Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Organization Affairs
Foreign Press Center
October 22, 2009
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the Foreign Press Center. It’s an honor for us to have Dr. Brimmer here with us today. Dr. Brimmer is the Assistant Secretary for International Organization, and in that role, she’s the leader of the Bureau for International Organization at the Department of State. So without any further ado, let me turn it over to Dr. Brimmer. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: Thank you very much for that welcome and thank you to all of you for taking time this afternoon. I know everyone’s busy, so I’m glad you were able to take time out to join me today, and I look forward to our conversation. And I would also like to thank the Foreign Press Center for bringing us all together today.
I would like to take a few minutes and talk about the important ways the President’s era of engagement is changing the multilateral landscape. I’ll spend a few minutes talking about that changed landscape. We note at the outset that it’s rooted in President Obama’s demonstrated commitment to engagement, dialogue, and shared responsibility a commitment that has been evident since even well before the election, but vividly highlighted in his speeches at Cairo and at the UN General Assembly.
Those speeches and the Administration’s active involvement in the months since demonstrates the reengagement, which covers a range of issues from classic security challenges such as nuclear proliferation to new concepts of security such as the threat posed by climate change. Ultimately, the President’s era of engagement rests upon the recognition that there’s a responsibility for addressing these important issues and one that we all share.
Take, for example – those are the most critical security issues, particularly nonproliferation. Early in his Administration, the President took the momentous decision to recommit to the goal of a nuclear-free world. As the world’s original nuclear state, I believe this commitment has particular resonance. But the President actually went much further. Rather than simply address this from a unilateral point of view, he thought it was important to work with the international community to address this issue and work at the Security Council in particular.
And as you know, last month, he became the first U.S. President to chair a Security Council session at the summit level. The session resulted in Security Council Resolution 1887, which expresses the Council’s grave concern about the continuing threat of nuclear proliferation and calls for concrete actions by all UN member-states – not only the United States – to work towards a world without nuclear weapons.
Looking at another issue, we can think about climate change. The President has taken bold action to accelerate domestic efforts to address these issues, particularly looking at efforts to reduce carbon emissions and to increase the use of renewable energy here in the United States. But he’s also working, actually, on the international level and realizing that needs to be a global response. And he charted a fundamental shift in the U.S. approach to this issue and – a shift which tries to bring together the domestic efforts and the international efforts, wedding the major economies initiative with the goals and aspirations of the emerging international framework.
But if we look at a third area, we can look particularly at issues related to food and food security. The fact that over a billion people are affected by hunger or insufficient nutrition is absolutely fundamental. One in six people are directly affected by this issue. And here again, the President has been particularly interested in looking at how we deepen our frameworks for dealing with food security issues. As you’ll recall at the April G-20 summit in London, the President announced his intention to ask Congress to double U.S. agricultural development assistance to more than $1 billion in 2010 and 3.5 billion over the next three years.
But he (inaudible) again that it was important that he link the U.S. effort with the global effort to address food security issues. And last month, as you know, at the UN General Assembly, the United States and the United Nations together looked forward to hosting future work on food security issues. So there, again, the U.S. international – the U.S. initiative and the global initiative are working together.
The U.S. initiative in particular focuses on looking at improving the efforts at sustainable agriculture based on country-led plans, but also, in addition to working on long-term efforts on food security, we maintain our support for emergency assistance through the World Food Program as well.
Looking at other issues that – overall, looking at international development issues, the United States is working on the millennium development goals along with other countries around the globe, but the U.S. Administration has made a point of committing to – more deeply to how to integrate and add the millennium development goals to complement the U.S. efforts on its bilateral assistance.
If we look at other issues across the multilateral area, particularly on the Administration – particularly interest on dealing with the issues of women, peace, and security. And as you know, at the end of September, Secretary Clinton, who is a global figure working on – she’s really worked her entire life on security issues, particularly on women’s rights and addressing these issues. But she both combined many of the lessons she had from her trip to Africa where she spent time in the Democratic Republic of Congo talking to victims of gender-based violence and bringing the ideas and the spirit of concern from that trip to her session at the Security Council, where the Council put forward Resolution 1888, which deals with women, peace, and security issues.
