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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Current U.S. - European Relations

FPC Briefing
Dr. Philip H. Gordon
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs.
Foreign Press Center
Washington, DC
November 6, 2009


Date: 11/06/2009 Location: Washington DC Description: Dr. Philip H. Gordon, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs briefs about current U.S.-European Relations at the Washington Foreign Press Center on November 6, 2009. © State Dept Image

VIDEO

10:30 a.m. EDT

Dr. Gordon: Good morning everyone. Thank you very much. I’m delighted to be here.

There are so many important issues I think we can discuss. What I would propose is that I just kick it off with some general remarks on some of the big things that we are doing, and then look forward to your questions.

I’d like to start with the issue of general US engagement and the relationship with Europe. Some are recently asking the question whether the global challenges that the United States faces around the world -- Iran, Afghanistan, climate change, financial crisis -- somehow diminishes Europe’s role in our foreign policy. I think when you think about that issue it leads you to a very clear answer which is on the contrary, dealing with these global challenges requires a stronger and more intensive relationship with Europe rather than a lesser engagement with Europe.

The President has been very clear about that from the start. His view of the world is that we understand that Americans cannot deal with these global challenges alone. We need strong partners. And when we think about strong partners, nowhere are there better or more serious or more useful ones than in Europe where we have like-minded democracies who are prosperous and care about the things we do.

So as we think about how we deal with Afghanistan where there are more than 30,000 European troops; Iran, where we’re together working a diplomatic strategy and considering consequences if Iran doesn’t respond to engagement; the financial crisis where there’s a strong European representation in the G20 and bilaterally and with the European Union we’re dealing with that; climate change. I could go on and on.

My point is that the very serious global challenges we face require a stronger partnership with Europe, and we’re pleased at the degree to which we are working together with our European partners.

A further example of that, and again I think a direct refutation of any possible notion that we’re not deeply engaged with our European partners is simply the diplomatic schedule in Washington this week which I’m sure you’ve all been following. But in this single week we’ve had visits and meetings in Washington. We had the USEU Summit over two days which involved President Obama meeting with counterparts from the EU; Vice President Biden hosting lunch with counterparts from the EU. A second day at the State Department which included diplomatic discussions and the launch of the USEU Energy Council. We had Chancellor Merkel not only in the Oval Office but on Capitol Hill. We had new German Foreign Minister Westerwelle at the State Department and elsewhere. Czech President Klaus, a meeting with our Nordic partners in the Enhanced Partnership for Northern Europe, bilateral things at the State Department with Azerbaijan and Armenia, the Swedish Prime Minister in the Oval Office, the Ecumenical Patriarch last night. I could go on and no doubt missing other examples. But in just a few days in Washington that’s a pretty intense engagement with our European allies.

During that period we were engaged obviously in Europe as well. A delegation from, an interagency delegation at NATO talking about Afghanistan which is a common interest of Europeans and Americans alike. Senior diplomats in the Balkans working on that. This is about as intense an engagement as is possible and it reflects the way we think about Europe and the way we deal with global challenges.

There are also some challenges in Europe, and I’d like to say a word about a couple of those. Starting with Russia, which we are approaching I think in a clear and pragmatic way, which is a reflection of the President’s thinking that we should be able to have a better and more constructive relationships with Russia even as we disagree on some issues. We have common interests, we should pursue those, we are pursuing those, and there are some things we disagree about, but that shouldn’t undermine the relationship and our ability to work together.

That’s what we accomplished in July when the President went to Moscow where the two sides reached concrete agreements on important things like a framework for a START follow-on agreement, like the relaunching of military to military cooperation, like the setting up of a bilateral presidential commission with 17 subgroups in a wide range of areas so that we have some institutional structure to work better together. The Afghanistan lethal transit arrangement which is particularly useful for the United States in diversifying supply routes to Afghanistan and saving money in the process. This is all a reflection of how the United States and Russia can work together and accomplish concrete things.

Secretary Clinton who was in Moscow two weeks ago followed up in the same spirit and worked on issues like Iran, Afghanistan, and START while also pointing out that we continue to have differences on Georgia, NATO enlargement, and also expressing our clear view on human rights.

