Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s Interview with Carolyn Beeler of PRX’s “The World”

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
August 8, 2023


QUESTION: The United Nations World Food Program said today it will slowly resume food aid to Ethiopia. UN officials had cut off the aid nearly five months ago after discovering some of the donations were being resold at local markets. The risk of hunger is increasing around the world. Combating it is high on the UN’s agenda, especially since Russia pulled out of the Black Sea Grain Initiative a few weeks ago. The U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield has made combating hunger a priority since the U.S. took over the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council for the month of August. But she says Russia isn’t making that job easy. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield spoke with me from New York this morning.

I want to first off remind people of the mechanics of the UN Security Council, any of the five permanent members can unilaterally veto resolutions. Russia is one of those five permanent members which means it can just stop you in your tracks. The UN Security Council seems kind of paralyzed when it comes to the war in Ukraine. What role can the Security Council play?

AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, Carolyn, I actually have to disagree with that. I do know, and everyone understands, that Russia does have the veto power, but they have not been successful in blocking the Security Council from taking action. And as President of the Council, of course, I get to shape the Council’s agenda for the month and the UK was president last month. We have been able to isolate Russia in the Security Council. Basically, it’s been 14 to one, so they are on their back foot – they’re on their heels. And while they have been able to wield their veto power, they have not been able to wield their own power in terms of influencing the rest of the Council.

QUESTION: But, of course, the UN Security Council has not been able to stop this conflict since Russia pulled out of the Black Sea Green Initiative a few weeks ago. It’s been attacking Ukraine’s ports. It’s destroyed 220,000 metric tons of grain in the past few weeks alone. That’s meant that grain prices have spiked. That’s going to be devastating, especially for food-insecure countries. What is the way out here?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: The Secretary-General, the Government of Türkiye are continuing their efforts to bring Russia back into the grain deal. Their attacks on Ukraine, however, show the lack of concern that they have for people around the world. And if you just look at the millions of tons of grain that we were able to get through, I think Secretary Blinken said the other day that the equivalent of the 30 million tons of grain that was going through the grain deal was equivalent to about 18 billion loaves of bread. That is millions upon millions of people who are being impacted by their actions.

QUESTION: At this point, do you think that the Black Sea Grain Initiative somehow can be revived?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We’re hopeful. The Secretary-General has not given up. The Government of Türkiye is working along with him to urge the Russians to come back into the deal, and we support those efforts. This certainly was an advantage to the Russians – they were getting their grain out. In fact, they’ve got now more of their grain since this war started than they did the previous year. So, they have a reason to go back into the grain deal. And hopefully, through the efforts of the Secretary-General, they will eventually come to the right decision.

QUESTION: Russia is now approaching several impacted countries with these bilateral offers of grain shipments at discounted prices. Is the U.S. prepared to respond to this in any way? Are they making similar offers to vulnerable countries?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: As far as what we are doing, the U.S. has been in the forefront. We provided about $14 billion in additional funding for food security worldwide. Secretary Blinken was in New York last week; he announced an additional $350 million in aid to 11 African countries and Haiti. And we are continuing to push for more support for the World Food Program. We provide about 50 percent of the budget for the World Food Program – and Russia contributes less than one percent. In fact, they contribute less than the country of Somalia.

QUESTION: I want to leave Russia and Ukraine for a moment and turn to Niger now. The UN Security Council hasn’t been able to muster much of a response to the ousting of the president, Mohamed Bazoum. What can the global community do here?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, first, the Security Council came out very, very early on this. The three African countries who are members of the Council actually called for an emergency meeting on Niger, and we issued a statement condemning the attempted coup.

QUESTION: So, the UN Security Council, you know, can issue statements, but there’s nothing on the ground. Do you think at this point that the coup can really be reversed?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, look, in our estimation, President Bazoum is still the democratically elected president of Niger, and we are supporting diplomatic efforts to turn this around. As you know, Acting Deputy Secretary and Under Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland was in Niger yesterday as she spoke on the phone to President Bazoum. We’re going to continue to support ECOWAS and their efforts to turn this around.

QUESTION: Are U.S. officials avoiding calling what happened in Niger a coup?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We’re not avoiding calling it a coup. It is not yet a successful effort. President Bazoum still remains the elected president of this country. We have temporarily suspended our direct assistance to the government until President Bazoum is reinstalled, but we are continuing to provide humanitarian assistance directly.

QUESTION: What about the more than 1,000 U.S. soldiers present in Niger right now? Will they be withdrawn?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I can’t comment on that right now. We’re watching that situation very closely. And I know that DOD is looking at what steps they might need to take.

QUESTION: One final topic for you, Ambassador: Haiti. The U.S. has said it’s willing to introduce a resolution at the UN Security Council to authorize a multinational force led by Kenya to help Haitian police fight armed gangs. How involved is the U.S. prepared to get in this effort?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, we’re actively engaged in this effort. We are the so-called penholders for the Haiti resolution. So, we’re working very, very closely with all of the members of the Council to ensure that we put in the resolution what will be necessary for the Kenyan contingent on the ground to be successful. This was a request that came directly to the Council from the Government of Haiti. And we’re working very, very closely with that government as well to ensure that what we eventually agree to will work to address the very dire situation on the ground. The gangs are controlling huge swaths of the country. They’re blocking civilians from moving from neighborhood to neighborhood. And the situation has gotten to the point of really – it requires a response to really get the country back on track.

QUESTION: UN peacekeepers from Kenya have had a mixed record in the past, though, with some being accused of abusing civilians and supporting smuggling rings. Does that concern you or give you pause?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We’re working closely with the Kenyan government. We have called out any misbehavior by peacekeeping troops wherever those happen. We’ve called for accountability. And this is something that we will work closely with the Kenyans on as they begin to put together this contingent to go to Haiti.

QUESTION: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas Greenfield, speaking with us from New York. Thank you so much for taking the time, Ambassador.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Carolyn, thank you so much. It was great speaking to you.