There are others we can talk about in greater detail, but I’d just like to actually touch on several different themes so that we have a chance to explore that in greater detail. One of the others I’d like to talk about in terms of international peace and security really has to do with peace operations. And here, the United States also is deeply into its commitment to look across the board at the mechanisms within the United Nations for working on peace operations.
As you may know, while in New York, the President hosted an event with leaders from the top troop-contributing countries to talk – to hear their concerns as the countries that really contribute to the work of peacekeeping, but also to understand that this has to be part of a larger effort looking at overall peace operations, and looking at how to really try to strengthen this by getting input from countries across the UN system that are interested in this area.
Now, I’d like to take a moment and talk a bit about the Administration’s approach to international human rights issues. One of the earliest decisions this Administration took was to stand for a seat at the Human Rights Council, and we were delighted to be elected in the month of May to take a seat in the most recent session of the Council. We took our seat in September in Geneva, and although we are new on the Council and looking at – and learning more about how the Council operates and working across lines in the Council, we thought it was important to try to identify an area where we could try to build new areas of cooperation within the Human Rights Council, a body which has had a troubled and somewhat uneven history.
And we are – I’m really pleased to say we were able to work with other delegations, including co-sponsoring a resolution with Egypt on the freedom of expression. We wanted to see if it was possible to work across some of the recent divisions within the Council to help pass those adopted by consensus a resolution reaffirming universal values of freedom of speech, opinion, expression, and freedom of the media.
So there will be a lot of work to be done there, but we thought that that was also an important element of the larger engagement of multilateral issues both working in Europe and Geneva around the UN system.
I’d be happy to go into greater detail about any of those areas in particular, but I would really like to hear your concerns, your questions, and welcome our conversation. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Well, Dr. Brimmer, perhaps we’ll just start out to your left with Sonia Schott from Radio Valera.
QUESTION: May I have the pleasure to make the first question? (Laughter.)
MODERATOR: You certainly do. Ladies first. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Okay. In your remarks, you mentioned the human rights issue. And actually, coming from Latin America, I would like to know what kind of programs or what is new – what will be new regarding Latin America in terms of human rights, freedom of expression?
And the second one, very briefly, I noticed that once President Obama’s talk about reform the international institutions, how far is the U.S. willing to go in that regard?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: Certainly. If I, first, may take up the point looking at international human rights issues. Indeed, of course, the United States is active in international human rights mechanisms, both at the global level with the Human Rights Council and other parts of the UN system, and of course at the regional level, particularly through the Organization of American States.
If you’ll look at the overall approach to international human rights issues, I would suggest you might see certain key themes. One is defending the universality of human rights and looking at mechanisms that try to reinforce that. As I mentioned, we’re particularly interested in the resolution on the freedom of expression, again talking about the universality of that particular right applying to all of us, whether working as writers, on the internet, in print or other formats. And so those are ones that the – particularly the universality of human rights and how that might be manifested.
Another is looking at the importance of transparency and good governance mechanisms and how we can try to kind of support those; supporting those human rights defenders who are working in their own countries, in their own systems, to help support international human rights. And so we would also like to be able to support as mechanisms within international organizations that help people in their own countries realize their own human rights elements.
If we look at a reform of the international system, now that’s a much larger question. And of course, if you talk to many of my colleagues across the Department, we could have a very long conversation through many different aspects of the international system. But now we’ll focus particularly on my areas of responsibility, that – in particular, that the U.S. wants to be sure that multilateral institutions are viable and vital through the 21st century. We think they’re absolutely fundamental to the international system, and so that – as we look out across the system, we think it’s important to make sure that these institutions remain vital.
But I would suggest there’s actually quite a broad understanding of what reform of institutions means. It means sometimes it’s often the glamorous questions of “do you create a new institution or a new body.” And some people, for example, focus on the G-20 and the arrival of a new mechanism in recent years. But I would suggest also important are the elements that have to do even with our day-to-day working mechanisms.
