Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
May 7, 2022
QUESTION: I want to start off, Ambassador, it’s my understanding that you’re headed to Turkey and the border with Syria and you’re going to be visiting a refugee camp. Tell us about that.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you so much, Frank, for having me. And let me just say that when I started as President of the Security Council last year in March, we also had a focus on the situation in Syria and throughout my tenure I have focused on that situation. So, I previously made a trip to the border area of visiting the refugee communities living around the border with Syria, meeting with UN agencies so that we could, last year, get agreement on an extension of the Bab al-Hawa border crossing and we were successful in getting unanimous Security Council support for that extension.
So, I am planning a second trip, as you know, this weekend* to the Turkish-Syrian border to update myself on the situation there, but also to prepare for the extension of the resolution that has to be extended on July 10 of this year. We know that that border crossing, as well as other border crossings that have already been closed, provide necessary and urgent humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people. We want to ensure that that assistance continues.
Turkey has played an essential role, allowing the UN to work from the Turkish side of the border. And I also want to take the opportunity to thank Turkey, but thank the Turkish people for hosting refugees. This work could not be done without the hospitality and the generosity of the Turkish people and the Turkish government.
QUESTION: Turkey hosted more than 2.7 million refugees from Syria, and now Russia and Ukraine. And it’s estimated that about 85,000 people have fled to Turkey as refugees from Ukraine. And, you know, this situation is really incredible to most. Its seems like you’re dealing with – granted you’re dealing with Russia, with Syria, and now you’re talking about border crossings, you’re talking about evacuations in Ukraine, and Russia has been really an obstacle for these things, for the UN, and for refugees, hasn’t it?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, what has been helpful is that the Turkish government – your president – has been engaging with the Russians and with the Ukrainians and trying to facilitate a diplomatic end to this horrific war. And we support all of those efforts to find a diplomatic solution to this conflict. This conflict in Ukraine has produced more than 10 million – I think the figures are probably over 11 million – displaced people and refugees. About six million people have crossed the border into neighboring countries and, as you noted, some are even in Turkey. Another five plus million are displaced inside of Ukraine, impacted by this horrific war. And the only solution at this moment is to end that conflict now. But, again, Turkey is dealing with that conflict as well as the situation on its own border with Syria.
QUESTION: Recently, Ukrainian lawmakers, they passed this kind of a resolution declaring Russia as a sponsor of terrorism because of its invasion of Ukraine. Now, is that something that is on the agenda for the Biden Administration? Because I understand they’re actually considering putting it in that kind of a description as Russia being a sponsor of state terrorism. It would be joining North Korea, Cuba, Iran.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We have been clear that what we see happening in Ukraine are war crimes. What we see happening in Ukraine are humanitarian and human rights atrocities. And we have supported all of the efforts so far to collect evidence to prepare for prosecutions against those who have committed these crimes. So, whatever we label it, it is clearly something that we have to hold the Russian government responsible for, and hold them accountable for, and the U.S. supports all of those efforts.
QUESTION: To be clear, do you believe they should be labeled as a sponsor of terrorism?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We have not added that label. But it is clearly – I’m sure if you ask the Ukrainian people, they are feeling terrorized by what the Russians are doing now in Ukraine.
QUESTION: And you would support that as a diplomat?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I support every effort to hold them accountable, to collect evidence, to prove their culpability for the commission of war crimes and atrocities against the Ukrainian people.
QUESTION: So far, you have been successful in isolating Russia in the Security Council, suspending them from the Human Rights Council, putting a lot of pressure on them politically. The incredible vote at the Human Rights Council, that was historic. What are you going to do next as President of the Security Council?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, we will continue to keep a laser focus on what the Russians are doing. We will continue to apply extraordinary pressure on the Russians, and we will continue our efforts at isolating them in the Security Council, as well as around the globe. And as you noted, we’ve been extraordinarily successful in that effort – 141 people voted to condemn Russia in the General Assembly, 140 voted to support Ukraine’s need for humanitarian assistance, and then we won the vote suspending Russia from the Human Rights Council. So, we will continue our efforts. We will continue to push back against Russia’s disinformation and misinformation campaign. Every time they bring an issue before the Security Council, it gives us an opportunity to highlight the atrocities that they are committing. It gives us an opportunity to further isolate them. And our goal is to continue to succeed in our effort to support the Ukrainians ability to defend themselves against the Russians, but also to continue to be unified with our European colleagues, as well as others around the globe in condemning the Russians.
