Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s Interview with Nadine Khammash of Al Arabiya

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
Amman, Jordan
November 18, 2021


QUESTION: [In Arabic.] Madam Ambassador, thank you for your time, and we’re honored to have you on Al Arabiya.

AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, thank you for inviting me, and I’m delighted to be here.

QUESTION: Thank you for the opportunity. [In Arabic.] What’s the agenda Biden’s administration is pursuing at the United Nations nowadays?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, thank you for that question. Our agenda is very clear. The President made that announcement very early: We’re back, and we want to engage on the multilateral stage. He gave a speech at the United Nations High-Level Week in September, and he outlined our agenda. We are going to be tackling the COVID pandemic. We know that this is a pandemic that we can’t get control of alone. And the President has determined that the U.S. will be an arsenal for vaccines, and we’re providing vaccines across the world.

Secondly, the President indicated that we are committed to addressing the issues of climate change. The Glasgow meeting just was completed, and we reaffirmed our commitments and, in fact, doubled our commitments and we encouraged others to do the same.

And then thirdly – and this is the most important – and that is that we want to promote democracy. The President will be hosting a summit on democracy in December where we will be inviting countries from around the world who share our values, because we want to lead with our values in our foreign policy; we want to lead on issues of human rights; we want to talk about press freedoms; we want to ensure that individuals gain their rights and that authoritarians don’t continue to press their agenda, which is not an agenda that we can support.

QUESTION: [In Arabic.] So you have recently met with Israeli and Palestinian officials. Do we anticipate a new peace initiative by the U.S. or do we prefer to work within the framework of the United Nations?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, I would say that we absolutely want to work within the framework of the United Nations to press for peace in this region. I traveled to Israel as well as to the West Bank. I met with Israeli government officials. I met with Palestinian officials. We stressed the importance of a two-state solution, which President Biden has supported from the beginning, and that in order to achieve that, both sides need to come to the table. And we believe with a two-state solution Israel can continue to be the democratic and peaceful country that it wants to be, and have security in the region, and that the Palestinians will be able to also achieve a measure of dignity, peace, and security in the region.

QUESTION: [In Arabic.] So it seems Washington, unlike previous administrations, realized the importance of Jordan in relation to several thorny issues in the Middle East, such as Syria, Iraq, and in addition to other regional conflicts. So what’s the current level of coordination between Washington and Amman?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, the relationship is a strong relationship. I have come to reaffirm that relationship with the Jordanian government. We want to express our appreciation to Jordan for being a host to refugees. More than 750,000 refugees are here being supported and given hospitality by the Jordanian government. The U.S. is the largest contributor to humanitarian assistance, and we’ve appreciated that Jordan has opened this country and allowed its hospitality to be provided to refugees. We want to work with the Jordanian government on security and development issues as well as political issues in the region. The relationship is strong, and we will continue to make the relationship stronger.

QUESTION: [In Arabic.] Do you support the new Jordanian role in returning the Syrian regime to the international community?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, we have had that discussion with the Jordanian government. We’re not ready for normalization with the Assad regime. What we’re encouraging is that the Assad regime be urged and pressured to allow for humanitarian assistance, allow for security for its own people, and start to move a process forward that allows for the people of Syria to return in peace. And until Jordan* does that, we can’t see a situation where relationships should be normal.

QUESTION: [In Arabic.] Let’s move to Iran now. Is there a deadline to the talks concerning its nuclear program?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, the talks will resume on the 29th of November, about two weeks from now, and we are hopeful that these talks will lead to some positive results. But I think we have been very clear with the Iranians that we are not going to carry on these talks forever, that there is a limit to diplomacy. We want to encourage the Iranians to return back to the JCPOA, but the President has been very clear: We will not allow the Iranians to gain a nuclear weapon and we will continue to push back against their activities in the region that undermine the security of their neighbors. Their support for terrorist organizations, their attacks on our allies – these things are not acceptable to us. But we will continue to try to push for a diplomatic way forward until we have decided that there’s no need to continue that.

QUESTION: [In Arabic.] So if the Vienna talks failed to contain the Iranian nuclear threat, what would be the next step? Return to the Security Council, or do you prefer building alliance to deter Tehran?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Look, we’re hoping they don’t fail, to be very frank with you. But we do have the Security Council as a forum to address some of Iran’s malign efforts in the region, and we certainly will use that platform to address the threats that the Iranians are posing to their neighbors. But I’m not going to preview with you other actions that the United States government may take against the Iranians, but we will try diplomacy until it fails.

QUESTION: [In Arabic.] How does the recent tension with China and Russia affect American policy in the Middle East?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, I’ve been traveling for the past week, but you may have heard that the President just had a three-hour call with President Xi. And we want a predictable relationship with the Chinese, and where that relationship can be cooperative, we hope to continue to cooperate with them; and when it can’t be cooperative and we need to compete with them, we’re prepared to do that; and when it’s adversarial, we’re prepared to address the adversarial side of the relationship.

Our goal, however, is to have a working relationship with the Chinese, as well as with the Russians, that meet our goals as well as their goals, and to have a relationship that allows us to address some of the critical issues that we are dealing with in the Security Council, such as the situation in Syria, or the situation in Ethiopia, or the situation in Burma. The members of the Security Council and people around the world depend on the Security Council, and particularly the P5, to address some of these critical issues.

QUESTION: [In Arabic.] Madam Ambassador, are we on the verge of a new Cold War?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I don’t think we’re on the verge of a new Cold War. I think that we are in a situation where we can realistically pursue our goals, and the Chinese will realistically pursue their goals. But we will push back because we have a different values system. Our system promotes human rights, our system promotes press freedoms, and it looks at ways in which we can provide a better life for people. The Chinese approach is very different from our approach. They regularly state in the United Nations that the rights of a country are more important than the rights of an individual. But that is not the core of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; it is not the core of the Charter of the United Nations. The core of that charter is about protection of individuals and protection of their rights.

QUESTION: [In Arabic.] Madam Ambassador, let’s go back to the Middle East. Does Washington see the return of Abdalla Hamdok to take over again the political scene in Sudan as a solution, or things are different nowadays?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: No, we are very engaged on the situation in Sudan. We have called for the military to return Prime Minister Hamdok to his position as prime minister. This was a civilian government, it was a transition government, and the military has pushed out the civilian side of that government. So until Hamdok is returned to his position, the civilian transition is put back into place, the military government ceases its attacks on peaceful demonstrators, and until they release those who they have arrested who have been demonstrating peacefully, we will continue to push hard on this – on this military.

As you know, the Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Molly Phee was just in Sudan, Secretary Blinken is in the region, and they both have been engaging intensively on these issues.

QUESTION: [In Arabic.] Iraq after the elections – does Washington prefer a specific person to lead this coming period in Iraq? Moreover, what if the most likely candidate is close to Tehran?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, we can’t choose who will lead a country. What we call for are free and fair elections, in the hope that the wishes of the people are respected in a free and fair election. We would be disappointed if a new government was one that embraced Iran, because we don’t think that’s in the interest of the Iraqi people. But it is up to the Iraqi people to choose their leaders.