So one of the areas we look at in terms of reform of institutions is making sure that we are diligent in trying to improve transparency and accountability within our existing institutions. And that’s not because we just want to be critical and point fingers to point fingers; it’s because we actually think that you need to have well-run, well-managed organizations with a coherent budgeting process in order to do the job that we actually need them to do.
So we’re looking at, say, on all sorts of – both the big-ticket things, but also sometimes even our daily working methods to bring a spirit of reform.
QUESTION: Frederick Nnoma-Addison, AMIP News for Africa. You talked about food security. You can’t talk about food security without talking about Africa. The question is how does the – and the President recently met 25 African leaders in New York. How does the President hope to work with African leaders and the UN to achieve food security, especially in Africa?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: Yes. I thank you for the question. I’d like to some to instances to go over. As you mentioned, the President had the opportunity to meet with African heads of state during the opening of the – at the UN General Assembly, indeed. And looking particularly at food security issues, the United States, working with the United Nations, wants to develop a comprehensive approach to food security issues, which is particularly driven by country-led plans; in other words, looking at – with each country about how that country feels are the most important programs relevant by country. It’s not a one size fits all.
There are certain elements, though, that are particularly – we think are particularly important. We realize that of course – that if we look at many farmers, particularly in Africa who are often farmers on smaller-scale holdings, often farming maybe even land that they don’t own personally, and we want to look at how do we actually empower those farmers, 70 percent of whom are women –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: — to be more productive on the land that they are working.
And so one of the areas we’re looking at in terms of working with the United Nations is working with the food agencies (inaudible), and particularly the World Food Program which does emergency aid, but also particularly with the Food and Agriculture Organization, working on continuing to spread knowhow on issues, and with the International Fund for Agricultural Development, IFAD. And there, we think that some of the mechanisms there could also be used to help get relevant technology into the field for farmers to use.
We also want to see if there are ways to help improve bringing those products to market so you both deal with the farmers who are trying to produce more and perhaps, more people who live in urban areas will try to receive that food and help develop those links. So some – those are some of the areas that we look at. We very much are working with the UN system and with our other partners to advance this.
MODERATOR: Fred, do you have a follow-up?
QUESTION: I do. I mean, the UN and the U.S. have been working with Africa on this particular subject for decades. And in spite of all the amount of investments that have gone into African countries, it’s almost unbelievable that 2009 we still talk about this. What do you think – what is the missing link, you know, from your seat? What do you think it is?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: I think one could argue that over the past several decades, that there’s actually been less investment in terms of the technologies for farmers on the ground to use, particularly in Africa. And I think it was interesting, at the Friday before the large meeting co-hosted by the Secretary and the Secretary-General, the Secretary of State actually gave a speech also on food security issues at the Clinton Global Initiative. And she and her husband, the former president, were also talking about the history of investment of food agencies. And it was interesting even to have a former president comment that he was aware that over the past several decades, irrespective of which administration was in power in the United States, at least from the U.S. point of view, we probably focused less on, I’d say, technology, though particularly usable, for smaller scale farmers, and that’s really where we need to approve productivity. So I think that’s probably made the new nuance in this particular effort.
QUESTION: Okay, okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: Yes. Taewon Ha from (inaudible) South Korean newspaper Dong-a Libo Daily. I would like to ask a human rights issue also. Can you briefly explain is there any type of change of approach compared to Mr. Bush administration’s human rights approach? And specifically, I believe human rights is universal rights of human beings. But sometimes the U.S. Government – just tell me if it’s not correct – sometimes use the human rights issue as politically. And the reason why I am saying is that when you engage in North Korea, you are not – when you – you are not engaging with North Korea, you are very energetically criticized on the human rights issue. But once the dialogue start, you tend to make silence on that issue. So does the Obama Administration – will do the same or will there be any difference, compared to Mr. Bush’s administration?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: I think I’ll let the – both those questions, I think I would have – I would start from a different premise from the one you – I would not accept the premise that you propose. I would say, first, that if we look at the main goals for the Obama Administration, looking at human rights issues, particularly in the international system, one is the belief that it is important that the United States work with other countries on human rights issues. And that is one of the reasons that we actually ran for a seat at the Human Rights Council . This is a major body working on human rights in the UN system. It is deeply flawed. It has real challenges within the system. We thought it was more important to be part of the organization, working on trying to improve its ability to support human rights defenders and activists in different parts of the world. And therefore that, I think, is a new outlook, a new approach for this Administration.