We have also made clear that this better relationship with Russia can and will be pursued without in any way sacrificing our important principles or our friends across Europe. We’ve made those principles very clear. We think countries in Europe, democracies in Europe should have the right to choose the security alliances they want. We deny the notion that countries have a particular sphere of influence in Europe. We’re not going to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia. These principles remain very strong and we continue to stand by our friends in Europe even as we hope to build a much more trusting and useful relationship with Russia, and that’s what we are doing.

In that context I’d like to say a word about our approach to missile defense about which, again, I think there have been a lot of questions and a significant degree of misunderstanding. But misunderstanding that I think is diminishing over time. And we’re getting to a place where people actually are reacting to the missile defense approach that we decided and proposed, as opposed to the one that they thought we were going to decide and propose.

As we have explained, but I want to make it quite clear, the driving force behind the new approach to missile defense was the question of how we can best protect the United States, its allies, and its deployed forces in Europe. That was the question the President posed, and the answer that came back strongly supported across the interagency including by Secretary of Defense Gates, was that this new phased adaptive approach was a better way to do that because it responded to an intelligence assessment that the Iranian short and medium ballistic missile threat was growing, and we needed to respond to real threats that could threaten Europe now rather than potential or hypothetical threats.

The technology behind the Standard Missile 3 which is what the new approach is based on was developing and becoming more successful. And as a policy matter, we wanted to cover all of Europe and not just parts of Europe like the previous approach would have done, and we wanted to embed this approach in NATO.

As we have explained this approach to our friends across Europe, we’ve had a very positive response, including from those countries that were initially planning to host elements of the previous architecture -- Poland and the Czech Republic -- and we’re very pleased with their response and their I think understanding of the degree to which not only is this a better missile defense plan, but it will lead to close and deep strategic cooperation with those countries which was a strong interest of theirs.

Let me just conclude with another point about Europe which is our desire to continue the historic process of supporting democracy and stability and prosperity to all of Europe. It has been a major success of American foreign policy for the past several decades. Obviously we have in a couple of days the 20th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. And since then, we have seen a number of countries across Europe become more democractic, stable and prosperous, and many of them joining institutions like the European Union and NATO. That process is successful, it’s important, but it’s not yet complete. There are other parts of Europe that we need to continue to support. We do that very much together with the European Union. It is an important priority of the Obama administration, not just to consolidate this in Central and Northern Europe, but to make sure that those countries not yet in NATO, in the EU, also can benefit from this same process. We’re very intensively engaged in the Balkans, in the Caucasus, and in other parts of Eastern Europe.

Why don’t I stop with that. Hopefully that’s given you something to think about and I look forward to your questions.

Question: Hi, my name is Markus Ziener, German business paper Handelsblatt.

The interesting thing that the transatlantic relationship is still high on the agenda of the US government. At the same time we have this week, we have this very unfortunate event that GM decided to keep the Opal subsidiary in Germany, and then Germany over one year they will negotiate selling this unit. So I think the German government feels pretty much blackmailed the way the whole thing went. I mean the German Chancellor was giving her speech [inaudible] and just shortly before she left she got this news. Since the US government owns 60 percent of GM, it’s also a government affair.

So how does that fit into the good transatlantic or German-American relationship?

Dr. Gordon: On that specific matter, we understand why this is very important to the German government. There are a lot of jobs at stake, not just in Germany but across Europe. There’s a question of a loan from Germany to the company. And certainly the timing of that announcement was not very propitious.

All of that said, I think people do need to understand that GM is a private company. That the US government not only was not involved in this decision, but was unaware of it until it was announced.

President Obama has made clear that despite the bailout that became necessary of some companies in the automobile and other sectors, he has no interest in running automobile manufacturers and he doesn’t do so. That’s an important principle. And while this is indeed a very challenging issue and some important decisions still have to be made, it is important to understand that it wasn’t a US government decision. In that sense it can’t reflect anything about the US-European relationship because it’s not anything that the US government did, influenced, or again even knew about until it was announced.

Question: Good morning, Dagmar Benesova. I am from the World Business Press Online.

