NEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER BRIEFING WITH ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR EUROPE AND EURASIAN AFFAIRS PHILLIP GORDON
TOPIC: U.S. FOREIGN POLICY IN EUROPE AND EURASIA
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, 2012, 3:30 P.M. EDT
THE NEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, NEW YORK, NY
MODERATOR: Good afternoon. I’m Alyson Grunder, the Director of the New York Foreign Press Center. Thank you very much for coming this afternoon. We’re really pleased to have Assistant Secretary Philip Gordon of the European and Eurasian Affairs Bureau of the State Department with us this afternoon. So I’m going to give it to you right away. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Great. Thank you. Very nice to be here, and thanks to everybody for coming out this afternoon. We’re obviously here all week in New York for the General Assembly led by Secretary Clinton, engaged in a very intensive week of diplomacy, but including transatlantic diplomacy and lots of engagement with our European and Eurasian counterparts, so I thought it would be useful to come by and share a bit of some of the things we’ve been talking about in that context and really more broadly talk about our engagements with Europe and Eurasia in recent weeks and months.
Just to give you a little sense of the intensity of these meetings, as I said, I can note Secretary Clinton herself has met with a lot of her counterparts, including EU High Representative for Foreign Policy Catherine Ashton. She met several of the foreign ministers that she hadn’t had a chance yet to properly meet, including Belgian Foreign Minister Reynders and the relatively new Greek Foreign Minister Avromopoulos. She met UK Foreign Secretary Hague, the new Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide, Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu, and she hosted a – what we call the Transatlantic Dinner, which is an annual event here at UNGA that includes all of the foreign ministers from the European Union and NATO, plus the NATO Secretary General, the EU High Representative, and foreign ministers from Macedonia and Switzerland, spent a good couple of hours talking to them about a range of issues that I can get into.
In addition to that, Deputy Secretary Burns has had a long series of meetings from counterparts. I won’t read you the whole list. Under Secretary Wendy Sherman has done the same. I’ve done the same. And I think among us, we’ve seen the foreign ministers of more than a dozen countries. Again, without going through every detail, it includes Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Sweden, Slovakia, Monaco, Portugal. So you can see that among us we’ve been very much engaged with – we’ve been busy. That’s one way to summarize it.
And I think it’s also fair to say, as we address this full range of global and regional issues with our counterparts, we are very much in line. Whether it’s Iran or Afghanistan or Libya or Syria or development, or things closer to home – and I will elaborate a bit on what we discussed where Europe and Eurasia is concerned – I think it’s fair to say that the United States and Europe are working very closely together – indeed, arguably closer together than ever before. I think we are more strategically aligned than ever before, and I think that results from a deliberate and conscious effort on behalf of this Administration to work with our most important allies around the world on global issues.
And I can tell you that this was reflected during the Transatlantic Dinner, which was primarily focused on Syria, Afghanistan, and then issues of democracy in Europe, with upcoming elections in Ukraine and Georgia, a recent election in Belarus, developments on the democracy front in Russia, intensive discussion of those issues, which I can say a bit more about, but my summary of that is that we’re working very much hand-in-hand with our European partners on all of those.
These engagements, obviously, covered Iran. High Representative Ashton was able to brief the Secretary – brief Secretary Clinton on her latest engagements. I think they are both determined to move forward on the two tracks that we’ve identified, and we’re equally serious about both. We’re serious about negotiations that the P-5+1 and Cathy Ashton are leading. But we’re also serious about the pressure track, and you know all of the tough sanctions measures the United States has put in place recently. The European Union has done the same, including a full embargo on petroleum products. Our EU counterparts are telling us that they are looking at even further sanctions because, like us, they are determined to make sure that Iran sees that there are consequences for its refusal to abide by UN Security Council resolutions regarding the nuclear issue.
