Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
January 31, 2024
QUESTION: Madam Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, thank you so very much for always giving us your time here on Straight Talk Africa and taking time out to speak to our African audiences. We really appreciate it. Ma’am, you’ve travelled to Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea Bissau. There’s a new president in Liberia, an attempted coup in Sierra Leone in recent months, and of course, there was political unrest in Guinea Bissau in December. Did some of these factors play into why you visited those particular countries, and can you tell us more about the conversations you’ve had with the leaders of those countries?
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, absolutely. First and foremost, the reason for my trip was to lead the presidential delegation to Liberia’s inauguration and reaffirm our strong commitment to the people of Liberia, congratulate them on an extraordinarily successful election, congratulate President Boakai and also congratulate President Weah for graciously accepting the results of the election and being part of a smooth transition from one administration to another.
Sierra Leone, I visited for a number of reasons. But Sierra Leone, as you know, just joined the Security Council as an elected member and as part of my own engagement with members of the Security Council, when there are new elected members of the Council, I try to make a visit to those countries and engage with them on their priorities on the Council, our priorities on the Council, but also, as you know, Sierra Leone did have an attempted coup, to condemn that attempt, but also work with the Government to discuss their actions moving forward, including this Commission that they’ve set up, that will be reviewing the election, the electoral process, and that seems to be going extraordinarily well.
And finally, Guinea Bissau, I’m going backward, I started in Guinea Bissau, but I had engagement directly with the president on the situation on the ground there encouraging his continued support for a democratic process moving forward, having elections as soon as possible that will allow the country’s Parliament to get back into operation and help this country as it struggles as a democracy.
QUESTION: Ambassador, I want to ask you about news from West Africa over the weekend. Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger quitting the Economic Community of West African States. Now these are founding members of ECOWAS, the bloc was, of course, also founded on these ideas of integration and regional cooperation, but if you look at the trends of successive coups in parts of West Africa, is ECOWAS at risk of falling apart?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, ECOWAS has historically been a strong, regional organization in West Africa. They played a pivotal role in ending the civil wars in both Liberia and Sierra Leone, and they have played a strong role in bringing the countries of West Africa together on economic migration and other issues.
The decisions made by Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali is really – that decision is really unfortunate because it further isolates them from their neighborhood. It isolates them from other democracies in the region and it shows that the actions that they are taking are actions that are only in their interests, but not in the interests of the people of these three countries. So again, I think this is unfortunate, I think ECOWAS will remain strong, it will continue to address issues across the board, and I hope at some point that they can convince these three countries to come back into the fold. Being outside the fold is not in their interest and it’s not in the interests of their people.
QUESTION: Madam, I also want to get your comment on Friday’s interim ruling by the International Court of Justice in the Hague, in that case brought by South Africa against Israel. Now, of course, the Court cannot enforce this ruling. It is merely symbolic. But will the United States tell Israel to comply with the ICJ’s ruling?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Look, we have worked closely with the Israeli government on these issues, that they continue to work to improve their efforts to protect civilians in their effort to defend their own territory. So, we support their rights to defense, but we’ve also encouraged them to pay closer attention to civilian casualties and to pay closer attention to international humanitarian law. And this is something that is a message that has come from the top of the U.S. government in all of our engagements with the Israelis. We are broadly supportive of the International Court of Justice, and their ruling is, as you said, an interim ruling, and they will continue to discuss these issues moving forward. We will continue to work with the Israelis to address the concerns that were raised.
QUESTION: Do you see the ICJ ruling as a rebuke of Israel? And will the United States continue unwavering support for Israel, no matter what, and no matter how long it takes?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We have unwavering support for Israel’s right to defend itself against the brutal attacks that Hamas carried out on October 7th, and that they have indicated they will do again if they have the opportunity. So, we have been clear in our support for Israel’s right of self-defense, but we’ve also made clear that Israel has to honor international humanitarian law. They have to honor the laws of war.
QUESTION: Madam Ambassador, there’s also news in recent days about the U.S., Britain, Germany, Australia and other countries pausing funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East. Israel accuses some of their staff of terrorism for involvement in the October 7th attacks. How much money is being put on hold, ma’am? And what now, about the two million people in Gaza who depend on this agency for their survival and who, according to the UN, are facing famine in coming months?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Look, what the report of members of UNRWA, 12 members of UNRWA staff engaging in the horrific attacks on Israel on October 7th were really, really horrific, they are unacceptable. And we have supported the UN’s decision to relieve these people of their connections with UNRWA, and we are supporting their efforts to further investigate this situation. They came to us with this information early on, and we made the decision that it was important that we react in an appropriate way. We are UNRWA’s largest funder. We will continue to work with the UN to find ways to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza, and we will continue to have our people on the ground every single day working to ensure that that assistance is delivered to people on the ground. This is a temporary pause. We’re waiting for the results of the final investigation by the UN and their review of UNRWA’s work in the region. And we will continue to work with the UN as they provide support to Palestinian refugees who are living in Jordan, living in Syria, and living in Lebanon. So, our commitment to humanitarian assistance is ironclad, but we felt it was important that we send this strong message to UNRWA while this investigation continues to develop additional information.
QUESTION: And ma’am, will this funding affect any pledges that were made for 2024? I know there is talk of it affecting additional funding, but does that affect any pledges made for this year?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We made some early contributions to UNRWA that I know that they are using, and there are other countries who have made contributions as well, but we will work with the UN as they move forward to find mechanisms to ensure that Palestinians continue to get the needed assistance, the needed lifesaving assistance that the UN has been providing.
QUESTION: Ma’am, I want to return to U.S. politics and of course how it affects international relationships. The Biden administration this year reiterated that “it’s all in” on Africa’s future, but what commitments and promises can the U.S. really make to African countries when it is in an election year?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Look, I can speak for the Biden administration. And our commitment to Africa is ironclad. The fact that two cabinet officials were on the continent of Africa at the same time last week promoting our relationships, but also affirming our commitments to these countries, I think was a very, very strong message. We will continue to work with African countries to address their needs across the board, the U.S. has continuously been a large humanitarian development as well as security contributor to the people of Africa. I would expect that that will continue, but I can’t speak for if there’s a change of administration. We’re working to continue our commitments as the President made and hopefully this will continue as the President assumes a second administration, or if there’s a change of administration.
QUESTION: One final question, ma’am. Are you hearing anything about whether President Joe Biden will make a trip to Africa in this year?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, I can’t comment on the President’s travel schedule. I know that he is committed to maintaining our close relationships with the Africans across the board, and the White House will determine what his travel schedule will be like or what engagements he will have over the course of this year.