My question is correcting the missile defense system in the Czech Republic and in Poland was greeted by Moscow very appreciatively. The US is hoping that now Moscow will help stop Iran to get nuclear weapons, maybe also to impose sanctions in the UN. What will happen if Russia will not support sanctions or if it will not fulfill the hope of US regarding the help with Iran issue? Is there any possibility US will reconsider the missile defense shield? Is there any possibility that US will build rather in Czech Republic like it was planned by the Bush administration? Thank you very much.

Dr. Gordon: Thank you for that question which again allows me, I hope, to clarify what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. If I may just pick up on the way you introduced the question and the notion of scrapping the missile defense is something I want to address quite clearly. That’s precisely what we are not doing is scrapping missile defense. I think again initially there was a lot of reaction to the notion that President Obama decided not to pursue missile defense or even in cooperation with some countries that would be involved.

On the contrary, we are going ahead with missile defense but with a plan that we think is better on many levels. That it will work better, that it responds more appropriately to threats, that it is more cost effective, and not only will it not undermine cooperation with those countries like Poland and the Czech Republic, but it will provide further opportunities for strategic cooperation with them.

So I want to make that absolutely clear, we’re not in any way scrapping missile defense. We think we’re doing it better.

As to the Russian piece of it that you asked about, I mentioned the factors that were behind the President’s decision. The intelligence assessment, the technology, and the policy of trying to cover all of Europe and embed it in NATO.

Russia wasn’t a driving factor behind the decision. In fact we didn’t know how Russia would respond to our proposal for missile defense. As you pointed out, their response was largely favorable, but we couldn’t have known that in advance because, again, we were coming forward with a significant missile defense plan and planning to offer Poland, which was going to host the ground-based interceptors in the previous plan, we went back and offered Poland the right of first refusal to host the SM-3s in our plan. So we didn’t know how Russia would respond.

As it happened, Russia responded in a fairly positive way. But we consider that a good thing. Just because Russia wasn’t the factor behind the announcement doesn’t mean we don’t welcome it if the prospect for working more constructively with Russia has emerged. Because as I began my opening remarks, we look forward to working more constructively with Russia including on some of the issues you mentioned like Iran and Afghanistan.

So the last part of your question about readjusting, it’s not third countries’ reactions to what we’re doing that is going to change how the missile defense approach moves forward. It’s going to move forward in the most effective way to protect America, its allies and its deployed forces in Europe.

Question: Apostolos Zopantioutis, Cyprus News Agency.

Could you please give us your assessment on the Cyprus negotiations? Any progress that has been made? If there’s any timeframe for that. Also the US position on Cyprus.

Dr. Gordon: Yes, thank you very much. We do think this is an important opportunity and a window of opportunity for Cyprus because of the confluence of several factors, but most importantly the leadership on both sides of the island being genuinely interested in a settlement, we believe, and having a relationship that might make a settlement possible. The leaders on both sides have known each other for a long time and unlike in many past years when we had hopes for a Cyprus settlement, they’re involved in direct talks which are serious and ongoing and regular talks under UN auspices which is a good thing.

It’s obviously very challenging. There remain important differences on both sides. But United States policy is to support the process as we can. We continue to support the development of a bizonal, bicommunal federation in Cyprus. We hope the parties move forward. Again, we’re prepared to assist in any way we can.

Question: Paolo Valentino from Corriere della Sera.

Talking about the US-European relations, wouldn’t it have been a powerful sign of commitment on the part of the administration if the President would have traveled to Berlin for the 20th Anniversary of the Berlin Wall?

And on another matter, on Afghanistan, the review is still going on. The new strategy is still under consideration from the administration. But could you tell us what exactly the US administration expects from the European allies in Afghanistan?

Dr. Gordon: Thank you for both questions.

On the first, let me just say the 20th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall is a hugely important historic event. Bringing the Berlin Wall down was the fruit of many years of close cooperation between the United States and Europe. It was a core US interest. It was supported by Republican and Democratic administrations alike, working very closely together with our European partners, and it resulted in, as I said in my initial remarks, the liberation of millions of people from communism and authoritarianism, and it put them on the path towards prosperity, stability, and in many cases membership in NATO and the EU, and we absolutely want to celebrate and honor that historical achievement and also think together with our European friends about how to move that process forward.

