La embajadora Linda Thomas-Greenfield y el presidente de Carnegie Council Joel Rosenthal en Carnegie Corporation, 15 de junio de 2022. CRÉDITO: Celeste Ford.

Conversación con la Embajadora Linda Thomas-Greenfield sobre ética, diplomacia y servicio público

Jul 6, 2022 - 58 min escuchar

En una conversación sincera, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, embajadora de Estados Unidos ante las Naciones Unidas, habla con Joel Rosenthal, Presidente de Carnegie Council , sobre su papel en la ONU, la importancia de la "amabilidad" en la diplomacia, la diversidad en el Servicio Exterior y mucho más. ¿Cómo colaboran China y Estados Unidos en la ONU? ¿Cómo ha cambiado la diplomacia con el Presidente Biden? ¿Y cómo puede la ONU seguir siendo relevante en 2022?

Vea el vídeo completo del evento o explore los clips siguientes.

Amabilidad en casa y en la política exterior

Linda Thomas-Greenfield habla de su infancia en la Luisiana rural y de la importancia de ser amable en todo momento, incluso cuando se trabaja con aliados y adversarios como diplomática.

Aumentar la diversidad en el servicio exterior

Un miembro del público pregunta a Linda Thomas-Greenfield por la importancia de que el Servicio Exterior de Estados Unidos refleje la diversidad del propio país. Ella dice que el Servicio Exterior de Estados Unidos debe ser más diverso para que se parezca más al país al que sirve y habla de sus esfuerzos por reclutar a más minorías para puestos diplomáticos.

La relevancia de la ONU "a la puerta de casa

En respuesta a una pregunta del presidente de Carnegie Council , Joel Rosenthal, Thomas-Greenfield habla de la relevancia de la ONU para el ciudadano medio, destacando la labor que están realizando apoyando a Ucrania en su guerra contra Rusia.

THOMAS KEAN: Good afternoon or good evening. I'm Tom Kean. I'm chairman of Carnegie Corporation. It is my pleasure to welcome you here. This is a wonderful kind of occasion for us, one because as the ambassador and I were talking we have been involved with the United Nations almost since the beginning of the United Nations at Carnegie, and we have had a very close relationship, including having one of the secretary-generals on our board for a while. So we have that kind of connection.

Then we have a Carnegie family. Joel and Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs is part of that Carnegie family. Andrew Carnegie was an amazing human being. Can you imagine way back in the 1910s he decided that in addition to the institutions he was founding in foreign policy, education, the arts, and all that, we needed something on ethics. I wish now more people were funding things on ethics. We probably need it now more than ever before, but Joel is head of that, of course.

To take over the program, introduce the Ambassador, and everything else, Joel, I will hand it over to you. Thank you all for coming.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: Governor, thank you so much. As you say this is really a family event for us. This also gives us a chance to thank you publicly for everything you have done for our Council over the years and for this relationship.

I also want to recognize Steve Hibbard, who is the chairman of Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, who is here with his son from California. Both Steve and Tom represent the leadership of the Carnegie institutions, and under their leadership we are really moving into the next hundred years. When you are involved with a Carnegie institution you think in terms of a hundred years.

That speaks to the spirit of this event tonight. We wanted to reach out to some young people in addition to our family members who are here and give them a chance to talk to you, Ambassador, about public service, about life in the international affairs community, the work that you do at the United Nations, and perhaps just have an exchange of ideas.

Governor Kean mentioned the Carnegie legacy. We were talking about this a little bit before the event. Andrew Carnegie funded the building of the Peace Palace in The Hague. He was a true visionary. He believed in the possibilities of international cooperation. He believed it was a necessity. He believed it could happen, he believed it would happen, and that all we needed to do was two things: We needed to build the institutions—The Hague, eventually the League of Nations, and the United Nations—but that wasn't enough, and one of the reasons he founded our Council and some of the other Carnegie institutions was that the ideas behind those institutions mattered and the people in those institutions mattered. The building itself wouldn't do it, and the idea itself wouldn't do it; the people and their ideas really mattered, and that is what we are here today to talk about.

