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Remarks by Assistant Secretary Esther Brimmer to the American Jewish Committee of Greater Miami and Broward

Assistant Secretary of State Esther Brimmer speaks to the American Jewish Committee of Greater Miami and Broward.

Last week, Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs Esther Brimmer addressed the American Jewish Committee of Greater Miami and Broward where she reiterated the Administration's committment to normalizing Israel's status in the UN and countering efforts to de-legitimize the Jewish state.

Assistant Secretary Esther Brimmer's full remarks are below.

I want to thank Brian Siegel and the American Jewish Committee of Greater Miami and Broward for hosting me and opening your doors again for me to discuss multilateral cooperation between the United States and Israel.

Today I am going to focus on the Administration’s far-reaching efforts to normalize Israel’s status in and across the UN and broader multilateral system, and to counter head-on efforts of de-legitimization. I know these are issues AJC cares deeply about and has focused on internationally.

Our diplomatic engagement with Israel in multilateral affairs, at the UN, is rooted in an ironclad commitment by President Obama to support Israel across the UN system, ensure that Israel’s security is never compromised and that it has the opportunity to contribute fully to all institutions to which it belongs. That’s why we vehemently reject attempts to de-legitimize the State of Israel. As the President stated at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, “Israel’s existence must not be a subject for debate,” and “efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will only be met by the unshakeable opposition of the United States.”

We have opposed unbalanced, one-sided resolutions, at the UN General Assembly, the Security Council, UNESCO, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN Human Rights Council and elsewhere. For example, the Administration strongly opposed last month at the Human Rights Council the creation of a fact-finding mission regarding settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. We have also opposed the deeply flawed and biased Goldstone Report, and voted against multiple resolutions on the flotilla incident at the Human Rights Council. On the Goldstone Report and flotilla, we have been clear that we want to see UN action end in relation to the report.

The U.S. helped to organize the diplomatic effort to defeat the Israel Nuclear Capabilities Resolution at the September 2010 IAEA General Conference. Last September a decision was made by certain member states not to bring up the Israel Nuclear Capabilities resolution at the 2011 IAEA General Conference. I think our diplomatic efforts were critical to that outcome.

Over the past 3 years the Administration has worked day in and day out multilaterally at the UN and elsewhere on critical peace and security issues of great concern to the United States and Israel, including counter-terrorism and non-proliferation. We have been successful in achieving American objectives, mobilizing international partners and leveraging the full range of multilateral institutions.

For example, the Obama Administration has marshaled significant international action against countries of great security concern to the U.S. and Israel -- Iran and Syria across the UN system.

At the UN Security Council we led efforts to adopt a resolution that strengthens sanctions on Iran.

At the Security Council, we have also taken steps to address the Assad Regime’s brutal violence by passing a resolution -- less than two weeks ago -- that we hope will lead to a full-cessation of violence and Syrian lead political transition.

At the General Assembly we led efforts to adopt a robust resolution on Iran’s human rights record, gaining the largest vote margin yet on this important text.

At the IAEA we helped to lead efforts to adopt a resolution at the June 2011 Board of Governors meeting finding Syria in noncompliance with its international nuclear obligations and referring the issue to the Security Council. Last November, we and other Board members adopted a resolution condemning Iran’s ongoing defiance of its international nuclear obligations.

At the Human Rights Council we led successful efforts to deny Iran and Syria elected seats on the Council.

At the Human Rights Council we also led efforts to establish a Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Iran and International Commissions of Inquiry for Syria and Libya.

At UN Women we successfully led efforts to deny Iran a seat on the board of the newly formed agency.

At the Security Council and throughout the UN System, in the face of high diplomatic hurdles, we have mobilized countries from every region to take principled stands on these pressing issues.

These efforts demonstrate that our commitment to defend Israel throughout the UN system, both in countering biased anti-Israeli actions and in opposing those who seek platforms to expand anti-Israel efforts at the UN, remains strong. Our efforts go beyond such defensive steps, however.

Let me turn now to how Israel and the United States are working together to move forward in the UN and elsewhere.

Despite the difficulties that Israel faces at the UN, one thing has remained constant in my discussions with my counterparts in the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs: they continue to express and implement their strong desire to expand Israel’s global agenda across the UN and multilateral system.

Israel wants to play a larger role globally, multilaterally and at the UN. It does not want to be viewed solely through the prism of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Indeed, the United States is working with Israel to advance its multilateral engagement agenda, and move beyond the focus on contentious political and security issues, with the aim of addressing the issue of delegitimization and Israel’s treatment at the United Nations.

