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Samantha Power: U.S. Needs U.N. Help Before Threats Come Home To Roost


The outgoing ambassador to the United Nations has a bit of advice for her successor. Push for reforms at the U.N., but don't disparage the world body too much. Samantha Power says the U.S. needs the U.N. to help deal with threats overseas before, quote, "those threats come home to roost." NPR's Michele Kelemen takes a look back at her tenure.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Before packing up and moving on, Samantha Power had one more thing to do. As ambassador, she's visited the offices of her colleagues from all 189 U.N. member states with whom the U.S. has diplomatic relations. Her final visit this month was to the Pacific island nation of Tonga.

SAMANTHA POWER: This is great - cold, though.

KELEMEN: Tonga's ambassador apologized that the heat wasn't working at his office that day.

POWER: This is not what you're used to.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No, it's very hot in Tonga.

KELEMEN: Ambassador Power says the goal of her courtesy calls was to show respect and curiosity. She believes that helps the U.S. gain allies in the United Nations. In Tonga's case, she already knew the ambassador pretty well.

POWER: I'm in the U.N. band, U.N. Rocks, and he's my keyboardist.

KELEMEN: Before joining the Obama administration, Power made a name for herself writing about the failures of the U.N. and the U.S. in preventing mass atrocities from Bosnia to Rwanda. She bristles, though, when reporters ask her about her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "A Problem From Hell," or whether she was disappointed with President Obama's response to the war in Syria. She blames Russia for blocking international action.

POWER: Russia, which is carrying out aggression in Ukraine as we speak and using bunker-buster bombs in Syria against civilians who are huddled in their basements, in addition to hacking into our elections, is not a reliable actor on the Security Council. I mean they are throwing out the rulebook.

KELEMEN: Power had many clashes with her Russian counterpart who once accused her of acting like Mother Teresa. She calls Syria an abject failure of the U.N. Security Council to do its job.

POWER: I'm glad Syria is not the only thing that I can look back on over this last time getting to serve in the U.S. government, but it's certainly a very dark mark.

KELEMEN: A high point, she says, is when President Obama sent health workers and soldiers to contain Ebola in West Africa. She says when the U.S. leads, other countries step up to help. That's some of the advice that Power has been giving to the woman chosen to replace her, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. Both women have young children, and Power says they've talked about juggling family and work and about the fact that the U.N. ambassador job is also a Cabinet post.

POWER: Governor Haley is the first Republican in some time who as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations will retain the Cabinet rank. So I've talked to her about the dualism of that - being America's top diplomat at the U.N. At the same time, you're injecting your voice into the policy process in Washington.

KELEMEN: Her critics say she was unable to move President Obama when it really mattered on Syria. Her supporters say she tried and will likely write about it in her next book. Cameron Hudson runs a genocide prevention program at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

CAMERON HUDSON: I'll look forward to reading her book that explains how she was fighting the good fight within the administration. I think there's a perception out there that Samantha believes very fervently in what she wrote and that she does not want to be a character in her own book.

KELEMEN: Power says her only immediate plans are to spend more time with her children. She is moving to the Boston area, buying them a dog and picking them up from school every day. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPOON SONG, "PAPER TIGER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.