Syria was obviously very high on the list of issues that we discussed. Again, I can say that U.S. and European policies are very much aligned. Secretary Clinton discussed this at length with Foreign Minister Davutoglu, Foreign Secretary Hague – in fact, all of her counterparts at the dinner and elsewhere. And we are all determined to continue increasing pressure on the regime because we’re convinced that Syria can’t be stable under Mr. Assad, who has lost legitimacy. We’re working with opposition groups and discussing further ways to coordinate among the opposition so that when the day comes that Assad does leave, as he will, Syrians are able to work together. And we are coordinating international efforts to resolve the humanitarian crisis that is resulting from the violence in Syria with high numbers of refugees in a number of neighboring countries, and a lot of people suffering because of the violence there. So there had been a lot of talk of that; there’s going to be a further ad hoc ministerial on Syria of some key countries and key neighbors that will take place tomorrow.
A lot of discussion of Afghanistan, which you know is another high foreign policy priority for the United States, building on the common agreements that were reached at the Chicago Summit that President Obama hosted just this year. It was an opportunity to coordinate next steps and make sure we’re on track to fulfill the agreements that were reached in Chicago, including the milestone in 2013 where Afghans will have lead responsibility for security and our commitments to Afghanistan post-2014, including funding and sustaining and training Afghan National Security Forces so that NATO can end its mission on schedule. And I think it’s important to underscore, especially as there has been talk of changing tactics in the wake of some of the attacks that have taken place in Afghanistan, allies – all the allies we heard and talked to, including Secretary General of NATO Rasmussen, made clear that in Afghanistan, the goal and the strategy and the timeline remain unchanged even as leaders on the ground take measures to make sure that the troops are safe.
As I mentioned, we’ve had a lot of engagement, not just on the global issues where we cooperate so well, but on issues closer to home. I noted that this is a particularly important topic right now, given critical upcoming elections as I mentioned – in Ukraine on October 28; elections coming up in Georgia; elections just taken place in Belarus; and a number of disconcerting steps taken by Russia that are troubling to those pushing for increased democracy in that country. I had extensive discussions of this, including in a separate meeting with some of our closest partners in Central and Eastern Europe and the Baltic States.
Belarus, you’ve seen what we said about the election there. Clearly, and the OSCE reported, that this was not a fair and competitive election. There were real limits on choice for voters, lack of impartiality, and I think it’s fair to say the United States and the European Union are determined to make sure that there are continued consequences for the regime in Belarus for this continued holding of political prisoners and refusal to have free and fair and transparent elections.
On Ukraine, we are coordinating closely to try to ensure that the parliamentary elections that will be held on October 28th are free and fair. This would be a real signal about Ukraine’s place in the Euro-Atlantic community. The position of the United States is the same as that of the European Union, which is that we want to see Ukraine a strong part of Euro-Atlantic institutions. We’ve never posed this as a choice for Ukraine between Russia and the West. It is perfectly appropriate for geographical, historical, and all sorts of reasons for Ukraine to have good relations with Russia, as we want ourselves. But for Ukraine to fulfill that relationship with the rest, it really needs to have free and fair and competitive elections and needs to end the selective prosecutions that we think we have seen over the past couple of years.
So we support the European Union’s efforts to tie the development of their relationship, including the Association Agreement, and the Deep and Free Comprehensive Trade Agreement to internal developments in Ukraine. But just let me underscore we think Ukraine has enormous potential, and we want to see it be a strong and prosperous partner for the West.
Paying close attention to the Georgian elections, which take place on October 1st, again, we are providing observers. We are underscoring to the Georgian Government that it really is in their interest to show the world, to have as free, fair and competitive elections as possible. We are encouraged by some of the steps the government has taken. When complaints have been made, they set up an interagency task force to hear those complaints. They passed legislation to provide access for the opposition to have better access to media. We sent recently a team led by a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State of an interagency team to consult with the Georgian Government and make sure that they were taking measures to ensure a competitive campaign environment.
Georgia is a close friend and partner of the United States. We support its Euro-Atlantic aspirations and its sovereignty and territorial integrity. But we know, and we’ve been very clear with them, that to consolidate that place in the Euro-Atlantic community, they need to demonstrate their democratic credentials.
