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Samantha Power Talks Transition from Journalist to ‘Ambassador to the Moon’

NEW YORK, Apr 7 2014 (IPS) - Ambassador Samantha Power, U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations, spoke about the challenges of the job to a crowded theatre Saturday, during the ‘Women in the World’ summit in New York City.

Power, who won a Pulitzer prize in 2003 for her book on American reactions to genocide, is travelling this week to Rwanda for the 20th anniversary of the genocide in that country.

“In a way for you, your career is coming full circle,” said moderator Tina Brown, founder of Women in the World. “What is the difference from being that journalist and being who you are now as you head to Rwanda?”

Power explained that as a writer for publications such as The Atlantic Monthly and The New Yorker Magazine, she met people who were desperate for her to tell their story, but in her role as ambassador, she says they’re desperate for her to find the means of helping them.

“With the hope that people [have in] the United States, and someone who has a direct line to the president, it means you don’t want to waste a minute,” said Power. “It’s high stakes when you meet the people who are depending on you.”

She remembers the demands of the position began soon after her appointment in August 2013.

Her family had just arrived in Ireland for a getaway when she received reports that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons on the Syrian population.

“My challenge in that moment was not a question of, ‘do I come back, or do I not’ – that was obvious,” said Power. The challenge was taking part in timely high level meetings from a village “in the middle of nowhere” because while she needed to be with U.S. policymakers, she says she couldn’t get on a plane and lose communications from the air. A day and a half later, she flew home.

“There were television cameras at the airport in order to show that the ambassador was back, because it had been a scandal that Assad hadn’t informed me when he was going to use chemical weapons.”

For a month, Powers said she dedicated herself to the Syrian crisis, negotiating with Congress to support the use of military force and to ban Assad’s chemical weapons use.

“My son thought, ‘This is crazy. Everything has changed and I’ll never see my mother again.’ He began calling me the ambassador to the moon.” Powers said when she did come home after a month of being “an absent mother, physically and spiritually,” she told him the U.N. made a resolution and that Assad would have to give up his chemical weapons.

“And he just looked up at me and said, ‘Mommy, no more Security Council resolutions.’” Powers joked that for an ambassador and mother, it’s not lean in – it’s fall down – referring to recent advice to women by Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook.

She says the guidance from President Barack Obama, which helps her in this high pressure role, is not to make a choice between sending in the marines and doing nothing. “The point is: shine to a spotlight, bring in resources, and try to get the United Nations interested.”

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