A Vision for Sustainable Development With Linda Thomas-Greenfield

Friday, September 15, 2023
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, U.S. Department of State; CFR Member


Coanchor, Nightline, ABC News; CFR Member

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield discusses the Sustainable Development Goals, avoiding the cynicism trap, and ways the United States and the United Nations can work together to increase peace and prosperity at home and across the world.

CHANG: I’m Juju Chang with ABC News. Welcome to today’s Council on Foreign Relations meeting. It’s entitled “A Vision for Sustainable Development.”

And of course, we are pleased to kick off UNGA programming here at the Council with U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield. We know that U.N. week brings in all sorts of acronyms, right—UNGA, Sustainable Development Goals—but my new favorite U.N. acronym is LTG. So please welcome Linda Thomas-Greenfield. And she’s going to provide a few opening remarks, so please join me in welcoming LTG. (Applause.)

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I’m called many things. (Laughter.) My favorite thing to be called is Linda.

Good morning, everyone, and thank you so much for being here so early in the morning. I didn’t expect—I thought people were going to have to be dragged in at this time. Thank you, Juju, and the Council on Foreign Relations for bringing us together.

So I wanted to come here just a few days before high-level week and the start of the Sustainable Development Goals summit to outline the ways the United States is working to advance sustainable development. But, first, let me explain what the Sustainable Development Goals are—the SDGs for short—are all about. I know many in this room are well-versed on this topic, but for all those tuning in from home I’ll try not to use too many niche U.N. acronyms.

The SDGs are seventeen goals that 193 countries—all of the members of the United Nations—adopted back in 2015. They are a universal call to action—a call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and lift up the human dignity of all. Achieving these goals will help us strengthen prosperity at home and empower people abroad.

Next week, world leaders will gather in New York—and for those of you who live here in New York, you know what that’s like. They’re going to make the midpoint for meeting these goals.

Unfortunately, a perfect storm of global crises—from conflict, to climate, to the lingering impacts of the COVID pandemic—have hamstrung progress. We’re on track to achieve just 12 percent of the SDGs, and 12 percent sounds better than saying one or two. But now is not the moment to throw up our hands in defeat; now is the moment to recommit to bold and transformative change, and to do this with urgency.

You know, the more I thought about this speech, the more I kept coming back to the concept of the cynicism trap. So let me explain. In 2021 in his TED talk, Stanford psychologist Jamil Zaki said that right now we face an epidemic of cynicism. And here’s the thing: We shouldn’t be surprised by that. It’s easy to be cynical when more than a million children die every day from acute malnutrition; when protracted conflicts rage in Sudan and Syria and elsewhere; when a permanent member—a permanent member of the Security Council invades its smaller neighbor and strikes at the heart of the U.N. Charter; and when the window to address the worst impacts of the climate crisis is rapidly closing.

Given all of this, cynicism should be seen as safe and maybe even smart. But, again, this moment demands progress, not pessimism, and we must all recommit to action.

The United States is determined to do its part as the world’s leading provider of humanitarian and development assistance. When global hunger strikes and famine looms large, the United States steps up.

SDG 2, which calls on the world to end hunger, is deeply personal to me. I’ve worked on this issue my entire career and I’ve made it a focus of my past three presidencies of the Security Council. As President Biden told the U.N. General Assembly last year, if parents cannot feed their children nothing else matters.

Since June of 2022, we have committed more than $15 billion in more than forty-seven countries to address the global food security crisis, which has been exacerbated by Putin’s unprovoked war against Ukraine. And through the Feed the Future Initiative, we’ve increased the world’s access to climate-resilient seeds and helped millions—millions—of farmers around the world better withstand drought. We’re tackling the food and climate crisis side by side.

The United States is also the world’s largest global health donor, the focus of SDG 3. We know that health security is national security. Pandemics transcend borders, and this was put into sharp focus by COVID-19.

Of course, our commitment to global public health assistance goes back decades. This year we’re celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief—PEPFAR—the largest commitment by any nation to address a single disease. And thanks to $100 billion in U.S. investment, we have helped save 25 million lives and we have exacerbated—accelerated progress toward controlling the global HIV/AIDS pandemic in more than fifty countries, primarily on the continent of Africa. We’re working to strengthen health systems around the world and to support community health workers that reach the world’s poorest, part of our commitment to leave no one—no one—behind.

