Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
February 16, 2023
QUESTION: Ambassador, let’s get right to it. 2022, $113 billion in aid, various forms of aid provided to Ukraine from the United States. A lot of folks – and whenever we deal with Ukraine a lot of people in my audience, they immediately say, “Why are we spending that much money on Ukraine? That money could be going to African Americans or other interests in the United States.” How do you respond to that?
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Look, we’re defending Ukraine’s efforts to defend us. Russia’s attack on Ukraine is an attack on democracy. It is an attack on all of our values. It is an attack on the UN’s Charter, whose – the Charter gives us the responsibility for peace and security around the world. And this fight is our fight. And if we don’t defend Ukraine, we may be having to defend this on our own borders.
So this is a fight for America. It’s a fight for the world, and it’s keeping us at the moment from being engaged on the ground ourselves in this fight.
QUESTION: Obviously a ton of money, but there still is no end in sight. And so you have Republican critics, you have folks again – just regular, ordinary people – who are saying, “How much longer does it continue?” Does the tab go to $200 billion, $300 billion? Again, what do you say to folks who are concerned about that, about the amount of money that we’re spending? Because look, this could go on. We don’t know how long it could go on. Putin, he clearly has not responded to the kind of pressure. This has not ended thus far.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: This is going to have to go on as long as it takes for Ukraine to defend itself and for Russia to stop its aggression against Ukraine. And I think we’ve heard it said over and over again: freedom is not free. We have to pay for freedom. We have to fight for freedom. And that’s what we’re fighting for. Ukraine is a smaller country having been attacked by a larger neighbor. Russia is a bully, and if Russia gets away with bullying Ukraine, then who will be next? And then who will be next after that? And suddenly we’re all engaged in this.
So we have to stop this now and we have to support Ukraine’s efforts to defend itself. And it’s been bipartisan. So there are people who have raised concerns, but the support for what the President is doing in Ukraine has been roundly bipartisan, and we have to continue to put Ukraine in a position where they can defend themselves and they’re in a strong position when and if they are – decide to go to the negotiating table.
QUESTION: A couple of things that also jump out. I’ve had a number of folks on social media – I’ve had them on the show, talk about what has been happening in Ethiopia and the Tigray region. We’re talking about, obviously, an African nation, you know, close to Sudan, we deal with issues there as well. That has been described in some places as a humanitarian crisis, but there are a lot of people, a lot of Ethiopians in this country who are very concerned, literally hit me all the time saying, “Why isn’t more attention being paid?” Can you give folks some perspective in terms of what the United States has done in that part of the world, in that African country?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Good. Thank you so much for asking me that question, because it is an important question. And here in New York at the Security Council I was sometimes a lone voice at the Council demanding that we address the issues that were occurring in Ethiopia. The massive killings, the human rights violations, the starvation, the lack of humanitarian assistance.
And I will tell you over and over again, me and other members of the Security Council – I won’t take all of the credit for it – we were all working to bring this before the Security Council. And we were blocked. We were blocked by our Russian and Chinese colleagues and we were blocked by efforts made by Ethiopia to keep this off the Council’s agenda. And we did get it on the Council agenda. We did get briefings. We did call out our concerns about the situation on the ground. But we could have done more, we should have done more because thousands of people died on both sides. There was no right side of this war. This was a war in which Ethiopians were fighting Ethiopians. It was brothers against brothers. So there was no right side. And I am pleased at the moment that the ceasefire that was forged in December is still standing and that the fighting has stopped and that some humanitarian assistance is getting into the Tigray region. But this was something that, again, we all should have done more to stop.
QUESTION: Another area of interest obviously is Haiti. This week we reported on the indictments that took place of four individuals who were arrested, 11 people who were arrested as part of this conspiracy to assassinate President Moïse. That has led to so much upheaval there as well. What is the United States doing to help, beyond the prosecution from the Department of Justice, to help stabilize that country? Because these gangs are still in control of what’s happening there. We’re still seeing massive unrest in Haiti. Is it that that country just can’t get a break?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Again, another question that I really appreciate. I have been actively engaged on Haiti. I traveled to Haiti to the funeral of President Moïse, and I’ve engaged quite a bit with members of Congress as well as with Haitians on the situation on the ground there. We’re working on this issue in the Security Council to come up with a security apparatus that is acceptable to the Haitian people, and one in which we can get in there and provide the security that the Haitians need in order to continue to live their lives. And we’re working currently on a resolution that will give support to a non-UN multilateral force that will go in to provide that assistance. We have worked with a number of countries who have volunteered to send troops in support of that effort, and we’re trying to move that as quickly as we possibly can.
In the meantime, the United States, as you know, we did arrest some of the individuals who have been accused, have been involved in the killing and assassination of the president, and we’re continuing to support those efforts through the FBI.