Let me say a brief word about Russia. You know how much attention the Obama Administration has paid to the relationship with Russia and the so-called reset. And we’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished by trying to find practical areas to cooperate, whether that’s in the strategic arms control area and New START or other agreements we’ve reached, like the Nuclear 123 Agreement; Afghan military transit, where Russia is playing an important role in sustaining our mission in Afghanistan; tough Iran sanctions, including Security Council Resolution 1929; and most recently, Russia’s WTO accession, which we strong support – strongly in the U.S. interests. We’ve done visa and adoption agreements with Russia. We’ve gotten an awful lot done that is in the interests of both sides.
But from the start, as we pursued this better relationship with Russia, we have made clear that doesn’t mean we sweep our disagreements under the carpet. We have disagreements about Georgia. We are not currently seeing eye to eye on missile defense. We have recently had some differences about Syria that I think are clear to everybody. And most recently, as I mentioned, we’ve been troubled by some of the domestic developments in Russia over the past months that include deeming NGOs that take assistance from abroad to be foreign agents; increasing fines on protests to almost punitive levels; some apparent cases of selective prosecution; most recently a new draft law on treason that would widen the definition of treason; and then, of course, earlier this month the Russian decision to end the activities of the USAID mission, which we think over the past 20 years has accomplished an awful lot of good things in Russia in terms of healthcare and combating AIDS and the spread of tuberculosis, but also on promotion and support of democracy and civil society.
And we regretted that decision. Obviously, we have to comply with it, but we’ll look for other ways to stand by our principles and our goals. We don’t interfere in domestic Russian politics. We don’t support individual candidates or parties. We think it’s a good thing in Russia, as across Eurasia, for people to be familiar with parliamentary procedures and understand the workings of democracy.
Let me finally just say a word about the Eurozone and the European economy, because it’s so critical to everything else that we do. It was another big topic of the conversations this week. We’re encouraged by some of the steps that have been taken recently. We’ve been clear from the start that these are European decisions to make. We have a great stake because Europe is such a critical partner. We need to see a strong and prosperous Europe, but they’re decisions for Europe to take.
That said, some of the steps, including the German Constitutional Court’s decision so that the European stability mechanism can go ahead; the Dutch election, which signaled continued support for the Eurozone and the European Union. The European Central Bank’s decision on outright monetary transaction seems to collectively be having an effect, and you see bond yields going down in critical places like Spain and Italy. And all of that is to the good, and we’ve said all along that we’re confident that Europe has the means and the will to act. And we’re glad to see that they’re doing so, and that’s going to facilitate even more transatlantic partnership in the months and years to come.
I will end with that, and look forward to whatever questions you might have.
QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Gordon, it seems to – it’s obviously, actually --
MODERATOR: Do you want to state your --
QUESTION: Okay. My name is Erol Avdovic. I represent daily Avas from Sarajevo, Bosnia, and also Republika Press Multimedia Agency here in New York.
It’s obviously that all what you have said that you have a lot on your plate during these days here in New York, during General Assembly meeting, but you didn’t mention Balkans. So I’m asking you, did the Balkans play any role, or was on agenda somehow? And if I may use your words, did you sweep any disagreements – (laughter) – especially in regard between Serbia and Kosovo, since you are interesting in that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Yeah.
QUESTION: And also, if you qualify, during that transatlantic event, many of the politicians said actually that they had a meeting with Secretary Clinton, although they probably only shook hands or so. So what has happened, for example, between Bosnian Foreign Minister and Secretary Clinton? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Thank you. First, let me apologize for my voice. You can tell I have a bit of a cold up here. And let me also apologize for not mentioning the Balkans, which I should have because it did indeed play a major role in the discussions this week. And that includes a number of meetings that we had with Balkan leaders. And to be specific, I joined Deputy Secretary Burns for a meeting with Serbian President Nikolic. The Deputy Secretary also met with the Bosnian Presidency, Mr. Izetbegovic, Foreign Minister Lagumdzija. Croatian Prime Minister and others of us have had other Balkan meetings throughout the week, so it definitely loomed large. And it has also loomed large in our discussion with European Union counterparts who are committed, as we are, to seeing peace and stability in the Balkans and the integration of the Balkans into Europe. We’ve said many times that Europe can’t be complete until the Western Balkans are integrated, and we strongly support that goal, and it was a key aspect of Secretary Clinton’s discussions with High Representative Cathy Ashton as well.
