NEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, 799 UNITED NATIONS PLAZA, 10TH FLOOR
MODERATOR: Welcome to the Foreign Press Center’s videoconference briefing with Ambassador Kelly Craft, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations. Please keep your microphone muted until you are called on to ask a question. If you have technical problems during this briefing, you can use the chat feature and we will try to assist you. As a reminder of today’s ground rules, this briefing is on the record. We will share a transcript and a video following this briefing.
Ambassador, over to you. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR CRAFT: Thank you, Katie, and thank you for organizing today, and thank you everybody for joining us. I feel like we’re all in each other’s living rooms, so this is quite an unusual time and it’s worked for everyone, and so I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish both with interviews and also within the Security Council. And one of the themes I wanted to talk about today was just how we have been able to change so quickly from meeting in the council to being able to have our meetings and be very effective with our online and our VTCs.
And obviously, everyone knows that when I arrived, one of my first objectives was talking about the credibility within the Security Council, and there’s no better time to talk about it than during a time where we’re voting on saving millions of lives in Syria, so we will discuss that also. And just discussing the narrow and cynical goals of Russia and China and how they are using the Syrian people, really politicizing them in order to prop up the Assad regime.
And that’s another issue that I’d like to talk about also. And just the dishonesty of this entire campaign around the Assad regime and why – and why they can take care of their own people when we know very well that they’re not. I’ve been to the Syrian border, I visited Turkey, and I have seen the way – what can work when a president like President Erdogan takes care of the refugees, and I’m anxious to be able to discuss this.
And then obviously, we can talk about the People’s Republic of China, we can talk about General Secretary Xi and their abuse of the Uyghurs, their abuse of Africans, their abuse of the Tibetans, the situation in Hong Kong.
We have a lot to talk about and only 30 minutes, so I’m going to – would rather have the questions from each of you, and thank you all – who all has joined us today. I really appreciate this and I’m excited to be able to engage in some conversation, so back to you, Katie.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador. Our first question comes from – if – she’d like to offer a question, Hadil Oueis from the North Press Agency of Syria. If you have a – if you would like to ask your question now, we can unmute you.
QUESTION: Yes, hello. Thank you so much, Ambassador. My question is that one-third of Syria, which is under the control of SDF, South – SDF, Syrian Democratic Council, their political body – Syrian Democratic Council is not represented in Geneva talks until now. They don’t have any representation. Do you have any recommendations to involve the people of Northeast Syria under the control of SDF in Geneva talks?
AMBASSADOR CRAFT: That’s a great question, and our policy, the U.S. policy has been very consistent and clear on representation. And we have been focused, as you well know, on a Syria-owned and a Syria-led political process, and this is in accordance with the UNSCR, the UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which means we want full representation for all Syrians in order to achieve the political, in order to achieve unity in Syria. So thank you for bringing this up. I think it’s very important that we have representation from all the bodies, especially the SDF.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR CRAFT: You’re welcome.
MODERATOR: Thank you. And for those of you joining via the Zoom app, you can click your raise hand button at the bottom of the participant list to indicate you have a question. You can also use the chat feature. And then we will also take – I believe we have one person on the phone – we can also potentially take a question after we finish with the folks on Zoom. So we’ll give everyone a chance to indicate.
So the raise hand feature is at the bottom of the participant list. There should be an option to put your hand – there’s a little blue hand option. Okay, we’re going to have a question coming in through chat.
In the meantime, I saw the hand raised from Lenka White. Please, over to you, Lenka. We’ll unmute you.
QUESTION: So thank you very much, Ambassador, for this briefing. It is a pleasure to see you.
AMBASSADOR CRAFT: Thank you.
QUESTION: My name is Lenka White from the Mainichi Newspaper. Please, I was wondering your opinion, looking back at the secretary-general’s call for a ceasefire, do you think it was an effective action? And do you think it had an effect in places like Syria? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR CRAFT: Thank you for the question. As you well know, that when the secretary-general in March announced the ceasefire, the global ceasefire, I think what that did is it really highlighted the importance of our frontline workers and his call for this ceasefire in order to implement and to protect and secure our frontline workers. And that goes everybody from delivery vehicles to medical personnel to volunteers that are helping on the ground. And as you know, that also opened up where the Security Council, we had to unify, and it was through the French presidency in June, when the French had the presidency of the Security Council, that we were all, after four months of negotiating – and the United States was very firm on making certain that the Security Council understood that we were focused on the global ceasefire and nothing else. We wanted to – we really wanted to be in lockstep with the secretary-general.
