Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs Sheba Crocker on U.S. Priorities During the 70th Session of the UN General Assembl

Special Briefing
Bathsheba Nell Crocker
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Organization Affairs
Washington, DC
September 24, 2015


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MR KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. We are going to start today’s press conference with a special guest. I’m going to bring up here the Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs Sheba Crocker. She’s going to run through for you a preview of our priorities and multilateral agenda at the UN General Assembly, which, as you know, begins next week. The Secretary will be going up this weekend and he’s very much looking forward to that. At the end of her presentation, the assistant secretary will have time for a couple of questions. I’ll moderate those for you, I’ll call on you, and then after that we’ll resume with the regular daily briefing with me up here.

With that, ma’am.

Portrait of Nell CrockerASSISTANT SECRETARY CROCKER: Thanks, John. Well, I think as you all know, we are approaching High-Level Week, as it’s called, of the UN General Assembly, which is the week annually that kicks off the meetings of the UN General Assembly, fondly known as UNGA. And we’re structuring our engagement this year to focus on four overarching objectives: renewed commitment to UN peacekeeping, expanding efforts to counter ISIL and violent extremism, climate change, and sustainable development. And in addition, much of our engagement this year will be focused on addressing the political and humanitarian aspects of the Syria crisis, including the refugee crisis.

So today, as John noted, I will speak briefly about key events that are confirmed and that reflect our focus on these four overarching priorities and also on Syria, leaving aside the many bilateral engagements that will also occur throughout the course of the week. At this juncture, we are anticipating that the Secretary will travel up to New York on Friday evening, the 25th of September, and his first official multilateral event will occur on Saturday afternoon, when he will participate in a high-level event on Afghanistan that is co-hosted by the United States, China, and Afghanistan, and is focused on strengthening regional cooperation.

On Sunday morning, September 27th, the Secretary will represent the United States at a ministerial meeting of the Global Counterterrorism Forum, which is an informal platform launched in 2011 to strengthen cooperation on counterterrorism efforts. The forum is co-chaired by the United States and Turkey, and among other things the meeting is expected to focus on new initiatives to address threats posed by foreign terrorist fighters.

On Sunday afternoon, the Secretary will join the President at the closing plenary of the UN Sustainable Development Summit. The Summit will mark the launch of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which is an ambitious, inclusive development framework that serves as the successor to the Millennium Development Goals.

On the morning of Monday, September 28th, which is the official launch of High-Level Week, the President makes his annual speech to the General Assembly, and the Secretary will also be present for that, as well as the President’s meetings with the president of the general assembly and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. After the annual lunch hosted by the UN secretary-general for heads of state, the Secretary will join the President at the Leaders’ Summit on Peacekeeping, which will be co-hosted by the United States, the UN secretary-general, and eight other member-states.

And I want to take just a moment on the summit, because it, among other things, is the culmination of an effort that was launched last year by Vice President Biden at UNGA, and it has been a central focus of the Administration’s efforts over the succeeding year. Our diplomats have logged thousands of miles, and there has been intensive outreach from Washington, from our mission in New York, and by our ambassadors around the world in advance of the summit.

Our intense focus is rooted in recognition of the fact that the need for nimble, effective UN peace operations has never been greater. There are over 120,000 UN peacekeepers serving in 16 missions around the world and operating often in exceedingly difficult circumstances. The United States proposed this summit and has been engaged in outreach to the widest range of UN member states to encourage significant new commitments to expand the pool of resources available to peacekeeping operations. We expect some 50 participating nations to join us at the summit, and we anticipate announcements of significant commitments coming in categories such as aviation, infantry, police, and other mission support. The President will also be making an announcement at the summit aligned to our particular capabilities and in keeping with our longstanding commitment to UN peacekeeping, so I encourage you to tune in on Monday afternoon for that announcement.

The morning of Tuesday, September 29th, features the U.S.-hosted Leaders’ Summit on Countering ISIL and Violent Extremism. The summit underscores a central theme and focus of last year’s UNGA and is a follow-on to the February White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism.

That afternoon – Tuesday afternoon – the Secretary will join his P5 counterparts and Ambassador Power for lunch with the secretary-general to discuss headline issues, including conflicts across the Middle East and Africa. And later that day, the Secretary will host a meeting of the Major Economies Forum on Climate and Energy, which is intended to encourage participating nations to build a sense of common cause in the lead-up to this December’s pivotal meeting in Paris of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

That evening – Tuesday evening – the Secretary and his G7 counterparts will discuss refugee and humanitarian issues. While I don’t yet have a specific preview of the agenda for that meeting, I will note that these issues are obviously at the top of many of next week’s meeting agendas, and it’s a useful reminder of UNGA’s diplomatic utility, as it very much was in the context of Ebola last year.

