Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs Sheba Crocker On U.S. Priorities During the 71st Session of the UN General Assembly

MR TONER: Hello everybody. Happy Tuesday, and welcome to the State Department.

QUESTION: Only Tuesday?

MR TONER: It is only Tuesday, regrettably, Matt. But anyway, wanted to start off today – as everyone knows, many of you anticipate, next week the world’s attention focuses on the UN General Assembly, which begins this weekend in New York City. So we thought it would be useful to have the Assistant Secretary for International Organizations Affairs Sheba Crocker come and talk a little bit about what our priorities are, what we expect the Secretary to do – with the caveat that we don’t know what his bilat schedule will be yet, and we’ll certainly inform you as that takes shape – and what the general priorities are for our week or two up at the UN General Assembly.

So without further ado – and she’ll be able to take one or two of your questions after she makes a brief statement. So without further ado, Sheba. Sheba. Sorry.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CROCKER: Well, good afternoon everyone. And as Mark said and I know you are all aware, we are approaching high-level week of the UN General Assembly’s 71st session, which is notable, as it always is for many reasons, but this year especially because of the fact that it will be President Obama’s last UN General Assembly as well as the last for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

In keeping with the President’s determination for the past eight years to use this unique diplomatic environment of UNGA to maximum positive effect, this year, as we have done in the past, will feature events and activities designed to advance key U.S. multilateral objectives. You may recall that last year’s UN General Assembly featured activities that the U.S. participated in and led that resulted in significant new commitments to UN peacekeeping, that strengthened the range of allies and actions to counter ISIL and violent extremism, that launched ambitious new development goals, and that significantly advanced the climate change negotiations.

This year, we are focusing on three topline priorities as we head into the UN General Assembly: humanitarian response, peace and security, and countering terrorism and violent extremism. In addition, the United States will also move forward with UN member-states on a number of other issues of continuing importance, including, again, climate change, sustainable development, human rights, nuclear disarmament, and UN reform.

Of course, as Mark noted, Secretary Kerry’s schedule is evolving by the minute, so for today I will speak briefly about the key events that are already confirmed and that reflect the Secretary’s priorities for high-level week in New York.

At present, we expect the Secretary to arrive in New York on Saturday the 17th of September. On Sunday the 18th, his first official event will be to represent the United States at a ministerial meeting on the Global Demining Initiative for Colombia, where participants will announce concrete pledges to humanitarian mine action and to help Colombia rid itself of land mines by 2021.

Later that same afternoon, on September 18th, he will attend the Social Good Summit, where global leaders and grassroots activists will discuss the impact of technology and new media on social good initiatives around the world.

On the morning of Monday the 19th, the Secretary is currently slated to hold a series of bilateral meetings, and in the afternoon he will deliver remarks on behalf of the United States at the General Assembly’s High-Level Plenary on Refugees and Migrants. And this event precedes and complements the President’s Leaders’ Summit on Refugees, which takes place the next day.

On Tuesday morning, the 20th of September, President Obama will make his eighth and final speech to the General Assembly, and the Secretary will obviously be present for that and will also join the President that same day during the President’s meetings with the General Assembly president and with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The Secretary will also join President Obama on the 20th of September at the annual lunch hosted by the secretary-general for heads of delegation – delegations. And that same afternoon – again, September 20th – the Secretary will join the President for his Leaders’ Summit on Refugees, which will be cohosted by the secretary-general and by the heads of state or delegations from Canada, Ethiopia, Germany, Jordan, Sweden, and Mexico.

You’re all fully aware, I know, of the scope and scale of the global refugee crisis. And the President’s summit responds not just to the headlines of yesterday and today but to the broader and enduring strains on the humanitarian system. We expect that the summit will result in significant new, sustained commitments to UN humanitarian appeals, expanded refugee resettlement programs or alternative legal pathways for admission, and new opportunities for refugees and their host communities to benefit from improved refugee access to education and to legal employment.

On the morning of Wednesday, September 21st, the Secretary will attend an event hosted by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon 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 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 this year.

Later that morning, the Secretary will attend a Security Council session focused on Syria that has been called by New Zealand, which is the Security Council president for the month of September. In the afternoon, also on September 20th – 21st rather, the Secretary will attend the second 2016 U.S.-Africa Business Forum, which is cohosted by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the U.S. Department of Commerce and will focus on trade and investment opportunities on the African continent.

On the morning of Thursday, September 22nd, that morning will begin with a ministerial event on Libya that the Secretary will cohost with his Italian counterpart. And the Secretary will then give remarks at the U.S. and Croatia cohosted meeting of the Equal Futures Partnership. The event will celebrate the achievements of the partnership, which is an innovative multilateral initiative launched by President Obama at the General Assembly five years ago, which supports increased women’s economic and political participation.

Later that day, the Secretary will host the Coalition to Secure Ambition, an event focused on concrete action to advance the goals of the Montreal Protocol, which since 1987 has helped protect the ozone layer by phasing out ozone-depleting substances. That evening – so this is Thursday, September 22nd – the Secretary will host the annual Transatlantic Dinner for his EU counterparts, NATO allies, and other European partners.