I think also the fact that we look at human rights issues, even outside the UN system as well. And so my colleagues who work in the bureau of department – the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor look at a wider – a much wider range of issues. I will probably focus particularly on those in the UN system, so that’s my direct responsibility. But I would say that here again, that we try to infuse the approach in many parts of the UN system to – with human rights issues and we give a very high priority to them and pay particular attention to our work on Geneva.
What I would suggest also, although I would take a different premise from your second point, to say that actually the U.S. has a strong interest in human rights issues in North Korea and elsewhere around the year. Now, often – it’s often when there’s an issue in the headlines that we tend to focus on it. But day in day out, there are diplomats seriously looking at human rights issues and making the case, even when it’s not in the news, so I’d say we consciously look at that. And if you look, for example, at the – our annual human rights report, that is the result of 365 days of engagement.
QUESTION: Good. Just very – a quick follow up on that. Recently, Mr. Robert King was appointed as special representative for North Korean human rights issue. Do you work closely with him or –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: He’s not directly part of my bureau. Obviously, we all tend to work with each other very collegially across bureau lines, but he’s actually not formally part of the International Organization’s Bureau. As I mentioned, we have both a bureau that deals with democracy, human rights, and labor issues. And of course, we have a bureau of East Asia and Pacific Affairs issues. We all work together, but different people may be actually formally a part of our other bureaus.
QUESTION: All right. Thanks.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: Thank you.
QUESTION: Hi. I’m Jose Diaz with Reforma newspaper from Mexico. I want to touch upon the climate change issue. Many countries already are demanding the U.S. to clarify its position. You know, the Copenhagen summit is coming soon. And I want to ask first, where is the U.S. at this moment in finding its position? What – you know, what would be the main demands and objectives that the U.S. delegation will bring? And second, do you think that, you know, there is no more space almost in the legislative calendar for a climate change bill to be approved by Congress this year because of the delay in the healthcare debate. Will that affect, you know, for the U.S. in having, you know, a crucial role at Copenhagen?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: I’ll take both portions of your question, looking particularly out at the international negotiations, and then I’ll just turn to – just to some of the points on how we approach this from the domestic side. But first and foremost, indeed, we are all looking forward to working constructively at Copenhagen in December. And as you know, the U.S. teams are working very diligently towards that.
If we look overall across this year and the approach to the negotiations has been is to understand the responsibilities of all the states involved. The first one, which I mentioned briefly in my opening remarks, is the idea that the U.S. effort should also complement the global effort; that there isn’t a separate parallel track the ideas; that is, that we’re all part of a larger global responsibility in a single conversation.
I thought that was actually exemplified by the President’s first actual appearance on – at the UN was actually at the secretary general’s meeting on climate change, even the day before our President gave his speech at (inaudible) to demonstrate the importance of the U.S. working with the international system, and so I think that’s our, sort of, first overall approach.
Then if we look within the specific (inaudible), you see that both the role for developed states in understanding the developed countries particularly are looking at real reductions, overall timeframe, based on a certain baseline and the conversations that focus on what that would look like, then also understanding for countries that are developing, that – particularly looking at trying to have a trajectory for that development which then also addresses climate change. And for countries that are just in the early stages of – for – of developing that are not yet as developed as the other two categories, also understanding not specifically making demands for those countries, but saying that also for those countries that as they look at their longer-term development that they also try to bring climate change ideas into their trajectory for development. So I think the whole approach varies on the responsibilities; that is, that all of us have responsibilities, but they may vary a bit, depending on the stages of development, and we see that brought out in the negotiations.