A key part of that is our support for Kosovo-Serbia relations and the dialogue that has taken place. We’re encouraged by recent decisions in Belgrade to move ahead with some of the agreements that had been reached under the previous Serbian Government, notably regarding Kosovo’s participation in regional organizations and the Integrated Border Management agreement. And we welcome the fact that the Serbian Government is saying that if Serbia makes agreements, then they should be pursued and implemented. And that’s what we look to them to do.
We also strongly encourage them to work with us in the European Union the Serbia-Kosovo relationship. That’s the key for both countries’ paths towards the European Union, which we support. We have a lot of – we have a lot at stake. We think that both of those countries can thrive, but to do so they need to get beyond the clear difference that they have over Northern Kosovo. The United States strongly supports Kosovo’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, but we’ve said many times that – and I believe the Government of Kosovo is committed to respecting the rights of all of its citizens, including the Serbian citizens in the north, Serbian cultural and religious sites, a strong degree of self government for the Serbs who live in Kosovo. And the path to Serbia’s accession to the European Union, I think, requires coming to terms with that. So the new government in Belgrade has said it’s ready for continued dialogue at a high political level. We strongly support that. And we’re hopeful that the two countries can move ahead.
You mentioned Bosnia. We’ve been frustrated lately, frankly, at the lack of cooperation among leaders of different entities and ethnic groups. There’s far too much political posturing and far too much playing to national sentiments. We were encouraged when, last year, a budget was passed and a state-level government was formed, and a tentative agreement on defense property was reached. But all of those seem to have run into the ground over the past months. And Bosnia also needs to continue its path towards European integration, including in NATO and the EU, but it can only do that if and when leaders come together in a more practical way.
QUESTION: Hello, Mr. Gordon. My name is Ivica Puljic. I am from Al Jazeera Balkans. If I may continue same topic, similar topic actually, Bosnia, is American message to Bosnian leaders "help us to help you?" And second, can you as American Government get a little bit – how I say that – tougher approach to some Bosnian leaders, like Mr. Doric, for example? Thank you so much.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, I think that’s a fair way to characterize our approach because we do want to help Bosnians. I mean, I think we’ve made that clear. This Administration came in with a lot of people who had gone through and been in government at the time of the war and saw the terrible tragedy that struck that country and were inspired by the hope of seeing it come back together. And I think we’ve clearly made – we’ve clearly demonstrated that we want to help Bosnia. That began right from the start of the Administration with the Vice President’s trips. And in the meantime, we’ve had a steady flow of visits and engagement to try to help the Bosnian leaders.
But the other piece of your little phrase is right. They need to help us. I mean, we can’t do it for Bosnia. The European Union can’t do it for Bosnia. Bosnian leaders need to do it for themselves. And nobody is asking Bosnians to come together in some sort of unitary state that they don’t apparently want to have. The demands, the expectations of the international community are really within reach. What we do insist on is that the leaders stop pulling the country apart and questioning its viability. And in that regard, I think we take a firm stance against any leaders – you mentioned one in particular, but against any leaders who question the constitutional order in Bosnia or the Dayton Peace Agreement. And that’s why the United States, at least, continues to support the Office of the High Representative and its authorities to make sure that nobody challenges the Dayton structures.
We would like to get to the point, and we’ve talked about the conditions under which Bosnia could move beyond that arrangement, but they’re not yet met. And until they are, we feel strongly that it’s important to maintain those authorities so that everybody knows, all of the leaders know, that there are limits to what they can do, and that we are going to use all the authorities we have to stand by the Dayton peace agreement.
