New US envoy starts challenge to restore US on world stage
UNITED NATIONS — Linda Thomas-Greenfield presented her credentials as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday, officially taking on one of the most challenging jobs for the Biden administration of helping to restore the United States as a top multilateral player on the global stage after former President Donald Trump’s unilateral “America First” policy.
The longtime career diplomat thanked President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris, who swore her in on Wednesday, for choosing her for the “distinguished position” and said she was “thrilled” to be at the United Nations.
“The United Nations is the world’s most important forum for bringing people and countries together,” Thomas-Greenfield told reporters immediately afterward. “This administration knows that when America is at the table and acting in accordance with our values, the United States is an indispensable institution for the advancement of peace, security and collective well-being.”
She said the Biden administration is “clear-eyed about the difficult work that needs to be done, from elevating human rights to reforming the U.N. itself to addressing conflicts old and new around the world.”
Thomas-Greenfield reiterated what she said when she was nominated for the U.N. post: “Multilateralism is back and diplomacy is back and America is back and we’re ready to get to work.”
The United States takes over the rotating presidency of the powerful U.N. Security Council on Monday and the new ambassador, who only arrived in New York on Thursday morning, said with a smile, “I not only had to hit the ground running, I’m actually hitting the ground sprinting.”
Thomas-Greenfield, who rose to be U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs before retiring after more that 35 years during the Trump administration, will be the third African-American, and the second African-American woman, to hold the U.N. post.
Her confirmation on Tuesday was hailed by Democrats and advocates of the United Nations who had lamented “America First” unilateral approach to international affairs and rejoiced at Biden’s return to multilateralism.
At the Senate hearing on her nomination, Thomas-Greenfield described China as “a strategic adversary” that threatens the world, and called a speech she gave in 2019 that praised China’s initiatives in Africa but made no mention of its human rights abuses a mistake.
The Senate voted 78-20 to confirm her with Republican opponents saying she was soft on China and would not stand up for U.S. principles at the U.N.
Thomas-Greenfield told reporters Wednesday that representing the United States as a diplomat around the world, “I found that diplomacy is about showing compassion, it’s about managing points of differentiation and it’s about bringing people together.”
When she presented her credentials to secretary-general Guterres, she said coming to the United Nations “was made all the more wonderful because I knew you were here.”
Guterres served as the U.N.’s refugee chief before his election to the U.N. post and Thomas-Greenfield recalled working with him in the past on refugee issues.
“So I’m looking forward very anxiously to getting to work and working on many of the key issues that we know are before the United Nations and we know that people around the globe are looking to us for,” he said.
Guterres warmly welcomed Thomas-Greenfield, calling the United States “a fundamental pillar of the United Nations and of international cooperation” and telling her, “you are not only a very distinguished diplomat, but a very passionate citizen of the world,” with a strong commitment to refugees. He then invited her for private talks.
Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador Dmitry Polyansky told a group of reporters Wednesday that “the red carpet” will be rolled out for Thomas-Greenfield and Moscow is ready to work with President Joe Biden’s administration — but “it takes two to tango.”
“We are looking forward to interactions with her,” he told a group of reporters Wednesday. “You can count on our most favorable attitudes and positive emotions towards her as a member of our Security Council family.”
But he said America’s view that Russia is “an enemy” and a “threat” hasn’t changed under Biden, so “it’s very difficult to imagine how the interaction with us might change with such starting points of the positions of the new administration.”
Nonetheless, Polyansky said the U.S. and Russia can work together but “it takes two to tango, and really we’re ready to dance.”
“But we need a good and reliable partner who knows all the moves and who respects us” as a country with certain positions, “doesn’t view us as a threat” and sees “our obvious national interests in many issues,” he said.
Thomas-Greenfield said at her Senate hearing that Washington will be working not only with allies “but to see where we can find common ground with the Russians and the Chinese to put more pressure on the Iranians to push them back into strict compliance” with the 2015 agreement to rein in their nuclear program. Trump pulled the U.S. out of the agreement in 2018 and Biden has indicated the U.S. will rejoin it, though how that might happen remains a major question.
Polyansky said Russia welcomes the “positive developments” on the Iran nuclear deal and the U.S. agreement to extend the START nuclear agreement, adding that Moscow is ready for serious and meaningful discussions “first and foremost in the area of strategic stability.”