Thank you so much for coming. We appreciate it. I know you have had a career in public service in the Foreign Service, more than 35 years, with many distinguished senior posts and now ambassador to the United Nations. We are very grateful to you for sharing this hour with us this evening.

I thought I would just kick it off with a question, but I also wanted to cue the audience. This is meant to be a conversation. I am going to come to you soon so prepare your questions. We really want to have an informal conversation.

But I thought I would start out with one question, and it goes to the ethics question, the values question, and also your career in public service. I always believe that we all bring with us to our professional lives something from our early lives. I was wondering if you could just share with us maybe some formative experience that set you on the course to be sitting here today with us as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Wow. Thank you, and I am delighted to be here with you today and to have this conversation.

I get asked this question all the time and I give a different answer every single time I get asked the question, but I will start it with saying what I say to young people all the time, that the first chapter of your life will not define subsequent chapters of your life, so you don't know where you are going to end up, although your first chapters may give you some hint of where you might not be able to go.

I was born in a small rural town in Louisiana. Actually I was born in New Orleans, but my parents lived in a small rural town. The reason I was born in New Orleans is that Louisiana was segregated at the time, and the only hospital that would see African American women was the Charity Hospital in New Orleans. My mother went into labor, and my father had to drive the 90 miles to get her to the hospital there to give birth.

That kind of defines where I came from because I grew up in a segregated town. My father was uneducated and in fact illiterate. My mother was undereducated. She was a cook, and most people who know me really well know that I cook really well. It's the only thing I'm not humble about. Even today someone challenged me to a gumbo cook-off, and I said, "Bring it on."

I grew up in a large family. I was the oldest of eight. My mother took in everyone, and our family gathered around meals. We still do that to this day, but the one thing that she taught me that I bring with me every single day in my job is kindness. Be kind. Just be nice, be compassionate, be decent to people, even if they're not decent to you because I saw many times when people were not decent to my mother, and she still was always decent. It stuck with all eight of her kids. We are all like this. That has defined how I approach foreign policy, how I engage with my colleagues at the United Nations, friends and foe. I always approach them with kindness.

I will add that when I was in the eighth grade the Peace Corps came to my community. There was a small Baptist college that closed down, and in the 1960s Peace Corps brought Peace Corps volunteers there to train, and they were getting ready to go to Africa. They invited some of the young kids in the community to learn the languages with them. They were going to Somalia and to Swaziland, so I got to take siSwati as a language when I was in eighth grade. I don't speak a word of it now, but it did influence me. It introduced me to a world that was far outside of the community that I was in. I would eventually end up going to graduate school, and here I am.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: That's great. I can't resist a follow-up though because you talk about kindness. I would imagine in your job you must confront unkindness if not cruelty. How do you process that as being a representative of the United States in a world in which we are living through some almost unimaginable cruelties?

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: The best weapon that we can have as a diplomat is kindness. Even when you are dealing with your foes and you are giving them the riot act, a smile goes a long way in getting the message across and getting understanding.

I will share very briefly one story from my life. I was in Rwanda during the genocide. I was in a situation—it's a much longer story—with a young man with a gun at my head, and I just smiled at him and said, "My name is Linda." I wanted him to know, I thought, If he's going to kill me, at least he needs to know the name of the person he killed, and I got his name. Then suddenly the gun was down and we were having a conversation. I thought, Was that what saved my life? I don't know if that's what saved my life, but I decided it did, and it was again attacking an attacker with a smile.

I was at University Heights High School in The Bronx last week, and their motto is "Be kind," and the kids all had shirts on that said "Be kind." They gave me one. I was in California last week, and I wore it when I went for a walk, and everybody stopped to smile at me. I'm thinking, I can even go to California, and people don't know who I am. I realized they didn't know who I was. They liked the shirt. So be kind.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: I think that's right. I think history shows that problems start when people are dehumanized in some way, and to the extent that you can humanize the process of diplomacy and policymaking is so important.

I have one more question, and then I am going to open it up. We have a podcast series at Carnegie Council, and it's called The Doorstep. The idea of The Doorstep is inspired I suppose by political leaders or community leaders that need to go out and make the case at the "doorstep" of a citizen. This is related to global affairs. We call that the "doorstep test": How do you make the case for the importance of an organization like the United Nations and for the work that you do?