QUESTION: Thanks. Virginie Robert. I work for Les Echos, the French business daily. I had two questions. One is about Europe and the social unrest. We’ve seen this in the southern countries. Are you worried that this might grow and lead to a more difficult situation? And the other one is about the French President. We have a new president, as you know. Has anything changed in your relationship with France since then?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Thanks. On the first, obviously, we’re concerned anytime you see large-scale social unrest, and we know what it stems from. These countries are undertaking very difficult economic reforms that are costly, and people are being asked to make real sacrifices. We know there are limits to what people can be asked to sacrifice, and that is – that’s the challenge for Europe, to strike the balance between doing what is necessary – because everybody needs to accept that real sacrifices are necessary to get beyond this crisis and to make the reforms necessary for the Eurozone to work. It can’t go on as before, and countries are spending too much in many cases, and the only way to get their accounts in order is going to require some of these painful measures that sometimes include greater taxes or raising the retirement age or pension cuts or increased social charges, different ways to get there. And different countries are going about it in different ways, but they’re all painful, and we are very sympathetic to that, as I think all European leaders are.
So I think those protests are a reminder that one can’t ask too much too fast, but once again, that needs to be balanced by the reality that everybody needs to know that success depends on continuing to implement the reforms. And it could be worse if governments in the face of protests back down, decided they couldn’t make these cuts, and then the markets would punish those countries even more. So as I said, we’re confident that – I mean, I don’t think it’s surprising at all that given the tough sacrifices that are being asked of these countries, that some people are exercising their democratic right to protest. We hope it’s peaceful.
But we are convinced that Europe can find that balance, and – I mean, I think we’ve already seen an enormous amount of progress. And even as we look at the big challenges ahead, it’s important to note what countries like Italy and Spain and Portugal and Ireland and Greece have already done – truly remarkable. And the question is keeping it up so that the reforms work, but not asking too, too much of the people. But as I say, we’re confident that can work.
We’ve had good interactions with President Hollande. He came here only days after – not here to New York, but here to the United States, to Washington, met with President Obama in the Oval Office. I think I would say the theme of that conversation was continuity. Okay, a different president, different party, but on the key things that we do together, starting with the Eurozone, but Afghanistan, NATO cooperation, Iran, President Hollande made clear to the United States that he wants to be a strong partner. I think we’ve seen that in the relationship since he came on board.
QUESTION: Mr. Gordon, Michail Ignatiou from MEGA TV, Greece. I have a question on Cyprus, actually. You met with Foreign Minister of Cyprus Mrs. Markoullis. Can you give us a readout about the meeting? And also, what is the U.S. position about the latest threats by Turkey against Cyprus on economic exclusive zone?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Yeah, I did, and if I failed to mention that, apologies. I had a good meeting with Foreign Minister Markoullis, whom I had recently seen in Cyprus, in fact have seen many times, including last year at UNGA. In fact, I’ve known her since she was Ambassador in Washington. So we had a wide-ranging conversation about a number of things, not just the Cyprus issue and the prospects for the settlement that we all want to see, which we reviewed.
I expressed my disappointment that the talks hadn’t made more progress so far. There was, over the past couple of years, a certain amount of hope, especially when we began a process of direct talks between Turkish Cypriot leaders and Greek Cypriot leaders, that we could get this done. And we have to be honest that that process is largely stalled, possibly in anticipation of elections, presidential elections, in Cyprus. But I underscored again the U.S. willingness to help in any way we can to get that process going.
I hope it doesn’t have to wait until the elections in Cyprus. But if it does, at that point, we stand ready again to promote the settlement that would just so clearly be in the interests of both sides. And I don’t need to tell you how much it would really be win-win. We talked about the dispute over energy, and I think that’s related to your question about Turkey, also in the category of win-win.