Secretary Clinton will be leading the US delegation to that event, along with a very impressive delegation that reflects this bipartisan support for our common achievement there. We think that will absolutely underscore, not only in her participation in the events on the 9th, but the evening before when she’s going to receive an award on behalf of the American people, and have the opportunity to give a speech about this important occasion. We think that’s going to be a terrific opportunity for us to underscore how important we think it is.

You asked a second question on Afghanistan. Look, we’re in this together. We appreciate the very significant contributions of Europeans, not just in their forces which are also significant, I mentioned more than 30,000; but in terms of political commitment, in terms of civilian commitment, resources, and many other ways.

The President is leading a review of our approach in Afghanistan. He’s doing so in consultation with our European partners, and however precisely we move forward, we’re going to have to do it together. So yes we will want and expect more support from Europeans because this is a common mission in which we have to succeed together.

Question: Heather Maher with Radio Free Europe.

This week, though, the delegation from Bosnia’s Serbska Republica in Washington making the case on the Hill that Bosnia is ready to self govern. Meanwhile, in Sarajevo Sergei Lavrov was throwing Russia’s support behind Banja-luka's drive to close the Office of the High Representative.

I’m wondering what the United States’ position will be and what efforts will be made at the meeting later this month to prevent the closure of the OHR and the drive to end international supervision in Bosnia.

Dr. Gordon: Thank you for raising Bosnia because it’s a matter of great interest to us. As you know, over the past couple of weeks Deputy Secretary Jim Steinberg has worked very closely with Swedish Foreign Minister on behalf of the EU Presidency, Carl Bildt, to present the parties with a package that would allow them to move forward towards greater self government and put them on the path towards European institution which has been the path that has been so important for other countries throughout Europe, and it’s the path that we think all of the Western Balkans need to be on.

They have some work to do. There are differences among the parties. But these changes, the necessary agreement on how to divide up state property and some decisions that they need to make on how to have a more functional government, which is necessary to apply for EU membership. You can’t even really be on the starting line for the European Union unless you have a government that can represent you in the European Union.

So that’s what this package is designed to offer. We think it represents the best balance between the parties’ differences that is possible. It certainly reflects US-European unity which is also important so that the parties know we’re on the same page on this. And we’re going to keep working together with the Bosnian parties to try to get there.

In that sense it’s also our ambition to close the Office of High Representative when the criteria for doing so are met, because then Bosnia would be self-governing which is the place we want to get to. We can only do that when these criteria are met, but that would be a positive step forward in Bosnia’s path to Europe.

Question: Thank you. This is Tulin Daloglu with Turkish newspaper Haberturk.

You talked about several areas of cooperation with your European partners but didn’t mention Turkey this time. So I’d like to ask you how Turkey’s candidacy to the European Union is at this stage, how you view it, and how does it impact Turkey’s relations with the United States at this time?

And on a separate one but somehow related to it, today the Europeans strongly criticized the Turkish government, accepting the Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir attending an OIC meeting in Turkey, but the United States also is in now dialogue with the Sudanese government. So how do you square it? Thank you.

Dr. Gordon: Thank you. I’ll start by stating the obvious fact that the United States is not a member of the European Union. I know that’s not news to this group. Therefore it’s not up to us. Whether Turkey joins the EU ultimately is a decision for the European Union member states to make.

That said, we have long supported Turkey’s European aspirations. We think that this process has been a healthy one, a constructive one for Turkey. That a strong EU-Turkey relationship and Turkey’s membership pass would be good for Europe and it would be good for Turkey. So we do encourage our friends in Europe to keep this process moving forward. I think that the current Turkish government remains interested in joining the European Union. I think the Turkish public remains interested in joining the European Union and I think it’s something that Europeans should do all they can to encourage because Europeans should also want a strong prosperous democratic Turkey as part of the union.

Question: I wanted to follow up on the second one, that the Europeans today criticize strongly that the Turkish government was expecting President Bashir to attend the OIC meeting in Turkey but the US government is not in dialogue with the Sudanese. So do you have any difference with your European partners on this? Would you be critical of Turkey on Mr. Bashir’s visit? Thank you.

