Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
May 10, 2022
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Hi, I’m Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Let me welcome you all here. I don’t have prepared remarks, but just want to share with you a bit about why I’m here. As you know, there has been a Syria conference today. And while I’m President of the Security Council, everyone thinks we’re all focused on Ukraine, and I wanted to reaffirm our commitment to dealing with the situation in Syria. I had, in fact, planned to visit Turkey at the cross-border area to update myself on the situation there before coming to this meeting. But unfortunately, I wasn’t able to conclude that trip.
A couple things here. I announced an additional over $800 million in new support for Syria today at the pledging conference. I have had the opportunity to meet with a number of colleagues. I met with UN colleagues, UNHCR, as well as others. I met with the Deputy Foreign Minister of Turkey where we talked about the strategies for moving forward with the cross-border resolution, which is one of my highest priorities over the next few weeks, as that resolution will expire on the 10th of July. I also had the opportunity to meet with colleagues here at NATO and the EU to talk about Ukraine as well as have further conversations on Syria. And we had a ministerial a few minutes ago with countries to address Syria, and there will be a brief statement coming out on that meeting.
My plan is to go back to New York tonight and focus the attention of the Security Council on the importance of getting the Syria cross-border resolution passed before the 10th of July, working with the two penholders, Norway and Ireland, but, as well, other members of the Security Council. Millions of Syrians are dependent on this cross-border aid. And while we have supported cross-line aid coming from Syrian regime-controlled areas, that is not going to be sufficient to provide for the broader needs of the Syrian people. It complements but can’t replace cross-border assistance.
So let me stop there. I’ll take some questions and see where you take us.
MS. DALTON: Maybe we can just make sure everybody gets some – gets in a question or two, and maybe we’ll just go in order if that doesn’t – if that works for you all.
Dan, would you like to go first?
QUESTION: Sure. You talked about Turkey, and U.S.-Turkish relations have been strained, to say the least, over the recent few years, especially given what’s coming out of Ukraine. Do you see improvement on other fronts, and is Syria an area where there is improvement?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We – it’s interesting you bring up that subject. We talked about our bilateral relationship, and there are some improvements in that relationship. It’s a complicated relationship just like any of our bilateral relationships. There are areas of cooperation, and there are areas where we have differences, and we try to work through those differences.
On the Syria cross-border, we have worked very, very closely with the Government of Turkey. They clearly recognize the importance of keeping that border crossing open. They have been generous hosts to millions of refugees. They are one of the largest refugee-receiving countries. So, we want to continue to work with them to find a solution to find a way forward on this cross-border, and I think they want the same thing.
QUESTION: Yeah. Looking at the sanctions against Russia, I mean, it’s pretty much par for the course that American officials come here, sort of talk up how great the West’s cooperation and everything is. But burrowing down, I think we’re seeing perhaps the limits coming to the end of the road of what the EU can do in harmony. It might have a bumpy road going ahead. What is your evaluation of where the joint Western, G7, the whole sanction coordination thing is going where the EU is starting to find its wheels getting deflated?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I think we’re still moving forward fast and furiously. The sanctions are strong. We have been unified in imposing those sanctions on the Russians. And I think what has been surprising to Russia is how unified we’ve been. There is no doubt these sanctions are also tough on European – Europeans as well. And they have indicated that the sanctions are tough. But they have been willing to take those tough consequences because they know it’s important to getting the message across to the Russians that what they’re doing in Ukraine is unacceptable and also to make sure that the Russians don’t feel that they can even go further in their aggressions.
This is impacting Europe more than anyone, and the Europeans know they have to stand strong. It doesn’t mean they’re in 100 percent agreement with each other, but they work out their disagreements and they have, I think, presented a very strong face to the world, to the Russians, on how they intend to respond to the Russian aggression in Ukraine.
QUESTION: Any word specifically on Hungary in this mix?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Again, I – not specifically on Hungary. But I know that there are differences. They – in my meetings with the Europeans, they indicated that there are differences. I also met with them in New York last week, as all of the European – the peace and security council of the European ambassadors came to meet with the entire Security Council. And they indicated even there that there are some differences, but they are working them out and I think that’s important.