I don't mean to put you on the spot, and I'm sure you have thought about this going back to let's say your hometown or whatever and talking to people for whom this may not be their profession or even their interest, but why is what you're doing important?

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It is actually one of my highest priorities in this job. It is about war and peace. It is going to the doorsteps of Americans and letting them know why the United Nations is important to them, why the work I do should matter to them, and why they should care about what is happening in Ukraine.

The reason we care is because of our values, and that is why this is important to Americans. We care about humanitarian [work]. Americans open their doors to Ukrainians, they open their doors to Afghans, and the United Nations provides the platform for us to bring these kinds of crises and issues to the doorsteps of Americans so that they can show the core value that we have, and that is that we care.

But we are also fighting for democracy. When Ukrainians are standing boldly fighting against Russia, they are not just fighting democracy for their own country. They are fighting for our democracy as well. They are fighting so that we don't have to fight, so our soldiers are not on the ground. That matters to Americans, and when we go into the stores and see what we're paying for everyday goods and see what we're paying for gasoline, war somewhere else in the world will impact our everyday lives.

So it is important that we use the one platform that we have to deal with war and peace, and that is the United Nations. Not a perfect organization. I always acknowledge to people that it's not perfect, but it's what we have, and we have been able to achieve some positive things even as it relates to Ukraine.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: Great. Thank you. Okay, the floor is open.

QUESTION: Thank you, Joel.

I have I guess a softball question for you to start out with: What are currently key United States foreign policy priorities that come to the United Nations, and has there been a change from the Trump to Biden administrations fundamentally? Has there really been a change?

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: The president laid out our key priorities on day one. He laid it out during the campaign that we were going to reassert our leadership in multilateral fora. We immediately rejoined the World Health Organization, we immediately rejoined the Paris Climate Accords, and we restarted the discussions with the Iranians on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. We reengaged because we were not engaging during those four years.

We also know that when we are not exerting our leadership, others will, and what we saw happen during those four years is as our leadership space was ceded the Chinese moved in, and they are in a much more powerful position at the United Nations today than they were five years ago.

I have received and the U.S. government has received a warm welcome back to the United Nations, in fact almost an embrace the day we came back in, with people saying: "We missed you and we need you. We need your presence because we can't fight this alone. We need you sitting in the Human Rights Council," another one that we rejoined on day one. "We need you sitting at the table," and sometimes we're sitting at the table with people we don't want to be sitting at the table with, but because we're sitting there we can push back on their efforts to undermine human rights and undermine the rules-based system that we are all part of.

QUESTION: Good evening. I know many of my colleagues and classmates know for a fact that the United Nations is a hardworking organization, but many Americans feel like it is ineffective and that the United States should pull out of it. What would you say to the young Americans who are feeling cynical about the UN work and the work that you do?

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I will give you a cynical answer: Don't imagine a world without the United Nations because the United Nations is the one place where 190 countries and organizations—I don't know the exact number, but somewhere around that number—can come together and deal with issues that impact our lives every day. It is not just war and peace. It is about developing the rules that will govern how we use the digital world and how we use technology. It's about looking at rules about how we deal with space. Maybe people don't realize how important those things are, but the day it is gone they will know immediately that the United Nations is missing.

We had some extraordinary successes in the United Nations that most people don't know about. They see the Security Council and they think, The Security Council is not working because the Russians can veto. They vetoed a Resolution condemning them. Of course. If we had a Resolution condemning us, we would probably veto it as well. But we took them to the General Assembly and we got 141 countries to vote to condemn them. We were praying we would get 120, which is what we got on Crimea in 2014. We got 141. Then we took another Resolution to the General Assembly, supporting Ukraine's need for humanitarian assistance, and we got 140 countries to support us.

The Russians have tried to shut us down, they have tried to veto our voices. They have not succeeded in doing that, and I think the United Nations system is stronger because of that, because we have been able to use the system in a way that let the Russian government know that it is unacceptable what we see them doing.

