Joe Biden

Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials to Preview the President's Engagements at UNGA

September 18, 2023

Via Teleconference

4:06 P.M. EDT

MODERATOR: Thank you. Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you all for joining today's call to preview the President's participation in the United Nations General Assembly tomorrow.

As a reminder today, today's call is on background. It is attributable to "senior administration officials." The call is embargoed until Tuesday, September 19th, at 5:00 a.m. Eastern. By participating in today's call, you are also agreeing to these ground rules.

On the call today, we have [senior administration official] and [senior administration official].

I will now turn the call over to [senior administration official] to kick things off.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. Good afternoon. Well, as you all know, this week world leaders are convening in New York for the opening of the 78th session of the U.N. General Assembly. President Biden is in New York and will be here through Wednesday.

I'm here to give an overview of the President's message he is bringing to the General Assembly. I can also mention some of the other meetings, including the bilateral meetings he'll be having on the sidelines, but for this conversation, we hope to focus mostly on his overall approach to the General Assembly.

Now, the annual U.N. General Assembly is one of the world's preeminent venues for diplomacy. You -- you have leaders and senior officials from all over the world convening in just a few square blocks in Manhattan. The President sees this as an outstanding opportunity for him and his leadership to advance U.S. interests and values on a range of issues. This includes mobilizing resources for sustainable development and infrastructure, galvanizing cooperation on the climate crisis, and strengthening global support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Now, being here, the headquarters of the U.N., is an ideal location for the President to reaffirm our country's commitment to the foundational principles of the United Nations, particularly those laid out in the documents such as the U.N. Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This is an essential forum to demonstrate the President's commitment to inclusive and effective international cooperation to solve big problems.

So please let me go through the schedule. Tomorrow, President Biden will deliver his annual address to the General Assembly. In that speech, he will lay out for the world the steps that he and his administration have taken to work with others to solve the world's most serious challenges. He will outline his vision for how countries, working within reformed and modernized international institutions, can harness their efforts to end conflict, defend human rights and the rule of law, and help countries develop their economies.

As you may have heard Jake Sullivan say at our press briefing on Friday, we really have achieved some significant foreign policy successes. Our engagements here at the U.N. will build on these successes and find new ways we can work with countries to solve problems.

In addition to speaking before the General Assembly, the President will also meet with U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. They will discuss how they can strengthen their partnership to tackle global issues, including mobilizing resources for development, combating climate change, ending conflicts, and working together to uphold the U.N.'s foundational principles.

The President will also meet with the presidents of five Central Asian nations: Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. This will be the first-ever so-called C5+1 presidential summit where our leaders will discuss a range of issues related to regional security, trade and connectivity, climate, and reforms to improve governance and the rule of law.

On Tuesday evening, the President will host the traditional reception with world leaders where he'll have the chance to engage with dozens of heads of state and government who are here from around the world.

On Wednesday, the President will have an opportunity to hold a bilateral meeting with Brazilian President Lula as well as join in an event with labor leaders from Brazil and the United States to highlight the role that workers play in building a sustainable, democratic, equitable, and peaceful world.

Also on Wednesday, President Biden will sit down with Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel to discuss a range of bilateral and regional issues focused on the shared democratic values between our two countries and a vision for a more stable and prosperous and integrated region, as well as compare notes on effectively countering and deterring Iran.

We'll have more information to follow on the President's engagements on Wednesday on the sidelines of these meetings.

But please let me close with this. You know, in the coming days, there will be much discussion here at the U.N. about the formidable challenges facing our world. This is a time of geopolitical tension. Russia's brutal and illegal war has gravely violated the U.N. Charter, and we have indisputable disagreements with China. You'll also hear about the great challenges facing poor countries with developing nations demanding more action to solve the problems affecting them, such as debt, health, development, the climate crisis.

But President Biden is going is going into this year's General Assembly with the United States confident we have strong allies and new partners; we have a vision for institutional reform at the U.N., at the World Bank, and elsewhere; and we have initiatives to deliver on infrastructure, on health, on climate, and other global public goods.

The President recognizes the world faces enormous challenges that no one country can solve alone, but he has a vision of how American leadership, based on principles, working in partnership with others, can help tackle these challenges.

So, here at the U.N., the one place where the whole world comes together, the President will lift up that vision and rally countries to do more to make our world safer, more just, and more prosperous.

With that, I'd like to turn it over to my colleague, [senior administration official].

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hey, thanks so much. And appreciate everybody hopping on the call. And thank you all for being here for a high-level week. We at the U.S. Mission to the U.N. are excited for another successful visit by the President to New York and an intense few days of activity at the United Nations and on the margins of the meetings at the U.N. General Assembly.

Throughout the week and in the months ahead, we're going to continue to strengthen multilateral diplomacy to make the -- work to make the international system more inclusive, accessible, and representative; to defend and advance human rights, fundamental freedoms; and uphold the principles behind the U.N. Charter.

