First Deputy Foreign Minister Schneider: We just concluded two-thirds of our talk and it’s [inaudible] Assistant Secretary Gordon. It’s our annual talks. We’re trying to touch some issues on the strategic levels, but also some practical issues in our bilateral relations, how this fits together. The first part is closest to our portfolios, it’s about security issues; the second was about economy, research and development; and we are going to touch some issues of cooperation in the third pillar of our cooperation which is about democracy, values, [inaudible] third sector cooperation and so on and so forth.
Assistant Secretary Gordon: Thank you very much, Jiri. I really appreciate the warm welcome you have shown to me and my delegation for the U.S.-Czech Strategic Dialogue. This is my third visit to Prague since 2010. I was here in January of that year for a Strategic Dialogue, came back with the President for a signing of New START and then today delighted to be back once again for another full day of discussions of the issues. I even managed to take advantage of the beautiful weather and take a walk with the Ambassador across the Charles Bridge. So it’s really delightful to be back.
This is an opportunity, as the Deputy Foreign Minister said, for us to go over really the very full range of issues that our two countries deal with. We did have excellent talks on some of those.
Just to mention a few, we talked about the upcoming Chicago Summit which is obviously a priority in the United States and with President Obama. Afghanistan will be one of the key issues at that summit. I was able to express our appreciation for everything the Czech Republic is doing in Afghanistan with its troops and its support of the PRT in Logar and I was able to express our determination to continue with the principle of “in together/out together” for all of the allies. I know there were some questions about Afghanistan policy in the wake of recent developments there, but I want to say that President Obama is determined to proceed with the very clear plans that we as NATO allies have adopted together which is continuing the transition to Afghan lead role in its own security, and by the end of 2014 to have our combat troops out and let the Afghans lead in their own security. But as we also discussed there’s still going to be a need for the international community to continue its support of the Afghans after 2014.
Other issues for the NATO Summit that we discussed included defense capabilities, and I reiterated our strong continued support for Article 5, and simultaneously our interest in looking together with our allies at ways we can pursue what Secretary General Rasmussen calls “smart defense”, finding ways to pool our assets and do things together so that we can ensure our security but at less cost.
We also talked about the partnership agenda for the Chicago Summit, which is a mutual commitment to expand NATO’s partnerships with key players around the world, but also those in Europe who aspire to be members of the Alliance. The United States’ strong view and I believe the view of the Czech Republic is that NATO’s door should remain open. NATO enlargement has been positive for the Alliance in the past, and we should continue to work with those countries that aspire to join in the future.
We talked about some global challenges as well, including Syria which is something our ministers, our governments are very much focused on as we speak in the run-up to the Friends of Syria meeting in Istanbul this week, and our determination to continue to put the pressure on the regime in Syria to ensure a transition and provide for humanitarian access.
And the regional challenge in Iran, which again is one of the United States’ and President Obama’s top foreign policy priorities in our determination to pursue the two tracks of pressure but also diplomacy, and again, comparing notes on that issue, I think the United States and the Czech Republic are very much on the same page.
Finally we discussed, as Jiri said, our economic agenda which is vast. The United States is committed to our economic partnership with Europe -- the European Union and the Czech Republic. We’re making progress in redoing the Bilateral Investment Treaty which is in our mutual interest.
I was pleased to learn that we are making progress towards setting up a joint center on civil nuclear cooperation. The civil nuclear area is one in which the Czech Republic has a lot to offer. We will continue our cooperation in that regard.
And we were able to have a discussion of the European economy in general, and I think shared the assessment that a number of recent steps have strengthened that. Let me just conclude by saying the United States has a very strong interest in seeing the European economy succeed because we have such a stake in that partnership.
So all in all, that’s just a flavor of some of the issues we’ve discussed in the first two-thirds of the session. It’s very valuable to us. Again, I thank you for your hospitality.
First Deputy Foreign Minister Schneider: Thank you, Phil.
A couple of questions?
Question: This round of dialogue takes place on the background of very dramatic cuts in the defense budget in the Czech Republic. Does that affect the thinking before the Chicago NATO Summit?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: It’s a very serious issue and one we continue to talk with our partners about. That’s why I stressed this notion of “smart defense” with the Chicago Summit.
The reality is, everybody is under very tight budgetary pressure and that obliges us to think about how to ensure our defense in a more efficient way. But we also have to ensure our defense and one thing I think we agree on is that we have commitments for our own security in Europe but also around the world in places like Afghanistan. We recently saw in Libya they required NATO allies to have serious defense capabilities, and that’s a common challenge that we all face.
In terms of Chicago, when I mentioned the “smart defense” initiatives, there are a number of them out there and I’ll just take a couple of examples.
Allied Ground Surveillance is a system that we have strongly supported that allows us to pool our assets and have commonly funded intelligence assets in the form of drones so that all allies can benefit from this information, while collectively putting their money together so that everybody doesn’t have to have them. We want to see that program move forward in Chicago.
Baltic Air Policing is a mechanism that allows us to collectively support defense of Baltic states’ airspace without expecting that every Baltic state flies advanced fighter planes.
We’ve just discussed regional fighter cooperation programs where countries in this region could pool their assets and buy fighter planes together.
Joint intelligence and surveillance projects that the United States and France have taken the lead in pushing is another area in which we can all benefit.
So I think there’s a serious agenda of projects that allies can agree on that would allow us to do what we need to do, draw some of the lessons of the Libya operation and Afghanistan without expecting people to spend precious resources that they don’t have.
First Deputy Foreign Minister Schneider: Let me add on this, in our budget debate I think we should be very careful so the Czech Republic will be able to maintain its capabilities for its own defense and security and also to keep our commitments in all areas of NATO responsibility. I think be it in the mission, we’ve talked about Afghanistan and our commitments there, our continuing commitment there although it’s transforming into new forms, and this will be debated soon in the coming weeks here. Also our other commitments. I think we take part in the air policing in the Baltic countries and other, we should maintain these kind of capabilities in future.
Moreover, I informed Phil about in our discussion in Visegrad countries. Visegrad [inaudible] in the run up to Chicago. Part of it is related to this ”smart defense” concept, sharing and pooling, exploring opportunities of “smart defense” cooperation in the regional forums of the Visegrad countries. As you know, we are now the presidency of Visegrad, so we’ve taken up this initiative. I think there will be some [inaudible] results of that presented.
Question: You mentioned the Bilateral Investment Treaty that you are pleased with the development, but you also said [inaudible] recently, the Czech side wanted to quit the negotiation. Now they took some time, until the end of April, to decide what to do. It’s under the Ministry of Finance which [inaudible]. So are you a bit surprised or disappointed?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: If it were easy to negotiate or renegotiate such a treaty it would have been done a long time ago. We never underestimated the challenges that we would face in doing so, but this was an issue that was important for our partners. They brought it to our attention. When your Foreign Minister was in Washington he discussed it with Secretary Clinton and she agreed yes, it’s important to update it and get it right to the mutual satisfaction of both sides because we both need, in this economic climate, an investment climate that promotes transparent and expanding investment.
So I’m not surprised or worried that it is taking some time to do it. I can only reiterate our determination to do it to the mutual satisfaction of the two sides.
First Deputy Foreign Minister Schneider: If we would have wanted to quit unilaterally, we would have done it later, we wouldn’t ask to talk, to start talks. We appreciate that there is a mutual effort to come to some negotiated outcome and the result of the recent round was that we will wait until the end of May to have some more results on that. That will be presented jointly.
Is there any question? If not, thank you very much.
Assistant Secretary Gordon: Thank you all very much.