Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
August 25, 2022
QUESTION: Welcome back. It is an honor to have my next guest on. She is the U.S. Representative to the United Nations, having served as deputy assistant secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, ambassador to Liberia, and director general of the Foreign Service, amongst a number of other things that she’s done. She’s here in Chicago really bringing the UN and their focus to the Midwest. Her name is Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, good morning and welcome to WVON. How are you today?
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Good morning, and I’m doing great. Thank you for having me.
QUESTION: Well, it’s an honor to have you. I have to ask you the first obvious question, to me. You were born in Baker, Louisiana. How did you choose LSU over Southern?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: (Laughter.) Sometimes you have to move into a different direction, and all of my high school classmates were going to Southern and I just decided I wanted to be different for a change.
QUESTION: And you have been. So, okay, we’ll give you that. I looked at that, and how did she pick LSU? Okay. Maybe it’s football; who knows.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: (Laughter.) It wasn’t football. It’s just looking for a different opportunity.
QUESTION: Well, and you’ve certainly had one. Well, welcome to Chicago. You’ve been doing kind of a whirlwind tour of things here since you’ve been here. Talk about what the UN does and what you’ve been doing here in Chicago.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, thank you so much for giving me this opportunity. So I decided to come to Chicago to bring the issues of the United Nations to the Midwest, and just to share with your community, your listeners what we do in New York and how it impacts their lives. So we have been focused over the course of the past few months on food insecurity – food insecurity that has been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, but also affected by climate change, by COVID. And we’re seeing this as a global issue, but it’s also a local issue. So I was able (inaudible) visit the art park at Grant Park yesterday and meet with the Urban Garden Coalition* and talk to them about what they are doing to deal with food insecurity in this urban environment and share with them what I have been doing to deal with the issue globally.
QUESTION: So talk about that, because food insecurity is one; certainly it’s a global issue, as it’s a national issue, and the war has exacerbated things certainly as we think about the issues of grain and the inability to get things out of the areas over there. What is the UN doing and what are the other countries doing to try and help make this issue —
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, we have been – I learned early in this process that Ukraine and Russia are some of the largest exporters of grain around the world, and because of this war, that export has all but stopped. So the UN has been working very, very diligently to open up the grain corridors, and most recently the Odessa Port in Ukraine, the UN was involved in negotiating with the Russians and the Ukrainians with the assistance of the Turkish Government to open up that port. So some 20 million tons of grain that had been blocked on ships in the Black Sea have finally started to move.
But ultimately, what is necessary is to end this unconscionable war and open up markets again so that the impact of the war on food insecurity can at least be dealt with. We still, of course, have to deal with supply chain issues resulting from COVID. We have to deal with the climatic and environmental impact on food insecurity as well. But at least this would be one way that we can deal with it.
Also, I will mention that the U.S. is the largest contributor to humanitarian assistance worldwide, so we have ramped up our support to countries that have been impacted by this. We have provided additional support to Ukraine. And the Biden administration is also very laser-focused on what we should be doing here in the United States. So the IRA was recently passed that will focus on providing additional support to communities around the United States.
QUESTION: So when we think here about the work that you do at the UN and the work that the country does and the representation that you provide, what else is it that we should be thinking about? What else is it that we can do from the places that we are that helps the world?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I think it’s really important for Americans to understand that what happens elsewhere in the world impacts their lives every day. So the UN is engaged and on the Security Council, where the U.S. is a Permanent Member, we’re engaged every day in dealing with issues of peace and security, countering terrorism across the globe, addressing human rights issues that impact so many people. I visited yesterday with refugee groups, and we have refugees here in Chicago who have come from all over the world who have fled persecution in their countries; they’ve been welcomed by communities here in Chicago. And I want to make sure that Americans know how much our hospitality is appreciated around the world, and this is an opportunity for me to share that with the people of Chicago.