Do I think that it has helped? I would like to say yes because it has allowed us to have more humanitarian aid and protecting the workers that are delivering the aid. And I know I have heard from different delivery companies throughout the world that their access has seemed safer to them. And so they too are worried about their individuals that are delivering the aid, so this not only is just about the humanitarian aid that’s sitting there; it’s about what it takes to get it there. So this global ceasefire has been very helpful. And if anything, it’s really highlighted that – the fact that the secretary-general is very much engaged and really challenged the Security Council and all of us to be able to come together and make it a point that we’re focused on the global ceasefire.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
AMBASSADOR CRAFT: You’re welcome.
MODERATOR: Okay. Next we have a question from Joyce Karam from The National. We will unmute you.
QUESTION: Yeah, hi. Thanks, FPC. Thanks, Ambassador. My question is on the Russian veto on the cross-border aid to Syria. What is your next plan that this has happened? I understand there might be a vote tomorrow. So that’s number one.
And if I can quickly, a number two: Some of your Middle East partners have actually became closer with Russia and China. How much are you concerned about that, and what’s your message to these countries that are perhaps looking east and hedging a little bit when it comes to the U.S.?
AMBASSADOR CRAFT: Well, you know what, let’s focus on the vote that happened just about 30 minutes ago, and that was the Russian amendment that they just wanted to have the one border crossing for six months, and if you compare this to January with our votes, we obviously – Russia and China voted in favor of the Russian amendment. But we were so successful this time around that we were able to really point out to the countries that normally would have voted with Russia and China, whether that is the – South Africa, Tunisia, Vietnam – they abstained, so we have – we feel like we have a success in sending a message to the world and in sending a message to the Security Council that there is – not for one minute are we going to allow only half of the refugees to be able to have access to humanitarian aid.
With our next steps, what I’m engaged in at this very second is our next vote which is coming in this afternoon on the Belgium and the German co-penholders with the two border crossings for six months. And we have been working all hours, day and night, to make certain that the members of the council understand the importance of not allowing Russia and China to politicize the humanitarian assistance in order to prop up the Assad regime.
We’re planning ahead. We’ve got to be six steps ahead of everyone, so we are looking forward for Friday, tomorrow, for the vote. And we are going to be fighting for as to save as many lives as possible, and that means that we will be fighting for the two borders for a six-month time, and we are all focused on that and we’ll be working up until the minute of the vote tomorrow. So thank you for raising that.
QUESTION: And my other question: Do you feel a shift among your allies, perhaps closer ties with Russia and China?
AMBASSADOR CRAFT: What I’m trying to do is really shine the light on the People’s Republic of China and on how they are undermining multilateral institutions to advance their own interests. So they have really formed with Russia. And they’re gaining more confidence, because obviously they have underlying reasoning for being more engaged at the UN. Am I worried about the countries that maybe are looking more at the attitude and forming with Russia and China? No. Because I can tell you that the Trump administration has made it very clear to these countries that anyone that stands in the way of democracy and the rule of law will most certainly hear from us.
QUESTION: Thank you so much.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We have another question from Hadil. Please, go ahead. We’ll unmute you.
QUESTION: Yes. I wanted to ask if you’re noticing any change in Russia’s approach to Syria after the Caesar Act. Do you believe that Russia is more willing now to participate and play a positive role in pushing for a political change and transition in Syria?
AMBASSADOR CRAFT: That’s a great question. The Caesar Act has been something that I have been bringing up repeatedly in my statements, and it doesn’t – this act does not change the U.S. policy in Syria at all. It reinforces our existing lines of efforts to advance the justice for the victims and promote accountability for the regime’s atrocities. We have to make certain that everyone knows that we, the United States, the Trump administration, is committed to enduring defeat of ISIS and al-Qaeda. And this means that we are going to be looking for a political solution in Syria in line with the Security Council Resolution 2254. And this will mean removing all Iranian-commanded forces in Syria.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Okay. Our next question will come from Ibtisam Azem. We’ll unmute you.
QUESTION: Thank you for the briefing. My name is Ibtisam Azem from Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper. I have just first a follow-up question on the – just to clarify something you said, and I’m not sure if I got it right.
On the Syria resolution – so are you saying that the resolution that is now put to vote is similar – has also to cross border, two, and not one, as the Russians want? And if that correct, how is different from the one that the Russians used a veto against?