You heard from Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield last week, when she previewed U.S. priorities for UNGA 78. And you'll hear directly from the President tomorrow morning, as my colleague indicated, when he delivers his third speech to the U.N. General Assembly of his presidency.

But I'd like to take this opportunity to just highlight a couple of points about the broader context of our participation this year. Since day one, the Biden-Harris administration has committed to strengthening partnerships globally. You've seen this in the NATO Summit and the U.S.-Japan-Republic of Korea Trilateral Leader Summit at Camp David, the President's recent visit to India for the G20, a historic trip to Vietnam just concluded.

The United States is dedicated to working with our partners and with countries -- even countries we don't always see eye to eye with to tackle global challenges and advance our collective security and prosperity. And that means investing in the institutions and global -- the institutions around the world that brings the world together. And that's why we're investing in our relationships here at the United Nations.

We'll continue to lead with confidence, but as Secretary Blinken noted during his speech at Johns Hopkins last week at SAIS, we remain clear-eyed and humble about the scale and scope of the global challenges we face. Much of the developing world is experiencing food and energy insecurity. Many need digital and hard infrastructure investments or struggle to recover economically from the global pandemic. These challenges have been exacerbated by climate change, Russia's war in Ukraine, unsustainable debt.

As we address these crises, we need to ensure our multilateral system is fit for purpose -- that we're solving and addressing the challenges that people are facing every day. And we need to remain focused on ensuring that international institutions, which were established decades ago, can meet today's challenges.

That's why Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield and our team, at the President's direction, have been engaged in intense diplomacy, consulting with countries all over the world on a way forward for meaningful reform of the U.N. Security Council. The United States making a major push to revitalize and reform multilateral development banks so they can meet the needs of low- and middle-income countries. You heard a lot about that at the G20, and I think the President will have an opportunity to speak to that tomorrow as well.

And the President is working with Congress to unlock new lending capacity for the World Bank and the IMF to provide financing for investments in climate mitigation, public health, and a range of other issues.

There's a keen recognition that development issues are intricately linked with international peace and security. That's why this high-level week in New York, the U.S. will engage on issues that matter most are people and people everywhere in an effort to ensure that no one is left behind.

And in that vein, during the Sustainable Development Goals Summit this year, we will reaffirm our commitment to addressing sustainable development all over the world.

Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield outlined this commitment in the speech at the Council on Foreign Relations last Friday, part of our curtain-raiser here for high-level week. I encourage you all to look at those remarks which detail our longstanding commitment to sustainable development. We call on the world to do more and give more.

I'd also note that this year marks the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. You'll likely hear us talk more about that declaration -- that Universal Declaration -- in the coming days, both this week and well beyond, because it's part of our commitment to the U.N. Charter, the fundamental principles behind the U.N. system, and our own value as a democracy.

Just last month, during the U.S. presidency of the Security Council meeting, we made human rights and defending the Universal Declaration a centerpiece of our month of activity in the U.N. Security Council, including the first meeting on North Korean human rights the Security Council had had since 2017.

During this year's high-level week, we'll work to uphold the principles enshrined in the U.N. Charter, including respect for sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of all member states.

As we know, when Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, it struck at the heart of the U.N. Charter. We'll continue to pursue a just and durable peace, in line with the U.N. Charter's core principles, and will continue to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes. And I think we'll have an opportunity to hear more about that during the course of the week.

As the President has outlined, the world is at an inflection point. This year's U.N. General Assembly is a chance for us to make progress on a host of issues. And that's why leaders from across the U.S. government will be in New York with the President to advance that work.

Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you so much, [senior administration official]. I think we'll now turn it to the moderator to open up Q&A.

Q: Hi. (Inaudible), but I hope you can hear me.

OPERATOR: Please go ahead.

Q: So, my question is more on the President's speech tomorrow, in terms of rallying support for Ukraine. How would it be different than last year? For example, will he still use the phrase "as long as it takes," or will he be more mindful of that kind of language considering the increasing costs (inaudible) among Global South countries?

And also on the (inaudible), will he return to the (inaudible)? (Inaudible) want to get your take on what the tone and the substance of the speech will be like tomorrow.

Thanks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks. I won't comment on the actual wording of the speech, which -- quite frankly, you know, some of it is still being refined.

But what I can say is the President -- you know, here we are at the United Nations. And so, the President will absolutely reaffirm our commitment to the values of the Charter. And that includes sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, including Ukraine. And so, that will feature in the speech.

At the same time, there's a lot of other global challenges out there in the world that are existential to other countries. And so, (inaudible) sustainable development, like climate, and like the need to mobilize more resources for -- for infrastructure.