On Wednesday, September 30th, there will be a meeting between the Secretary and ASEAN foreign ministers to discuss issues of mutual concern. That same morning, the Secretary will join his counterparts from the Gulf states for the fifth meeting of the U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council Strategic Cooperation Forum. You will recall that the President hosted GCC heads of state at Camp David in May of this year, and that meeting will serve as an important reference point.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Secretary will participate in an event hosted by the secretary-general, again with the focus on refugees, looking at the question of migration and refugees in the context of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. That evening, the Secretary will host the traditional Trans-Atlantic Dinner for his EU counterparts, NATO allies, and other European partners.

And we then get to Thursday, October 1st. The Secretary will co-host a ministerial event with the Swedish foreign minister associated with the Call to Action to End Violence Against Women and Girls in Emergencies. That afternoon, the Secretary will attend a meeting of the Community of Democracies which will include a discussion on the connection between democracy and security.

And Friday, October 2nd we anticipate will be a full day of bilateral meetings and press events, and at this point we are expecting that the Secretary will depart New York on Friday late afternoon or early evening.

And with that, I’m happy to take a couple of questions.

MR KIRBY: Let’s start with you, Brad.

QUESTION: What do you hope will be the result of the various discussions on Syria? And then just a comment on stories that are out today saying that the U.S. won’t negotiate with Russia on a Russian draft resolution or draft Security Council statement concerning Russia.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CROCKER: So we’re hoping to use the meetings at UNGA, both in multilateral setting and bilateral setting, to take advantage of the fact, first of all, that the right confluence of players will be in New York in various configurations next week. So we’re hoping to make – to sort of advance discussions both on the political crisis and the ongoing conflict, the roiling conflict in Syria, which obviously remains at the top of the agenda for the Secretary and all of the U.S. principals who will be there, but also to focus in on the humanitarian crisis and the ensuing refugee crisis that we’ve seen as the result of the conflict and the humanitarian emergency. And so as I noted, there will be a number of bilateral events with a particular focus, I think, on the humanitarian pieces of that, looking at everything from questions around refugee resettlement numbers to closing the financing gap that the UN humanitarian agencies are facing not only in Syria but, frankly, around the world, because the UN humanitarian agencies are under just exceedingly just an enormous amount of stress right now because we have so many ongoing high-level humanitarian crises.

On the question of the text, the Russia PRST that you asked, we have informed Russia that we do not support a council presidential statement on the matter in advance of their Security Council ministerial. We have concerns that a council presidential statement could be perceived as endorsing an approach that could set back efforts to reach a negotiated political transition in Syria and is at significant variance with the ongoing efforts of a coalition of more than 60 countries, including all of Syria’s neighbors, to counter ISIL.

QUESTION: And then just a real quick follow-up. You mentioned – on the first part you mentioned you were looking to advance discussions. Concretely, would you hope – do you still hope for some sort of Security Council action on Syria, whether it’s in the form of a resolution, a statement of some sort, whether it’s Russian-led or not? And on the refugee numbers, are you looking for some sort of – and the funding – some sort of binding commitments out of these next days of talks?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CROCKER: So I mean, I think we will have to see how the week unfolds with respect to this – any questions around specific products. It is not anticipated at this time that there will be a specific council product necessarily on Syria. I think what is anticipated that in various bilateral configurations as well as in these multilateral meetings that there will be different opportunities to have conversations at very high level, including by the Secretary himself, who has made clear that this is going to be an intensive focus for him over the course of this week, to see if we can really at least get discussions around the political transition process, the Geneva communique, et cetera, back on track.

And I’m sorry; I’ve lost the second part of your question.

QUESTION: Oh. And then again it was a similar question on funding and refugee numbers, whether —

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CROCKER: Right. So again, I don’t have a specific agenda yet for the G7 meeting that I mentioned, but the question of closing the humanitarian finance gap and refugee resettlement numbers I am sure will be part of the agenda for that meeting. And I think it would be the hope, as it often is when we try to take advantage of these multilateral opportunities, that countries would come forward and make commitments, in particular around those two questions. But we will have to come back to you as specifics develop about what that meeting will look like.

MR KIRBY: Okay, this will be just the last one.

QUESTION: Very quickly, is the Secretary planning to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday or Sunday?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CROCKER: I am not in a position yet to confirm any of the bilateral meetings or when they might occur, although I do anticipate, I think, that pretty soon coming in your inbox will be the schedule, the fuller schedule of the Secretary, and it should include some details around the bilateral meetings. But as with all things UNGA-related, the schedule morphs up until the very last day, and so I do expect that we will continue to see some changes. But as I noted, I think the schedule that will indicate some of the confirmed bilateral meetings should be coming out very shortly, in the next few minutes.

QUESTION: One more?

MR KIRBY: No, I’m afraid we’re going to have to let the assistant secretary go, and I’ll take them for you. Thank you very much. We appreciate that.