And my question is about the step that the Trump administration – the President took regarding the WHO. A lot of even American scientists are saying that such (inaudible) undermines the work or (inaudible) even Americans to decide about different policies. And they gave an example of if it wasn’t to the WHO and America being part of the organization, they wouldn’t have been – American scientists wouldn’t have been able to go to China in January as part of the delegation and to collect a lot of information. So what do you say to that? And do you think that such a step is really helping on a global level too, regarding the programs that will be closed and whether have – yes. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR CRAFT: Back to the Syria resolution, so what we proposed yesterday were the two border crossings for 12 months. So today – so when we propose that, the Russians came back with an amendment. Obviously, they vetoed, along with China. They came back with an amendment for one border crossing for six months. So what we are proposing today, what our vote will be, are two border crossings for six months. So we were able to vote down – the council made a very strong, strong statement, all of us together, that we would not accept the one border crossing for six months.
So we are waiting on the vote for the co-penholders, for Belgium and Germany, and assuming that this should come at any time. What’s important is that we’re focused on the two border crossings for the six months. If you vote with Russia and China or with Russia on the one border crossing for six months, what about the other border and the other people? You just can’t pick and choose whose lives you’re going to save. And so every life is very important to me, and I want to make certain that we maximize and we were able to save as many lives as possible. And we are going to be fighting until the bitter end on this and making certain that we shine a light on every step of the way on what Russia and China are trying to do as in politicizing humanitarian aid in order to prop up Assad regime.
Now, when it comes to the WHO, as you well know, that on May 29th the President’s announcement that he was going to be withdrawing, and we gave the WHO – we gave Dr. Tedros plenty of time to be able to come back to us and to show that he was trying to fix what was broken, or trying to turn the corner and be more transparent. We didn’t see this. So then on July the 6th of this year, the President – we issued a letter that stated our withdrawal. This is a year – a year technical withdrawal, so that would be July 6th of 2021.
As you know, the U.S. leads the world in humanitarian assistance. We are – right now with COVID, we’ve committed 2 billion. We have 10 billion allocated. We will continue to support all of the NGOs that are the world leaders as far as transparency and accountability. And that just happens to be two of which are run by Americans, which is UNICEF and the World Food Program. What we’re focused on is making certain that we are engaged with institutions that work, that are transparent. I owe it to the American taxpayers to make certain that their dollars are spent with organizations that are transparent, that are accountable, that are effective, and that are saving lives. And we gave the WHO an opportunity to turn this around, and we did not see any efforts on their behalf.
So we want to support institutions that work, organizations that work. That’s what we’re all about. They were not performing as they were supposed to do, and that was to be transparent and to try to mitigate this virus and many others in the past. Thank you for asking that question.
MODERATOR: Okay. We have a hand raised from Alexey Osipov. Please, over to you.
QUESTION: Yeah. Hello, Madam Ambassador. Russian – all previous question of my colleagues, no exclusion, confirms that Russian influence and presence in the Middle East region, especially in Syria, is huge now. And it’s the part of Kremlin policy. And here in Israel, we expect the Gang of Eight, especially with zeroing of current presidential tariffs a result of last week plebiscite in Russia. Are you able to comment somehow the result of this voting, especially in case of one of amendments? Now, after the voting, Russian local law have a preference under international law.
AMBASSADOR CRAFT: What we’re working toward is making certain that Russia understands that the rule of law is very important to us. It is vital to democracies, and you are seeing Russia prop up the Assad regime in Syria. We are – obviously Russia is very much engaged in countries and in misinformation and dishonesty.
And basically, at times I look at this as good and evil. And there’s no better example than Russia with the Assad regime. This is a very clear example of right and wrong, and good and evil. And with the international law, we have to make certain the international law upholds all of the truths, the democracies, the transparency, this honesty, and most importantly, the freedom, the democracy that people deserve all over the world.
QUESTION: Thank you.
AMBASSADOR CRAFT: You’re welcome.
MODERATOR: Okay. Our next question comes from N’Dongo Athie. We will unmute you. Please, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador, for this briefing. My name is N’Dongo Athie. I’m a reporter for the Asahi Shimbun. And my question is on international cooperation. So you previously said that it is time to show American leadership at the Security Council. So looking back at the deadlock of the UN Security Council on, for example, the cross-border resolution on Syria or the COVID resolution, how do you think this paralysis or dysfunction can be fixed? Thank you very much.