The United Nations doesn't have an army. They are not going to go in—of course, we would never get every country to agree that the United Nations can go in and end the war in Ukraine. That would be impossible. But what we can do is influence the situation. We can provide humanitarian assistance to the millions of Ukrainians who have been forced from their homes. We can provide assistance for their resettlement in other places so that their kids can go to school. There are so many things that we do that will make a difference in the lives of people, and it would not be done without the United Nations.

QUESTION: There are two parts to my question. One, I was reading some of your comments in the discussion hosted by the Atlantic Council on climate change displacement. I will read you my question, but then I also have a friend who works for a not-for-profit that helps refugees because of climate change. She got very excited that I had a chance to ask you a question. I will also read you her comments.

I would love to hear a little bit more about what you propose in terms of partnership between the public and private sectors to help climate change refugees. My friend's exclamation was: "There is so much work that needs to be done in building up the narrative that people are being displaced by the climate crisis. There is a wave—spearheaded by the United States—of countries militarizing their borders and heightening their security because of climate-related destruction. The United Nations needs to engage in this huge narrative shift of how we respond to the crisis in a way that is humane and trauma-informed."

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: My answer to that is I agree.

On the private sector there are so many things that are happening and so many reasons people move related to climate change. It may be because of drought. It could be because of pests. It could be flooding. This is where there are companies that work on those issues.

People don't leave their homes because they want to leave their homes, so if we can help them find solutions that will address the problems that they are facing I think more people would remain in their homes. Working with the private sector to see where the private sector may be able to move into areas where flooding is happening and figuring out how we do irrigation systems that will allow people to remain in their homes, or in areas where there is drought what can be done to address drought so that people can remain in their homes.

It took a while for the international community to accept that there was something called "climate refugees." Climate refugees were treated like economic migrants: "They're leaving because they're looking for a better life, not leaving because they have to leave." I think we have all come to understand that because of climate people are forced to leave and that climate change has an impact on security.

People leave their homes because it is also insecure as a consequence of climate change. Look at Nigeria, where you have herders encroaching on farmland, and people are being killed and leaving their homes because of that, or you have situations like in the Sahel, where people are being attacked by terrorists and they have no other choice but to leave because they can't take care of themselves in the desert.

Again, I think this is something we are all beginning to work to understand and to address, but I think we all agree that we can work with the private sector to find solutions and that we absolutely have to do something to support those communities that are being forced from their homes due to climate.

QUESTION: Thank you for coming, first of all. My question is regarding Iran. You mentioned negotiations. What do you think should be done in order to prevent Iran from getting nuclear capabilities and weapons?

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: President Biden has been clear that we will not accept an Iran that has nuclear power. That is one of the reasons we want to get back into the agreement with Iran. Our approach was compliance for compliance. We are willing to go back into compliance if the Iranians go back into compliance. We have basically gone back into compliance, and now the ball is in the Iranian court to do that. They have put additional conditions on coming back into compliance, and that has delayed us moving forward with a deal, but we have not given up on the deal with them. We think if we can get that deal it will slow their efforts to develop a nuclear weapon, although we have seen that they have made a lot of progress in the years that they have been out of the agreement.

QUESTION: Thank you to Carnegie for this opportunity. Ambassador, it is a pleasure to interact with you.

Quick question: You mentioned that China is playing a more dominant role in global governance including in the United Nations, be it with funding, be it with the positions they hold in different organizations, but I would be curious, where are the areas of cooperation that you can see engaging with your Chinese counterparts and maybe also behind the scenes to hear a bit more about the relationship you have with the permanent representative (PR), the Chinese ambassador, here in New York.

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: First, we have been able to work with them on issues related to climate change. Secretary Kerry has been very proactive in talking with them and getting their agreement on some of the major climate commitments that we have wanted from them.

We passed over the course of the month of May, when I was president of the Security Council, three Security Council Resolutions that China supported and agreed on. They were actually voted on unanimously. We are now working with the Chinese and the Russians on the Syria renewal, which has to be renewed by July 10 or the one last border crossing from Turkey into Syria providing humanitarian assistance to over 1 million people will close. Last year we were able to get that Resolution extended. I am meeting with both my Chinese and Russian colleagues to talk about how we can move this agenda forward.