QUESTION: Ambassador Greenfield, let me ask you – because being a black woman in the position that you’re in, representing our country as you do – how has the reaction to your position in the UN been?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I’m not the first, and – but I am the first after the past four years when we had pretty much withdrawn from multilateral leadership. So my presence, the U.S. presence, has been very much appreciated. We’ve been embraced. We’ve been welcomed back to the multilateral stage. We have a lot of work to do to re-establish confidence in U.S. leadership, and because of my 35-year diplomatic career, I’ve met a few people along the way. I’m known internationally, and so there is a tremendous confidence in my abilities but also in the fact that I have the support of the President to re-engage with our partners internationally.
QUESTION: Can you tell us how damaging it was in the past administration for our reputation worldwide and at the UN?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We – countries lost confidence in the U.S., and they missed our leadership. Because we have been the voice that is the loudest on promoting human rights, on promoting democracy, on ensuring that countries do what they need to do. We are the lead country on democracy. And there were questions raised about whether we really should continue in that role given what started to happen in the United States over the past four years.
But again, I think we have been welcomed back. We are exerting our leadership, which is, again, something that was extraordinarily missed. We’ve rejoined the Human Rights Council. We rejoined the Paris Agreement. We’re engaging with the World Health Organization. Because we know that the problems that exist around the world also impact us, and if we’re not engaged at the table, at the decision-making table, then sometimes decisions are made that are not in our interest. And so we know that we need to be sitting at – on the Human Rights Council. We need to be engaged and involved with the World Health Organization as we’re addressing a pandemic – and this pandemic won’t be the last pandemic. We need to raise our voices in support of countries that look to us for leadership. Imagine on Ukraine, if we were not in a leadership role in the United Nations, where we would be today.
QUESTION: And so when you look and see how – I have to ask this question because you’re right there with these representatives from both Ukraine and from Russia in the UN. What is – how chilly is that relationship? What is it like as you all come together in that forum?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It’s quite a chilly relationship. If you look at Security Council meetings, we had one last week and the conversations there, the speeches there were very strongly condemning actions. The Ukrainian president spoke and shared with the world the impact of this unconscionable war on Ukraine, and our Russian colleague had to sit and listen to that with a very almost blank look on his face and had to really hear from the world what we think about what Russia is doing.
QUESTION: And then finally, I know I have to let you go – probably should have let you go already, but —
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It’s okay.
QUESTION: — as it relates to us and China, how are things there as it relates to that relationship?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We have a very complicated relationship with China. In areas where we need to, we compete, and in areas where there are possibilities for cooperation, we look for those possibilities for cooperation. But we’re not blind to the fact that their vision of the world, their vision of the world order, is very different from ours. And so we need to engage on any efforts to – of the Chinese to reassess how the UN functions, to change the mode of operation, to ensure that the values of human rights, the values of democracy continue to stand front and center.
QUESTION: Ambassador, it seems like NATO is expanding after this war. When it thought the world may be going in one direction, it feels that there are more countries that would become part of NATO and a stronger presence would be had internationally. Is that the way things seem there, and what do we see as the future?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: One of Putin’s concerns that he expressed was that NATO – he felt that NATO was threatening him. And NATO is not an organization that is offensive. It’s an organization that is defensive. And because of Russia’s actions, more countries feel threatened and they have joined NATO. So his goal to stop NATO’s rise actually failed. NATO is stronger than it’s ever been. We have two new members, Sweden and Finland, and others are also concerned about Russia’s aggression, looking at how they can engage with NATO as well.
QUESTION: Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, thank you so much for your – for being here this morning, for sharing your intellect, for being in Chicago. And I will speak on behalf of all the Louisianans, to a lady from Baker, Louisiana, population 12,455 people, to get to the point that you are, I’m so happy that you’re there.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, good. It’s great to talk to you. I didn’t know you were from Louisiana, so it’s great to talk to another homeboy.
QUESTION: Yeah, my folks are. I decided not LSU; I liked the school on the other side of town, but that’s why my first question was with the – what it was. But I do know Baker very well because it’s right there by Southern’s campus.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, if you’re from Louisiana, you’re always a Jaguar. So I am a Jaguar as well.
QUESTION: And we accept that. (Laughter.) Enjoy the rest of your trip and be safe, and thank you so much for coming on with me this morning.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Good. Thank you.
* Urban Growers Collective