But despite our best efforts, macro forces often impede and set back sustainable development—and especially because, as you all know, today’s global challenges are deeply interconnected. When climate-induced natural disasters strike, whether it’s in Libya or Hawaii, homes are destroyed, education is disrupted, inequality rises, and lives are lost. And when conflict breaks out, people are cut off from clean water, health care, and other basic needs; women and girls face conflict-related sexual violence; and people go hungry. Seventy-nine percent of the world’s most food-insecure live in twenty-two countries or areas afflicted by conflict. Conflict—conflict—is the biggest driver of hunger.

And I saw this firsthand during my trip to Chad last week, a trip I took to shed light on the devastating consequences of the war in Sudan. While there, I visited a makeshift hospital where children were being treated for acute malnutrition. These children were too weak to speak or cry, and the silence in the hospital was eerie. It was one of the saddest experiences of my life.

During my trip, I announced that the United States is providing nearly $163 million in additional humanitarian assistance for the people of Sudan and neighboring countries. This support will meet the immediate needs of the Sudanese people, but this is just the first step. It’s almost a drop in the bucket when you look at the needs out there. It is admittedly challenging to also address long-term needs and to bring about systemic change during moments of crisis.

Yes, countries in need are counting on emergency aid, but countries also need sustained solutions that will help them address the root causes of poverty and instability. And that is exactly—that is exactly what we committed to do when we committed to the SDGs. Again, I say we, but I’m referring to 193 countries that adopted the SDG(s) as a guiding framework.

Unfortunately, some countries are shrinking—shirking their development responsibilities even as they peddle false narratives about the United States’ commitment to the SDGs. Why? Because they want to drive a wedge between developing countries and the United States—because they want developing countries to think we only care about great-power competition, and because they want to seed the narrative that the United States only pays lip service to the SDGs, that we talk a big game but we don’t back up our words with action. And their efforts will not succeed. Their efforts, in fact, are not succeeding because the facts are not on their side.

Just look at the numbers. In 2021, the United States provided nearly $4 billion to the World Food Programme, while Russia provided less than $63 million and China, the second-largest economy in the world, provided less than $27 million. That same year, the United States contributed nearly a billion dollars to UNICEF; Russia and China, less than $3 million each.

And let’s not forget, so often when certain other global powers commit to development projects they neglect transparency and accountability on human rights, and their loans come with opaque conditions on repayment and structure that can lead to unsustainable debt for developing countries. And these debts can be devastating.

For our part, the United States is mobilizing trillions in investments for development economies, giving countries more tools in their toolkit to address the issues of our time. And we’re adapting our international economic policy to foster sustainable development—sustainable development that is grounded in human rights—because let’s be clear: You cannot have lasting peace and development without human rights.

Our Millennium Challenge Corporation shows how we can make good governance and respect for human rights a prerequisite for development partnerships. Since 2004, the MCC has worked with over forty-five partner countries resulting in nearly $16 billion in investments to promote sustainable economic growth and to empower communities. These efforts have lifted more than 270 million out of poverty—270 million people.

The United States is also working to advance gender equality around the world, the focus of SDG 5, because we know that when women and girls have access to education and health care and their fundamental rights are respected, communities thrive; and because we know the success of the SDGs hinges on the success of women and girls.

The bottom line is this: We have a strong track record of leadership and investment across all seventeen SDGs, but clearly we cannot advance the SDGs on our own. Progress requires partnership. And just one example: Together with our G-7 partners, we committed to mobilize $600 billion in new investment by 2027 through the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment. The United States is also working bilaterally and with the U.N. and other multilateral institutions to ensure development assistance is tailored to the needs of the recipients.

Strong leadership requires strong partnerships, and it also requires a healthy—a healthy dose of humility. We must be honest about the fact that under the previous administration we stepped back from our international partnerships and the SDGs, which eroded the credibility of our voice in the development system. And that is no longer the case. This administration is redoubling our efforts to advocate for the SDGs and we’re committed to reforming the multilateral system.

We helped build this system. We helped build the multilateral system in part to solve big, complex problems. But we can only meet our greatest challenges if our multilateral institutions are inclusive, fit for purpose, and reflect the realities of today’s world. We cannot and should not defend an unsustainable and outdated status quo. Instead, we must demonstrate flexibility and a willingness to compromise in the name of greater credibility and legitimacy. And we must forge consensus around sensible reforms that make the international system work better for everyone, whether that means expanding U.N. Security Council membership or leading multilateral development bank evolution.