Here are some examples of this collaborative effort:

  • We have worked with Israel to support the appointment of Israelis to UN positions, like Frances Raday who was chosen as an Expert Member of the Human Rights Council’s Special Working Group to eliminate discrimination against women.
  • In December 2011, we helped to secure the passage of Israeli-sponsored technical resolutions on Agricultural technology, a similar resolution with our assistance also passed in 2007 and 2009.
  • Progress has also been made normalizing Israel’s status in multilateral bodies, including joining the OECD and removing some of the discriminatory barriers to Israel's participation in UN voting and consultative blocs.
  • We have also supported Israel’s effort to assume leadership roles on various UN bodies. For example, on February 2 Israel joined the Executive Board of the UN Development Program and will join the board of UNICEF in 2013.

Our efforts to work with Israel at the UN have been seriously tested. Over the past several months, we have engaged in a global diplomatic marathon to oppose the Palestinian membership bid in New York and elsewhere in the UN system.

This is because, as we have said time and time again, the United States strongly opposes efforts to address final status issues at the United Nations rather than in direct negotiations. And we have clearly and consistently shown our commitment to working with Israel and the Palestinians to resume direct negotiations, the only effective way for the parties to deal with the difficult issues they face and achieve a lasting peace.

The two state solution is not going to happen through a shortcut at the United Nations, and that’s what this Administration has been strenuously arguing.

As you know, the United States has worked consistently toward the goal of achieving the two-state solution. In this respect, we have been closely engaged with the parties and our international partners, including the Quartet, to support the parties as they take steps to re-engage and rebuild channels of communication. The parties met on April 17 to begin an exchange of letters and a dialogue. This positive step builds on the Jordanian-hosted talks earlier this year and on the Quartet's statements since last September. We should all lend a hand of support to sustain that effort, to help create a conducive climate, and to avoid distractions.

We continue to make clear to our partners internationally that premature action in the UN system outside the framework of direct negotiations will not bring us or the parties closer to a negotiated two-state solution, a goal we all share. Rather, it is likely to damage the very UN entities the Palestinians seek to join, the countries these UN programs support – and as a result could seriously undermine U.S. security interests.

As you may know, on October 31, the UNESCO General Conference adopted a resolution that invited “Palestine” to become a member of UNESCO.

Palestinian action triggered a U.S. law suspending our contributions to that organization.

This same law would be triggered if Palestinians gain membership in the World Health Organization, the World Intellectual Property Organization, and potentially dozens of UN agencies critical to U.S. interests. We are also concerned how Palestinian actions might impact international financial institutions, such as the World Bank.

Ultimately the withholding of funding at UNESCO and elsewhere could lead to the loss of voice and vote in these international organizations, undermining the U.S.’s ability to advance its interests.

It would also have a devastating impact directly on organizations like the World Health Organization, which relies heavily on U.S. contributions to prevent deadly pandemics from spreading globally and to the United States. The WHO is also essential to the global progress made against malaria, HIV/AIDS, and polio.

It also impact our efforts to support Israel across the UN system and multilaterally.

The Israeli government has asked us to play a greater role in helping them develop a more robust multilateral agenda. One constant we continue to hear from Israeli counterparts is how much they appreciate the Administration’s efforts and U.S.-Israeli cooperation at the UN and multilaterally, and how problematic it would be if the United States was not in these bodies to defend Israel.

In order to sustain these efforts, the United States must maintain the strongest position it can at the UN.

Action that impairs our ability to advance U.S. interests and cooperate effectively on key security threats at the UN makes little sense, particularly as we deal with challenges such as Iran’s nuclear ambitions, humanitarian disasters in the Horn of Africa, the transitions in Afghanistan and Iraq and the Middle East.

Since the founding of the UN, the U.S. has been at the table influencing key decisions at the UN, of concern to the U.S., and particularly those related to Israel.

If the U.S. is not at the table, if we are withholding funding, the United States’ leadership role and ability to influence these decisions will diminish greatly.

We cannot afford to cede the floor to emerging powers and adversaries, such as Iran and Syria, which do not share our values and would be more than happy to undermine U.S. and Israeli interests. These countries want nothing more than to see the United States retreat from the UN, withdraw from UN bodies, and lose its influence and leadership positions and potentially its vote in key UN bodies.

Let me end there. I look forward to your questions. 

Jarrod Bernstein is the Director of Jewish Outreach in the Office of Public Engagement.