Dr. Gordon: I would just say it’s not for us to decide who should attend an OIC meeting in Turkey. What we do hope is to the extent that there are opportunities for discussions with Bashir in Turkey, that Turkey’s message with the Sudanese government is consistent with ours and with our European friends.

Question: Thank you, David Nichuradze, Georgian Broadcasting Company, Rustavi 2, Washington, D.C. Bureau.

Secretary, you spoke about the importance of OSCE [inaudible], but there is a country in Eastern Europe, Georgia, where the OSCE and the United Nations closed their offices because of the [veto] Russia. What do you think how dangerous it will be for the security situation, the lack of international coordination and how Washington is going to deal with Russia on this issue. Thank you.

Dr. Gordon: Thank you for bringing attention to that issue, because as I said earlier in the week and would repeat, we’ve regretted very much the departure of the OSCE mission from Georgia. It was playing an important role in South Ossetia. South Ossetia and Abkhazia both need independent international observers so that we can understand what is going on there. They need access to humanitarian groups and NGOs. Transparency should be a key principle. It’s a key principle within the OSCE. And we regretted the OSCE’s departure from Georgia.

The Russians were only prepared to accept an OSCE presence that we think would have implied independence for South Ossetia which we don’t recognize asnd which the vast majority of countries in the world don’t recognize. So that was an unfortunate development as was the departure of the UN mission in Abkhazia.

We’re grateful that the European Union has a monitoring mission in Georgia. That’s currently the international community’s only eyes and ears on the ground, playing an important and essential role, but not enough of a role because it’s not in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

So we’ll continue to raise this. There’s an OSCE Ministerial coming up. And we will continue to encourage Russia to agree to allowing the OSCE back in to do its important job.

Question: Martin Klingst from the German weekly, DIE ZEIT.

We have problems with Iran at the moment. How do you see the US-European cooperation on the Iran issue? Do you see any obstacles ahead of you?

Dr. Gordon: I think US-European cooperation on Iran is very close and very important. In past years there have been significant transatlantic differences on how to deal with Iran. There aren’t today. Not only in the EU3+3 process but broadly in the US-EU context and bilaterally with our European partners. I think we see it the same way. The Obama administration has come in -- For years many Europeans were asking us to be more engaged and at least provide Iran the clear opportunity to reassure the international community that it wasn’t developing nuclear weapons. We are trying to do that and we are now talking to Iran, we’re present at meetings that take place between the international community and Iran. We have together with our partners offered what we think is a reasonable approach forward on getting Iran’s low enriched uranium out of the country and then providing Iran fuel for its research reactor. And we’re waiting for Iran’s response to that openness, dialogue and engagement.

And we’re also in very close touch with our European partners about what we do if Iran doesn’t respond, because it’s a two-track policy. The President has said that the first track can’t last forever, but we’re serious about it. And importantly, to answer your question, we’re united with the EU about it. I have every expectation that we’re going to remain united moving forward.

Question: Can I follow? Savas Suzal from the Turkish Daily YeniCag.

Turkey and Iran, they sigh a new agreement about energy, Turk-Iranian gas. If I’m correct, the United States has an economic embargo against Iran. Did you change your conditions of the economic embargo against Iran?

Dr. Gordon: No. The United States doesn’t do economic business with Iran and we also don’t think it’s time for business as usual with Iran for other countries. We also have legislation that requires sanctions when other countries make significant investments in Iran’s energy sector. None of that has changed.

Just to emphasize the core point, even when investments or exchanges with Iran do not fall afoul of our law, as a general principle we don’t think now is the time for business as usual with Iran. We’d like to see Iran respond to the international community’s proposals before moving forward.

Question: My name is Yulia Vokav. I work for Voice of America Macedonian Service.

The question would be in regard to negotiations under the auspices of UN between Macedonia and Greece. Negotiations are continuing this month. Just recently Senator Ben Cardin said the dispute is [inaudible] but both sides should make reasonable concessions. I would appreciate your comments regarding this issue and the progress, if any.

Dr. Gordon: I think that’s right, that an agreement is possible. It’s also important and in the interest of both countries, but they have to agree. You now have a new government in Greece. The leaders of the two countries recently met. The UN is leading the process but we have a stake and an interest and we encourage that process because it would further contribute to stability in the Balkans and better relations between the two countries.

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