Negotiations are ongoing and this will allow continuing conversation all the way up until December. But I did want to take a moment actually on the domestic issues, as well, that was, you’ll notice, on legislation now. Looking at this, I think it’s important to note what’s already happened. And when the President came into office, one of the things he wanted to do was demonstrate actions at the domestic level, as well as the global – the global level. So you already had actually as part of our economic recovery act, you actually had significant funding for renewable energy. And as part of the effort to create green jobs was actually in the renewable energy area, which has the benefit, both of employment in helping revitalize the economy, and for giving a boost to renewable energy in the United States.
Another thing that the Administration has already done is increase the longer term – over the longer term, the requirements for fuel efficiency for cars, and that this will grow over time. But the idea is to build the level of fuel efficiency for the domestic market, our plans for the future. So I would suggest that you already had activities that will help support activities on climate change. But these are complex issues, and this is going to be many, many steps to move forward.
QUESTION: So regarding the targets of limiting global emissions and specifically U.S. emissions, can you clarify exactly what the position will be?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: I said the ongoing – the negotiations are ongoing at this point and they will continue. So I am not yet able to say what we will say the day we walk through the door. And as I said, we will be continuing the things that we’ve highlighted up until now.
QUESTION: Do you know when – do you know if the U.S. position will be ready?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: I don’t. I know everyone is busy working very hard on it, but I wouldn’t put a date on the day. I know everyone is working – very, very concentrated on the effort on Copenhagen. It’s a very – very much a major administration priority. So a lot of people are thinking seriously about it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Next, Jose.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Hi. Just as a follow-up to that question, actually, can you at least say what the objectives are at the Copenhagen summit?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: Well, ultimately, yes. I mean, overall, we’re trying to get to an international agreement to which we can all – that we can all support that will lead to real meaningful change both on carbon issues, but also a lot down the road on overall climate change issues, which has always been the goal from the very beginning. That overall goal has not changed, and it’s still fundamentally driving the approach for it.
QUESTION: And then, when you spoke more generally about international institutions like the UN, you said, you know, it’s important to be diligent in transparency, to be well-run, well-managed. And then, you also mentioned that the Human Rights Council is deeply flawed. So I just wanted to know what are some of your specific, you know, constructive criticisms that you might have towards the organization? And what is the U.S. trying to do to change that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: Yes. Let me give you an example. If we look at the Human Rights Council, which, as you know, is a relatively new body. It was created in 2005 as the successor to the Human Rights Commission. And one of the innovations was the creation of something called the Universal Periodic Review. And like many things, it goes by jargon, so it’s often UPR, but it’s the Universal Periodic Review. And the idea is that every member-state should be able to bring forward its own report on its – how it’s meeting international human rights issues. So there’s a schedule for every member-state to report on this – on their human rights – implementation of human rights ideas. And this actually should help spur a domestic debate, because the important thing is not be reporting to the council, it’s the domestic process that we use to make sure that we are supporting human rights issues.
And many countries have had – worked through the Universal Periodic Reviews, and we think this is potentially a good mechanism, but has not always been used as well as it could. And that process should encourage nongovernmental organizations to participate. There should be discussions across governments and civil society, as part of that conversation to bring forward to the Council, but that has not always happened. And at times, it has really been a process that it really hasn’t allowed a real frank presentation. This is an area we would hope to improve. We think this is a good mechanism. The United States itself will have its own universal periodic review at the end of 2010.
And so we hope that to be committed to using that as a way also to show how to engage on UPRs. Many countries across the globe have been very creative about how – what they presented, how they drew in many different ministries, and they’ve really showed how it could be done and we went to look to those models of states who’ve done it well to say that maybe this is how we could do this well in the system. So that’s a new mechanism, which if we encouraged it being used well, would really be an improvement for the work of the Council as a whole.
