Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
February 27, 2023
QUESTION: Ladies and Gentlemen, my next guest is a diplomat who has spent 40 years working in the government. She now serves as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations. Please welcome Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I match your chair.
QUESTION: Nice to see you. Thanks for being here.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you.
QUESTION: Friday was the one–year anniversary of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. You were in the Security Council, in a Security Council meeting, when that invasion actually happened. Looking back over the last year, are you surprised where we are, or where things are in Ukraine, given how a perilous the situation looked in those first weeks?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, I have to tell you that day was surreal. We called an emergency meeting of the Council, so that we could warn the world that Russia was planning to invade Ukraine. And they did it while we were sitting in the Council. And so I think even the Russians who were – they were president of the Council – so their ambassador was sitting in the chair, as we all looked at our phones and heard that this was happening.
And at the time, Russia said this is just going to be a two–week operation. We’ll finish it off. And here we are one year later. And they were so misguided. They were so mistaken. Because one year later, Ukraine still stands and [Applause.] President Biden was there at the one–year mark congratulating President Zelenskyy for the fortitude that the Ukrainians have shown, and showed the Ukrainians that the world still stands united with Ukraine. [Applause.]
QUESTION: What’s it like? What’s it like to be in the room with the Russian ambassador, then or now? Do you ever go over and say, “Come on, what are you guys thinking?” Do you ever get to shoot straight with these guys? [Laughter.]
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Occasionally, we have the opportunity to shoot straight, but things have changed since the invasion of Ukraine. We have to work together. We sit around the table with each other every day, 15 countries – the five permanent members and 10 elected members – and we have to engage on any number of issues. We engage on issues where we actually agree. We agreed on sanctions against Haitian gangs. We agreed on continuing to keep the border open into Syria a year ago so that humanitarian assistance could continue to go in to people in need.
But after the Ukrainian war, Russia really, really disrespected the Council and everything we stand for, because they sit as permanent members of the Council, and they attacked their neighbor. They brought this unprovoked war on the Ukrainian people. They’re committing war crimes. They’re committing crimes against humanity. They are committing human rights violations right in front of our eyes, and they’re a permanent member of the Council. Things have changed –
QUESTION: Meaning that they have the veto. They have veto power.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: They have veto power. And it is for that reason that we take our actions to the General Assembly where their veto power doesn’t work. And we have condemned them roundly. On Friday, we put forward a resolution – a peace resolution – and 141 countries voted for that resolution.
QUESTION: Let’s talk about China for just a moment because they’re – it‘s been reported that China’s considering sending weaponry and aid to Russia. And Antony Blinken and Jake Sullivan have said, “Yeah, you – that’s bad. You can’t do that.”
Why would it be particularly bad for China to do that, beyond prolonging the war?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, first, it will prolong the war. But second, it means China will align itself with Russia’s actions in Ukraine. China would align itself with committing human rights violations against the Ukrainian people, carrying out a bloody war that has really destroyed infrastructure in Ukraine. This is about supporting the UN Charter. And if China aligns itself with Russia, then it becomes part of that problem. So we’ve not seen any evidence yet that they have made a decision to provide lethal weapons, but they understand very clearly if they do provide lethal weapons that they are supporting Russia in its efforts to destroy a sovereign country.
QUESTION: Now, obviously, things can get tense in any diplomatic situation as part of your job as an ambassador to try to de–escalate. In many ways that’s the goal. Diplomacy is the department of peace. How – I understand you’ve got a very interesting form of diplomacy that you use. You’re trying to win people over not only for yourself, but for the States.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: [Laughter.] I assume you’re talking about gumbo diplomacy.
QUESTION: I didn’t know exactly what that meant. That’s why we’re letting you – What is gumbo diplomacy?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It’s – Anybody in the audience from Louisiana? [Applause.]
So, gumbo diplomacy is about making gumbo, which is an extraordinary dish, and having conversations with people over a great meal. And I cook it myself. I shared my recipe that I made up on the spot with the Washington Post. I’ve never used the recipe myself. [Laughter.]
QUESTION: And did you give them the real recipe or just what people who aren’t from Louisiana are allowed to have? Because I went down with a Jon Batiste. I went down to cook with his mom, and he said to me afterwards, that’s not the recipe she gave you. [Laughter.]
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: People who cook gumbo, we don’t use a recipe. You just cook. And so I cook, and I actually tried to reconstruct what I do in that recipe. And I was in Ghana a few months ago, and the ambassador there had her chef use the recipe, and the gumbo was really good. So now I have to try the recipe. It was better than anything I’ve ever made before. [Applause.]
QUESTION: How did you – after 40 years of working in diplomacy, I’m sure it can be disheartening sometimes when you see the state of the world. What are the moments that sustain you through moments of doubt, let’s say?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, it’s rare that I have moments of doubt, because I know what we’re doing is important. But one of the moments I had that really brought to the forefront why what I do is so important, some years ago, I met a young Sudanese man, a South Sudanese man on the streets in Arlington, Virginia. And he said, “Hey, Linda, you helped me get refugee status to the United States.” And I realized at that moment, that something I did had changed somebody’s life.
And so I approach my work every single day, that I’m doing something that is going to change somebody’s life. I may never meet the person. I may never hear what I’ve done. But I know in my heart, that I’m doing something that is going to make a difference to people. And for that reason, I can get up every day and deal with the crap and fight the good battle. [Applause.]
QUESTION: Ambassador, thank you so much. Good to see you again. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, everybody. We’ll be right back.