NEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, 799 UNITED NATIONS PLAZA, 10TH FLOOR
MODERATOR: Good afternoon. Welcome to the New York Foreign Press Center. My name is Melissa Waheibi, and I’m today’s moderator. I’m honored to welcome Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. Representative to the United Nations, who will speak on the launch of the Days of Action on global food security.
This briefing is on the record. We will post a transcript later today on our website. The ambassador will give opening remarks, and then we will open it up for questions. If you have a question, please indicate so in the raised hand button or submit your question via chat. And with that, Madam Ambassador, the virtual floor is yours.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Good. Thank you very much. Good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining me here. Today the United States is launching several Days of Action on global food security, an issue that has been a priority for the Biden administration from day one and that has been a priority for me through my entire career. As I kicked off our Security Council presidency for the month of May, I announced that for a second time we would use our presidency to highlight the link between armed conflict and food security. In March of 2021, we brought global attention to this issue in the council, and we’re proud to do it again in our current presidency against the backdrop of international conflicts that have brought food insecurity to the fore.
Tomorrow, I will be joining UNICEF Executive Director Cathy Russell in hosting a high-level advocacy event with leaders from the public and private sectors to highlight the way conflict is driving hunger crises among children around the world. And then on Wednesday, Secretary Blinken will come to New York to chair a global food security call to action ministerial meeting which will bring together officials from dozens of countries to review their urgent humanitarian and development needs to address global food security, nutrition, and resilience. This will include countries with diverse perspectives ranging from major food providers to those facing significant food crises.
And finally, on Thursday, I’ve invited Secretary Blinken to chair an open debate in the UN Security Council on Conflict and Food Security in our capacity as president of the Security Council for the month of May. These Days of Action extend to work beyond New York as well. In Geneva, our mission is hosting a conversation this week about how to break down barriers to address food insecurity. And in Rome, Ambassador Cindy McCain regularly engages with her counterparts about the importance of building a stronger global food system with a focus on nutrition and innovation. In all this work, we’re lucky to have the leadership of Dr. Cary Fowler, a renowned agriculturalist who recently joined the State Department as the U.S. Special Envoy for Global Food Security.
The hard truth we have to reckon with is that people starve every day all around the world even though we have more than enough food to go around. Worse, many go hungry and don’t know where their next meal will come from because warmongers are intentionally using starvation as a weapon of war. Ethiopia, South Sudan, Syria, Somalia, and Yemen are just a few examples of places where conflict is driving people to desperate hunger. These Days of Action are about bringing this crisis to the center of the world’s attention, and this is – this all takes on heightened significance given Russia’s brutal and unprovoked war in Ukraine.
Ukraine used to be a bread basket for the developing world, but ever since Russia started blocking crucial ports and destroying civilian infrastructure and grain silos, hunger situations in Africa and the Middle East are getting even more dire. This is a crisis for the whole world, and so it belongs to the UN. We have a responsibility to the millions who are worried about where they’ll find their next meal or how they’ll feed their families. This week is about owning that responsibility and taking action to alleviate food insecurity around the globe. And our hope is that this week sparked sustained focus and momentum. To that end, I’ve invited Secretary Vilsack to New York to continue the dialogue in the coming weeks.
I’ll stop there and I’ll take your questions.
MODERATOR: Great. Thank you very much, ma’am. We’ll start with Michelle Nichols from Reuters. Michelle, please unmute yourself and ask your question. Feel free to turn on your camera as well.
QUESTION: Thanks. Thank you. Thank you, Ambassador, for the briefing. You mentioned Ukraine. WFP said they get – they buy 50 percent of their grain from Ukraine. Who – which countries does the U.S. believe might be best placed to fill that gap? And is the U.S. trying to help facilitate any of those deals to help WFP?
And then we’ve had a – the secretary-general has been talking about how he’s ready to facilitate talks on re-integrating Ukraine’s agricultural production and the food and fertilizer production of Russia and Belarus back into world markets despite the war. How is he going about – well, what conversations has he had with the U.S. about this? There was a Wall Street Journal story this morning saying that he’s proposing that if Moscow allows some grain exports from Ukraine, then he would help pave the way for exports of potash by Russia and Belarus. Has he spoken with this – spoken to the U.S. about this proposal, and what’s your response? Thanks.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: On your first question, Michelle, part of the reason we’re hosting this meeting that Secretary Blinken will be chairing on the 18th is to bring countries together to look at what countries might be able to help fill the gap and how those countries might be able to help fill the gap, and also putting at the table the countries who need the support from countries who can fill the gap. So we’ll be looking at that over the course of the next couple of days, and again, identifying those countries who are willing and able to open up their own silos to fill that gap. The U.S. is one of those countries, clearly. We’re working with U.S. farmers on their production as well and seeing how we can provide more support to the international market from U.S. grains. But that is a work in progress and you’ll hear more about that in the coming day or so.