So we do have areas of cooperation. We are very cordial. We are very professional with each other. It is not a warm-and-fuzzy relationship, but it's a very professional and respectful relationship. We know each other's red lines. When I cross their red lines, they will tell me I have crossed their red lines, and when they cross ours I tell them they have crossed our red lines. So we are able to have these frank conversations and generally we know where each other will be and how we will respond.

So we put forward a Resolution on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) a few weeks ago. We were initially hopeful that the Chinese would abstain. They eventually ended up vetoing along with the Russians, but one interesting change that has happened in the UN system over the past few months is a Liechtenstein Resolution that we cosponsored that requires that every permanent member of the Security Council who uses their veto will be called before the General Assembly to explain why they used their veto, and they were called before.

It was not a comfortable situation for them, and I can tell you they were annoyed because they didn't want to be put in a situation of having to veto, yet we felt that the DPRK had been so aggressive. They tested 22 times since January, and the Council had sat silent. My view was that even a veto will let them know that the Council has spoken. So 13 members of the Council supported it and only two vetoed. For me, that said to the DPRK, "You do not have the support of 13 members of the Council." We knew in the end where the Chinese were coming from.

We have a P5 coordination group—the Chinese, the current sponsors of the coordination group—so we meet as a P5 on a regular basis. The full Council does a social event once a month because whoever is president of the Council will do a lunch or dinner with the secretary-general, and we all participate in those events. Again, when the cameras are not in front of us we are cordial to each other. But if I have a camera in front of me I am not going to be seen putting my arms around my Russian or my Chinese colleague or even smiling.

The Russian said something in the Council a couple of months ago, and I gave him the "side eye." I had never even heard of a side eye, and the cameras caught it, and then it was all over Twitter that I gave the side eye. I said to myself, "What's a side eye?" I'm like: "He sits on my right-hand side. He gives a side eye all the time." It is all part of the dynamics of the Council, but we all know we have to work with each other.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador, for your service and for being an extraordinary role model and inspiration to so many who could now consider and envision a career in the Foreign Service.

A recent Council on Foreign Relations report noted that the senior ranks of the Foreign Service are almost 90 percent white and 69 percent male. My question is around representation and how important is it for the United States Foreign Service to reflect the diversity of the U.S. population, and are there things that you think can work in trying to make it more diverse?

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you so much for asking me that question. That too is one of my highest priorities as a career Foreign Service Officer to ensure that our Foreign Service is diverse. The face of our Foreign Service needs to look like the face of America. It says everything about our values, and it says everything about how inclusive we are.

I always share this example. I was in Ethiopia some years ago at an African Union (AU) Meeting, and I had a regular meeting with my Chinese counterpart. One of my colleagues was a Chinese American. The Chinese walked into the room, and they didn't know who this guy was. It was like: "Why is he here? Is he one of ours?" I could see their faces, and when he sat at the table beside me I was so proud. I think it just made the statement to have him sitting there at the table with me, and people need to understand that. We have to reflect our values. We have to reflect our diversity in all of its forms. It is a strength that we have that no other country has.

I do a lot of recruiting. The reason I was at University Heights High School was not about just speaking to the kids. The reason I'm here is because you have young people in the audience, not you old folks like me, but we take old folks in the Foreign Service as well. Look at me. But again to encourage young people, to get out and say to young people, "You can be like me."

My family gave me a T-shirt when I was appointed UN Ambassador. It has my picture on it and my nieces and nephews wore it to school and said, "My UN Ambassador looks like me." My family didn't know how meaningful that was to me because it said to every little Black girl, "You can be a UN Ambassador." I didn't think I could be a UN Ambassador. I had never heard of a UN Ambassador when I was in high school. It never was on my radar that there was someone in this position.

Again, I think our diversity is important, and we have to proactively recruit. It is not just recruiting for diversity, it is including and sustaining for diversity because what has happened in the State Department is that we lost a lot of people. They just decided to leave because we recruited them but we didn't embrace them, and they didn't feel a part of the Service. The new generation of young people don't take the crap that my generation took. I took the crap. I took the slights and brushed them aside. My view has always been, "Your slighting me is your problem, not mine," so I never took people's racism as my problem.

