. On these issues, up in New York, we have been continuing to hold those talks, as you are aware, with Special Envoy Rob Malley. And we anticipate that that will continue to be the Vienna format.

MR PRICE: We’ll go to Jennifer Hansler.

OPERATOR: And Jennifer, your line is open.

MR PRICE: Jenny, you may be on mute. We’ve got you now.

QUESTION: Hi. Sorry. Can you hear me now?

MR PRICE: Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. I just wanted to follow up on Michele’s question. Yes or no, will the Secretary be meeting with the Iranian foreign minister? Thanks.

MS BARKS-RUGGLES: As I said, we anticipate that our discussions will continue in the Vienna format.

MR PRICE: We’ll go to Nick Wadhams.

QUESTION: Hi, can you hear me?

OPERATOR: Your line is open, Nick.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you. I just wanted to follow up from a couple of questions at the beginning. Understanding that schedules are dynamic, the Secretary does already have a series of bilats on his agenda. Is the Secretary seeking a bilateral with the French foreign minister? Thanks.

MS BARKS-RUGGLES: Sorry, I got a bit of a garble there. I got, “Is the Secretary,” and then I missed the last bit of the question, which I think was essential.

QUESTION: Is he seeking a bilateral with the French foreign minister?

MS BARKS-RUGGLES: I don’t think it’s useful for me to get into a discussion about the back and forth on scheduling opportunities. I think the Secretary’s schedule where it’s set right now is where it is, but that will continue to change over time. As I said, we will be seeing the French in the P5 format, and we look forward to having discussions with them there, as well as discussions at other levels will obviously continue.

MR PRICE: Go to John Hudson.

OPERATOR: One moment. And John, your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks. When it comes to the lifting of the travel ban, is that as a result of trying to make good on the promises of the sort of restoring alliances after the sort of setbacks when it comes to the nuke agreement? Can you just talk a little bit about the context?

MS BARKS-RUGGLES: So, for those of you who aren’t following this closely or haven’t seen it yet this morning, John is referring to the 212(f) travel restrictions. The announcement from the White House this morning that they’ll be lifting those restrictions for – that were due to the COVID pandemic. There’s going to be more that they’re going to be releasing on this, but this is really driven by the science of COVID. And as more people are being vaccinated around the world, we of course want people to be able to travel more freely. And that’s – we’re really always being driven by the science, and we continue to do that. And as I said, there’ll be more from the White House on the specifics of this as we go through the day today.

MR PRICE: Go to Hyeongjoo Park from VOA.

OPERATOR: One moment. And pardon me, that name again.

MR PRICE: It is Hyeongjoo Park.

OPERATOR: Okay, thank you. Hyeong, your line is open. Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, my question is about North Korea. As you know, the IAEA chief Rafael Grossi is having a speech to annual meeting of IAEA today that North Korea nuclear program is going full steam ahead – not only plutonium, but also uranium enrichment. And it just come after the closed meeting at the UN Security Council last week, where some of the member states condemned the recent short ballistic missile test by DPRK, which is the violation of the UN Security Council resolution. So, I’m just wondering if it – there would be any message from the Biden administration to North Korea during UN Assembly. If so, what would it be?

MS BARKS-RUGGLES: Yeah, the United States continues – sorry, I’m getting a huge echo. The United States has condemned the DPRK’s missile launch, as you noted. And we have had a robust statement on that – being in violation of Security Council resolutions, as well as the threat that it poses to the North Koreans’ neighbors, members of the international community, and obviously our close allies in the region.

We remain absolutely committed to a diplomatic approach to the North Koreans and have called on them to engage in dialogue. And we will continue to do that. We have also made it quite clear that our commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan remains absolutely ironclad. Our sanctions and the UN sanctions remain in place, and we will continue to enforce them, and urge others to enforce them robustly.

We are – we’ve said repeatedly that we’re prepared to meet with the North Koreans without preconditions, and we would hope that they would respond positively on this, but sadly, to date, they have not.

MR PRICE: We’ll go to Michel Ghandour.

OPERATOR: And Michel, your line is open.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you. You said that you are committed to the talks with Iran under Vienna format. Do you have any specific date to return to the talks there? And is this format still alive, do you think?