MS. DALTON: Alexandra?
QUESTION: There has been no big announcement on the 9th of May by Putin as anticipated. So, I would be interested in what is your assessment of where this war is heading. I mean, we’ve seen also hypersonic missiles in Odessa being used (inaudible).
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I – on Russian announcement on the 9th of May, they had nothing to announce. They have no victory to celebrate. They are still fighting. We are not seeing them pull back from Ukraine, but they certainly have reassessed their goals. We saw them pull back from Kyiv, and they are concentrating their efforts on the East where I think they think they might be able to have more success. But what they are finding is that the Ukrainians are fighting back. And we have been extraordinarily supportive of Ukrainian efforts both in the United States and in Europe. And the Russians are feeling the isolation. They thought they were going to come in and have a victory in two weeks and that the Ukrainians would be holding up the white flag of surrender, and the Ukrainians have not.
So, May – their May 9th celebration was muted because they know that they have not achieved what they intended.
QUESTION: And just while we’re speaking about Ukraine for a minute, I’m wondering – the Biden Administration has talked a lot about strengthening the hand of the Ukrainians at the diplomatic table in your policy here or approach to this conflict. But I’m just wondering how you incentivize the Ukrainians to engage in full-throated diplomacy when militarily it seems like the United States thinks that they can win the war. So how do you encourage them to head for diplomacy while they still want to keep fighting for their territory? It seems like a bit of a challenge.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yeah. I mean, they’re fighting for their lives. They are being attacked. Russia is the aggressor, so they have no choice but to defend themselves. What we have tried to do is strengthen their hand in defending themselves, in defending their democracy and defending their sovereignty against the Russian attack, and strengthening them at the negotiating table. Because if they go to the negotiating table defeated, then they have nothing to negotiate. So, we want to make sure that they go to the negotiating table as strong as they possibly can be so that they can come away from these negotiations with their sovereignty and their integrity intact.
QUESTION: And just one question on something you said about Assad today. You said that the United States doesn’t think it’s time to normalize relations with Assad, just speaking to the UAE and some other allies in the region who have engaged with Assad recently. Do you think it’s ever possible to normalize relations with Assad?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We’re going to have to see some major changes in terms of how the Assad regime treats its own people, what kinds of constitutional reforms they put in place to guarantee the human rights of their own people. The UN’s special envoy is in the process of negotiating now with the regime to come forward with some kind of political process that might allow for some of that. But at the moment we’ve not seen any evidence that the Assad regime is prepared to do the necessary to justify having a normal relationship with them, and so we’ve been very discouraging of that. I discouraged it in my discussions with my counterparts today and said the same thing to the press.
Right now, the Assad regime is still committing human rights violations against its own people. They are still making decisions that do not provide for safety and security for refugees to return. So, normalization to us does not make sense at this point.
MS. DALTON: David.
QUESTION: Thanks so much, and thanks so much for spending time with us. There’s been a general lament since Putin’s bigger invasion of Ukraine in February that the UN and the Security Council in particular are broken, that it is not able to fulfill the opening lines of the Charter: to protect generations, future generations, from the scourge of war. And that’s true in Syria or in Ukraine. And I wonder, as President of the Council now, is there any appetite on that? And you’ve heard our colleagues ask Jen Psaki, and she says that’s just impossible because of the Russian veto. And then anticipating, they’ll point you to the General Assembly resolution where, first, we know the General Assembly can’t take actual action, but five – four countries voted with Russia, but in fact 35 abstained, and we hear a lot of concern in the EU about those countries. And start with: Is there no possibility of U.S. leadership to fix the UN, and then what’s going on with those 35 and how do you bring them home?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It’s not just the U.S. leadership, but our leadership is important. The fact that we’re back at the table has made a difference, and because of our leadership, but our coordination with the rest of colleagues, we have been able to isolate the Russians. They’ve not been able to win any – have any wins in the Security Council. They have the veto power, but their veto power is very weak because we have very strong support against them. Even their friends, the Chinese, abstained on our initial vote.
