Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s Interview with Michel Martin of NPR’s “Morning Edition”

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
N’djamena, Chad
September 7, 2023


QUESTION: This morning I am at the U.S. Embassy in N’Djamena, the capital of Chad. The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, is here. We actually came here with her, and she is with us now to tell us more about why she is here. Ambassador, good morning. Thank you so much for joining us.


QUESTION: We should mention that the UN General Assembly is about to get underway in New York shortly. It’s a high-profile event for diplomats and heads of government around the world. But you decided to come here this week. Why here and why now?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Why here and why now? The situation here in Chad demands that we be here, demand that we amplify what is a critical humanitarian and human rights situation that you witnessed with me, Michel, yesterday, as we saw so many desperate people cross the border. And I had an opportunity to talk to those people, and I wanted to amplify their situation because this really is very reminiscent of what we saw happen in 2004.

QUESTION: So what stood out to you? As you mentioned, we joined you yesterday at Adré. What stays with you even now?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, it was the lack of hope, the fear that people express to me as I spoke to them about why they were crossing the border, seeing children in the hospital who were malnourished and seeing the amazing but desperate work that was being done by UN and NGO humanitarian workers to save lives. It was extraordinarily emotional, and it was extraordinarily sad, but it was also hopeful in the sense that these people were being welcomed with open arms by the Chadian people.

QUESTION: Could I just play a little bit of a conversation that I had with a man named Salah Almeida Omer (ph)? He had his large family with him and told us the story of how he was able to get them out. He wasn’t able to get them out all at once. And – but I just want to play a little bit of what he told us about why he ended up leaving Sudan. You have to lean in and listen closely to what he had to say, but here it is.

REFUGEE: They enter our home by gun and frightened the women, and even I have this daughter. This is sensitive issue. I have to talk in separate side. Finally, looted some money from our home.

QUESTION: Can I ask you how long did it take you to get here? How long was the journey? A day?

REFUGEE: How – again, partially, because I cannot collect all my family one go. So I pushed the sons, the boys, first, in advance. Next day, the daughters. The third step, I and my wife and the small kids.

QUESTION: Where are you staying here? Where do you stay?

REFUGEE: I stayed in a (inaudible) school. Yes, (inaudible) Adré.

QUESTION: Do you have enough to eat? Is there enough food?

REFUGEE: Until now we have not enough food. But are trying to send daughter to N’Djamena to sell or to buy bits and something there, to get money for us. So but until now, I have a car outside of the entrance of Adré, required to pay for them. Until now I can’t, and so still stuck in there.

QUESTION: What do you hope for? What do you hope will happen? Do you want to go home, or what do you want to do?

REFUGEE: Home? Home, it is a –

QUESTION: I’m so sorry.

REFUGEE: It is important for me. As you see, from my age, I built all my life to make generation and make (inaudible) and did my best, and forced to leave my house. So – and I check N’Djamena again. Still along the road are people with guns, on motorcycles. Some shots of – during night. And at the same time, you cannot – are they friend or enemy? This is – we are not stable there. So I can’t now trust on the situation going on in N’Djamena.

QUESTION: Thank you for speaking with us.

REFUGEE: Thank you.

QUESTION: We very much wish the best for you and your family.

QUESTION: Ambassador, you can hear the emotion in this man’s voice. You are a career diplomat. You’ve seen a lot in your life and career. How does this situation compare to others that you’ve witnessed?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It is as bad, but I have seen worse. But this does not bode well for what we see happening here. So this is why I’m here, to amplify the voices of this man, to amplify the voices of the young girls I spoke to yesterday. One told me she had lost her ambition. I mean, just imagine. And she said it with such sadness. And I said to her, “You can’t lose your ambition. That’s yours. You have to keep it.”

QUESTION: But how do you explain to people who have not seen these things about why they should care, apart from basic human decency? How do you explain this to people, especially in a moment in the United States when we are already hearing some people talk about compassion fatigue. I mean, some Republicans in Congress and candidates for office are saying we should pull back on Ukraine, for example, which is fighting a nuclear power with obvious expansionist ambitions. How do you make the case that this is important?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You have to keep trying to make the case, and that’s why we’re here today, Michel. This is why I’m in Chad, to make that case, so that people can hear the voices of this man, the voices of others who are suffering. We cannot ever get blunted or fatigued about other people’s misery. We have to engage. We have to find a way to address these situations. I want to amplify – I want to encourage others to give. The United States is the largest donor to humanitarian programs around the world. It is something that I am extraordinarily proud of, and it is something that most Americans are proud of. And we have to keep doing everything we can, but we also have to encourage others to do more. And I want to encourage others to do more.

QUESTION: Are there other strategic issues here as well along with the moral imperative? I mean, Chad has been an important U.S. ally, despite the fact that the U.S. has some disagreements with the way governance is taking place here, you know, at the moment. But are there other strategic issues at play here?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, Chad is in a bad neighborhood – that’s the way I described it – and it’s surrounded by countries that have experienced terrorism, and they are in the center of this strategic play that we’re in. And so we have to work with Chad. We have to work with other countries in the region to address this. This fighting going on in Sudan doesn’t have to happen. It’s two generals fighting each other for power. And that situation has led to millions of people crossing the borders into neighboring countries, really stretching those countries’ abilities to deal with their own issues.

QUESTION: Before we let you go, Ambassador – and this is a complex question, and I do hope we’ll talk again about it – what is the plan going forward, how to get to a solution where the fighting can stop and hopefully people can return to their homes if they wish?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, we are engaged very intensely with the leadership in this region, with the regional organizations, the African Union, the Arab League, the neighboring countries, to find a path forward to peace and to get the two warring parties to lay down their arms so that the people can have peace, they can return to their homes without fear. And that effort is ongoing and it is intensely important that we continue to engage on those issues.

QUESTION: You chaired the first significant meeting on Sudan at the United Nations in years recently. That’s before you came here. The UN General Assembly is meeting shortly. Are there plans for a further focus on this issue at the United Nations, and are there some concrete steps that that body could take to intervene in this crisis?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Absolutely. As we go into High-Level Week, which is the major meeting of the United Nations that will take place in New York, heads of state from all over the world will be there. The situation in Sudan has to be on the agenda, and we have to engage with the parties on that. So my purpose is to bring this to High-Level Week to get the parties to come together to talk about what the solutions are and actually forge a way forward. And that’s a tall order, but it’s something that I think is intensely important for us to do.

QUESTION: Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield represents the United States at the United Nations. We are speaking to her at the U.S. Embassy in N’Djamena, in Chad. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, thank you so much for speaking with us today.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you very much, and I’m delighted to have been here.