QUESTION: Now, I wanted to ask you, I recently did another interview with the Ukrainian ambassador, and he blames the UN and NATO for not acting sooner and not acting right after the Russian’s annexation of Crimea – basically, the international community been ignoring things for eight years.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, again, I always acknowledge the frustration that the Ukrainians have to feel because of this situation. But if you look back, the United States was raising our concerns about this situation, months before the Russians invaded Ukraine. President Biden had a meeting with President Putin. He spoke to him on several occasions. He warned him that the consequences of him taking such an action would be strongly felt through sanctions like they have never seen before. And we see those sanctions being imposed on them now. Secretary Blinken was meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov and even had a meeting scheduled with him the day they attacked. And then I think most importantly, on the day they attacked, we were having an emergency meeting of the Security Council. So, we have not ignored and we did not delay our response to the situation. We were calling out the Russians months before. We were galvanizing and unifying the community for months before this happened. And you know, I will say, we even voiced our concerns, way back from 2014, when the Russians moved into Crimea, and took actions in Donbas.
So, this has been a long time in coming, but I think the record shows that we we’ve raised concerns about this. We’ve been responsive. We provided Ukraine close to a billion dollars in assistance prior to this current action taking place. And since this action has taken place, it’s been billions more. And as you know, the President just announced the requests to Congress for $33 billion to support Ukraine.
QUESTION: And you mentioned that Secretary of State Blinken took the [inaudible] moments ago. I understand he’s going to be part of some signature events that you have planned. Tell us about that.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yes, thank you for asking that question. So, one of our key events during this month of our Presidency will be a focus on food insecurity and how that impacts peace and security around the globe. Secretary Blinken will host a ministerial, a call to action on food security, and invite ministers from various countries who have been impacted by the war in Ukraine and food insecurity issues broadly, but also ministers who we think can help to provide solutions. That meeting will take place on the 18th. And then on the 19th, Secretary Blinken will chair the Security Council’s meeting and event on food insecurity. This will be an open debate. So, every country who would like to speak on this issue will be allowed to speak on this issue because we think this is an important issue. It’s been an important issue personally for me, for a number of years, and you may be aware of that my signature event for my first Security Council Presidency in March of last year, also focused on food security
QUESTION: Two quick questions before wrapping up. One, I understand there was a draft resolution floating around the Security Council, regarding North Korea and recently they launched at least their 14th missile launch this year. Are you getting any traction in the Council to ramp up sanctions?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We have a resolution that we are discussing in the Council – it’s been tabled – to ramp up our sanctions on the North Koreans. That resolution is in play as we speak, and we hope to bring that forward in the coming days and week.
QUESTION: You know, multilateralism has certainly taken a hit here at the UN over the past eight years. Of course, it has changed dramatically since the Biden Administration has come in. And you as a diplomat, since you have started your career, a lot of young women are looking up to someone like you, looking up to you as a role model. What message can you give to them to follow in your footsteps, because it wasn’t easy for you?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, that’s a very kind question that you’re asking me. I spent 35 years in the Foreign Service before I retired, and then three years later, called back by the Biden Administration to take on this key role. And I was honored to be called by the President because I believe in diplomacy. I believe in multilateralism, and I absolutely believe that U.S. leadership is key to the success of the multilateral system. When we’re not at the table, the system does not work as effectively as it could work. So, being here at this key time has been really an important time for the U.S. government, but for the rest of the world.
And I am honored to be considered a role model. When I talk to young African Americans, young people of color around the world, young women around the world, and I see how they view me, it makes it even more important for me to carry out my job in a way that shows the importance of leadership, shows the importance of humility, the importance of being able to communicate; and communicating means not just my telling other governments what I want them to hear, but hearing from them what their priorities are. And I had a number of role models: Madeleine Albright, who we will also be honoring during this month; we have an event scheduled to commemorate her on the 17th of May in the General Assembly. She was an extraordinary role model for women and an extraordinarily important voice for multilateralism and for U.S. leadership. And the fact that I am sitting behind the podium that she sat behind – behind the placard that Madeline Albright sat behind – just is amazing for me. And as amazing as she was to me, my hope is that one day I will be considered amazing for young people who follow me.
QUESTION: I think that’s already occurred in your case for sure. Thank you very much, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, for joining us here on TRT World. Good luck and safe travels when you go to Turkey later this weekend.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Good. Thank you very much.