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Samantha Power Picked To Take Over For Rice At U.N.

Jun 6, 2013
Originally published on June 6, 2013 6:53 am

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Now let's take a look at the woman nominated to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations when Susan Rice steps down. Samantha Power has been working behind the scenes in the Obama administration on U.N.-related issues. Before that she was an activist and author of an influential book about preventing genocide.

As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, Power's supporters see her as the conscience in the White House.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: In announcing his pick yesterday, President Obama described Samantha Power as a relentless advocate of American values.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: She knows the U.N.'s strengths. She knows its weaknesses. She knows that American interests are advanced when we can rally the world to our side. And she knows that we have to stand up for the things that we believe in.

OBAMA: Power, who was born in Ireland, says she came to the U.S. when she was nine years old, wearing red, white and blue and working hard to get rid of her accent. She's been a key member of the Obama administration's National Security Council, advising the president on U.N. affairs.

SAMANTHA POWER: I have seen U.N. aid workers enduring shellfire to deliver food to the people of Sudan, yet I've also seen U.N. peacekeepers fail to protect the people of Bosnia. As the most powerful and inspiring country on this Earth, we have a critical role to play in insisting that the institution meet the necessities of our time. It can do so only with American leadership.

KELEMEN: If the Senate confirms her to be the next U.S. ambassador to the U.N., this will be a very different role for Power, who began her career as a journalist covering the war in Bosnia.

James Traub, who writes a weekly column on Foreign Policy.com, says that was a formative experience for her.

JAMES TRAUB: And so she brings a journalist's sense of, I think, moral passion to the job and it's also important that she was a particular kind of journalist who was forged in the fires of the Balkans.

KELEMEN: Power then became a human rights advocate and wrote a Pulitzer Prize- winning book about the Balkans called "A problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide."

John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project, traveled with Samantha Power to rebel held areas of Darfur in Western Sudan in 2004, to highlight what the U.S. has called a genocide.

JOHN PRENDERGAST, CO-FOUNDER, ENOUGH PROJECT: Her level of compassion was overflowing for the folks that she was interacting with. So I'll never forget that because I've traveled with a lot of people to a lot of war zones and I found her level of commitment, sustained commitment, throughout the time we were in the field to really again, have no parallels.

KELEMEN: Prendergast says within the Obama administration, Samantha Power has been a passionate voice on human rights.

PROJECT: She was a conscience, in effect, often during these meetings, asking the tough questions about the implications of decisions that the American government was going to make.

KELEMEN: Samantha Power was said to be instrumental in the decision to intervene in Libya to stop former dictator Muammar Qaddafi's crackdown on rebels. But author James Traub has seen another side of her in recent years in an administration that he says has been leaning back on Syria.

TRAUB: She said we are all consequentialists now. And what she meant by that is no futile moral gestures for the sake of making moral gestures - a point, by the way, which Obama himself made in his Nobel Peace Prize speech. And so, she's also a pragmatist who says we're not going to do something unless it's going to be effective.

KELEMEN: Like Ambassador Rice, Traub says Power is close to President Obama and that will help her in her dealings at the U.N. if she's confirmed. Stylistically, though, he says she's different than Rice.

TRAUB: Samantha is a much less abrasive person than Susan Rice. But anybody is a less abrasive person than Susan Rice. Susan's a really abrasive person.

KELEMEN: But no matter what sort of style Samantha Power brings to the job, Traub says she will face some of the same difficulties as Rice did - including an adversarial relationship with Russia on many key questions, including the civil war in Syria.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.