New US envoy to UN says she’ll defend Israel, cares about Palestinian refugees

New US envoy to UN says she’ll defend Israel, cares about Palestinian refugees

In first United Nations press conference, Kelly Craft also warns Iran that Washington has ‘other tools’ if Tehran continues its bad behavior

US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft at a luncheon with US President Donald Trump and members of the UN Security Council at the White House, December 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft at a luncheon with US President Donald Trump and members of the UN Security Council at the White House, December 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

US Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft on Friday told her first press conference since arriving at the United Nations in September that she will strongly oppose Israel being used as “a punching bag” in the Security Council.

But she said she also wants to foster a dialogue on Israel and the Palestinians, “because we do care about the Palestinian refugees, we care about the people there.”

Craft warned Iran that the Trump administration will keep up its maximum pressure campaign and use “other tools” if Tehran continues its “malicious behavior.”

On Iran, the US ambassador was responding to recent demonstrations over rising gas prices where hundreds of protesters were reportedly killed. The protests showed the widespread economic discontent gripping Iran since May 2018, when US President Donald Trump imposed crushing sanctions after unilaterally withdrawing the United States from the nuclear agreement that Tehran struck with world powers in 2015. That decision has seen Iran begin to break limits of the deal.

“What I care about is the government is mistreating and abusing the people,” Craft said. “We have not seen any change in this behavior,” especially in the Middle East.

She called Iran “a bad actor” saying “we are going to see upheaval whether in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, wherever it is” until the US maximum pressure campaign produces results.

“We have a lot of tools to use and we will continue to use those with Iran,” Craft said. “We are taking this very serious. And there are other tools that we will use against Iran if they continue this malicious behavior.”

She said leaders in Iran and Iraq — where at least 400 people have died since October 1 in an uprising against the government, corruption and lack of jobs — must understand that the United States opposes violence against protesters, and believes it’s crucial for their governments to step back, allow people to demonstrate peacefully, and listen especially to young people because they are the future.

Smoke rises during a protest after authorities raised gasoline prices, in the central city of Isfahan, Iran, Saturday, November 16, 2019. (AP Photo)

The United States holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council in December and on Thursday Craft arranged for members to have lunch with Trump at the White House, which she said was relaxed, “very constructive,” covered many important issues including North Korea, and ran over by an hour. She is also taking members to her native Kentucky for the weekend of December 13-15 and to a Brooklyn restaurant that trains refugees and trafficking victims on December 9 along with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

On major world issues, Craft told reporters Friday that the United States will respond to human rights abuses in North Korea, Iran and elsewhere, saying in “every corner of the world we’ve got human rights issues.”

Craft was responding to a letter on Wednesday from North Korea’s UN Ambassador Kim Song warning that if the United States goes ahead with a UN Security Council meeting on North Korea’s human rights situation, it will be “another serious provocation” resulting from America’s “hostile policy” and will worsen the situation on the Korean peninsula.

Diplomats said the US has the minimum nine “yes” votes in the council required to hold the human rights meeting, but Craft said the US hasn’t decided whether to go ahead on December 10.

She was also asked about North Korea’s Foreign Ministry warning Tuesday that it is entirely up to the United States to choose what “Christmas gift” it gets from Pyongyang.

“Everybody understands this is a world issue, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a Christmas gift in December or when it is, it’s a concern to all of us,” Craft said.

This undated photo provided on December 4, 2019, by the North Korean government shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, speaking to lieutenants during his visit to Mount Paektu, North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

On North Korea, Craft said that all 15 members of the UN Security Council are united in their concern about any more ballistic missile launches by the country, saying there have been 13 launches since May and Pyongyang’s actions are a serious global issue.

North Korea has ramped up its missile tests in recent months, and experts say the launches are likely to continue as a way to pressure Washington into meeting Pyongyang’s demand for new proposals to revive nuclear diplomacy by leader Kim Jong Un’s deadline at the end of December.

On other issues, Craft said the US supports extending a Security Council resolution authorizing cross-border aid deliveries to Syria for a year, which according to UN humanitarian Mark Lowcock provides support to 4 million people across northern Syria including 2.7 million in the northwest, the last major opposition-held area in the country. Craft said: “There is no plan B. This has to happen.”

The council visited South Sudan in October and Craft said “it is a political mess and a humanitarian crisis.”

A crucial deadline to form a coalition government was missed in November and postponed for 100 days until mid-February. Craft said she is counting the days and “we’re going to hold them accountable,” adding that “there are a lot of tools that we will use” to try to get both sides to at least the beginning of an agreement.

The ambassador also has a special treat for council members in Kentucky, where they will dine with the governor and attend a University of Kentucky basketball game: They will go to a distillery on Sunday morning December 15 for bourbon tastings. Craft said all 15 members have to agree on their favorite, and will then receive bottles as “a great memory of the Kentucky trip.”

Craft said she hopes when they get on the plane later to return to New York “they’re feeling great.”

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