Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s Interview with Lawrence O’Donnell of “The Last Word”

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
September 14, 2022


QUESTION:  And it is our honor to be joined tonight by the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield. Thank you very much for joining us tonight.

AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Thank you, I’m delighted to be here with you.

QUESTION:  That moment at the UN is, for me, at minimum what the UN is for. Without the United Nations, we never would have had that moment and Russia never would have had to listen to anyone from Ukraine say anything to them.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  It was surreal. It was surreal to have it happen while we were all sitting there in the room. The Ukrainian ambassador texted me to say they’d started fighting, and I had just delivered my remarks. And I texted him back and said, “I will ask for the floor again.” And I did ask for the floor again so that I could expose again and condemn Russia for what they were doing, and we watched it in real time. It was – it really was an extraordinary moment.

QUESTION:  We had so much tension in the United Nations. It was FDR’s dream 78 years ago, during World War II, that this would be the successor organization to World War II so there would never be a World War III. So much of it was kind of locked in the Cold War, so many tense confrontations there. By the time you arrived at the UN, you had reason to hope that you wouldn’t have nights like that.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  It was shocking to me. I’d been there just barely a year when this attack happened, but we’d been warning of the attack for some time prior to the attack. So no one should have been surprised. We certainly were prepared. We had prepared other members of the Security Council with the knowledge that we had, and we were able to condemn Russia’s actions almost immediately, taking it to the General Assembly and getting 141 countries to sign on and vote to condemn Russia.

So the Security Council, the UN General Assembly – we were ready for this and we were prepared for this, and we have continued over the course of the past six months to condemn Russia, to expose their malign efforts, and to also isolate them in the Security Council. And we will continue to do that in the weeks and months to come.

QUESTION:  The cohesion of this alliance against Vladimir Putin’s aggression is the likes of which we haven’t seen since World War II, I think, and the continued cohesion of it – no fraying at the seams, nothing loosening, coming apart here. President Biden does get an awful lot of credit for that. How much of that is due to what you’re able to help hold together at the United Nations where you see representatives of that alliance every day?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  I mean, that’s part of it, but a bigger part of it are the bilateral relationships that we have with these countries, our ambassadors in these countries, Secretary Blinken engaging with his counterpart. I do it on a daily basis with members of the Security Council, with members of the UN, engaging them and trying to work with them to help build this very strong coalition. And I have to tell you, President Putin miscalculated. He miscalculated how strong our partnership with Europe would be and he miscalculated NATO – he miscalculated that we would remain strong. And finally, he miscalculated the commitment of the Ukrainian people to fight for their sovereignty, to fight for their independence and to fight for their freedom, and they continue to do that today.

QUESTION:  I want to squeeze in a commercial break here so that we can continue talking.  When we come back, I want to ask what your experience as a career diplomat means to you at the UN. Most UN ambassadors don’t go into the job with that experience. We’re going to be right back with United States Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield.


QUESTION:  And we’re back with the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield. Another choice Vladimir Putin has made is to create food insecurity elsewhere in the world, continents away, in what – in the hope that by starving people in Africa that it will weaken our resolve?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  It certainly has become a major consequence of this unprovoked war on Ukraine. What we learned as this war started is that both Russia and Ukraine are major, major exporters of wheat. In some countries in Africa and the Middle East, close to 50, 60 percent of their wheat comes from Russia and Ukraine. And because of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, Ukraine has not been able to export its wheat until just recently after the Secretary-General was able to strike an agreement between Russia-Ukraine, with the help of Turkey, to get some of that wheat out.

Russia can also export its own wheat. They have argued to the international community that sanctions have contributed to the food insecurity when, in fact, there are no sanctions on Russia’s agricultural products. They can export their wheat. They can export fertilizer, which we learned so many countries depend on from Russia. And we need to end this war so that we can start to rebuild the economies of these countries who are so dependent on exports of foodstuffs from Russia and Ukraine.

QUESTION:  President Biden will be coming to the United Nations next week. What do you expect him to say and what does the – what do the United Nations’ members want to hear from the President?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Well, certainly they want to hear from the President of the United States. That’s clear. And what they hope to hear and I think they will hear from President Biden is to – our reaffirmation of our commitment to the United Nations, our commitment to the UN Charter.

We will be focused on three priorities. We will be looking at food insecurity, as you just noted, and how to address issues of food insecurity around the world. He will be hosting the Global Fund and working with the Global Fund in terms of replenishing their accounts so that they can address HIV/AIDS, they can address tuberculosis, malaria, and to work to prevent pandemics from happening again. The global fund has asked for $18 billion; the U.S. has committed to giving them 6. We’ve already given them 2 billion and we are looking to other countries to make additional contributions. And third, we will be focused on the UN Charter, on UN reform, and we will be looking to hear from the President where he hopes we will go in looking at how we will make sure that the UN is fit for purpose for the next generations to deal with issues of peace and security, human rights, to deal with the social climate issues that we are dealing with around the globe.

QUESTION:  You are a career diplomat, a Foreign Service officer. You served as an ambassador. You served as an assistant secretary of state. That’s an unusually long foreign policy resume for UN ambassadors. What advantage does that give you at the United Nations?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  I know the world, and having spent 35 years in the Foreign Service, there are few countries that I have not engaged in. I know Africa. Some people tell me that I probably have forgotten more about the continent than they know. And I know their leaders. I know their people. And they know me. And that has given me, I think, an advantage that many other former permanent representatives and ambassadors didn’t bring to the table. So I’m able to pick up the phone – and sometimes I don’t pick up the phone; the phone calls come to me from heads of state around the continent of Africa as well as in Europe. I served in Pakistan. I did work in Afghanistan in the 1990s.

So I have had quite a bit of experience working on humanitarian issues, which are really very, very close to my heart, working on issues that bring a better life to people, and I bring that to this job.

QUESTION:  Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, thank you for your career in the Foreign Service and thank you very much for joining us tonight.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Thank you. I’ve enjoyed being here.

QUESTION:  Really appreciate it.  We’ll be right back.