Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s Interview with Marco Werman on PRX’s “The World” 

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
February 16, 2023


QUESTION: It took seven days for the UN to strike a deal with the Syrian regime. To find out why the UN can’t act faster, we reached out to the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield. I asked her whether a broken UN system was to blame.

AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, I wouldn’t put the blame on the UN. I think we all were very, very concerned about the devastating earthquake across the board. The U.S. made very clear on day one that we would provide assistance directly to the Syrian people through any means possible.

Where the blame lies is with the Syrian Government. They took seven days to reopen the border. NGOs, the UN, donors were all working desperately to get assistance into the people of Syria. It is the Syrian Government, the Assad regime that let the Syrian people down.

QUESTION: How nimble is the UN, though, when it comes to dealing with the Assad government and really pushing to deal directly with civilians who are in harm’s way?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: They clearly are not as nimble as we would have wanted them to be. But I know that they were making every effort possible to get through to the government and to try to provide assistance to the Syrian people. And NGOs were there, local NGOs. I spoke to – on probably day two – I started a series of conversations with NGOs on the ground. I spoke to the White Helmets. I spoke to several international NGOs. And they were working around the clock to get support directly into Syria. But it was hard. It was absolutely very, very hard. And I welcome the delayed Syrian decision to open the border, and we are monitoring that situation very closely. The UN briefed us yesterday that trucks are moving through the border, but I actually still think we need a resolution because we can’t rely on Assad’s whims. He may decide to close the border tomorrow. So we need the confidence that the border can remain open through a UN resolution that allows for the UN to continue to work directly with the Syrian people.

QUESTION: Ambassador, is there a scenario here where Bashar al-Assad can use this crisis to start to shed his pariah status? Because there are some analysts who say sanctions might be eased and the international community might begin supporting Syria’s reconstruction. How concerned are you by that scenario?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: What Assad has done in Syria can never, ever be forgotten. And while we have – on day one we made sure that we issued licenses that would allow for humanitarian assistance to go in, for humanitarian agencies to continue to work in Syria, we are not removing Assad and the people who have supported his terror off of sanctions. He cannot use this disaster to clean up his horrible reputation as it relates to the Syrian people.

QUESTION: And what will be done to keep that from happening?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, first and foremost, we’re not going to allow that to happen, and I don’t think the Syrian people will allow it to happen. The Syrian people are not going to forget what Assad did. He killed his own people. He used chemical weapons against his own people. That said, we’re going to do everything we can to support all Syrian people who have been affected by this horrific earthquake to ensure that they get the assistance that they need. Assad can’t clean up his act with a natural disaster.

QUESTION: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, thank you very much for your time. Always a pleasure.