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Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., speaks with diplomacy students at a “fireside chat”

The United States Ambassador to the United Nations spoke with students of the school of Diplomacy and International Relations Tuesday April 12 about current foreign policies such as the Russia-Ukraine war, climate change in developing countries, and COVID-19 vaccine accessibility.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield was sworn in as the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. on Feb. 24, 2021, four years after she retired from her position as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. She spent 35 years in the Foreign Service, serving as their Director General and Director of Human Resources between 2012 and 2013.

Russia-Ukraine War

Before Russia began their invasion, there was an emergency meeting held for the Security Council, Thomas-Greenfield said, where the attendees “started warning the world.”

“You always have to be prepared for whatever may occur,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

After the invasion started, the Security Council voted to isolate Russia, condemn them, and support Ukraine, Thomas-Greenfield said. She added that they also suspended Russia from the Security Council.

“They are isolated,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “We will continue to isolate them until we get them in the right place.”

The voting count to suspend Russia from the Security Council was “beyond our wildest dreams,” Thomas-Greenfield said. The council expected at least 120 votes, but instead received 141 votes against Russia, she said.

“A diplomatic ‘in’ to this is possible,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “They can’t veto our voices and they can’t veto our votes against them.”

11 million Ukrainians have been forced from their homes, Thomas-Greenfield said. Approximately 4.5 million of them are refugees in foreign nations, and 6 million are displaced within Ukraine.

“What we had warned was happening, was happening,” Thomas-Greenfield said, noting that Russia does not “want to negotiate, they want to destroy.”

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“Broken lives” were “seen everywhere every day,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

The U.S. is “supporting” Ukraine, along with surrounding countries who are taking in Ukrainian refugees, Thomas-Greenfield said. The U.S. has sent $2 billion to Ukraine to aid them.

“We have not given up on diplomacy,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “You never give up in diplomacy. Diplomacy is always available.”

On Developing Nations and Climate Change

Liberia has the highest annual rainfall in Africa, but what they are not known for is having the “thickest and most beautiful” rainforests left in Africa, Thomas-Greenfield said. Liberians are cutting down their rainforests to use the wood for building and making coal, said

Thomas-Greenfield said she visited Liberia with the intention of working with officials to stop the environmental destruction. Farmers have missed entire planting seasons due to abnormal rain from climate change, Thomas-Greenfield said.

Africa in general had become “dependent” on China and “gone into debt to get infrastructure,” Thomas-Greenfield said, calling the dependence a “death trap.”

On COVID-19 Vaccine Accessibility

Making sure other countries receive and administer COVID-19 vaccines is a “high priority for the administration,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “The United States has taken this very seriously.”

In some countries, they are not properly storing the vaccines before use, Thomas-Greenfield said. If not properly stored in a refrigerator, the vaccines expire.

“Providing vaccines is not enough,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “It’s getting the vaccine into someone’s arm. We’re sending vaccines over, but the infrastructure’s not there.”

On “Food Diplomacy”

For Thomas-Greenfield, “food is diplomacy.”

“I love to cook,” she said, adding that she “always enjoys” hosting people.

She started her first job at 12 years old at a summer camp. She helped her grandmother cook for the Salvation army. She was always cutting up the meat, she said.

Cooking runs in her family, she said. “My brothers are cooks.”

She said she had politicians over for dinner, specifically gumbo, and they would cook together while discussing the guest’s country’s issues, Thomas-Greenfield said. She calls this “gumbo diplomacy.” They would discuss while she would cut vegetables, while at the same time she would be tearing up over the onions, she said.

“Gumbo is not always the same,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “You put together a bunch of things that might not go together. You become friends, get to know each other, and you blend, and it works.”

She has a 20-gallon pot for the sole purpose of cooking gumbo, she said, adding that she once had up to 50 guests over for gumbo. “You don’t make gumbo for four.”

Thomas-Greenfield said that she also does “red beans and rice” diplomacy.


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