UN ambassador: Military threat against Syria not off the table

In an exclusive TODAY interview, America’s new United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power discusses her hopefulness about a landmark deal to rid Syria of its chemical weapons, while noting that Syria still faces the threat of military force.

“We wouldn't even be in this discussion about getting rid of Syria's chemical weapons if not for the credible threat of military force,” Power said. “(President Obama) has not taken that threat off the table. I think Russia is aware that that threat still exists. Syria's aware that threat still exists.”

In an interview with Savannah Guthrie that aired Thursday, Power talked about the significance of the chemical weapons deal with Syria, which calls for Syrian President Bashar Assad to allow international inspectors to eliminate his chemical arsenal by the middle of 2014.

Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, in her exclusive interview with Savannah Guthrie. TODAY
Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, in her exclusive interview with Savannah Guthrie.

“This is the first resolution that has ever required Syria to do anything,” Power said. “Russia has been taking it by the hand, you know, putting it under its wing and shielding it from any international pressure of any kind.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power speaks about the Syrian crisis at the Center for American Progress in Washington, September 6, 20... Larry Downing / Reuters
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power speaks about the Syrian crisis in Washington on Sept. 6.

“We think it is very significant that Syria is now legally required by the world, by Russia and the United States, to give up its chemical weapons.”

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Power, 43, has had a whirlwind, high-stakes introduction to her new job since she was sworn in as the United States’ Ambassador to the United Nations on Aug. 2. Shortly after assuming that role, she helped negotiate the chemical weapons deal.

In the interview, Guthrie pointed out that the deal does not have an automatic enforcement provision. 

“So can you really say it's a resolution that has teeth that will bite?” Guthrie asked.

“We ... wrote into the resolution a series of relatively clear benchmarks as to what compliance would look like,” Power answered. “So we are hopeful that if the Syrian regime deviates, the clear contrast between the words in the resolution and events on the ground will be evident to the whole council.”

Power also talked with Guthrie about her role as the mother of the youngest children ever to live in the UN ambassador’s official residence: her 4-year-old son, Declan, and her 1-year-old daughter, Rían.

“Is it harder than you thought it would be to be a mom of two little kids and have this huge new job?” Guthrie asked Power.

Image: Samantha Power with her son, Declan Power Sunstein, age 4 Win McNamee / Getty Images
Declan Power Sunstein hugs his mother, Samantha Power, on July 17 at the conclusion of her testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington, D.C.

“You never feel like you're ... bringing your A-game to everything at the same time. So something gives,” Power confessed. “And you know, those who say that nothing gives have mastered cloning, I think ...

“And I can feel, you know, even when we leave in the morning just a level of clinginess and, ‘Are you really coming home? Are you really?’ You know, the other day (my son) said, 'No more security council resolutions.’”

Power came to the United States at age 9, the daughter of Irish immigrants. She grew up to be a freelance journalist who chronicled the atrocities of Bosnia and Sudan and won a Pulitzer prize for her book, “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.”

Her writing eventually caught the attention of Obama, for whom she first went to work at great expense in pay and stature.

“Indentured servitude, I think,” she joked, adding that what she gave up as a “fanatic Red Sox fan” was the greater sacrifice.

“I had just gotten a slice for the first time in years of season tickets in a Red Sox package, basically, which are impossible to get,” she said.

She described meeting with Obama, then a U.S. senator from Illinois, about possibly going to work for him over dinner.

“Three hours in, I heard myself saying, you know, ‘Why don't I move to Washington and basically do whatever you'll have me do in your office?’” she said. “And it was only when I left the dinner an hour or two later that I realized that I was, in effect, giving up my season tickets claim for this man.”

Power’s dedication to Obama caused her some problems when she went to work as a senior foreign policy advisor during his first presidential campaign in 2008.

After being quoted as calling Hillary Clinton a “monster,” Power was banished from the Obama campaign.

She apologized to Clinton but the incident still causes her pain.

“You lose your temper and you're in a campaign and things go back and forth. But it just completely broke my heart,” she said. “There is a fair amount of negativity heaped upon her that I find massively unfair. And the idea that I could have contributed in some way to that narrative, that was terrible.”

“I have regretted it pretty much every day since,” she said, although she expressed gratefulness for the opportunity to have worked with the former secretary of state during the past four years.

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