And in terms of the efforts of the secretary-general, we support all efforts to find mechanisms to get Ukraine’s grain back into the marketplace, and the secretary-general has been addressing some of these issues. I would encourage you to have a conversation with him, but he has spoken to us about his plans and his discussions with the Ukrainians and the Russians on this issue.
MODERATOR: Thank you, ma’am. Our next question will go to Alex from Turan News Agency in Azerbaijan.
QUESTION: Thank you so much, Melissa, and Ambassador, thank you so much for making yourself available for us today. I have two questions. One is about Ukraine. It’s planting season in Ukraine and that means, as you mentioned, problems for global food supply. There were calls on the Hill to the administration urging any future supplemental funding request support emergency food aid. We have seen the most recent Biden administration Ukraine-related request that did not include food aid. It passed the Congress side and it now will be voted in the Senate. Why is that, and how can we help Ukraine at this point to fill that gap?
And secondly, there are countries such as Azerbaijan, where I am from, that they don’t really feel immediate need. You mentioned the urgency and some countries do feel it right now, some countries don’t. What would be your message for those who are not on the bus yet? Thank you so much again.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Good. In terms of your first question, all of our efforts are about helping Ukrainians. It’s about helping Ukraine to address the devastating impact of this war. It’s about helping Ukraine get the resources that they need to defend themselves. And so the bill that’s going before Congress, I think, as you’ve noted, is a positive one and has bipartisan support and it is about making sure that Ukraine has the wherewithal to do what it needs. Russia has attacked Ukrainian silos. They have prevented Ukrainians from planting their crops, so they are certainly interfering with the ability for Ukraine to provide the food resources that it has traditionally been providing for the world, and we hope that they will continue to work to address these issues as they try to get to their fields and plant their crops.
In terms of what we say to countries who don’t see this applying to them, it absolutely does. What Russia has done is attack the core values of the UN charter. They are attacking the independence of a sovereign country. They’re attacking that country’s sovereignty. They’re trying to change that country’s borders. And that impacts all of us. And so it is important that every country makes sure that Russia hears their condemnation and hears their concern. And that goes for your country as well as others.
MODERATOR: Thank you. The next question, we’ll go to Edith Lederer with the AP.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Madam Ambassador. A question about the events, particularly on Wednesday. I know I’ve gotten an email that the foreign minister of Pakistan, for instance, is going to be at the event, at a ministerial event on food security hosted by Secretary of State Blinken. Can you give us some details on how many foreign ministers you’re expecting at that meeting, where that meeting is actually – is that meeting actually going to be taking place at the UN or somewhere else? And what are you expecting to come out of that meeting and then the meeting of the Security Council on Thursday, and will the Security Council meeting be open to other countries as well? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: That’s a lot, Edith. So I’ll get back to you with who is participating. We’re expecting about – I think the last list I saw, there were nine ministers participating. That may have changed since I saw the list last. It is a ministerial, so we’ve had an overwhelming response from those that we’ve invited. And it will be a meeting that will look at how we can coordinate to address dealing with the issues of food security.
It will be at the United Nations in one of the conference rooms. And again, the details of that can be provided to you later.
In terms of the meeting the following day that we will be hosting in our capacity as president of the Security Council, Secretary Blinken will be chairing that meeting, and it is an open meeting, and we have invited every country who requests to participate to participate in that meeting.
So I suspect that it will be a very long meeting that day. The Secretary will chair part of it; I will chair part of the meeting. But we think it’s important that we allow countries to express their views, to offer advice, to offer their support to addressing a food crisis that is having a global impact. And if we don’t address this crisis now, we’re going to see more people go without meals. And so we thought it was important that this meeting be opened so that others could participate.
MODERATOR: Thank you. I will read a question that came in through the chat function. It’s from Arul Louis out of India: “Any reaction to India’s reported decision to limit exports of wheat because of possible shortages in future due to excessive heat?”
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We have seen the report of India’s decision. We’re encouraging countries not to restrict exports because we think any restrictions on exports will exacerbate the food shortages. But you’ve – again, India will be one of the countries participating in our meeting at the Security Council, and we hope that they can, as they hear the concerns being raised by other countries, that they would reconsider that position.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We received a couple questions that came in before this event in our pre-submit option. I’m going to read one of them to you verbatim. It’s from Mark Magnier, South China Morning Post, Hong Kong: “The Western allies have received good cooperation on UNGA resolutions related to Russia and Ukraine, but sanctions and inflation have come at a cost for developing countries. To what extent is this food initiative a response to allied concerns that you could greatly undermine UN support if you do not ameliorate some of the costs? Thank you.”