QUESTION: I guess my question was often, the U.S. criticism, the crux of it has been, oh, you know, the UN is this huge mammoth organization, it’s a bit sluggish, and sometimes that has been used in the past as an excuse not to engage with the UN. Why do you think that’s changed today? And, you know, what are some of the frustrations that you see, you know —
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: Well —
QUESTION: — about UN reform in general?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: Well, our approach actually is – I think you actually have to disentangle the term, UN reform, and actually say what do you want to look at. And one of the things that we think is important to look at is a – is looking at how each agency – the secretariat itself – and how each agency is actually managed and how we work on accountability. So part of it is the – perhaps, absolutely important – probably not glamorous, but absolutely important – issues of which – of looking at how each agency is managed, how budgets are prepared, how information about how money is got to be shared with member-states, and it’s absolutely crucial work. And what we do is try to make sure we work with each agency about how they do their own internal analysis, how they do their own internal oversight. We support, of course, at the UN level, the office of internal – oversight investigations. We think these are – these mechanisms are really important and we want to encourage each agency also to bring those together.
And many UN agencies have developed their own mechanisms for transparency in accounting which are very good, and so part of it is learning from each other about how to do that. And we think that that’s often a way to do it and would – rather than seeing UN reform – as I say, there’s a way to point fingers – we try to use it as a way to actually help managers who are running large organizations to think about the best practices to bring to those organizations.
QUESTION: I’m Toro Takae of Kyodo News. It’s a news wire service. I also have a question about the Human Rights Council. Can you explain when the United States decided to join and why, the —
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: Right.
QUESTION: — reason to it? And what kind of reactions are you getting from the other countries so far?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: Well, very early in the Administration, of course, the Administration did policy reviews looking at the Council, and then decided in the spring to join. The actual election was in – was May 12th. We – obviously, we wanted to run earlier that spring. But there was very much a sense that human rights were a very important portion of the agenda for foreign policy issues for the Obama Administration.
And the question was how do you realize that, and I’d say there are many different ways outside the UN system, but the question was, within the UN system, what’s the best way to do that. And the decision to join – part of it, as I say, was to realize that the United States wanted to be part of helping support the international mechanisms to help realize human rights, and needed to be a part of the major body within the UN system that works on these issues, and that’s what really the (inaudible) to join the body.
As I said, there will be areas where additional work will be needed and we’ll have – all member-states will have to try to work together on trying to improve the body itself. But it was a decision very early on because, as you know, the election was fairly early on in the (inaudible) of the Administration.
QUESTION: And what kind of reactions?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: Yes, excuse me – yes. Actually, we’ve been fortunate in that there have been very positive reactions. I had the honor, actually, of being in Geneva the day the United States formally became a member of the Council and I was able to give a speech on behalf of the United States on – as we arrived at the Council. And I was really delighted at the warm welcome that we received from countries. That doesn’t mean that we always agree with each other, but it was really nice to realize that we all – we have a stake in this institution.
QUESTION: My name is Rachel. I’m with KBC, but I’m currently at the University of Maryland on a (inaudible) fellowship program. Mine would be a follow-up on Frederick’s question on food and security. Much as you’ve talked about developing allocation to food and security and technological issues standing in the way, how is the U.S. planning to deal with issues of governance? Because for me, I think that’s a big issue regarding o conflict or sometimes creating official shortages. How are you trying to address that? And of course, some of them – allocations go to governments, so how are you holding the governments accountable?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: Indeed. No, that’s a good question. I should say it’s both a part – a U.S. effort and an international effort. I should say, in addition to the U.S. side of things, there’s – and the UN side of things, there are also other countries that are also contributing as well, so that – who will also be part of this effort of advancing the programs and on the accountability side as well, so that – indeed, then in addition to the mechanisms through the UN, that also – that some of the – who all work on the bilateral side will also look at some of the governance issues and some of the transparency issues about how funding is used.