So, I think our position on -- our principal position on Ukraine has been very clear. It will be reiterated tomorrow in an exceptionally appropriate venue for us -- for us to do so. And again, I won't comment on the actual wording, but it will definitely feature prominently tomorrow.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would just add one

footnote to what my colleague just said. And that is, you know, that one of the messages that we have consistently delivered about Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine is the way that it strikes at the heart of the fundamental principle behind the U.N. Charter, which is the basic proposition that countries cannot attack their neighbors, cannot take territory by force, and that every country in the world has a stake in maintaining that principle and defending that principle and responding to it when it's been violated.

That's why we've been able to rally huge votes in the U.N. General Assembly to reject what Russia has done. We've been able to do that consistently since the invasion, and we've

seen countries all over the world speak out.

And we've also seen the way in which this conflict has had an impact on countries all over the world when it comes to food security. That's one of the areas we've seen most prominently.

So, that's really fundamental to the international system, and every country has a stake in it. And that's why, as my colleague indicated, it's an exceptionally appropriate venue for the President to speak to this conflict, but also speak to a lot of other things that are on our agenda and a lot of other issues that we're making progress in.

And you'll see that reflected in the events and activities on issues across the board that U.S. officials will be taking part in during the course of this week.

Moderator, having a little bit of connectivity issues here, so you can just go down the list of questioners. Thank you.

Q: Thanks very much. To follow up on Patsy's question, if you could just give a broader sense of what main topics we should expect to hear from the President in his speech, understanding that it's still being worked on.

And if you could also give us a sense of the what you anticipate being the main points of conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu when they meet. And could you explain why they're meeting in New York as opposed to the White House?

Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On the -- on the speech, I think that, you know, in my opening presentation, I -- that those were the core themes. So, it's going to include our commitment to the charter. It's going to include our commitment to reforming -- making fit for purpose international organizations so that we have organizations that are effective and are inclusive.

It will include global challenges, such as the climate crisis; mobilizing resources for development, which is a big theme this year at the U.N. General Assembly; talk about the work that we've done, including some of the announcements that we made at the G- -- that the President made at the G20 recently.

And we'll talk to our commitment to the principles that are at play in some of the world's most serious conflicts right now, preeminently with Ukraine, and what we're going to do to make sure that the U.N. Charter is upheld and to strengthen coalition in favor of Russia's independence in light of a brutal conflict and also reiterate our commitment to human rights worldwide and keeping human rights at the core of the U.N. system.

I can't speak to the bilateral meeting with -- that the President is having on Wednesday with the Israeli Prime Minister. As I said, we'll be sharing more information about that later.

Q: Hi. Thank you so very much for doing this. I have two questions, if I may. The fact that the absence of four leaders of the so-called P5 causes some debate -- you know, there are discussions that this could fuel a sense of -- among many that the U.N. is less action-oriented and thus less consequential, if you want, than other venues, such as, you know, G20 or even BRICS that, you know, Chinese president decided to attend, which doesn't (inaudible). So, let me get your reaction to that. How does the President digest the fact that he will be the only P5 leader being present there?

And second question was C5 -- C5+1, if I may. Can you speak to the importance of the timing and the venue? By now, there are questions about how Washington, you know, after leaving Afghanistan, you know, did not prioritize Central Asia for a while. Can you speak to the (inaudible) and if there's any deliverable we should expect tomorrow? Thanks so much.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you -- oh, go ahead.

SENIOR ADMINISTRIVE OFFICIAL: Why don't I start with the first one, if that's all right, and then I can turn to my colleague for the second one if that -- if that makes sense.

I would just say that I won't speak for other leaders and -- and their decisions about coming to New York for high-level week. What I would say is that the United States has long seen the U.N. General Assembly as a -- as an incredibly rich and important venue to work with leaders from all over the world to tackle problems that we have in common.

And the President understands the importance of showing up to talk to his counterparts about these issues. And that's why you see such a full agenda for this trip, but not just for the President, for his Cabinet as well.

And one of the distinctive features about this set of meetings this week is every country has an opportunity to come here and work on issues and try to make common cause to solve problems that we're dealing with.

And so, when you look at some of the events that we're having, some of the areas where we're trying to make progress, we have artificial intelligence on the agenda. The Secretary had an event today looking at that with a number of other leaders.

We've got synthetic drugs and the Fentanyl crisis. And -- and an issue that -- that we share in common with a number of countries, we're rallying countries to try to address that together.

We've got the whole range of issues around the sustainable development goals, including on public health, on the climate crisis, on addressing pandemic preparedness. And we're -- we're working with countries all over the world to try to make progress on these issues and many more.

So, we see it as a really good opportunity to get some serious diplomacy done and make progress on some issues. And we'll have more to say about those accomplishments during the course of the week. But for us, it's a really good opportunity to speak to the rest of the world, to meet with the rest of the world, and try to make progress together.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks. I think that's actually a fantastic segue to the question on the C5+1 summit, because I think that's an excellent example of the kind of opportunity that we have here to do some really important business.

