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Diplomacy in Action

Interview With Vasily Voropaev of Rossiyskaya-Gazeta

Philip H. Gordon
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
Published March 1, 2012
Moscow, Russia
February 17, 2012


QUESTION: The first question is about WTO. Russia finally enters WTO this year and it was made possible by fruitful cooperation between Russia and the U.S., but Jackson-Vanik still exists and how does Russia’s membership in WTO correspond with the business of Jackson-Vanik?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: First of all I would say that Russia’s accession to the WTO is a very big accomplishment for both Russia and the United States. This issue has been out there for almost 20 years now with different American and Russian administrations seeking to get it done and none had been able to do so. President Obama made it a real priority. He thought it was in the interest of U.S. businesses, the U.S. economy, Russia’s businesses, the Russian economy, our bilateral relations and the WTO. So he made a priority of getting it done. It wasn’t easy. They were tough negotiations on both sides and complicated ones. It required deals between Russia and the European Union and other members of the WTO including Georgia which wasn’t easy either. But we got all of that done, so we’re very proud of that and we think that Russia’s accession to the WTO will be really positive in all of those ways.

It is true that for U.S. firms to take full advantage of Russia’s accession to the WTO we need to lift the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, but the President has made clear that he wants to do so. We think that Jackson-Vanik is anachronistic. It was passed in another time under very different circumstances, and we would like to see Congress lift it, give Russia permanent normal trading relations, and then U.S. firms would fully benefit from this accession.

QUESTION: And can you agree with those who say that the reset is over now? And can you maybe name some word or term to describe today’s relations between Russia and the U.S.?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: First of all, no, I don’t think the reset is over. I would say we are very proud of what we’ve accomplished so far in the reset. When President Obama came into office the U.S.-Russia relationship was strained, it was strained over the war in Georgia and it was strained in general. The President felt that we actually had a lot of common interests in areas from non-proliferation to the economy to security and wanted to pursue those interests in a practical way while also accepting that there would be things that we disagreed on. I think we have been very consistent on both parts of that approach and just think about what we’ve accomplished in the first three years from the New START Treaty to an agreement on Afghanistan lethal transit, reestablishing military-to-military relations, the Bilateral Presidential Commission, the 123 Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, cooperation on non-proliferation questions including North Korea and Iran, voting together on a tough Security Council Resolution on Iran. And then most recently the WTO accession, not to mention a number of smaller agreements like those on visas and adoptions that are also very important to both sides. In the case of visas it will facilitate business relations for both sides.

So I think under any assessment, under any fair assessment of what we’ve accomplished in the reset, that’s pretty impressive, and in the interests of both sides which we always thought it would be.

We also always said that even as we did that, we would continue to stand for certain principles, including those that the Vice President spelled out at the Munich Security Conference in 2009 about the right of countries in Europe to join alliances and U.S. recognition of Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. But even when we had differences over certain questions, we thought we could continue to pursue positive relations and practical accomplishments.

So on that basis there’s no reason to believe that this approach can’t continue. Even if we have differences, as we do now, being frank, over Syria and Russia’s vetoing of the resolution of the United States that so many others supported, was a serious difference between our two countries. We don’t believe that should in any way impede the practical cooperation that we seek in so many areas. So in that sense no, the reset is not in any way over because the basic premise behind it continues to exist.

And you asked if we had a new name for that. I suppose at some point the concept of reset needs to be replaced because we have already reset the relationship. In fact we believe that all of the practical accomplishments that I referred to have actually helped improve the general degree of trust between the two countries which was one of President Obama’s goals as well. He regretted that there was so much mistrust. So in that sense the reset has actually accomplished something very important as well. But whatever you want to call it, the thinking behind that approach continues certainly in Washington.

QUESTION: And another question is about BRICs. Do you think that BRICs can be an equal partner of so-called West? And is U.S. ready to handle it as a single power, as a single player?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I don’t think it is a single player. Clearly each of the countries under the rubric BRICs is very important. Each is growing in important ways -- economically, politically, strategically, and we have increasingly important relations with all of them. So there is no question that that’s an important development in world affairs. But I don’t think we see BRICs as a single entity in any way. I don’t think the BRICs would believe that they are a single entity. They have many common interests but they also have a lot of differences in so many ways. So I think that would be not just premature, but a misreading of the situation to imagine that BRICs should be treated as a single entity.

QUESTION: Another organization is CSTO, Collective Security Treaty Organization. And some people say that the U.S. is the main obstacle between the cooperation between NATO and CSTO. Can you agree with that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I don’t think we have a principled opposition to NATO cooperation with the CSTO. When there are cases in which the two organizations can cooperate in a mutually beneficial way, they should. So we treat those questions on a case by case basis and have no ideological opposition to it, but it’s just a practical question of whether there are in fact areas in which these two very different organizations can cooperate.

