Biden's choice for UN envoy signals return to US engagement

FILE - In this Jan. 9, 2014, file photo Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield, right, testifies during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. President-elect Joe Biden is expected to tap longtime diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

WASHINGTON – Joe Biden’s pick to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, a low-key, veteran foreign service officer, reflects the president-elect's intent to return to a more traditional role at the world body as well as offer an olive branch to a beleaguered diplomatic corps.

If confirmed by the Senate, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, would be neither the first African American nor the first woman, nor even the first African American woman, to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. But she’s a groundbreaking diplomat nonetheless. Thomas-Greenfield joined the State Department more than three decades ago, when Black women were even more of a rarity in the U.S. diplomatic corps than they are today.

That makes her the most experienced diplomat of the six people named by Biden for top national security positions on Monday. Her tenure at the State Department rivals that of previous U.N. ambassadors like Richard Holbrooke, John Negroponte and Thomas Pickering, all of them white men.

Thomas-Greenfield's background positions her well to carry out Biden’s goal of returning the United States to a role as a leading force at the world body, after four years of an administration that has had little use for multilateralism or international organizations.

“My mother taught me to lead with the power of kindness and compassion to make the world a better place,” she said in a tweet Monday. “I’ve carried that lesson with me throughout my career in Foreign Service – and, if confirmed, will do the same as Ambassador to the United Nations.”

Biden's office announced on Monday his intent to Thomas-Greenfield, who currently heads his transition team for the State Department, and for the job to retain its Cabinet-level rank.

She is a 35-year veteran of the State Department who served as ambassador to Liberia, director general of the foreign service and top diplomat for Africa before being forced out during the early months of the Trump administration.

While she won’t be the first African American to serve as America’s U.N. envoy — Andrew Young, who held the job during President Jimmy Carter’s administration, holds that distinction — Thomas-Greenfield’s selection is a signal to Biden supporters that his diversity message and plan to elevate career diplomats is not just lip service.