We are meeting in this unique format with these countries to really iron out a positive agenda on the ways that we're going to collab- -- on the issues where we're going to collaborate, again, on issues ranging from climate to regional issues, reforms to improve governance and the rule of law.

And as my colleague said, you know, we see opportunities here to just get a lot of business done for the United States and the world. And this is a great example of how we're building partnerships and taking advantage of this preeminent global forum to have meetings that might be more difficult to convene in other locales in other times.

Q: Can you hear me all right?

Okay, great. Thank you both for making yourselves available to us. There's been concern here at home, in the political context, that President Biden is simply no longer an effective advocate on his own behalf, even in cases where he might be seen as having the facts on his side, such as is the case with various aspects of the economy. What gives you confidence that President Biden, at this stage of his career, can actually move this room of leaders and the global audience?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I -- this president is focused on advancing his positive agenda. I laid out some very thoughtful themes that we're going to have tomorrow, and I think I would encourage you to watch the speech. You're going to have a lot of leaders who are going to hear a vision that we think is pretty compelling and the vision that not many other countries can offer.

We -- again, as I said, I think we're very proud of our record and some of the accomplishments that we've made, some of the new partnerships that we forged, the new initiatives that we've announced in recent weeks and months. And so, we are full of confidence that he will be able to deliver that message and present a vision that other countries will want to rally to our side.

Thank you.

Q: Hi, thanks for holding this call. It's Seung Min with the AP. You both talked about climate as being one of the big themes of this year. So, can you talk about why the President is not attending the big climate meeting on Wednesday, who the White House will send in his place, and what it says to the world about the U.S. commitment to climate that he won't be there and whether the U.S. will be able to offer the sort of proposal that the Secretary-General was calling on countries to bring to the meeting?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You know, thank you for the question. As you heard from my opening presentation, climate is such an important theme woven into pretty much every engagement and including the speech. But the reality is there is a huge number of events, summits, high-level meetings. I -- but this one is important, which is why President Biden has asked his Special Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, to attend.

John Kerry is here. He has a robust schedule. He'll be meeting with a number of counterparts to talk about how we galvanize action on climate.

As I said, the President will address climate action in his speech. It will feature in virtually every meeting that we have here. And here at UNGA -- at the U.N. General Assembly -- we'll be talking about what we're doing to ourselves here at home -- things like investing in green jobs, advancing decarbonization. These were major goals of the Inflation Reduction Act.

We're proud of this record, but everybody needs to do more. And, again, this theme will be woven in all of our engagements here.

Thank you.

Q: Hi, thanks for doing this. I just a follow-up to the question about President Biden being the only head of state to attend from the five permanent members of the Security Council. Were you suggesting in your answer that that fact will give the U.S. some advantage in making its case to the other members of the General Assembly? Or, you know, what's the possibility that they might start, you know, considering doubts whether this is as big and important a get-together as it has been in the past?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I'll start, and my colleague may want to add a couple of words.

I would just say that for the leaders that are coming to New York to the U.N. General Assembly, this is an extremely important set of days for diplomacy on a whole range of issues, and that's why we're going to be engaging in this diplomacy so intensively. It's why the President is bringing so many key members of his national security and foreign policy team with him. And it's why U.S. officials are fanning out across these high-level events and engagements and summits to roll up their sleeves and make real progress on issues that the American people are dealing with day in and day out and that we're trying to work in common cause with our partners around the globe.

You know, just to take one example, we are going to be working on new partnerships across the government to help tackle the Sustainable Development Goals. The Sustainable Development Goals Summit will take place over the next couple of days. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, Secretary Blinken, a number of senior U.S. officials will be announcing ways in which we're both working at home and around the world to build on our strong track -- record of leadership and investment across those objectives.

And these are -- you know, these development objectives that are of great interest to Global South countries, countries that are developing countries all over the world.

We have been a leader in mobilizing investments. You heard the President talk about that at the G20. I think you'll hear the President talk more about the vision that we have and the programs that we have to make progress on these issues in the speech tomorrow.

And the only way to really make progress on these issues is to get together with other countries and work in common cause, and this is the premier venue for doing so because we have a huge number of leaders from around the globe that are coming together to work on these issues together.

So, that's the goal, and that's what we're going to be focused on over the next few days.

MODERATOR: All right. Thank you, everyone, for joining today's call. That is all we have time for today.

Just a reminder to everyone: This call is on background, attributed to "senior administration officials" and under embargo until 5:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time on Tuesday, September 19th.

Thank you again, and feel free to reach out to our team if you have any questions. Thank you.

4:35 P.M. EDT

Joseph R. Biden, Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials to Preview the President's Engagements at UNGA Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/365167

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