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U.N. ambassador on Sudan and Gaza


The United Nations is pleading for increased humanitarian aid to Sudan, more than $4 billion in total. That's because nearly 10 months of war between Sudan's military and a powerful paramilitary group have devastated the country. Nearly 11 million people have been displaced and 18 million people are facing acute food insecurity.

One person trying to draw more attention to this is the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield. She recently spoke with NPR's diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen, and they began by discussing the ambassador's last visit to a refugee camp in Chad to visit with Sudanese refugees and how that experience changed how she talks about this conflict.

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It has changed how I've been talking about it - because I've been talking about it. I feel that others have not spent enough time on this issue. I raise it on a regular basis, whether I'm meeting with the Secretary-General or with the head of OCHA, with my colleagues in the Security Council. I do think, as we're dealing with so many other issues around the world, that we not let this slip through the cracks. And I really committed to the refugees, and particularly the women that I met there, that I was going to amplify their voices.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: You know, it wasn't so long ago that the U.S. declared that there was a genocide going on in Sudan, in Darfur, in the west. But then when the longtime leader Omar al-Bashir was toppled, there was a lot of hope that this country was going to be able to turn a corner. What can the U.S. do to get that transition back on track, or has this latest conflict really changed everything?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: It has changed everything, but it has not changed our commitment to pushing forward a civilian-run government in Sudan. And the most important step that any of us can take right now is to get these two generals to sit down at the negotiating table and negotiate a peaceful solution with civilians at the table with them.

KELEMEN: So the U.S. has imposed some sanctions on these warring sides, but that doesn't seem to be working. What are you telling President Biden that he could do to make more of a difference here and to push these two generals to stop this war?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, I think the sanctions are having an impact on them. They certainly are aware. When I announced some of the visa restrictions when I was in Chad, they responded very, very quickly to that. But again, as you've noted, it has not stopped them from trying to fight because they both think that there's a military solution to this situation. And we know that the military will not be able to resolve this situation. So we are working hard to push for negotiations, to push for more civilian engagement on this but at the same time trying to address the dire humanitarian situation that Sudanese citizens are experiencing.

KELEMEN: And has there been a knock-on effect throughout the region? Because, you know, we have seen a number of coups in recent years in Africa. You have this war in Sudan. Are you worried about kind of this spreading?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: We are worried about it. We've seen a lot of backsliding, particularly as we look at the Sahel in West Africa, and it crosses all the way into Sudan. So it doesn't portend well for democracy and for human rights and for freedoms that we all hold dear. So we really have to engage to find the path forward.

KELEMEN: As we kind of talked about before, there are so many conflicts that are on your agenda right now. I mean, there's the wars in Ukraine and in Gaza. what's your big priority right now?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You know, I learned something from President Sirleaf. She used to talk about the priorities of the priorities. And so there's no priority that's more important than finding peace in all of these countries. I can't put one ahead of the other. We're working on a daily basis to find a solution to the situation in Ukraine, and we'll be having meetings on that in the Security Council that takes place on the 24 of February. We're working every day. As you know, the secretary - Secretary Blinken was in the Middle East this past week meeting with our partners across the board, meeting with the Israelis, meeting with the Egyptians and the Qataris to find a path to a peaceful solution to the situation in Gaza, get the hostages out and get humanitarian assistance in. So I bounce from one crisis to another every single day and sometimes every single hour.

KELEMEN: I was just on that trip with Secretary Blinken. And, you know, if I could ask you briefly on the war in Gaza, Israel seems to be turning its attention to the south, to Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are sheltered and they're already displaced by the fighting. Is the U.S. laying out any red lines for the Israelis on that? Because I know you've heard a lot of concern at the U.N. about that situation.

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Look. We have been absolutely clear that under the current circumstances in Rafah, a military operation now in that area cannot proceed, and it would dramatically exacerbate the humanitarian emergency that we're all seeking to alleviate right now. Israel has an obligation to ensure that their civilian population is safe and that they're secure, and that they have access to humanitarian aid and to basic services. And I think you heard the secretary make those statements clearly during his meetings and in his engagements with the press when he was there.

KELEMEN: And you must be hearing a lot of concern at the U.N. about that, right?

THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I am hearing those concerns every single day. And what we have tried to do is keep our colleagues briefed on what is happening on the ground so that we don't take actions in the Security Council that might jeopardize the very sensitive negotiations that are taking place, that we hope will lead to an extensive pause in the fighting, lead to hostages returning to their families and allow for humanitarian assistance to get into Palestinians who are in desperate need.

DETROW: That was Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaking with NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.