The United States has been clear that we support Cyprus’s right to an exclusive economic zone. An American company is working with Cyprus to develop energy resources off the island. We’re equally clear that those resources should benefit both communities, and the best way to do that is in the context of a comprehensive settlement. Were that to occur, both sides would benefit. Special UN Envoy Alexander Downer calls this a potential dowry for the island, and that’s a nice way to think about it. It’s a pool of potential resources that could facilitate a settlement and make it easier. And if you really want a positive vision for the future, you can picture these resources being developed and even exported through a pipeline to Turkey. And then Turkey would benefit as well.
So that’s the vision we have for the island, a comprehensive settlement from which everybody would benefit, and so the Foreign Minister and I talked about that. We also talked about other regional developments, including Syria. Obviously, Cyprus has concerns over developments so nearby, including the potential for refugees. And we also reviewed progress under the EU presidency. Cyprus, of course, is the current EU presidency. The Foreign Minister described her efforts on behalf of the European Union to promote the process of enlargement towards the Balkans and elsewhere. So we had a good and wide-ranging discussion as always.
MODERATOR: I think we should take two questions from Washington, please.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Sure.
OPERATOR: Washington here, please state your name and publication.
QUESTION: Hi, my name is (inaudible). I work for the Echo daily newspaper in (inaudible). And you mentioned some meetings for the (inaudible) Azerbaijan (inaudible), and (inaudible) that have discussed (inaudible) Nagorno-Karabakh?
MODERATOR: I’m sorry. We can’t hear you. Could you speak closer to the microphone, please?
QUESTION: Hi, my name is Nikki Kazimova and I represent Echo newspaper from Azerbaijan. You have mentioned your meetings with the ministers of foreign affairs of Azerbaijan and Armenia, and there have been news reports that you discussed the progress of the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process. Can you share any details about those talks?
And also, a few days ago the Deputy Minister of Azerbaijan criticized the Minsk Process and I’m wondering whether there is any alternative to the Minsk Group that is being discussed at this time and any other details of your talks with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Thank you. I did meet separately with the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan, and they both met separately again with the Minsk Group co-chairs, so there was a lot of discussion of that issue. We are disappointed at the lack of progress in the talks. We’re absolutely committed to that process because this is a volatile situation. And peace and stability in the Caucuses is a huge American interest, not just obviously for the sake of the people who live there, but it’s a critical energy corridor, it’s a critical geopolitical area, it’s an important route for transit to and from Afghanistan, so we have a deep national interest, and that’s why we’re so engaged in this process.
And we have continued to invest and encourage the parties to agree, first on basic principles of a peace settlement, and then obviously finally a full and comprehensive peace treaty. There hasn’t been as much progress recently as we would like to see, but for us that’s only an excuse to redouble our efforts, and that was the point of some of the meetings today – or this week with me and with the co-chairs. And we hope the next round of those meetings gets the foreign ministers together with the co-chairs so they can continue their work.
The process was set back recently with Hungary’s decision to release a convicted murderer from Azerbaijan. And the way he was received in Azerbaijan, which we were disappointed about, led Armenia to back away from what could have been the next rounds of talks. Events like that underscore the volatility in the region and shouldn’t stand in the way of the process that needs to move forward.
In terms of the role of the Minsk Group, no, we are not looking at alternatives to that. The problem in advancing these talks is not the structure of the negotiations but the unwillingness of the parties to find the necessary compromises to bring about the peace that both sides needs. So the arrangement with the Minsk Group co-chairs that involve the United States, Russia, and France is capable of helping them but only when they’re ready themselves to move forward in the way they need to, lest not only we fail to move forward but, even worse, conflict should break out between the two countries. So again, we’re absolutely committed to pushing this process forward.
MODERATOR: One more question from Washington.
QUESTION: Hello. My name is Xavier Vila with the Spanish Public Radio headquartered in Barcelona. I was wondering if you all had any contact with the Spanish authorities, and what is your position regarding Catalonia, which is the richest region over there, where politicians have started a process of independence from Spain? To what extent regional aspirations of independence like this jeopardizes the relation with our close allies, which is Spain in this case? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: We do have interactions with Spain. The Foreign Minister did not attend the General Assembly this year, but State Secretary Gonzalo de Benito was there, participated in the Transatlantic Dinner on behalf of Spain, has been doing other diplomacy here all week. But even without interactions at the foreign ministry level here, we’ve had a high number of them bilaterally between Madrid and Washington in recent weeks and months and they go on.