And that then brings us to Friday, September 23rd. In the morning, the Secretary will host a special foreign ministers session of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, where the dialogue will continue on concrete initiatives and joint ventures that increase access to clean energy while cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Throughout the week, as Mark noted, the Secretary will also attend a series of other meetings and bilaterals that are yet to be confirmed. So that gives you a glimpse of how this year’s UNGA schedule is shaping up. And we will keep you updated as additional events are confirmed.

MR TONER: Thanks. Just a few questions. I think we have time for —

QUESTION: Well, I just have one, and it’s very quick —

MR TONER: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: — and it’s just logistical. There are no bilats that are confirmed?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CROCKER: Correct. At this time none that we can confirm.

QUESTION: Not a single one?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CROCKER: Not a single one that we can confirm at this time.

QUESTION: I find that extremely hard to believe, but okay.

MR TONER: Okay. Said, go ahead. And then —

QUESTION: Very quickly, you mentioned a lot of meetings for the Secretary. Is he holding any bilateral or trilateral meetings on the Mideast peace process?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CROCKER: There are none that we can confirm at this time. And as meetings get put on or things solidify, we will keep you updated.

QUESTION: Is it likely to happen?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CROCKER: We can’t say at this point, because we don’t have any confirmation of how those meetings are shaping up. But if you look at the schedule of past UNGAs, I think you will see that there are generally meetings on this topic. And so we will just keep you updated as things get confirmed.

QUESTION: A question on a trilat. (Laughter.) The India-Afghanistan-U.S. trilat that the Secretary announced in Delhi – any idea on when that could take place?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CROCKER: I don’t have an idea at this point, so when we get some confirmation around that, we will let you know.

QUESTION: But it’s still going ahead or —

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CROCKER: I don’t have any information about it today, so we’ll have to come back to you.

QUESTION: It’s been announced. It’s the 21st.

MR TONER: I think that’s a target date, but again, we don’t have anything to confirm at this point.

Please, James.

QUESTION: Is – would it be safe to say that any interactions between the U.S. delegation and Iran’s delegation would take place, quote/unquote, “on the sidelines” of activity? In other words, the fact that the nuclear deal has been implemented or is being implemented, it does not put U.S.-Iran questions, such as I’m asking, into the category of the other questions about bilats, correct?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CROCKER: At this stage, we have nothing to say about any possible meetings that may be taking place between the Secretary and his counterparts. And I want to just make clear that I am talking today about things that have been confirmed for the Secretary’s schedule. And so although there have been potential announcements about other meetings that are taking place, of which there will many, the focus of today is on what the Secretary has currently confirmed, in terms of his schedule.

QUESTION: But in other words, if there were any interaction whatsoever, it wouldn’t fall under the category of a bilat, because there’s no diplomatic relations, right? So it would be on the sidelines if anything occurred. Is that —

MR TONER: I mean, certainly he’s had quote/unquote “bilateral” meetings with Foreign Minister Zarif in the past. We just don’t have anything to confirm at this point, in the broader sense of the term “bilateral,” which is a meeting between two countries, even despite the lack of diplomatic relations.

Michele in the back and then —

QUESTION: Would you talk about – you mentioned this climate meeting and Ban Ki-moon’s goal of getting enough countries to sign up. Can you tell me what role the U.S. is playing? Are you helping him achieve that goal? And what are you looking towards for that meeting?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CROCKER: So, I mean, I think the big thing to announce on that front was obviously our own announcement with China on the 3rd of September that we will be joining the agreement this year. But in the meantime, the Secretary and numerous other U.S. Government officials are talking all the time to other counterparts in other governments to try to encourage other countries to sign up this year, so that hopefully the agreement will come into force this year. And the aim of the meeting that the secretary general will host is also to try to solidify that process and solidify getting to the number of countries that are needed for the agreement to enter into force this year and to encourage countries to do that. But yes, we are engaged in that activity as the United States as well.

QUESTION: But given the U.S. elections this year and the possibility that the next president may not want to be part of this, are you worried that the UN’s trying to tie the hands of the next president or are you helping them push this through before elections?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CROCKER: The United States – we’ve stated that we look forward to the agreement entering into force this year and that is the goal of the meeting that the Secretary will be attending, which will hopefully be to put some momentum behind that this year.

MR TONER: I apologize. I think one more question, Ros.

QUESTION: Sure. The Security Council session on Wednesday on Syria, is that an opportunity for the Secretary and the Russian foreign minister to provide an update on the efforts to try to bring some sort of calm back to that country? Is this an opportunity to discuss perhaps some sort of effort to try to broker an eventual peace accord? What’s the frame for the meeting?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CROCKER: I think it’s too early to tell. I know you heard a lot from the Secretary yesterday from this podium about what’s going on with the discussions with the Russians and the agreement that was reached. And it’s too early to preview at this point, given that things are sort of fast moving, as to exactly how that will shape up. It is something that just got put on the schedule last week and that the Secretary has confirmed that he will attend and certainly will give him an opportunity at that point that we will hear from all of the council members, including, obviously, the United States and Russia.

MR TONER: Great. I think we’re going to have to stop there, I apologize. Thank you so much, Sheba, for doing this. I appreciate it.


QUESTION: Thank you.

Source: U.S. State Department.