And that’s one of the things we’re working on now, is actually how do you make sure that you’re able to track the funding and look at how it’s actually going to be used. So now we’re also working on setting up the mechanisms that support the initiative in order to actually manage the governments of the initiative, and that’s where we’re seeing a lot of the work this fall, is looking at how do you actually do that, what do you do in your bilateral channel and what do you do in your multilateral channel to actually make sure that the funding is going the way you – where it’s actually most needed. And —
QUESTION: And is the UN planning on watching the trade barriers that’s standing in the way of maybe economic growth of the African continent?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: Well, indeed, I think that there are a variety of points looking – where we’re looking at the larger trade issues as well, some outside the UN system as well, I mean, that – while I’m focusing on the work in – within the UN system, there’s – some of these issues are actually being taken up outside the UN system as well as inside the UN system, so that indeed you have to look at – so there’s many different policies beyond just particularly what falls in my bailiwick to try to support the overall food policy.
MODERATOR: Chris, you have a question?
QUESTION: Yeah, hello. My name is Chris Wernicke. I’m working for the German daily Seuddeutsche. Yes, I’d like to follow up quickly on the climate change question. I was surprised that my colleague from (inaudible) had not asked the question. (Laughter.)
How firm is the commitment of the United States to this time to join an actual treaty, which may include the danger that you have to go to the Senate and try to get a two-thirds majority? The sides are not very optimistic on that. Apart from that, I’d like to take advantage of your inside knowledge as somebody who already worked for the Clinton Administration. It’s very easy and very common to compare Obama to Bush, but how would you read so far the kind of approach to multilateral organization from the Clinton Administration in comparison to the Obama Administration? I mean, we all remember that almost – in the early ‘90s, there was some sort of multilateral enthusiasm. I mean, there were people like Tim Wirth in the administration. At that time, I used to cover all the United Nations summits and stuff, also on peacekeeping, Somalia – and then there was quite some sort of sobering going on, the way I perceive it.
But that is not so important. Your opinion is much more important. It is – looks much more sober and tentative and more based on a give-and-take calculus this time to me, but how does it look to you?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: Right. I’ll try to take up both parts of your question. First, the Administration is deeply committed to working on climate change issues and bringing forward an agreement that we can all sign up to, and obviously we very much want Copenhagen to be a success, so I —
QUESTION: A legally binding one?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: Yeah. As I say, this is a high priority for the Administration. They’re absolutely committed and everyone is working very, very hard on that particular topic.
So we – but to take your question on this longer – long-range effort with respect to multilateral issues, I would suggest actually that the Administration combines both a very forward-looking approach trying to understand what do we need to do now on multilateral institutions, how do we support the United Nations, its agencies and other international organizations that can actually help support human well-being and dealing with international peace and security.
And so we’re very much looking forward, but I would suggest that we’re trying to draw on what are really fundamental themes in American foreign policy that have been consistent over decades. And so it’s – I think it’s actually quite interesting if you look at – even look at the speech of the Secretary recently when she was at Brookings just before the UN General Assembly and was talking about the outlook, that she talked about – looked back to the four freedoms and looked at some of the themes about responsible internationalism that have really been themes throughout American foreign policy, and I think we’re really trying to draw on that tradition as we look forward to what we need to do to shape institutions for a new century.
QUESTION: But you kind of avoided the question about the legally binding instrument on Kyoto. Is the U.S. ready for a legally binding treaty that might go – need to go to the Senate?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: Yeah, absolutely committed to an international agreement, then, to which we can all – could all agree that – and whatever the agreement is that will look at exactly – how – whatever form it actually takes, because it’s deeply committed to getting to Copenhagen and getting an agreement and getting something to which we can support, because the important thing is we understand that we – all of us have a responsibility on these issues. We all have to address them, because no matter what, your economic situation will be affected by this. And so we very much want to address that and deal with it.
And the next step is Kyoto – excuse me, the next step in Kyoto is now Copenhagen, but that said, this is also going to be a long-term effort. If you look at all of the national plans, these will take decades of commitment, and that’s where the leaders are, is understanding the important long-term commitment they’re making to deal with climate change issues.