On Catalonia, I’m not going to get into domestic Spanish affairs. Obviously we recognize Spain as a country, sovereignty, territorial integrity. We think that Europe provides many good models for how regions can satisfy their aspirations without pursuing outright independence, but it’s really for the Spanish to address that issue.
MODERATOR: From here in New York. Go ahead.
QUESTION: David Sans from VilaWeb, also (inaudible) newspaper in Barcelona. I think that was happened within the last 48 hours is not only the dissolution of the democratic parliament of Catalonia but the anticipation or basically the elections for November 25th on Sunday for the Catalan people to vote if they want independence of Catalonia. And just a quick reminder, there was a Spanish civil war that caused millions of people to disappear and to be killed. This issue was never been resolved. There was obviously (inaudible) but was never a trial of Nuremburg in that case.
My question is: Would the United States be ready to deploy some type of mission to Barcelona to secure a peaceful and freedom election? More importantly because of the recent threats from the military in Spain to take – to basically have a coup d’état, and more specifically for the threats from the Party Popular, the leading party in Spain, to even arrest the president of Catalonia.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Yeah. Like I said, I’m not going to get into what we consider to be internal Spanish matters. Again, there are a lot of different models within Europe to provide for aspirations of different peoples within different countries. We strongly support and are absolutely committed to the borders of all of the countries of the European Union, but again, the question of Catalonia is a Spanish matter.
QUESTION: Hi. Gulveda Ozgur from the Turkish News Channel. You mentioned about Secretary Clinton’s bilateral with Foreign Minister Davutoglu yesterday. From the background briefings, we understand it was a short meeting, despite overwhelming topics that needed to be discussed. I was wondering if there were any discussions about the U.S. increasing its military support – that is the sale of drones -- to Turkey in order to better facilitate combating PKK.
And secondly, I don’t know if you’re aware, but our Foreign Minister met with Ahmadinejad late last night. Does the U.S. see any role for Turkey to play in bringing the Iranians to meet their international obligations?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, as you heard in the readout yesterday, yes, it was a relatively short meeting. Never enough time to talk with Turkey about the numbers of issues we deal with, but also know as you do that the Secretary speaks very often to Foreign Minister Davutoglu. The President speaks to Prime Minister Erdogan, as he did within the past 10 days. And there will be plenty of other opportunities to get to the rest of the list.
On your specific question, no, they didn’t have a specific question of military assistance or drones. As you know, the United States strongly stands with Turkey on the question of the PKK, which we believe is a challenge to – not just to Turkey but to us. We see it as a terrorist organization that should be combated, and we work very closely with Turkey in supporting it against the threat from the PKK.
Where Iran is concerned, obviously Turkey has a great stake, given its geography. I would just say that our focus has been pretty clear. I described the two tracks of our diplomacy. We’ve said that the P-5+1 is the right framework for those nuclear talks with Iran. We think it’s important that Iran hears a united international voice, and the P-5+1, on behalf of the Security Council, is the right voice for Iran to be hearing.
QUESTION: Hello. My name is Ana Comen. I’m from the Romanian Public Radio. And I want to ask you a question about Romania. You’ve been recently in the country, voicing before your visit concerns of the United States. Now Romanian politicians speak about the needs to regain credibility on the international level. So I want to ask you: Did Romania lose credibility in the United States’ eyes? Do you still have concerns? And if so, what should Romania do in the near future to regain credibility?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Thank you for raising that. And yes, I did travel to Romania in the middle of August, in part to discuss our concerns about internal developments there. And it’s really consistent with – excuse me – the theme here this afternoon of our commitment to democracy and stability across Europe, but including members of the European Union.
