Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s Interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
September 19, 2023


QUESTION: Joining us now, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield. Also with us, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly. Good morning to you both.

Ambassador, let me begin with you. And we’ll talk about some of the criticism in just a moment, but what more can you tell us about how this deal came forth, the great news that those Americans are now back on home soil this morning? 

AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, the news is that they are back. They are with their families. And this is a commitment the Biden administration has been clear about since the beginning: that we would do everything – everything possible – to get American citizens who are wrongfully detained back home. And I think that’s the story here, and I think if you talk to the family members of these individuals, they feel the same. As well as other Americans who are being held wrongfully, we are continuing our efforts to do what is necessary to get them released and brought back to their families. 

QUESTION: Obviously it’s great news. These images are wonderful to see this morning – that is, those Americans held for too long in Iran back on American soil. You have heard, though, Ambassador, the criticism that the United States perhaps gave up too much to let Tehran off the hook with unfreezing those $6 billion worth of oil assets, and also giving up some prisoners here. We heard similar criticism around the deal that brought Brittney Griner home. What’s your response to that? 

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Look, we – the President would have been criticized if he had not brought them home. And so again, I think the story is that they are home. The funds that were released are going to be used for humanitarian purposes. The U.S. will have complete insight on how those funds are being used, and they will not be used other than to help the Iranian people who are in need of humanitarian support.

QUESTION: Mr. Foreign Secretary, of course this comes against the backdrop of the United Nations General Assembly, which is in full swing here in New York this week. So, talk to us about some of the things, the most important issues on the table – the defense of Ukraine, to be certain. What is the message there to continue to rally the world around Ukraine? But also talk to us about things like climate change and others? 

FOREIGN SECRETARY JAMES CLEVERLY: Well, the whole point of the UN General Assembly is that we are able to come together and address a wide range of issues, and you’ve highlighted some of the important ones. The Sustainable Development Goals, the contract that governments around the world made with themselves to things like improve education, eradicate poverty, improve the natural environment – those are way off track. And so part of our discussion here this week is about how we get those back on track using things like AI, for example, and some of the technologies we’re bringing forward, but also with things like climate change, but also, of course, making sure that whilst we continue to support Ukraine in its self-defense against Putin’s brutal attempted invasion of that country, we are also looking at things like food security. Because the targeting of Black Sea grain – so the grain crops coming out of southern – the ports in southern Ukraine – being blockaded by the Russians, plunging millions of people who are already in hunger into even greater difficulties.

So, these are just some of the areas that we’re working on both with our friends in the United States and, of course, the governments from around the world represented at the UN.

QUESTION: Minister Cleverly, you’re representing the UK delegation this week because Prime Minister Rishi Sunak chose not to come. He’s facing a real uphill battle. The Conservative Party is down 20 points to Labour in the UK. What is – what kind of referendum do you expect in the upcoming elections? Or what is – what do those numbers mean? 

FOREIGN SECRETARY CLEVERLY: Well, one of the things that – one of the things that I’ve seen – and I was the chairman of my political party in the 2019 general election. So, in the end of 2019, we had a very, very successful election – had one of the largest majorities in recent history for my political party. Earlier on that year, in the spring of that year – we polled at a national-level election – we attracted less than 10 percent of the national vote. So the point is, come election time, the British people will really see the choice ahead of them between a government which is leading the way on AI safety, leading the way on supporting Ukraine, leading the way on recovering from the economic downturn that the world has seen because of COVID, and I think that they will compare that very favorably with, frankly, the very weak proposition put forward by the opposition party in my country.

QUESTION: Madam Ambassador, can I ask you a little just – a little bit more on the Iranians, the Americans who have gotten out of Iran this morning. Obviously, anyone that sees those pictures, the pictures of them being reunited with their family, it is incredibly heartwarming. But you must have some concerns, don’t you, that these kinds of swaps where a country that takes – as a matter of almost policy and strategy – Americans hostage abroad, where they get exchanged like this – it does encourage them to carry on doing more. I mean, there have been reports that even in the last few weeks there have been more American Iranians detained in Iran. There is an EU official at the moment in prison in Iran. And don’t these kinds of swaps, with all the kind of controls that you’ve tried to put around them – I understand – just encourage these regimes to do this again?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Look, we have been clear to Iran and other regimes who use hostage taking as a matter of policy that this is unacceptable and we will hold them accountable. But we also have been clear that Americans who are being held unfairly deserve to be home with their families. So again, this is something that we are constantly working on, we’re constantly engaging with our partners to put pressure on these countries to cease this kind of behavior. It is unacceptable and it is something that we will hold them accountable for over and over again if we have to.

QUESTION: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield and British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, thank you both very much for being on the show this morning. We appreciate it. Thank you.