QUESTION: Hello, my name is Maria Tabak and I’m U.S. correspondent of the Russia news agency RIA Novosti. Well, I’ve got three questions and two of them are connected —
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: Three questions.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) Yeah, sorry about that. Two are connected with some statements of our Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. A few weeks ago, he said that Russian foreign office sent a request for issuing visas for some representatives from Abkhazia, in order to give them opportunity to bring their opinion in the United Nations. And Russia is expecting for some reply from the Department of State. So my first question is: What is the reaction of the Department of State and are these visas going to be issued?
Second thing is that Lavrov, he didn’t exclude the opportunity – the possibility of resuming work of the UN missions in Georgia and in Abkhazia. Again, what is the opinion of the Department of State? And third question is more general. What is the position of American administration on Security Council? I mean, in terms of extending the number, increasing the number of permanent members. So do you think it’s a good idea or you think that there is need for some other reforms of the Security Council? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: Okay. Let me take the first one. I must apologize, the first one on the issuance of visas, that actually doesn’t fall under my immediate responsibility. That’s handled by the Bureau of Consular Affairs. So an update on that, we could – we’d have to go back and check and get you a follow-up answer from Consular Affairs on the state of play there.
Looking at the possibility of the UN missions in Georgia, that it is important to note that we, of course, think that there is an international interest in the well-being of Georgia, and that there, of course, are currently European Union monitors there as well. And we think that if there is a well – appropriate role thought out, we would want to understand more fully what was being proposed. But we think that obviously if there is a role for UN in terms of supporting peace and security that is very clear, we’d want to look at it. But I think I’d have to see the quote in particular that you’re discussing, since I don’t know it off the top of my head on what – to be able to respond more specifically, if there was a specific proposal within it.
QUESTION: And you are talking about Georgia and about Abkhazia?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: Yeah, I’m talking particularly about – looking at Georgia. But I wanted to see particularly what the quote was, if there was a particular element you would like me to respond to.
And finally, on the Security Council reform, the President has said and the Secretary and Ambassador Rice have all echoed the interest in having the Security Council, which is the – a key institution of international peace and security, be – remain a vital element through – in the 21st century and that it should reflect the realities of the 21st century, as was cited in (inaudible) confirmation hearings. And so we’ve been conducting an internal review looking at that. We’ve not yet come to a particular decision, but we realize the importance of the Security Council – know that there are many views about how this should be addressed, many different member-states have come forward with proposals very well thought out, very complex proposals. And we’re listening to all of them, as I think all of the other members of the Security Council are as well, because we think it’s a – it’s crucial that we maintain the vitality of the institution. But we have to look closely at the proposals that are coming forward.
MODERATOR: Well, we’ve gone around the table. I don’t know if we could –
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: Yeah. I think we should be back by about three. So – but if we could probably squeeze one more in and then –
MODERATOR: Sure. These are really good contacts for the Foreign Press Center. So we do have time for one more question.
QUESTION: What – will it be your argument against U.S. disengagement from the UN as has happened in the past?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: I think as the President has highlighted both in several of his speeches where he’s talked about multilateral engagement, that first off that so many of the issues we addressed with our – address are transnational. They cannot be solved by one country alone, that you have to work together – work on security issues, environment issues, a whole range of questions. And then, therefore, we want to be part of the objective, because we all have a stake in it. We all benefit when we actually have the mechanism in place to work together, and we all are at a serious disadvantage when we don’t. And so we think that part of being a responsible international player is to be part of the mechanisms that help support the international system.
In his speech at the General Assembly, the President focused on responsibility and the responsibility all member-states have, and that includes all of us, including the United States. And so we think we want to be part of a system. We think that’s how you actually lead to better agreement and better cooperation.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Well, thank you very much. Ambassador Brimmer, unfortunately, has a very busy schedule.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BRIMMER: If I come back again —
QUESTION: All right. Okay.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much.