Our concern in that particular case had to do, as you well know, with efforts to overturn the apparent results of a referendum on impeaching the President. And while we were and are very careful not to be interfering in Romanian internal affairs, we wanted to be clear that the world, the international community, would not find it legitimate if the voting procedures were changed after the referendum was held, and in contradiction to what the constitutional court ruled. We underscored how important it was to respect any ruling from the constitutional court, and that that was a test of the credibility of Romania’s democracy.
And I’m pleased to be able to say that that is what the government ended up doing. Notwithstanding what we heard about potential fraudulent votes and deliberations about potentially refusing to accept a ruling of the court, the court ruled, the voter lists that were originally used were respected, and the ousted president was reinstated according to the rule of law. And that’s the right outcome. And in that sense, I think it’s probably right to say that Romania earned credibility in the eyes of the United States, and I think in the eyes of its European partners, by following the rule of law, even when that went against the short-term interests of those who were holding power during that interim period. That’s a sign of a maturing democracy, and I think a very positive thing.
Obviously, we continue to watch it closely. I know some in Romania have thoughts of organizing another referendum, finding other ways to get rid of the President. It needs to be underscored again that constitutional procedures need to be followed. If the President is unpopular and his presidency doesn’t reflect the popular will of the people, then a free and fair and democratic election is the way to address that. And if that’s the way Romania moves forward, I think its credibility as a strong democracy and partner for the United States will only continue to rise.
MODERATOR: I think we have one more question in Washington.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Gordon. My name is Haykaram Nahapetyan. I am with Armenian TV, and my question is going to be a quick follow-up to my Azerbaijani colleague’s question. The Azerbaijani authorities stated that Safarov will return to active military duty. Right now, he’s resting. And this contradicts to the position of the State Department, according to last update that we got from the Press Office of the State Department. The U.S. Government called Azerbaijan to fulfill this commitment even prior to extradition of Safarov, meaning putting him back into jail.
So if this happens, if Safarov, a convicted ex-murderer, returns to active military service, are you planning any actions from the State Department? And if you can comment on this fact of his return to military duties. Thank you very much.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Thank you. I think the position of the United States, as we have made clear, is that Mr. Safarov should have remained in a prison in Hungary serving out his full sentence for a really horrific crime. If he were transferred to Azerbaijan under the UN Convention on Prisoner Transfers, he should have, as was apparently promised at the time, served out his full sentence there. And the fact that he was not just released, but promoted and assisted, is inconsistent with the values and laws that we think should be respected. So I think you can infer from that that any reinstatement of this officer into active duty military would also, in our view, be highly inconsistent with what he should be doing at this time.
QUESTION: Hi. My name is Chiara Basso for Il Secolo XIX, Italy. I would like to ask you – some economists don’t see any improvement in the European economy, even for 2013. Are you not afraid that this prolonged economic crisis can affect also the U.S. economic recovery?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, as I said, we have a huge stake in Europe’s economic recovery. It’s our biggest trading partner, our biggest investment partner, and President Obama has said many times that American prosperity is dependent in part on European prosperity. That’s only part of the reason we have such a stake in Europe’s economic success. I mean, that’s a material stake, but Europe’s also our partner in security affairs around the world and can’t do what we need it to do if it doesn’t have the finances. It’s our partner in overseas development assistance. It’s not as stable, as we discussed some protests that result from economic troubles.
So our stake is enormous, and so in that sense the answer to your question is yes, we are concerned about continued stagnation and lack of growth. But that’s why we’re equally determined to help Europe get started again, and encourage – yes, your – as you say, growth projections for the coming year are not great. But on the other hand, there have been a number of positive developments, including the reforms that we’ve seen in a number of troubled countries and, as I say, bond spreads showing increasing market confidence in those countries undertaking reforms. Europe has done a lot to recapitalize banks. It’s built up these two firewalls which I think are also reassuring to investors. So Europe will get back on its feet, and as it does, that will only continue to help America’s own economic recovery.
MODERATOR: Okay. I think that’s the last question. Assistant Secretary Gordon has many more appointments today, so thank you all for coming.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Thanks a lot.
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