AMBASSADOR CRAFT: Thank you. My goal is to engage all of the countries in the Security Council and all of the countries in the general – the member states for that matter. Because the Security Council really owes it – we work for everyone. So we’re not just the 15 of us in a room. We have to keep in mind that we represent the entire member states.
Yes, the U.S. is the number one donor at the United Nations, and we make certain that they understand that with that we also are demanding the accountability from every member state. We are also demanding the accountability, whether it be through our peacekeeping missions, whether it be through any entity – the NGOs – any entity within the UN system, with the secretariat.
But what’s important is that we foster the relationships within the Security Council, just like what’s happening with the Syria cross-border, that we’ve been fostering these relationships for some time now. My predecessors have helped me get to this point where we have this vote today, where we’ve had people to abstain that normally would have voted with China and Russia. So it’s not just something that I’m doing. It’s something that I’m building on from my predecessors and hoping to bring with me. I have an administration that backs me that is second to none, that is very firm, very strong in what they believe in, and that is the rule of law and democracy around the world.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador.
AMBASSADOR CRAFT: You’re welcome.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will be from Pearl Matibe, and I will also – I believe we have a few more minutes, so I will also remind everyone that if you do have a question, you can please let us know via chat or via raising your hand (inaudible) Zoom feature. Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Good afternoon, Ambassador Craft. I really appreciate your press availability today, so thank you very, very much for this. And you mentioned that South Africa abstained. So this is South Africa’s third term on the United Nations Security Council, having previously served in 2007 to 2008 and 2011 to 2012. Given the situation in the Middle East, how has their dedication to women, peace, and security strengthened, weakened, or been ineffectual, considering that South Africa has made claims to be perpetuating the legacy of former President Nelson Mandela’s commitment to peace?
And I notice too that on the United Nations Security Council resolution on Syria – the violations, abuses, and so on; the plight of women and girls – and yet there is no specific verbiage in the resolution’s abstract that mentions women, peace, and security. Can you comment on your actions to ensure you are advancing the U.S. interests of a whole-of-government approach on the women, peace, and security agenda? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR CRAFT: Yeah, thank you for bringing this up, because it will allow me to tell you that my first trip – the very first place that I chose to travel – was to South Sudan, and that was to send a message to South Africa, because at – that was Jerry, or the perm rep from South Africa; it was his presidency – and I had only been there a couple weeks at the UN and I really wanted to show Jerry that I care, that the continent is a priority of mine. And being in South Africa – excuse me, being in South Sudan and meeting – my main priority was to meet with women and to talk about women’s issues and their safety and their security. And that was able to really bring it back. I stayed in South Sudan as opposed to traveling with the rest of the council. I wanted to meet with a lot of the women in the displaced camps in Malakal and understand best what their issues were, and I can tell you that they have come a long way, but there’s a lot – there is a lot more to be done.
And that is one of the reasons that we wanted to also highlight that in the administration was women’s peace and security. And that’s something that the administration is working on, that Ivanka Trump has been very engaged in. We want women to prosper in the workforce. We want them to succeed as entrepreneurs, which South Africa has done so well. And we want to make certain that they are enablers in the economy. I mean, it’s very important for women – not only women in family, because they do develop communities. They’re the ones that hold the communities together, but to make certain – they can’t hold a community together unless they feel safe and secure not only for themselves but for their family, for their children.
So I am a – consistently fighting for the initiative of women, peace, and security to be included in every resolution, so I really appreciate you bringing this up because it was my first trip to the continent and to South Sudan, and it most certainly – when I got on that airplane to come back home, I brought each of those women back with me. So I’m going to be fighting for not only their peace and security but for women around the world, whether it’s Afghanistan, Yemen, Latin America, wherever it is. You can count on that.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We have one phone caller. Does that individual have a question, just to give them an opportunity?
All right. Well, thank you, Ambassador. It is 1:15, so that concludes our briefing today. Thank you to everyone for joining us. We will share a transcript and a video link to everyone, and again, thank you for joining and thank you to the ambassador.
AMBASSADOR CRAFT: Thank you so much, and just – if I can just say to everyone that it’s so vital that especially during this time and anytime we’ve called for global ceasefire that they too be our messengers, because I’m only one person and I can only talk to so many of you, but they have such an audience of people that are really hungry – especially during COVID-19 – they’re hungry for news and they’re hungry for – to know what’s going on. And so I appreciate you all being the voice that’s out there for information for people and to really talk about the global ceasefire, because it’s really important to let people know that we care, that the Security Council is working on their behalf.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador Craft.
AMBASSADOR CRAFT: Thank you.