Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
February 10, 2022
QUESTION: Joining me now to discuss is U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield. Madam Ambassador, welcome to the program. So let’s begin there: We have the joint exercises between Russia and Belarus kicking off today, Ukraine accusing Russia of blocking access to parts of the Black Sea. This is happening as Russian leaders – Russian foreign ministers are still continuing to meet with their counterparts. Are you concerned that they’re just biding time now?
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We are going to continue to push for a diplomatic solution to this, despite the fact that we see rhetoric continuing to escalate and be confrontational. What we have said over and over to the Russians is that they need to choose diplomacy and they need to de-escalate if they want us to address the security concerns that they have expressed worry about. And these actions over the course of the past few days certainly are not in any way going to push us away from trying to find a diplomatic solution, but also, we’re continuing to prepare. So as they do these very confrontational actions, we’re working with our allies to be prepared for any eventuality.
QUESTION: We know Russia President Vladimir Putin had a lengthy meeting with Emmanuel Macron from France and the German Chancellor is scheduled to meet in Moscow with Putin next week. But everyone who studies Vladimir Putin knows that he considers himself a co-equal with President Biden, and that it’s another meeting with Biden that he would like to see happen. Is the Administration considering that in the coming days?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We have kept the doors of communications open with the Russians. As you know, Secretary Blinken spoke just last week with Foreign Minister Lavrov, and we know that they plan to speak again. So, again, we are prepared to have as many diplomatic discussions with the Russians as they need to encourage them to de-escalate.
QUESTION: Does that include President Biden, too?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We have not put that off the table, but it has to be under the right circumstances.
QUESTION: We have seen a concerted effort now by Western allies to try to get Vladimir Putin to de-escalate. I’m curious as to what role, if any, China is playing in this. Obviously, the two have become quite close. They released that joint statement last week in Beijing. And at the UN Security Council meeting last week, we saw China side with Russia, as well. But one thing that was noticeably missing from China’s format here was the mention of Ukraine. Do you think China and President Xi can play a role here in getting Vladimir Putin to de-escalate, and is he?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We would hope that the Chinese would play a role in encouraging the Russians to do the right thing. The Chinese have expressed a strong concern in the Security Council for protecting the integrity of borders and sovereignty of states. This is exactly what the Russians are doing – they are threatening the integrity of a border. So for China to deliver that message would be extraordinarily important. We were certainly hoping that that would happen in those meetings with Russia, and I will look forward to encouraging my Chinese counterpart in New York to deliver that same message.
QUESTION: Has the U.S. – has the President – has the U.S. Administration specifically reached out to China behind the scenes to do just that?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I am working almost on a daily basis with my Chinese counterpart in New York, and I know that Secretary Blinken has had a number of conversations with his counterpart.
QUESTION: Let me ask you about reports that the U.S. now approving Pentagon plans for U.S. troops to evacuate Americans who may be in Ukraine – from Poland, not in Ukraine itself. Given that that has now been approved, what is your message to U.S. citizens and nationals that are currently in Ukraine right now. There are thousands of them, at least 7,000 that are officially registered. Should they be leaving the country?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We have encouraged American citizens to leave Ukraine while the situation is permissible, to take private means to leave, because we see that the situation on the ground is unpredictable at the moment. It is a responsibility for us to give that kind of guidance to American citizens anywhere in the world, and that is exactly what we’re doing in Ukraine. And we’ve been consistent in that message over the past few weeks.
QUESTION: Let me switch gears and ask you about Syria, because there was a report in Foreign Policy Magazine this week that the United States has quietly cut a deal with Russia that eases some of the political pressures toward Syria in the UN, and that the U.S. has signed off on that, and that would ease some of the pressures that we have put on them about their human rights abuses and chemical weapons abuses. Is that, in fact, the case?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Our discussions with the Russians in the United Nations were very open and very public. It was about keeping the one border crossing open that allowed for needed humanitarian assistance to reach millions of vulnerable Syrians who were on the other side of the border. And we were very, very pleased that we were able to achieve that and –
QUESTION: – That’s not what this reporting says –
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: – the border has remained open.
QUESTION: – but that’s not what the reporting says. Do you refute the reporting?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: What I’m saying is my discussions with the Russians have been on making sure those borders stay open, and we’re continuing to have those discussions right now as we move toward July when the current mandate ends. The discussions have been strictly on those terms between me and my Russian colleagues in New York.
QUESTION: Alright, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, we’ll have to leave it there. Thank you so much.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Good. Thank you very much.