Our administration is working with Congress to unlock new lending capacity for the World Bank and the IMF to provide more financing at cheaper rates for investments in climate, public health, or other critical issues. And with our strong push together with our partners, the World Bank will soon enable countries to defer debt payments after climate shocks and natural disasters.

Leading with humility also means owning up to our own shortcomings. So many Americans still lack access to clean water and quality education. Over the past few decades, income inequality has skyrocketed. The climate crisis is having disproportionate impact on vulnerable communities. And we have so much work to do on gender equity, food security, and a host of other issues.

The Biden administration is making key investments here at home so that we can lift up all Americans and lead from a position of strength on the world stage. We can and we must lead with humility and with confidence, because we’ve proven time and again that when Americans come together there’s nothing that we can’t achieve.

So, yes, we need to be realistic about the world’s global challenges, but we cannot let realism serve as an excuse for cynicism. At next week’s SDG summit and throughout high-level week, the United States will reaffirm our steadfast commitments to the SDG(s) because this is the right thing to do, and because this is an investment in our national economic security and our own safety and prosperity. We’re clear-eyed about the challenges ahead, but we are determined to drive progress forward.

At the end of the day, this all boils down to advancing the inherent dignity of every human being. We can break the cycle of poverty and we can create sustainable food systems. We can tackle the climate crisis and root out gender inequality. We can defend the fundamental freedoms and human rights. And we can advance all seventeen SDGs. But to do that we have to work together, which is why we will continue to urge all member states—emphasize all—to do more and to give more, and to meet this moment with a sense of possibility.

The world’s most vulnerable are looking to us, like the young woman I met in Chad last week who fled unthinkable—unthinkable—violence in Sudan and had to leave her family and her education behind. She told me she’d lost her ambition, and it was gut-wrenching to see the pain in her eyes, and the hope drain out from her, and the trauma that she had experienced. And I told her she had to keep her ambition, that no one can take that away from her. And this young woman is counting on us. She’s counting on the world in her time of need.

But we’re also counting on her. We’re counting on all of the world’s youth, the vast majority of whom live in developing countries. We know young people are not the world’s future leaders; in fact, they are today’s leaders. Our job is to empower them—to not just give them a seat at the table, but to give them a seat at the head of the table.

America’s young leaders and the world’s young leaders actually give me tremendous hope for our future. They keep me from sinking into cynicism. And they are the key—they are the key to building a more just, a more peaceful, and a more prosperous future for us all.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

CHANG: Thank you, Ambassador, for those profound words, and inspiring words at that. Oh, thank you.

As you know, this conversation is on the record. I’m going to ask a number of quick questions. It might be lightning rounds, since we also want to get to audience questions and online questions as well, because we have a sizeable online audience of more than two hundred people registered.

But I want to start with something you said in your speech about China and the Sustainable Development Goals. You gave some pretty stark statistics that 50 percent of the World Food Programme is funded by the U.S.; China represents less than 1 percent of that funding. In 2021, you said the U.S. gave UNICEF nearly a billion; China gave 2 million. Those are, like, orders of magnitude different. So I’m curious what tools—carrots/sticks—you’re planning to use to engage China either bilaterally or multilaterally to challenge them, especially vis-à-vis some of these thornier issues of human rights or regional conflict or trade.

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, thank you. You know, we sit on the Security Council with China—China is one of the five permanent members of the Council—so we have lots of opportunities to engage them here in this multilateral forum. Part of our effort is to show the stark numbers, as you referred to there and I used in my speech; to put those stark numbers in front of the world, and to encourage China to do more and to pay more to continue to support the efforts to support the most needy around the world. And I think, as they look at those numbers, they have to want to do more. But it’s not also—it’s not just also about China; it’s about everyone doing more.

CHANG: You mentioned Russia in that context as well, but clearly there are more pressing matters at hand. President Zelensky is headed to D.C. after UNGA week. And this week President Putin is meeting with Kim Jong-un, who has pledged his support to the “sacred struggle”—his words. There’s $24 billion in aid on the table in D.C. How does the U.S. and its allies continue to engage in that conflict?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, we—the president has been clear we will stand with Ukraine until this is over. And so part of that 24 billion will be about addressing the needs in Ukraine. But we believe by addressing the war in Ukraine we’re also addressing the food insecurity needs around the world, because Ukraine—that whole region—they produce a significant amount of food that is purchased by World Food Program and also purchased by and used by other countries around the world. So it is not just about Ukraine; it’s about also providing for the needs of people around the world.