MS BARKS-RUGGLES: I do not have any specific dates on that, and I would leave that to our – to Special Envoy Malley. I know that we have said that we are ready to return, and we are hopeful to hear from the Iranians soon.

MR PRICE: We’ll take a couple final questions here. We’ll go to James Martone.

OPERATOR: James, your line is open.

QUESTION: So – hi, thank you very much. In Secretary Blinken’s talks, you said he’ll be involved in the ministerial meetings on Afghanistan. Will there be any specific talk regarding fears or commitments by the Taliban to not allow Afghanistan to be used as a safe haven for terrorism, in particular with regards to Qaida and other groups?

MS BARKS-RUGGLES: Yeah, we anticipate that that will be a large part but not the only part of the discussions that we’ll be having with a number of countries, but as well in the P5 format, talking about their commitment to not allow Afghan soil to be used by ISIS, by al-Qaida, by other terrorist groups to threaten the security of the United States, our friends, our allies, or other countries in the region. That has been something that we have been emphasizing with them from the very, very, very beginning.

The Secretary’s been clear that we all have to remain vigilant, and we have to monitor threats coming out of Afghanistan, especially any re-emergence of any possible terrorist threat from Afghanistan. And so, we anticipate that that will be a significant portion of the discussion. It won’t be the only piece, obviously, because there are other commitments that we also want them to uphold, as I’ve outlined, on their human rights commitments, especially regarding the rights of women, children, and minorities; humanitarian access commitments that they have made as well as allowing those who wish to leave Afghanistan to leave Afghanistan. So, those will be all very robustly discussed over the course of a whole series of meetings up in New York.

MR PRICE: Nike Ching, please.

OPERATOR: Nike, your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you so much. Thank you so much for this call. Just to follow up on North Korea, you just mentioned U.S. will meet with the North Korean officials without preconditions. Can we rule out any interaction and side meetings with the North Korean representative at the UN?

And do you – and separately, does Secretary Blinken have any side meetings scheduled with Chinese officials during UNGA? Thank you very much.

Oh, by the way – I’m sorry – can you talk about the meeting with the Korean – Republic of Korean and Japan officials? And do you see a return to Six-Party Talks, as some media reports are indicating? Thank you.

MS BARKS-RUGGLES: Great. Okay, so I think I got a series of four questions. So, on North Korea, as I said, we have stated repeatedly that we are prepared to meet with the DPRK, without preconditions. We had hoped that they would respond positively to our outreach on that; to date they have not yet done so.

As far as meeting with the Chinese delegation, I believe that the Chinese are going to be mostly attending virtually over UNGA, so we will be seeing them in a series of multilateral meetings. I do not have a virtual bilat on the schedule at this point; that doesn’t mean it might not pop up later. But at this point, I believe that the Secretary’s counterpart is not coming in person.

There is a meeting scheduled – your third question – with the Republic of Korea and Japan, and we are very much looking forward to that meeting to discuss a whole host of regional security issues, including, of course, North Korea. And we anticipate having a good discussion with both countries and the three of us together. We don’t have anything to announce about Six-Party Talks at this point.

MR PRICE: And we’ll take a final question from Missy Ryan.

OPERATOR: Missy, your line is open.

QUESTION: Thanks. Sorry if I – if this was asked, but I’m just wondering what the message will be from – during the bilat with the Egyptian foreign minister, given the recent decision on the security aid and some of the criticism that there has been from human rights groups about that. Thanks.

MS BARKS-RUGGLES: Yeah, obviously, we have a whole lot of issues to discuss with the Egyptians, which we look forward to that meeting, including regional security issues, including bilateral issues, as well as Africa issues, including the GERD and the situation in Ethiopia, which is obviously concerning to all of us. So, we anticipate having a fairly full agenda with them and having a range of issues come up, including some of those that you have discussed.

MR PRICE: Great. That concludes today’s call. I want to thank our speaker again, Senior Bureau Official for our Bureau of International Organization Affairs Erica Barks-Ruggles. Thanks to everyone for tuning in and we’ll see many of you in New York. Thanks very much.

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