The younger generation, you guys are different and you're not going to take the slights. It's like: "I don't have to deal with this. I can go and work at Google." So Google and Facebook have been recruiting and taking our people like nobody's business. Is there anyone from Google or Facebook here? We train our people well, and we are just losing people. We are sieving people of color because they are also trying to make their workforce more diverse, and they don't even have to train because they get from us people who speak the languages, who have diverse experiences overseas, and they can just walk in the door and start to work. So we do have to do a better job of retaining our people and including them, not just recruiting them.

General Austin said something like—and I loved it—when he was asked about this. He said: "It's one thing to be invited to the dance. The other thing is to be invited to dance at the dance." So if you're sitting on the wall and you're a wallflower, then you're not included.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador, and also thank you to Joel and to the Carnegie Corporation. It is an honor to be here.

I am from Chatham House. I have a question for you, I guess a two-part question, and it is one that you will be very familiar with. Around the world, despite the 141 countries that voted alongside the United States to condemn Russia's aggression there are some important countries that continue to call out Western hypocrisy. They point to 2003, they point to Libya, they point to any number of things, and whether we agree or don't agree the importance of having a consistent and clear response is I am sure you would know more than anybody very important. I am firstly curious what your response is when you hear that critique.

The second part of my question goes to the country that I live in. It is very easy perhaps to know where you stand with one's adversaries, whether it's China, Russia, or Iran. But sometimes America's closest friends do things that seem morally questionable. As you know, the UK government is currently trying to push a policy that entails sending asylum seekers on planes to Rwanda. That was prevented yesterday. There is now a conversation about potentially putting out of the European Court of Human Rights. What do you do when America's closest friends do things that perhaps America doesn't support?

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: To your first question, I heard it every day, and what I say is: "What did you do in 2003 and what did you do in 2013 with Libya? How did you respond?" You thought it was wrong. What was your response? If you thought that was wrong, does that make what is happening today right, because what we are looking at today is an attack on all of our values. It is an attack on democracy. It is an attack on the UN Charter. Because you think we were wrong ten years ago you are going to do something wrong today.

So I am not going to own what happened years ago. What I am owning today is that there is no neutrality and no abstentions when it comes to what we see Russia doing in Ukraine. If I am sitting in my apartment and I am overlooking Long Island and looking at the high-rise buildings, imagine those buildings are in Ukraine. Right now every single building would be destroyed. You cannot tell me you think that is right and you are going to punish Ukraine because you think we were hypocrites ten years ago. So leave us out of the equation. Support Ukraine. That's what I say to them.

Your other question is also an easy one. It's with your friends that you can be honest. You can say to your friends, "This is really not the right thing to do, and you need to rethink that." Of course we also make mistakes. I was so horrified when I saw Haitians on the border and some guy on a horse with a whip whipping a Haitian migrant. What I think is our strength is I can be horrified in public about what my country does. I can comment in public about what our country does. I can acknowledge our mistakes and push for us to do the right things.

What I say to China is: "Own up to what is happening to the Uyghurs in China." They won't own up to it. They won't acknowledge what is happening. Our strength is that we do self-assess and we are constantly self-correcting. We are not perfect, but we at least attempt to self-correct, and many other countries don't.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador, for being here. I am one of those people who works for Facebook.

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: They're stealing our people.

QUESTIONER: I did have a question for you. One of my mentors early in my career was Mort Abramowitz, who I am sure you know, former career ambassador and Foreign Service Officer like you. I was at his home during the last administration, and he mentioned that one thing people don't appreciate about what was happening at the State Department was that these relationships he had built in his career for 30 or 40 years with other Foreign Service officers, they rose through the ranks, and he would call them and get things done. When he was ambassador to Turkey or to Thailand, he could call people he knew when he was 20 and get foreign policy done. His big concern was the decimation of the State Department, which means that there are whole generations of people who can't get things done because they didn't build these relationships growing up through the ranks.

I wanted to ask you, have you called on favors from people you met earlier in your career, throughout your career, and even today, and what do you think we can do to build the State Department back up so we have that next generation of diplomats?