CHANG: And not just strategic interests.

You spoke eloquently about your trip to Chad. We found out in the green room that we had traveled to Chad together, and Cameroon and Nigeria, with Ambassador Power; obviously, me in the journalism seat. But I’m curious, I mean, you were in Rwanda at the start of the genocide. You were posted in Liberia. You’ve seen atrocities in Darfur twenty years ago. And yet, you referred to this week as one of the saddest experiences of your life. You announced that one hundred and sixty million dollar—


CHANG: Sixty-three, correct my math. (Laughter.)

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Every penny counts.

CHANG: Every million counts. How do you see that playing out in the region? And what can—what can be done to perhaps stop history from repeating itself?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: The reason it was sad for me, to start with, is because twenty years later we’re dealing with the same. We know what the experience of the Rwandan genocide was like, we continue to say never again, and we saw that unfold in Chad in—sorry, in Sudan in 2003 and 2004. So the sadness is about looking at the history and seeing that we continue to experience these kinds of—these kinds of incidents.

The $163 million that I announced is a significant contribution to addressing the needs. But as I said, it’s sort of a drop in the bucket.

I was there at the same time as the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and he told me that our hundred sixty-three million can be used to set up a full camp with services for tens of thousands of people, and they’re in the process of doing that. Chad has had more than four hundred thousand people show up on the Chadian side of the border since April of this year. Many of those people are in makeshift camps. And UNHCR has very valiantly—and really must be given tremendous credit. They are working to move those people into more camps that—where they can be provided with what is needed, and part of our $163 million will help to do that.

CHANG: I want to just note that tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of the death of Mahsa Amini, who died following a beating in police custody in Iran for not wearing a proper hijab. Last December, Iran was the first member state to be kicked off the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women. I wonder if you can give us a status update on the rights of women. I know it’s something you care deeply about.

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, it is the center of our activities and our actions in the Security Council and more broadly at the United Nations. We work every single day in everything that we do to ensure that we focus on women’s rights and support for women who are victims of violence.

So when I was in Chad last week, I made sure that I sat down with women to talk to them about their needs and what we can do to better support those women. The SDGs focus on gender equality, and we continue to do that. I was president of the Security Council in August, and we brought women briefers from around the world to brief the Council on every single issue that we discussed. So all of that to say it’s the—it’s really a focus of what we do.

CHANG: I wonder, though, specifically with Iran, if there are initiatives on the table. There’s, you know, something about labeling the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization or designating gender apartheid. Are there specific initiatives like that that you’re engaged in?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Not here at the United Nations. We think it was significant to kick them off of the Commission on the Status of Women, and we look for every opportunity to expose what is happening in Iran and to support the women of Iran. In terms of what we’re doing bilaterally, I can’t get into any of that. But certainly be assured that we’re not ignoring Iran in the—at the United Nations.

CHANG: I want to bring in Richard Haass, the president emeritus’ favorite question about the inbox. Your inbox when you came back to the ambassadorship was referred to as a sizzling inbox, that you had so many agenda items. How do you prioritize what’s ahead for you?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, sometimes I like to quote a former president of Liberia, who said, “Everything is a priority. But if everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.” So she talks about the priorities of the priorities, and the priority of the day sometimes will define itself before I even know what that priority is. So it’s basically everything, but clearly you cannot do everything. So you have to juggle what you’re doing.

But I have to say I have extraordinary—an extraordinary team of supporters. I see Ambassador Lisa Carty, Ambassador DeLaurentis here in the room. So we share all of those priorities so that nothing—nothing—slips through the cracks and, as Secretary Blinken says, when we’re accused of focusing too much attention on Ukraine that we can roll—we can deal with Ukraine as well as the rest of the world at the same time.

CHANG: So I want to open up questions to the audience. We’re going to go online in a minute, but I want to start here in New York. Please raise your hand if you have a question. Someone will walk to you, hopefully with a microphone. No microphone? Whoever you want. Oh, OK. Let’s start up front.

Q: Hi. Good morning, Ambassador.

What is the U.N.—

CHANG: Oh, you know, start by saying your name and telling us your affiliation.


Q: Thomas Herrera, a term member here at the CFR.

