Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
August 5, 2021
QUESTION: Joining me now is Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield. Ambassador, it’s great to see you again. And thanks for squeezing us in before you leave.
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It’s wonderful – wonderful to see you, Andrea.
QUESTION: Well, you’re going to be meeting with athletes who are refugees from 11 different countries, including Syria and Afghanistan. They’ve escaped from civil wars, from famine, other privations. Clearly, they have enormous issues with training, compared to the other elite athletes there. So, what is your message to them, and what do they represent to the world?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, I think they represent the best that the world has to offer. These are young people who have faced adversity. They have been forced to flee their homes in – under circumstances that none of us would want to have to experience. And yet, they have brought their competitive spirit, their grit to the Olympics, and we’re seeing what they have in them. And I think they reflect – like so many young people – the commitment and the strong efforts of competing and being prepared to compete. So, I just – I want to honor them. This is the second year that they’ve competed. And this will be an opportunity to really encourage them and honor them and let them know that the world is part of their – the world is watching them. But I’m also going, Andrea, to cheer on Team America – Team USA – to show them also our strong support for them. President Biden and the first lady wanted to make sure that our American team knew that they had the backing and the support of the president and of the American people. So, I will also be there to cheer on the extraordinary American team that has made us so proud as a country.
QUESTION: Indeed, they have, and they still are. I just can’t – can’t go to sleep at night with out, you know, watching the latest competitions.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I know.
QUESTION: But just today, on the human rights front. Just today, an Olympic sprinter from Belarus, as you’re well aware, found exile in Poland despite pressure, she says from her coaches in Tokyo to get on a plane and go home early to Belarus because of her criticism of the government there. She says her grandmother on a call told her that the backlash in Belarus to her position was so fierce she should not go home. How important is the asylum provision for those facing repercussions from totalitarian regimes?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, it’s important that people who are facing persecution in their countries know that they can request and get asylum in another country. So, I do commend Poland for granting her asylum and protection. And I encourage her to stay strong in the face of this adversity.
QUESTION: I want to talk about Afghanistan. You know the refugee crisis around the world, but now Afghanistan is facing just extraordinary threats against Afghans. The Taliban has been accused by the U.S. of massacring civilians, and what the U.S. embassy in Kabul said could be war crimes, making it even more critical that the Afghan translators who’ve worked for the U.S. military get out. But now also the Secretary has said that Afghans who worked for human rights groups and American companies also could get out. But the State Department says that those who did not work for the military have to find their own way to third countries. And then wait for as long as 14 months before they can be approved to come to the U.S. So, shouldn’t we be doing more to protect those who put their lives on the line for us?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We’re deeply concerned about the situation in Afghanistan. And we are doing everything possible to support those people who have supported us in our efforts there, and we will work to find ways to speed up that process. We have now brought over 400 SIVs into the United States, and they’ve been processed into our program. And we have thousands more who have also applied for the program, and we’ll be working as expeditiously as possible to get them into the United States. As a refugee, a refugee has to be outside of their country of birth to apply for refugee status. And we will be building up our programs to support those individuals who reach out and apply for refugee status. The United Nations High Commission for Human Rights is an organization that is very much engaged on this and assisting those people who need protection. And we will be working closely with them as well as other organizations to find ways of supporting those individuals who will need protection moving forward.
QUESTION: And of course, the danger is getting past the Taliban to even get to those borders, but I know you’re well aware of that. I do want to ask you about Iran because today this new President Raisi – the hard liner, even more hard line than any of his recent predecessors – took office. And Iran is increasingly becoming more and more aggressive at sea. So now the UK wants the Security Council to issue a statement condemning what the U.S. has determined was an Iranian-sponsored drone attack against an Israeli-owned ship, killing a British sailor and a Romanian sailor. Will the U.S. push the Security Council to condemn Iran.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Absolutely, we have been working very, very closely with our partners – with the UK and others on the Security Council – to address this issue. I’ve engaged with my Israeli colleague, as well. And we will do the necessary to ensure that there is accountability on this, and that Iran is identified and dealt with in the Security Council. The efforts are continuing as I speak, but I can assure you we are working assiduously on moving this discussion forward.
QUESTION: I want to ask you about COVID because the Biden Administration is touting its vaccine contributions to COVAX – that’s the international agency, as you know, dealing with COVID vaccine distribution. But according to the New York Times this week, as of early July, 22 nations – many of them in Africa and some with surging fatalities – reported being nearly or entirely out of doses from this program. So, there is broad criticism that COVAX is not doing what it needs to do in this global surge – maybe largely because of the delta variant, but the shots are not getting into arms in many parts of the world. What can we do?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, this is why President Biden has announced that we are going to be an arsenal for COVID vaccines. We have already gotten out 110 million doses across the world. I am delighted that we delivered, just this week, 1.5 million doses to Thailand, in a country where less than 2 percent of the population has been vaccinated. We delivered, just this week again, 1.5 million doses in South Africa. We’ve given, and the president announced over 580 million doses of vaccines will be provided by the United States. We’ve given $4 billion – already $2 billion, but an additional $2 billion – to COVAX to help them in purchasing the doses that they need to get out. And we know that COVAX has experienced some problems. Part of the issue that they are experiencing is related to the lack of production. The production levels have not been as robust as they had hoped they would be. But the point we want to make is that this is a global issue, and that we all have to work together to ensure that vaccines are distributed around the world. We worked in the United States and got as many vaccines as possible into the arms of Americans and more vaccines are available for Americans to take. And we encourage Americans to take those vaccines because there are people in parts of the world where they don’t have access. But we’re going to do everything in our power to ensure that we get vaccines out to these parts of the world where they’ve not had access and get them into the arms of people.
QUESTION: I want to ask you about a UN panel of experts which is going to come to the State Department as part of a UN investigation coming out of the George Floyd killing. And they will be looking at issues of systemic racism and policing against African Americans, racial profiling, police brutality, among other issues. What do you think about the U.S. now coming under this international spotlight?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, this is a moment in the United States where we have recognized our shortcomings. We don’t have anything to hide. Our press is open, so people have seen and understand the experiences of racism in the United States. And what I expect that this investigation team will learn is the intense activities that have taken place in just the few months that this Administration has been in power. Where we’re dealing with issues of police brutality and police reform. We’re working on gun control. We’re dealing with issues of systemic racism. And the issues of diversity and inclusion are a major priority for this Administration. And so, we want to be an example to the world of openness, an example to world of how to deal with these issues because racism doesn’t just exist in the United States – we’ve said that over and over again. And we want to show the world that you can address these issues in an open and in a transparent way. And again, I think that the investigators will come away from this with a true understanding of the commitment that this Administration has made and give us the due credit that the Administration deserves for tackling these issues head on.
QUESTION: Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, it is a pleasure, and we wish you safe travels to Tokyo representing the U.S. at the Olympics. Thank you very much for being with us today.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you so much, Andrea.