So taking this to the General Assembly I think was an extraordinary step, and winning in the General Assembly, which is much harder – winning in the General Assembly was an extraordinary success: 141 countries voted with us.
The 35 abstentions was disappointing, and countries had various reasons for abstaining, and we’ve talked to all of them about their abstentions. Many of them think by abstaining, they’re being neutral. And we have been clear that, unfortunately, there’s no neutrality in this. When a country is attacking the sovereignty of another country, when they’re attacking the core values of the UN Charter, you can’t be sovereign – I mean you can’t be neutral. You kind of have to decide where you stand.
Some countries think that they – that this is a war between Russia and the United States, and we heard this African – old African saying that when two elephants are fighting, the blade of grass only is – gets harmed. And we don’t see it that way. We think every country needs to stand up to this attack on the core values of this organization that we all bought into to fight against the scourge of war.
So I don’t think the Security Council is broken, but I will admit that the Council is struggling with some of these issues moving forward. But this is all we have. We have this Security Council. We have this UN. And we have to work together to make it more perfect, to address the issues that we’re all confronted with on a daily basis.
Countries aren’t abandoning the UN. You don’t see them packing their bags and saying, “I’m leaving.” So they do see the value of the UN. They see the value of the Security Council. And we’re looking at various reforms. So you know that we just passed a resolution in the General Assembly requiring that the five countries with veto power explain their veto, and we supported that, and we think that’s an important reform that will, I think, make the Security Council work better in the future.
MS. DALTON: And of course, we also pointed out at the time during the Human Rights Council vote that Russia, you may have seen, openly threatened countries who stood up to them and voted to remove them from the Human Rights Council.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: And they accused us of doing that, but we have the letters that they sent to countries threatening them.
MS. DALTON: So just with respect to the abstentions, there’s only further evidence there that Russia is behaving irresponsibly and needed to be removed.
QUESTION: Thank you very much for the opportunity. A question both on Syria and on Ukraine. Do you give credence to these reports that the Russians have stolen Ukrainian grain and are taking it to Syria? I mean, there were a lot of tweets that Ukrainian intelligence says this. Is that something that you see? That’s one question.
And a second question. Do you think that one of Russia’s goals is to keep Ukraine in a frozen conflict status like they have helped do in Syria? And along those lines, you have said that war crimes are being committed on the ground in Ukraine. And where do you see that going, especially with the U.S. not being a member of the International Criminal Court? Is that still where you would like to see these prosecutions end up?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: First on the grain allegations, we have heard those as well. We’ve not confirmed them, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that is what is happening. We started hearing very early on that there were attacks on silos. We heard rumors that farm equipment was being taken out of Ukraine into Russia. I have not heard that it was being taken into Syria, but again, I don’t put anything past these guys. But it is something we need to verify, so I don’t want to be the voice of confirmation on this, but we’ve heard the rumors.
And on whether the Russians really want this to become a frozen conflict over time, it’s not in their interests. The resources that the Russians are having to pour into defending their attack on the Ukrainian people, I don’t think they can sustain over a long period of time. As I said earlier, it was clear the Russians thought that they could go in in two weeks with this military action and bring the Ukrainians to their knees, and they were not successful in doing that. And I would suspect that if this extended over a longer period of time, they would see themselves having huge resource challenges, but also I would worry, and they ought to be worried, whether the Russian people will continue to stand by and allow this to happen.
We’re seeing more and more evidence that Russians are calling into question Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine. We’re hearing that thousands of Russians are being arrested and held because they have criticized the war. So again, it – I don’t think it would be in their interests for this to go on over an extended period.
Now I can’t remember your –
QUESTION: War crimes. War crimes.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yes.
