Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
November 17, 2021
QUESTION: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Ms. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, shalom and thank you for this interview.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Shalom and thank you for having me.
QUESTION: There are two Israeli citizens that were arrested in Turkey while doing a tour, taking a picture of one of Erdogan’s palaces. Do you assist Israel in that?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Look, the Israeli government is engaging with the Turkish government on this issue. I was informed about the issue when I arrived, and I would encourage both governments to work quickly to resolve the issue.
QUESTION: Is Turkey safe for tourists? Has this incident raised a concern for you, Americans?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: The United States government is always concerned about our citizens traveling abroad, and we have a responsibility to engage with governments concerning the safety and security of our citizens. We have no reason at the moment to be concerned about citizens traveling to Turkey, but we issue regular travel advisories and I would encourage any American traveling to Turkey at the moment to read our travel advisory on Turkey.
QUESTION: Okay. The Biden Administration has a plan for the Middle East, or it’s less of an interest for you?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It clearly is an interest or I would not be here. The purpose of my visit here to Israel is to reaffirm the already strong relationship that we have with Israel, but also to engage with Israel concerning its security concerns here in the Middle East. And I will be traveling from here to Jordan. I will engage with the Jordanian government on issues related to the Middle East. And of course, it’s an issue that we engage on a regular basis in New York.
QUESTION: Is the “deal of the century” dead?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I don’t think there’s a “deal of the century,” but I certainly look forward to engaging to look for solutions for the situation here.
QUESTION: Can you tell us, why do you insist on opening an American consulate for Palestinians? Why is it such an important issue for you?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, look, there was always a consulate here for Palestinians, but it is not an issue…the Secretary has spoken on this issue and what the plans are for moving forward in the future. But for the moment, we have a unit within our embassy here in Jerusalem that works on Palestinian issues.
QUESTION: Because it has a symbolic significance, and people said if you’re pushing on that specific issue of the consulate, it might even topple the Bennett government.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, look, I don’t have anything new to share with you on that. The Secretary has spoken about the consulate, and we will continue to engage on that issue with the Israeli government.
QUESTION: The Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with President Biden. Afterwards he said –
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: And I was in that meeting.
QUESTION: Yeah. So, after that he said there will be no diplomatic or political process with the Palestinians.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: The – President Biden said that?
QUESTION: No, that’s the prime minister of Israel. Is that okay with you?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I can’t speak for the prime minister of Israel. I can speak for President Biden, who has indicated that he believes a two-state solution is the best way forward to provide security for the Israeli people and a measure of hope for Palestinians.
QUESTION: But can you confirm that that’s what he told the President?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I don’t –
QUESTION: Or you yourself?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I’m not going to characterize the discussion that the President had with the prime minister, but I can, as I said, reaffirm President Biden’s position.
QUESTION: But you’re going to meet Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the –
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I am. I will meet him this afternoon.
QUESTION: – Palestinian Authority. What are you going to tell him? You’re starting negotiation? Forget it? Let’s talk next year?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I am going to be in listening mode with President – Prime Minister Abbas and engage with him on the concerns that he has related to the Palestinian people. This is my first visit to the region, and my primary goal was to address the issues that I deal with on a daily basis at the United Nations and inform – become better informed about those issues so that I’m in a better position to engage on them.
QUESTION: But Ms. Ambassador, do you understand the Israeli policy regarding the Palestinians?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I do.
QUESTION: Because I can tell you frankly, we don’t. So –
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You don’t understand the policy?
QUESTION: But you’re in listening mode; maybe you’ll share with us.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I understand the – this current government’s policy, but I’m not going to characterize that policy for you. It’s for the Israeli government to describe that policy for you. But I can say clearly that our position in the United Nations is to defend Israel’s right to exist and to work to ensure that Israel’s security is affirmed here in this region.
QUESTION: Did you raise the issue of settlements as an issue with the Minister Gantz, with Prime Minister Bennett?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We discussed the full range of issues across the board with the government. So yes, that was among those issues.
QUESTION: Do you think this is something that jeopardizes any political process that you would like to see in the region?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Again, President Biden has encouraged both sides not to take any action that would compromise the possibility of reaching a peaceful solution to this conflict.
QUESTION: Can you explain why the Biden Administration is pursuing such a soft and thoughtful policy regarding Iran?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I would not characterize the Biden Administration policy toward Iran as soft. We have made clear that we will not allow the Iranians to gain access to a nuclear weapon, and we have indicated that we are prepared to engage with the Iranians in a diplomatic process that will lead to both of us returning to the JCPOA, to compliance with the JCPOA. But I would not describe it as soft. We have the full range of diplomatic tools within our toolkit to work with the Iranians, but we want to give diplomacy a chance.
QUESTION: Don’t you think that they are cheating you, as you see what they’ve done in the past, you see that characterize this Iranian government?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Look, we know that diplomacy is difficult, but we are not in any way naïve in our approach to the Iranians. And so, we’re there with a clear view of what our goals are, and certainly they are there to push their goals, but hopefully we can come to some agreement on a way forward that will be beneficial to all of us and provide security for the entire region.
QUESTION: Doesn’t the fact that you never mention the military option is – signal a weakness in this region?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I don’t know that we have not mentioned any options. I think all options remain on the table, but our primary goal is diplomacy. We don’t want another war in the Middle East. For God’s sake, that’s not in any of our interests.
QUESTION: You met yesterday with Leah Goldin.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I did.
QUESTION: This is the second time.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you understand her position?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Oh, do I. Yes. I’m a mother. And I speak to her not just as a diplomat, but as a mother. And while I can’t tell her I feel the intensity of the pain that she’s experiencing, I understand the pain that she’s experiencing. And I committed to her that I will do everything possible in the position I’m in to help her achieve the return of her son’s remains.
QUESTION: But she’s asking the Israeli government to stop all humanitarian aid to Gaza until her son is back. Do you understand this thought?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: She didn’t – she didn’t say that to me. What she said to me is that she wants all people to achieve a sense of peace and prosperity. But she wants her son back, and we’re going to do our best to assist her with that.
QUESTION: Finally, Ms. Ambassador, are you going to meet with the head of the opposition, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: No, I don’t have that on my schedule on this visit.
QUESTION: Is the fact that he played President Biden as falling asleep in the meeting with Prime Minister Bennett – is it part of this fact that you’re not meeting with him?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: No, it didn’t even come up.
QUESTION: Ms. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, thank you very much for this interview.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Good, thank you very much. And again, I’m delighted to be here to reaffirm an already strong relationship with the Israeli government, and so far, the visit has been extraordinary.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you.