QUESTION: Another important question between Russia and the U.S. is anti-missile defense. U.S. is now actively building anti-missile shield in different parts of the world. What guarantees can U.S. give to Moscow that it’s not directed against Russia?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: First of all we have been very clear and transparent about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. Specifically where the European missile defense is concerned, which is what Russia has expressed concern about, we believe there is a growing threat from ballistic missile proliferation, potentially nuclear proliferation from beyond Europe, specifically the greater Middle East. Under those circumstances the President has decided that it is necessary for us to move forward with missile defense to protect European territories, populations and forces, and the American forces that are in Europe.

This is a precaution against a world perhaps not too far from now, a few years down the road, in which countries from outside of Europe would be able to threaten European cities or populations or forces with nuclear weapons, and that’s a risk that we can’t afford to take. So we have put in place this European phased adaptive approach that will involve interceptors in Poland and Romania and ships homeported in Spain and a radar in Turkey and other assets so that we can protect against those threats. Again, we’ve been very transparent about exactly what technologies we use and what locations we plan to use.

It’s not directed at Russia. It has no capacity to deal with Russian threats and this is something we’ve had extensive dialogue about and I’m conscious that we have yet to fully persuade our Russian friends that this won’t threaten Russia’s capabilities. But we’re very clear and willing to make clear that it’s not about Russia. I think the best way for Russians to be assured is simply by studying the physics of the situation and the capabilities of the interceptors we plan to use.

Just, if nothing else, the knowledge that numerically Russia has assets that this capability just couldn’t possibly cope with, even under the New START Treaty, Russia would have hundreds of interceptors and 1500, up to 1500 deployed warheads, and unless you imagine that the United States is somehow going to deploy thousands of interceptors, then -- notwithstanding the fact that Russia has capabilities for decoys and the ability to thwart the [inaudible] missile defense system -- I think it’s really clear that the Russian deterrent is not in any way undermined by U.S. missile defenses.

QUESTION: You mentioned the question of Syria which is now we have big discussions around Russia and U.S. Why doesn’t U.S. believe in Bashar Assad’s wish to end this conflict in his country peacefully?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Because all of the evidence that we have for, one could say many years, but for at least a year is that he is not open to the sorts of reforms that would make it possible to end this conflict peacefully. We have given him every opportunity to do so, encouraged him to do so along with many others in the international community. Instead he has responded with really disturbing levels of violence against his own people. Violence that has only produced even more opposition to his rule. In that sense he’s lost legitimacy in the eyes of his own public, regardless of what the international community thinks, he’s lost legitimacy of his own people. And I just want to be clear, this is not a U.S. view or solely a U.S. view, it really is the increasing view of the international community. It’s the view of the Arab League. It’s the view of its Turkish neighbors. It’s the view of the Europeans. Frankly, it’s the view of 13 of the 15 Security Council members, all of whom voted for a resolution that made clear that he needs to stop using violence against the Syrian people.

You raised the question of [inaudible] a U.S.-Russia dispute. That’s why we were dismayed by Russia’s veto, because we were trying to send a message to Assad, and frankly to those around him, that the way forward is a peaceful transition of power with negotiated inclusive settlement in Syria. Frankly, much of the world is on board for such an approach. Again, in that Security Council vote, don’t misunderstand, this wasn’t the West against Russia or the United States against Russia, the United States voted along with not, even just the Europeans, but India, Pakistan, South Africa. These are countries -- and you’re asking about the BRICs,-- these are countries that aren’t necessarily traditionally in the U.S. camp of the Security Council. I think that should give Russia pause for thought. Does it really want to be in that camp voting alongside Syria when again, all of the Arabs and frankly almost everyone else in the world -- The General Assembly Resolution that was voted on today, yesterday, the vote was I think 137 to 12 or so, 138 to 12. And Russia on that vote was in a camp with North Korea, Syria, Iran and Venezuela. We like to think of Russia as a friend and a partner, and I’m not sure that’s the company that Russia should want to be in.

QUESTION: And the last question. Who does U.S. consider to be its main enemies or adversaries in today’s world?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I don’t want to get into a list of enemies and adversaries. There are clearly certain countries in the world with whom we have or with which we have difficult relations. We have problems. But it’s not our approach to treat or decide that certain countries are enemies. We’re trying to deal with particular challenges, problems, violations of international law, violations of international peace and security. But it’s not a question of deeming peoples or countries permanent enemies of the United States.

QUESTION: So it was very interesting interview. Thank you.


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