US President Biden to focus on combating COVID-19 pandemic, climate crisis, defending human rights, democracy in first UNGA address

UNITED NATIONS, Sept 18: Joe Biden will focus on ending the COVID-19 pandemic, combating the climate crisis and defending human rights, democracy and the international rules-based order in his first address as the US President to the high-level UN General Assembly session next week, Washington’s envoy to the UN has said.
During a press briefing previewing America’s participation and priorities for the session, US Representative to the UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry and other senior officials from the State Department will be in New York for the 76th UN General Assembly High-Level week and “will have a full agenda.”
“President Biden will speak to our top priorities: ending the COVID-19 pandemic; combating climate change – climate – the climate crisis; and defending human rights, democracy, and the international rules-based order. All three are challenges that stretch across borders. They involve every single country on Earth,” Thomas-Greenfield said on Friday.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will meet Biden on September 20 in New York City. Biden will address the General Debate on September 21, the first address of his presidency to world leaders from the iconic General Assembly hall.
The US envoy to the UN also noted that she expects numerous discussions on Afghanistan next week as world leaders gather at the UN headquarters for a hybrid high-level General Assembly session. “These discussions will reaffirm our commitment to the Afghan people, and particularly to women and girls,” she said.
“And we will stress our concerns about the situation on the ground in Afghanistan and urge the Taliban to listen to the international community, to take measures that will assure the international community, but, more importantly, assure the Afghan people, that they will show respect for their rights,” she added.
“Some of those commitments, as you know, have been given to the UN in writing, and we will hold the Taliban accountable not for what they say or what they have written in these written commitments, but for their actions. And the international community is unified in that position across the board.”
The Taliban, which seized control of Afghanistan in mid-August, had promised an “inclusive” government that represents Afghanistan’s complex ethnic makeup, but there is no Hazara member and no woman in the interim Cabinet.
She added that Biden is committed to leading in concert with America’s allies and partners across the globe to stop the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are building a coalition of governments, businesses, international institutions, and civil society to expand vaccine production, accelerate access to vaccines and life-saving treatment, and strengthen health systems around the globe,” she said.
“Stopping the spread of COVID – stopping the spread of COVID is our top priority, both here next week and everywhere going forward,” she said. On climate change, she said the crisis impacts every person in every nation on every continent, and it is a particularly significant threat to many of the world’s developing countries.
Biden “knows we must lead the way,” she said, adding that he and Kerry are reinvigorating the US global commitments and building on the Leaders Summit on Climate to raise ambitions at COP 26, the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference.
She added that “democracy, human rights, and the international rules-based order are under attack. Authoritarians have used the pandemic as a pretext to violate human rights and tighten their grips. Increasingly, they threaten and silence their dissidents in other countries, committing acts of transnational repression.
“Large, wealthy autocracies have developed corrosive and coercive relationships with smaller, poorer countries. The Security Council must weigh in on terrible atrocities wherever they occur. There is no tension between sovereign rights and human rights,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
Underlining that Biden believes the US must demonstrate that democracy can deliver, she said Washington is hosting the Summit for Democracy in December to set an affirmative agenda for democratic renewal, the promotion of human rights, and the fight against corruption.
The US is also running for a seat on the Human Rights Council next month “because human rights are at the centre of our foreign policy just as they are at the core of the United Nations project.
“We believe our priorities are not just American priorities, they are global priorities, and next week must be a moment to strengthen alliances and partnerships, to come together where we have a common interest in solving big challenges, to promote and defend human rights at every turn, and to demonstrate this body can and will uphold the international rules-based order that we all worked so hard to build,” she said.
Biden will be hosting the first in-person Quad summit on September 24 at the White House which will be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
The four leaders are expected to review the evolving situation in the Indo-Pacific and discuss ways to keep the critical sea routes in the region free of any influence amidst China’s increasing military muscle-flexing.
In response to a question on the mandate extension of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), she said the UNAMA resolution was rolled over and the only “significant changes made in the resolution was to ensure that we didn’t give undue recognition to the Taliban. But our commitment to women and girls in Afghanistan is not diminished at all in the resolution. In fact, we are resolute that we will focus on ensuring that women and girls’ rights are respected.”
Thomas-Greenfield said that Biden will deliver his UNGA address and return to Washington and continue to have virtual events related to the United Nations.
“So, in keeping with our concerns about COVID and encouraging delegations, one, not to come with too large a delegation – so we actually have a much smaller delegation than what we would normally have here in New York and the President is staying for a much shorter time than he would ordinarily stay,” she said. (PTI)