QUESTION: ICC. U.S. membership.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We don’t have to be a member of the International Criminal Court to support the work of the court. Our issue on the court is that as it applies to the United States, we don’t see it needed. We have a legal system that works. But on Ukraine, we’re perfectly willing to work with the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Justice, the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office, with NGOs, human rights NGOs, with the Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry to help them all gather the evidence necessary to hold Russia accountable. We’ve all made that very, very clear that we’re willing to provide support, and we will continue to support all of those efforts to gather evidence and ensure that it is available when prosecutions against the Russians are brought forth.
MS. DALTON: Jan.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you. I have a few questions about the end goals. It’s not clear to me exactly what is the – what the U.S. wants to achieve with all the support that Ukraine is getting. The Secretary of State said that Ukraine can win. The Defense Secretary said that the aim is to weaken Russia. What exactly is the end game for the President? Taking back, for instance, Crimea and Donbas? Or is the pre-24th of February situation, is that enough for – to declare a victory for Ukraine? And don’t you fear that by saying this that you – that the U.S. is escalating the conflict with – in Ukraine to a direct conflict with Russia so that Putin may decide when he’s backed into a corner, may decide, for instance, to use nuclear weapons?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: The end goal is for Russia to withdraw from Ukraine. And we’ve said over and over again Russia is the aggressor.
QUESTION: The whole of Ukraine?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I think, again, this is – the Ukrainians are sitting at the negotiating table with the Russians, and they’ll determine the nature of their future relationship with the Ukrainians.* But what our goal is, is to support their efforts and to help strengthen them at the negotiating table so they come away from those negotiations with the best deal that they can get sitting across the table from the Russians. It is not our goal to insert American – to – this is not a war between the United States and Russia.
And so we want to be clear this is not a war between the United States and Russia. It’s not a war between Russia and NATO. It is a war that Russia has initiated against the Ukrainian people, and our goal is to support Ukraine so that they can defend their democracy and territorial integrity and defend their citizens against these brutal attacks that we see taking place. Without that support, Ukraine would not be able to defend themselves. And what we would see today – we’re seeing Ukraine with buildings just being demolished and thousands of people flowing across the border, but Ukraine as a country is still standing. It’s still standing as an independent country. And it’s with the support that we and others have provided to them that they’ve been able to defend themselves.
QUESTION: Ambassador, will you take a question on the JCPOA?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I’ll try.
QUESTION: Well, (inaudible) the Security Council. How willing would the U.S. be to make a compromise in terms of putting – keeping Quds, the Quds Force of the IRGC on your terrorist blacklist or taking the IRGC off? That compromise is being floated around. How willing is America to go there? And also in terms of the window shutting, we’ve been hearing since February of the last ditch efforts. Enrique Mora is flying in today on what Borrell says is the last bullet. Am I right in thinking that it’s basically the U.S. midterms that will determine this? When the campaigning starts, I think the window shuts and there is no upside for –
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We have –
QUESTION: – politicians in America.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yeah, we have been engaged in intensive negotiations for over a year with the Iranians. And we think that those areas that relate to the JCPOA, we’ve come to agreement on. And so we think we’re at a place where the Iranians ought to be agreeing to a deal. The President was very clear that we would return to the JCPOA compliance with compliance, and that has been achieved. So right now the – sorry, the Iranians have put additional conditions on the table that have nothing to do with the JCPOA. So we’re hopeful that we can get to a deal with them, but it’s not something that we will be negotiating with them into eternity.
QUESTION: Can I ask a quick follow-up? Are you concerned that as Russia seems to be redeploying out of Syria that Iran is moving in, especially in southern Syria and Assad (inaudible) Iran? Are you seeing an even greater alignment between Syria and Iran here, and is that concerning?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I think we’re all watching the situation closely in Syria and hoping that the Iranians do not take advantage, and I don’t think the Russians want the Iranians to take advantage of the situation on the ground. But it’s something that certainly is of concern.
MS. DALTON: I’m afraid we’re at time, but thank you all so much for coming, and we look forward to staying in touch.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yes.
MS. DALTON: Thank you, Ambassador.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you. Thank you, everyone.
QUESTION: Thank you.