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: His wife was my mentor.

QUESTIONER: She was a great friend of mine. She wore the best hats in Washington.

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: She wore the best hats, and she brought me into refugee work. I spent most of my career doing that.

QUESTIONER: We worked at the International Refugee Trust together.

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Okay, so you know her.

I have called those relationships. I spent 35 years in the Foreign Service, and my biggest problem is that African leaders got my personal phone number. My personal phone has become my work phone because no matter how I try—even President Biden called me once on my personal phone.

But I do call on those relationships all the time. People are shocked. I left government and I was here in New York during high-level week and I was standing in a hotel, and all these African heads of state were going by, and they were all like, "Hey, Linda, hey, Linda," and I heard someone say, "Who is that woman?"

They are like, "We don't know," because I had been out of government.

So this guy comes over to me and he's like, "Who are you?"

I said, "I'm Linda."

I spent 35 years on the continent on and off. I met President Sirleaf in 1978, so I knew her before she became president. I met the president of Namibia before he became president, so I knew many of them before they even became presidents.

You develop relationships. It is not always friendships. It is relationships. So I know when I make a call they are going to take a call from me. But they also know when they call me I'm going to take the call, including 3:00 in the morning when President Museveni called me because he was angry. My phone rang at 3:00 in the morning, I answered it, and he said, "This is Yoweri."

I'm like, "Who? Yoweri? Who is that?"

He said, "President Museveni."

I'm like, "Oh, okay."

Then my husband is like, "Who is calling you at 3:00 in the morning?"

I said, "It's the president of Uganda."

So yes, I know what Mort was talking about. Over the course of 30 years you start to know people personally, you see them, and you can be honest with them. I can have an honest conversation and say, "You know, it's time to go." They don't listen all the time, but they may vote with us. I may not be able to influence what they are doing now in their countries, but I can say, "Look, we need your vote."

QUESTION: Hi, good afternoon. It's nice to see you and meet you in person.

You touched on something that is really dear to me [about] African presidents, and I wanted to ask a question about if you have any relationship with those presidents. Of course I see what is happening in Africa with those presidents who don't want to leave and give the population a really hard time in their own countries. What is the United Nations doing in regard to that because there is a lot happening there right now and the population it serves cannot do anything without the United Nations and also the ambassador. What are you doing in helping their populations to be able to live in peace without being killed by their own army? It is really frustrating to see that.

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you for asking that question. As you know, there are UN peacekeepers all over the continent of Africa, and Africa has the largest number of peacekeepers. The United Nations cannot kick out a leader. We can only try to influence those leaders to make the right decisions for their people.

I will share with you a conversation I have had with African PRs here in New York who have complained bitterly: "The world has rallied to support Ukraine. You guys don't rally to support Africa." That has been their narrative.

Basically what I have said is, even the Russians didn't block us from having a meeting on Ukraine in the Security Council. Africans—with the Russians and Chinese—block us from having meetings. I couldn't have a meeting on Ethiopia and what is happening in Ethiopia. Unless we can work around them, we can't do it.

Africans don't condemn each other. So yes, the Europeans circled the wagon around Ukraine because it is in their neighborhood, and they open their doors to Ukrainians because it is in their neighborhood. Africans have to open the door for other Africans in their neighborhood, and they have to criticize each other and circle the wagon around people who are being brutalized by their countries. It's a boys club, so they don't criticize each other because they know they can be on the other side of the criticism as well. The AU won't take initiatives in my view in a significant way when it relates to Africa. The AU was sitting in Ethiopia, and we are seeing atrocities being committed in Ethiopia, and the AU would not say anything.

I have not accepted criticism that we have ignored Africa because we are all focused on Ukraine because Africans in my view on occasions have ignored each other and not taken—I am probably the only non-African PR who can get away with telling them that. I don't think anybody else can get away with telling them the emperor has no clothes other than me. So I do use that constantly to remind Africa that Africa has to take ownership of the issues in Africa and lead on those issues. I have tried to be a follower on issues in the Security Council as it relates to Africa, but occasionally I have to lead, and I don't shy away from it.