My question is, Ambassador, what is USUN doing and the United Nations to strengthen faith-based partnerships? Oftentimes faith-based partnerships are the first responders around the world, and I just was curious.

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you so much for that question, and it’s easy. We are working very, very closely with faith-based institutions. As you know, there are several special envoys who have been appointed at the State Department. The special envoys are here regularly. We engage with them on programs both related to dealing with issues of Islam, dealing with anti-Semitism and attacks on Israel. The special envoy was—Jessica Stern was here, I think, two weeks ago, and she and I did a program together.

CHANG: Thank you for that question.

Sam, there’s one online.

OPERATOR: We’ll take our next question from Kelebogile Zvobgo.

Q: Good morning, Ambassador. Hello. Hi. Kelebogile Zvobgo, College of William and Mary.

Ambassador, you mentioned at the beginning of your talk that Russia has struck at the heart of the U.N. Charter. And absent an existing venue to hold finally accountable Russian personnel for the crime of aggression, what is the United States’ position on the possibility of a special criminal tribunal on aggression?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We have, as you know, worked very, very closely with the Ukrainians to document atrocities for future prosecutions. We have supported the efforts of the ICC and their indictment of both President Putin and the woman who is responsible for moving Ukrainian children, and we will continue to work with these organizations to support those efforts.

CHANG: In the back. Yes?

Q: Good morning, Ambassador. Thanks for your time. Stephen Kalin with The Wall Street Journal.

I’m curious, you mentioned in your remarks that multilateral organizations need to be inclusive in order to be successful, and I wonder in that context how you view the absence of the leaders of China and Russia next week—at next week’s summit after their absence also from the G-20. But also, the leaders of France and the UK seem to be absent next week. And so I’m wondering if, you know, this is still a constructive forum, and if anything needs to be done to sort of bridge this increasing polarization globally.

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I’m going to have to refer you to each of those countries to explain why their leaders are not here. But the countries are present. China’s vice president is here. I think the Russians are sending their foreign minister, Lavrov. The U.K. is also—and France—will all be represented here at different levels.

So I think we all would have liked to see them here, but it is not going to change the intensity of the discussions that we will be having. And the fact that President Biden is here really exemplifies how important we see his role as the leader on the multilateral stage.

CHANG: Yes, right here.

Q: Thank you. Hi. Evelyn Leopold, a journalist at the United Nations.

Madam Ambassador, do you think that the discussion on Ukraine is going to drown out a lot of other issues that the Global South once emphasized? Speaking of silos, this particular high-level General Assembly has so many issues overlapping and so forth, and not combining with other institutions at the U.N. and elsewhere. But the one constant seems to be Ukraine. And I hear the grumbling in corridors from Global South people saying: Are we ever going to get an issue in?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, that’s part of a Russian narrative. I heard it said yesterday by the Russian PR. We are not ignoring global issues.

I was in Chad last week. It got tremendous coverage. And it showed that, again, we can deal with the issues of Ukraine, that have global implications even for the Global South—we can deal with those issues and also deal with the issues of the rest of the world.

The SDGs are not just about Ukraine. They’re not about Ukraine at all. They’re about dealing with global issues that impact all of the countries in the Global South. So I think it’s a false narrative, to be frank with you, and I think next week will show that.

CHANG: And there’s an online.

OPERATOR: We’ll take our next question from Sheri Fink.

Q: Hi. Thank you. Sheri Fink. I’m an author working on a book about the COVID pandemic.

So my question is about—(laughs)—what are the U.S. goals for this week’s U.N. high-level meeting on pandemic preparedness and response? And how do they fit in with the Geneva-based negotiations on a possible pandemic accord and amendments to the International Health Regulations?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I think they’re all interconnected. We’re talking about all of the same countries here in New York, as well as in Geneva, with the same goals.

Our goal is to really focus on these issues, commit to addressing global pandemics. We know that this is not—that COVID is not our last pandemic and we need to prepare. And so we’re very supportive of the efforts here in New York and we will be participating in those meetings at a very high level.

CHANG: In the room. Woman with the glasses. (Laughter.)

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: There are about four of them. (Laughter.)

CHANG: I know, right? Sorry.

