UNITED NATIONS >> Samantha Power has completed a personal goal she set when becoming the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in August 2013: She has visited the missions of the 189 countries the United States has diplomatic relations with — and she recommends that her successor Nikki Haley does the same.
Power’s last courtesy call this morning was to the two-room mission of the Pacific island kingdom of Tonga and its Ambassador Mahe’uli’uli Sandhurst Tupouniua, who surprised her by saying “Our 18th century constitution, I understand, is the second oldest to the United States.”
“Wow! Really! That’s amazing!” Power said.
But she appeared less impressed when the ambassador — whom she knows because they’re both in the U.N. band “UN Rocks” — told her that women still don’t have the right to vote or inherit land, though efforts are underway to allow women to inherit property.
Power said she decided to pay a courtesy call on every mission the U.S. has relations with because “it would send a really important signal of the respect that the United States has for these countries, for their views, for their history, for their cultures — and to show American curiosity.”
She said she wanted to show that she was “not just speaking at people” but was seeking to learn from the ambassadors “how we can better partner together.”
And she also thought the “show of respect might be something that would matter to them and would make them an ally” on tough U.N. votes.
Three U.N. member states that the United States doesn’t have diplomatic relations with missed out on a visit — North Korea, Iran and Syria.
Power said she was amazed to discover that about 40 countries had never had a visit from an American ambassador.
She recalled her first visit to a mission that had never had a U.S. ambassador cross its doorstep — the Central African Republic — which she went to soon after her arrival at the U.N. to learn more about the sectarian strife between Muslims and Christians engulfing the country.
Then ambassador Charles-Armel Doubane “literally wept and said you have no idea what this means to my country that America would deign to come. We didn’t think you knew where we lived even,” Power recalled.
When she saw what just showing up meant, she said her decision to visit every mission was reinforced.
Power said she prepares for her visits by learning as much as she can about the ambassador and the country, and she usually goes into the meetings with no agenda.
This always surprises the ambassadors “because they’re so used to, when America comes calling we always have a list of 10 things we want,” she said.
“Believe me, I have that list,” Power said, but for the visits, which last between 30 minutes and an hour, she said her focus is on finding out how the ambassadors got to the U.N., about their country and their concerns.
Many stories are very moving, she said, like the Bhutan ambassador who started life in a community where no one was literate.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Power said. “In these courtesy calls we argue. It’s not as if you park your national interests at the door. They have theirs and we have ours. But you do so on their turf.”
Sometimes, she said she’s learned to make arguments more persuasively because she understands the country’s position better and “that will make you a better diplomat as well.”
Power said visiting every mission is a big investment of time, “but I absolutely will recommend it” to Haley, the South Carolina governor tapped by President-elect Donald Trump to succeed her.