QUESTION: When you talk about that security apparatus, how many people are we talking – soldiers are we talking about? Because, again, I’ve talked to Jacqueline Charles, a (inaudible) reporter with the Miami Herald, who has spent a lot of time there, and just how people are just frightened because, in essence, these gangs are aligned with police, if you have police, and the military. So folks have actually no idea who to trust and to call, and the kidnappings continue as well just as unabated. So are we talking, what, several thousand? Five, ten thousand, twenty thousand?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I can’t give you a number. Countries will make decisions on how many troops that they can contribute. And I don’t even think we need 20,000 troops. We don’t need 10,000 troops. We need a contingent of troops who are committed to providing security and supporting the Haitian people, and that determination will be made by military people, by experts, not by diplomats. But they should know that we support their efforts.
QUESTION: And will the United States be contributing troops to that effort as well?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: The United States is working with the various countries to determine what role we will play.
QUESTION: Last question for you. And this also ties to Haiti. The deportation issue has been – in the United States has been very controversial as well. And so what kind of – what are you getting from other countries when they look at, again, we’ve been sending folks back to Haiti, deporting other folks, and there’s what’s happening on our border as well? There are some who still believe that there is inequality in terms of how black immigrants are being treated compared to immigrants from other countries, such as Cuba and other places along those lines.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, this is, as you know, an extraordinarily complicated issue for us, and I was very pleased that the President did announce parole for Haitians that allow those Haitians and family members to be reunited, something that we have done similarly with other places in the world, and we’re working to address more consistently the needs of the Haitian people. Details about the deportations, I’ll encourage you to talk to our DHS about those, but know that we are working to try to support as many Haitians as we possibly can through the parole system, but also support them on the ground in Haiti.
QUESTION: Last question for you. China spends an inordinate amount of money on the continent of Africa, and a lot of people obviously are concerned about that in terms of being able to control so much. And one of the things that I’ve seen is that in the United States, we look at that continent from a – again, from an aid standpoint versus an investment standpoint. Seven of the ten fastest-growing economies are in the motherland, and you have so many things that are going to be happening over the next 30 to 50 years. And so how is the United States positioned to see African nations as economic partners, not just simply rendering aid for humanitarian crises? Because again, if we’re just sort of looking at them that way, China is going to increase their foothold in these countries.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We can’t downplay the importance of humanitarian aid when people are in need. And Africans know – I had a conversation recently with an African leader who said, “We know that Africa is in the heart of America and America is in the heart of Africa,” and our support to the African people when they’re in their time of need is never, ever questioned.
But the point on development assistance, I was just looking at our statistics for imports and exports to Africa. We have an extraordinary program called the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act. The AGOA Forum is going to be hosted in South Africa this year. Through the AGOA Act, more than $40 billion in exports from Africa to the United States and from the U.S. to Africa have taken place under AGOA in the past year. So we’re engaged with Africa on the development and trade side as well. And while Africans have a choice, we’re not telling them what choice to make, but we’re treating Africans as equal partners. The leaders summit that the President hosted in December last year was an extraordinary success. We had leaders from across Africa here in the United States engaging with American companies, engaging with our leaders to talk about how we can take that partnership even further. And it’s a partnership that we tremendously appreciate, and I know on the African side countries appreciate the partnership that they have with the United States.
QUESTION: And are you seeing African American businesses also participate in that?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I am. I think we can do more to encourage African American businesses to invest in Africa. We can do more to support their efforts. The small business agency is one agency that I think can work with African countries, but there are also huge African American companies that could be investing in the continent. And I think we – and I put myself in that place – we have to do more to encourage those companies to see the benefit of investing in Africa, and on the other side of this, encourage African countries to welcome African American businesses to the continent.
QUESTION: Last question. This is Black History Month. As a young African American who’s watching who may not know that Ralph Bunche was the first African American to win the Nobel Peace Prize, what would you say to a young brother, a young sister who has never thought about the idea of being an American diplomat and who they – that’s just sort of – that’s a foreign idea to them? What would you say to that person?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yeah, think about it. That’s the first thing I would say: think about it. Because I was that young African American. I grew up in Louisiana. I had no clue this career was even out there, let alone a possibility for me. And through circumstances and experiences, I eventually was introduced to this. I never even knew that there was a possibility for me to be the United States Ambassador to the United Nations or be a diplomat. I spent 35 years in the Foreign Service traveling all over the world.
So I encourage them to think about it. Go onto the State Department’s website. There’s a website at careers.state.gov. Look at that website. We have internship programs for African Americans. So this is a possibility for them. And then I would add to that, look at the United Nations. It is rare that I see an African American working in the United Nations.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: That’s where Ralph Bunche started, in the United Nations. There’s a park here right outside this building commemorating Ralph Bunche. We have a library in the State Department commemorating Ralph Bunche. And he started all of this for all of us. I am continuing it, and I hope the next generation is looking at your program and thinking about how they can pursue a career in the Foreign Service.
QUESTION: All right. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, always good to see you. Last time was at the Jackie Robinson Museum opening. And so thanks for chatting. Look forward to having you back again.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Good, I look forward to it. And I have to go back to that museum. I really enjoyed being there, but didn’t spend enough time.
QUESTION: Absolutely. Thanks a bunch.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you.