Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s Interview with Rebecca Kesby of BBC World Radio

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


QUESTION: I’ve been speaking to the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I know that when the President made the decision to take down the first balloon, we absolutely had indisputable evidence that these balloons had been put out by the Chinese, and that it was a spy balloon – and it’s something that we were scrutinizing very, very closely – including with our own radar. But the other three objects, there is still no details on that, that I have, that I’m able to share with you right now.

QUESTION: Yes, I mean, I suppose there’s been a suspicion for a while, hasn’t there that China’s been using cyber attacks against the United States, or at least trying to fish for information that way, but the thought that there was a physical presence in the USA – was that a shock for the Americans?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I think we were very conscious in terms of making sure that we surveilled our own territorial airspace. Once this object was over U.S. territory, the President made the decision that it was in our interest that it be taken down in a way that would not jeopardize the safety of civilians on the ground. So it was taken down after it crossed over the territory but still in U.S. waters.

QUESTION: Ambassador, our lead story tonight has been on the continued efforts to get aid through to northern Syria, so badly affected by that terrible earthquake last week. And we have had some movement on that in the past 24 hours. These two new border posts opening, an aid convoy, we know, has got through today 11 trucks filled with aid. But it’s eight days after that earthquake. Do you welcome this border crossing, or should it have happened sooner?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Both. We welcome the border crossing because we know aid needs to keep flowing into the Syrian people, but it was long overdue. One week after this disaster, the government makes the decision – the regime makes the decision – to open the border? So yes, we do welcome it, and we are monitoring what is going through very, very closely.

But we have been clear – and we’ve said it repeatedly: that we do think that there needs to be a resolution that supports this effort. That will provide monitoring mechanisms that codify the border crossings; and offer some predictability that the UN and the humanitarian actors on the ground can depend on so that they can achieve their goals.

The borders open today – we don’t know what’s going to happen in three days, or four days, or a month. This is going to be a long-term effort. Millions of people have been affected by this. They are living under tents – needing blankets in the middle of the winter, needing food assistance at this critical time. And our goal is to ensure that aid continues to flow in, until it’s no longer needed.

QUESTION: So what went wrong with those early negotiations in trying to get aid through then? And what was the breakthrough? I mean, did did you have to sort of talk with your Russian counterparts on trying to get that aid through?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I mean, Syria is – it’s Syria and Turkey – both countries have been impacted by the situation. And Turkey came to the Security Council and asked for help and said that the borders needed to be open because the one border that was open was seriously damaged by the earthquake, and we needed to have the other border crossings open.

Both the Secretary-General and the Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs announced early on that they wanted actions to be taken by the Security Council to open the borders so that the UN could have unfettered access.

So we have said from the beginning – from day one – that it was important that we do everything possible in the Security Council to ensure that assistance is getting into the people of Syria.

Seven days late – hundreds of people have died. And we have to continue to ensure that this cannot be just turned off on a whim. So for that reason, a Security Council resolution would do that– it would ensure that.

QUESTION: We heard earlier in the program, from an official from the rebel held area in Syria, saying that there’s such suspicion of Damascus. That even Western aid coming through Damascus over the past few days, has been treated with suspicion. And I suppose that does reflect, doesn’t it, how so many Syrians feel abandoned, basically by the West over what’s happened in that country in the past few years.

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, I don’t know that they feel abandoned by the West – they are devastated by what their own government has done to them. We’re the largest humanitarian donor, providing assistance – not just to Syrians who have left Syria – but to Syrians still inside of Syria, and they know that.  We’re in touch with both local NGOs as well as international NGOs who are working in Syria. And U.S. assistance is very much appreciated inside of Syria by those people who are able to get that assistance.

At no point have we abandoned Syria. It is the U.S. that, really, led efforts to ensure that the last remaining border crossing remained open. And we’re continuing to push for everything to be done, so that Syrian people get what they need – without any preconditions, without any hurdles, without any fear that is going to be stopped because of some decision made in Damascus.

QUESTION: It’s obviously a terrible situation for those people there and anyone trying to help them but does what’s happened over the past few days of negotiation with Damascus. Does it open any sort of opportunity to try to improve those relations? Going forward?

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Not for us. We know what Assad did to his people. And we’re concerned that he is not concerned about his people right now. But again, let me be clear: we welcome the decision to open the border. Even though it’s seven days late. How many people might have survived if the border crossings have been opened, immediately.

And we want to ensure that those border crossings remain open as long as they are needed so that the Syrian people – who have been so horribly impacted by this earthquake – get what they need until they no longer need it.

QUESTION: U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield, speaking to us earlier.