QUESTIONER: If I can have a follow-up, you said taking initiative, right? Africa has to do that. When you are saying "taking initiative," are you talking about the population itself, the president, or our young persons, and how are we going to go about it? As you mentioned it is really hard for you to be involved and the presidents themselves are not making the way for us to do that, so how can we do that?

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Your regional organizations. I will say that the Economic Community of West African States, for example, has been very strong. They were strong in condemning the coups in Mali and holding the Mali government accountable, so many of the regional organizations have the ability to do that.

It is going to have to be the presidents, although I think young people in Africa are going to really rule the world one day. There is extraordinary resilience in the community, extraordinary creativity. So young people have to be prepared to take over and to take leadership. It is not going into the streets and being shot at, which will occasionally happen, but we have also seen what happened in Sudan when young people went into the streets and were able to get rid of al-Bashir. It is still a work in progress, but they made a difference.

QUESTIONER: As somebody who has extensive career experience in diplomacy toward Africa, how have you seen U.S. foreign policy toward Africa evolve, and do you believe these efforts through foreign policy are strong enough to counter the Chinese and Russian influence in Africa?

My second part to that question would be: From my perception a lot of the narrative in media can be particularly xenophobic, leaning toward xenophobia, so how can we engage in criticism toward Chinese influence in Africa without leaning into these certain rhetorics?

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I have seen a policy on the continent of Africa go through waves where we are very proactive and engaged and at other times we are less engaged, and then it goes up again. It has not been consistent over many years.

But what has been consistent is our relationships with the continent of Africa. I have always reminded my Chinese colleagues that one of our strengths on the African continent is that we have an African diaspora. I am sure if I went around this room among the people of African descent at least half of you are from somewhere in Africa and you are hyphenated Americans. That is a strength that we have that the Chinese will never ever be able to compare with, and you can advocate for your countries and your policies in the United States in ways that no one else can do. It is a strength that we need to spend more time building up and pushing for that kind of advocacy around the continent.

In terms of xenophobia we are seeing it happen all over the world, not just in Africa, but in South Africa against Nigerians and then the Nigerians counterattacked South African businesses in Nigeria. It is something that we need to fight anywhere in the world, not just on the African continent.

I think from the vantage point of the United States we do need to focus more attention on Africa. I think we have a good story to tell. If you look at the kinds of programs we have, such as the Young African Leaders Initiative, we have probably had more than 100,000 young leaders across the continent connect through this network of young African leaders.

African leaders who have lived and studied in the United States. I could probably point to at least a dozen people who are current presidents who studied in the United States at some point or another. So we do have those relationships that I think we have to nurture and nourish.

QUESTION: I am a Carnegie New Leader working for the United Nations Development Programme Crisis Bureau. Speaking of UN peacekeeping, last year on the 9th of September the Security Council anonymously adopted its first Resolution on UN transitions, urging all UN peacekeeping missions, special political missions, to start planning for withdrawal at the earliest possible stage, also in line with the UN secretary-general's Transition Planning Directive.

My question to you, excellency, would be: How high is transitions of UN peacekeeping on your agenda, and how can we ensure better host government ownership of these transition processes, also involving more local actors? Thank you.

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: The answer to that question is real easy. We are the largest contributor to peacekeeping operations. Our assessed contribution is 27 percent. We never go up to 27. We had some legislation that put us at 25, so each year we have to get special dispensations to pay the 27 percent. We watch, engage, and monitor peacekeeping missions very, very closely, and we do want to see them transition, and they can.

I was part of the transition of the peacekeeping mission in Liberia, one of the largest per capita peacekeeping missions on the continent of Africa. We had 17,000 UN troops in a country with just 4 million people. We engaged with the government, with the president, with the United Nations, and worked to start the process of turning over functions to the government and eventually transitioning the UNMIL forces out of Liberia. I think it is a real success story.

JOEL ROSENTHAL: That's great. Maybe we can end with a success story. The hour is up, so I have to conclude the formal session, but thanks to our family we have a family reception here, so there will be time for some informal conversation once we adjourn.

Thank you all for coming, and let's have a drink.


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