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July 27, 2021

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‘Diplomacy is back’: New U.S. envoy takes U.N. role

Thomas-Greenfield aims to restore U.S. place on global stage

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Vice President Kamala Harris hosts a ceremonial swearing in for U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, at the Eisenhower Executive Office building on the White House campus, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, in Washington. From left, Thomas-Greenfield, her husband Lafayette Greenfield, and Harris.
Vice President Kamala Harris hosts a ceremonial swearing in for U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, at the Eisenhower Executive Office building on the White House campus, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, in Washington. From left, Thomas-Greenfield, her husband Lafayette Greenfield, and Harris. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Photo Gallery

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 U.N. who had lamented the “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 Guterres, she said coming to the United Nations “was made all the more wonderful because I knew you were here.”

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