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, part of the food conference is to talk about how we can address some of the issues of the higher costs for food and to address the issues of food insecurity. And we don’t believe – and I want to be very, very clear on this – that the food insecurity issue is a result of sanctions. The food insecurity issues that have been exacerbated recently are a consequence of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, a consequence of Russia’s efforts to block Ukrainian wheat from being exported. And because of their war they also are not in a position to export food and fertilizer and agricultural products that might have been in the marketplace. We have not sanctioned Russian agricultural products. It is Russia’s war that has blocked agricultural products from going forward.
But if I could just add what the U.S. is doing to mitigate the food supply disruption, we have made clear that we’re prepared to provide more than $1 billion in new funding toward humanitarian assistance for those countries that have been affected by Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine and the severe impact around the world over the coming months. And we’re working with our Congress to invest over $11 billion over the next three years to address food insecurity issues.
MODERATOR: Very good. I’ll read another question that came in via the chat feature. It is from La Stampa, Francisco Semprini: “Regarding food security, are there any opportunities to reactivate wheat exports despite the bombing that affected the Ukraine coastal area of the Black Sea as a sort of humanitarian corridor for food opportunity?”
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: There are discussions ongoing at this moment to see how those corridors can be unblocked. We know that mines have been placed in the Black Sea. The Russians have blocked Ukrainian ships from moving in or out. And this is something that the secretary-general has addressed with the Russians. It’s something we have been discussing as well with the Ukrainians how we can work to get some of the product that is available in Ukraine out into the marketplace.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We have a question from Kemi from Africa Bazaar Magazine, Nigeria. Kemi go ahead and unmute yourself, and you can ask your question. Feel free to turn on your video if you choose.
MODERATOR: Hi Kemi, we can year you. Go ahead, go ahead and ask your question.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you. I was wondering, given – earlier today the Secretary Yellen unveiled some action plan by the international financial institutions to boost resources for Ukraine in terms of addressing the food insecurity. And I was wondering that given the Biden administration efforts on clean environment, are you planning to work with small, older farmers in Africa and also horticulture and grid farming? Would that be part of the efforts that you will use to address – address the food insecurity?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you for that question, Kemi, because we know that food insecurity, it didn’t just start with the situation in Ukraine. It was exacerbated by the situation, but African small farmers and African countries have raised concerns about the impact of climate change on farming patterns and growing patterns. They’ve raised concerns about the impact that the pandemic has had on food production.
So in answer to your question, we’re looking at all means of addressing these concerns, and certainly through USAID, through the Feed the Future Program and other programs, we’re working with small farmers and shareholders across the continent of Africa to see how we can help them be more efficient and more productive farmers so that they can, one, feed their families, but also produce enough food that they’re able to put food into the market.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We’ll go to CNBC. This question came in, again, through the chat, so I’ll read first out of two. You kind of already addressed the second one. “What is the estimated timeline before Ukraine’s agricultural economy collapses from the Russian war?”
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: That’s a question that I can’t answer with any specificity. I can say that the situation is urgent and that we need to address it now, because we’re already seeing the impact. We’re seeing the impact in Ukraine. And we’re doing everything possible to mitigate that impact, including trying to assist Ukrainians into getting their food to market, but also being able to provide food internally. Ukrainians are standing in bread lines. These – this is not something that is normal for them. So when exactly their market will collapse is still a question out there. Our hope is that that does not happen, that all of the efforts that we’re putting into place now and the efforts that we’re making with others will avoid a collapse of their economy and of their markets.
MODERATOR: Great. And we have time for one more question, and we’ll go to Benny Avni with the New York Sun. Benny, go ahead and unmute yourself. Feel free to turn on your camera if you choose.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador. You want me to turn the camera – okay – camera. Thank you, Ambassador. During the month of May, you’ve traveled quite a lot. Does that – has that interfered at all with your duties as president, and also do you have any travel plans for the rest of the month?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you for asking me that question, and that’s an important question, Benny, because the point I would like to make is that while Ukraine has really sucked a lot of our focus, we cannot forget the rest of the world. So I traveled a couple of weeks ago – or last weekend – to Brussels, to a Syrian pledging conference. I had intended actually to go to Turkey to the Syrian border but was not able to do that. So I do plan to do that in the in the coming weeks, because I think it’s important that we not forget the rest of the world as we all focus on – our attention on the situation in Ukraine.
MODERATOR: Great. Well, thank you everyone. This concludes our briefing. As a reminder, the transcript will be posted later. A special thank you to you, Madam Ambassador, for your time, and to everyone who participated today. I wish you all a good afternoon.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you.