Q: Good morning. Nancy Northup, the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Thank you for your comments on SDG 5 and gender equality. As you know, that’s one of the SDGs not on track to be successful. And I wonder if you could say more about—obviously, the Biden administration, very strong supporter of women and girls’ sexual and reproductive rights, center of the work on foreign policy as well. In the upcoming discussions around universal health-care and SDGs, how will the administration be keeping women and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights front and center?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We will keep it front and center. We are active in all of the forums, all of the discussions, and we’re committed to getting us back on track on SDG 5.

You know, we—there are many reasons that we fell off the rails on accomplishing the SDGs. And many of them are—have to do with the COVID pandemic and the—and climate change, and all of these crises impact women and girls more than any other population. So we really have to laser-focus on SDG 5. And we are doing that, and we’re bringing others into that discussion as well so that we can get back on track.

CHANG: Yes, right here in the red dress. Also a woman in glasses. (Laughter.)

Q: Good morning. Jamechia Hoyle. I’m also a term member. Ambassador, thank you for your comments.

It’s great to hear the commitments to Chad recently in dealing with the South Sudan conflict. But as we know, mass migration is increasing throughout the world, especially here in the U.S., given political instability and food insecurity. And I’m just wondering, as it has moved from being a southwest border issue to a whole-of-nation issue, what are we doing here to make sure that migrants are better supported?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: That is truly an important question. As I noted in my speech, that many of the issues we are discussing that are happening around the world we experience here in the United States. And you know that it’s been extraordinarily challenging, but the administration is committed to addressing the issue of mass migrations and particularly what we see happening on the border.

One of our efforts is to work with countries that are on that path that people take, countries that—originating countries, to try to address some of the root causes that lead people to migrate. And those root causes are all part of the SDGs. It’s about hunger. It’s about poverty. It’s about addressing the issues of women and girls. And so we’re working very, very hard to address those issues in those countries, but we’re also working to provide legal paths for those people to come into the United States so they are not forced to take that treacherous trip to get to the border.

CHANG: We have another online question.

OPERATOR: We’ll take our next question from Barbara Samuels.

Q: Thank you. Barbara Samuels, the Global Clearinghouse for Development Finance.

You spoke about priority of priorities, and you just mentioned climate change. And we see what just happened in Libya and Morocco. At COP-27, you have a crystallized proposal for a loss and damage fund. This is an urgent need for relief, as well as the reconstruction and amplification of infrastructure. What does the U.S. view as the fast-track solution to this very hard issue of loss and damages? Thank you.

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, Barbara, thank you for that very difficult question. There is really no fast-track solution, in my estimation. But we do have to find a way to dealing—a way forward to dealing with these issues, and we’re committed to doing it. I think if there were a fast-track solution, we would have already moved forward on it. So just know that we’re committed.

CHANG: In the interest of ending on time, I’m going to take one last question from the audience and then we’ll adjourn. Yes? Sir, in the middle. Yes, you. No glasses.

Q: All right. Sorry I’m not wearing glasses. (Comes on mic.) Sorry I’m not wearing glasses. I’m Hall Wang. I’m a term member.

Quick question. You know, there’s a lot of domestic political items going on in the U.S.—short-term inquiries about—in the budget, then long term it’s election season. Just want to ask you, Ambassador, to what extent do you find that distracting for going to UNGA? And how do—what’s your perspectives on managing it?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Look, I don’t have time to be distracted given everything we have to do here. And being a career diplomat, I don’t comment on what’s happening politically. But I did acknowledge in my speech and I’ll acknowledge again that we do have to address many of the same issues here in the United States that we’re seeing happening around the world, and those issues have political implications.

CHANG: Well, Ambassador, your decades of diplomacy were on display today quite well. Thank you so much for the discussion.

Thanks for joining this session, both online and in person. And as you know, a video and a transcript of today’s session is going to be posted on the website. It was on the record, as we know. And as I say, enough with the acronyms, but CFR is happy that the UNGA discussion on SDGs with LGT—(laughter)—LTG went well. Thank you so much. Have a great day. (Applause.)

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.)


Top Stories on CFR


Far-right advances in the European Parliament elections have destabilized politics in France, a longstanding pillar of the European Union, and highlighted fault lines in the bloc.


Outright seizure of the Russian Central Bank’s hundreds of billions in frozen assets is currently off the table, but it is still possible to obtain large sums for Ukraine from the interest income on these assets.

Election 2024

Each Friday, I look at what the presidential contenders are saying about foreign policy. This Week: President Joe Biden spoke with Time magazine about the importance of alliances to U.S. security.