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Diplomacy in Action

Press Gaggle Following Remarks at the Center for European Policy Analysis

Philip H. Gordon
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
Center for European Policy Analysis
Washington, DC
September 20, 2012


QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up, Assistant Secretary, about USAID and Russia. You mentioned that the United States is not going to back away from supporting civil organizations in Russia, but what kind of symbol do you think this sends that Russia has booted USAID out of the country? What does it mean for the country and the government?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I think a lot of those who support democracy and human rights around the world see this as Russia backing away from commitments for a democratic society that allows for free expression and it’s not just the ending of the USAID mission. There’s a pattern going on over recent months in terms of treatment of NGOs, and deeming them foreign agents, and raising fines on protestors and other interventions in the media that lead people to the conclusion that Russia is somehow resisting the trend towards democracy, free expression and human rights. The United States has been consistent, will continue to support democracy, free expression and human rights. So it sends a negative signal, but not in isolation -- combined with other measures that the Russian government has taken.

QUESTION: Did the U.S. see this coming?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: There’s been talk for some time about the Russian government desire to end the USAID mission specifically and more generally to end this sort of activity which again, as I say, is consistent with their other measures on NGOs.

QUESTION: Do you see that in any way this may affect the reset in the Russian-American relations?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: We’ve been clear about the reset from the start. It was never naively assuming that we wouldn’t have our differences, and we’ve had differences over democracy and human rights from the start. We’ve been clear about those. The President and Secretary Clinton have raised it consistently in their meetings with Russian government officials. So it doesn’t mean that we’re not going to continue to try to work together in areas where we have common interests like non-proliferation, security, global challenges, nuclear issues, economic relations, we still welcome Russia’s joining of the WTO and want to boost U.S. investment in Russia. So it doesn’t change anything about the approach that we have taken to Russia.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, in Poland there is growing fear that Poland would be left over; Poland and the region during transformation of American foreign policy when the stress is more on Asia than on the European effort. Are these fears justified?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I think we’ve been very clear about what the renewed focus on Asia and the greater Middle East means, and means for Europe. It’s in no way walking away from the longstanding commitments we have to our partnership with Europe. In some ways, as I’ve made clear, the partnership for Europe is even more important to us because we face these great challenges in Asia and the Middle East -- that’s why we’re increasing our partnering with European countries. Nor is it in any way a diminishment of our rock solid support for all NATO allies, and I’ve described here and elsewhere how we’ve continued to maintain the viability of Article 5, by taking steps to enhance deterrence in Europe and Poland in particular -- we have the aviation detachment that we have established at a Polish air base; we’re moving forward with plans for missile defense that will involve the deployment of land-based interceptors in Poland with American military personnel involved with that.

We will continue even after the restructuring of our global forces to have more troops in Europe deployed permanently than anywhere else in the world. We’re going to rotate in American personnel so that we continue to partner with European forces. I think objectively there’s no way to see this evolution as, in any way, a diminishment of our strong and continued commitment to Poland and other allies in the region.

I wanted to come back to one more thing on the USAID point. You asked whether we saw it coming and what it means.

The Russian government -- and what it means for democracy and human rights -- the Russian government has described this as a reflection of its new degree of economic development, and it’s not, they have said, a walking away from their support for these activities, but that Russia doesn’t need this anymore. We hope that they will follow up and provide support for the types of things that USAID has been supporting over the years. If they want to act on the basis of being a G8 country and an advanced economy and believe that they can support these goals without the United States, given that we support those goals, that’s what we’d like to see them do.

QUESTION: How would you describe the chances of their doing that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: That remains to be seen.

QUESTION: Two very quick questions on the Caucasus, if I may. You mentioned in the discussion the Safarov case with Azerbaijan and Hungary. I know that the U.S. has reached out to both to follow up. I wanted to ask you, what have their responses been? And has the U.S. been satisfied with those responses?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I think you’ve seen the public remarks of both in explaining what they did, and we continue to express our dismay and disappointment. We’re not satisfied with what has happened here. In our view this is someone who should have continued to serve out his sentence and certainly we were appalled by the glorification that we heard in some corridors of somebody who was convicted of murder, and so no, we’re not satisfied with the responses.

QUESTION: A second quick question from the Caucasus. In Georgia there was this huge scandal that erupted in the past few days about the prison abuse videos. I’m wondering what the State Department’s, what has been the extent of the State Department’s contact with Georgia on this issue, and the reaction to it?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: As you know it’s evolving as we speak, especially yesterday more news came out so we are following it closely. We’re in touch with the Georgians, but we’re gathering information.

QUESTION: A very quick question on Libya. There was a report this morning on NPR about extremist groups setting up camps in Libya and especially in the city where the horrible tragedy happened. Is the administration concerned about this situation? And whether, is it going to take any measures?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: We’re taking measures all around the world as we speak. Of course we’re very, we’re concerned first and foremost with the security of our people everywhere around the world in the wake of the protests and violence that we’ve seen -- obviously particularly in Libya given the tragedy last Tuesday. So yes, we are doing everything we can to make sure that we’re prepared to deal with any contingency that might emerge.

QUESTION: In terms of the development of democracy in Libya, this may be very concerning --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Of course it’s concerning, but I would say no one should take this setback as an indication that it’s not possible to continue on the positive, forward path in Libya. This was a tragic incident; it was a horrible incident; it’s a sign that there are bad actors in Libya and that there’s not going to be a smooth and direct path to a stable democracy, but we knew that before –- and it would be wrong to extrapolate that because some individuals or groups are seeking to undermine the democracy.

We’ve been very encouraged by both the words and actions of the Libyan government in denouncing this violence, in trying to help us deal with the perpetrators -- don’t forget that part of the firefight that took place around our facility was Libyan security forces against these armed groups, so there are still a lot of Libyans who value what the United States is doing, what others are doing, and who want to see a democracy in Libya and we’re not going to let these bad actors interfere with that goal.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, talking about unfinished business in this part of Europe, especially Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova. How do you evaluate the role which was played by the new NATO members towards let’s say exporting democracy to this region? And how would you see the role of those countries in bringing democracy to, for example, Belarus?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: These countries are new partners in supporting democracy throughout Europe. They are no longer the objects of efforts to support democracy because they are democracies themselves, and in many ways they’ve been leaders in this effort. As I say, the Eastern Partnership was in some ways a Central European idea, and that’s not surprising because they have an even greater stake than we do -- they live next to the Ukraines and Belaruses of Europe -- so we’re partners in this common effort and we value what they’re doing.

QUESTION: Yesterday the Senate Foreign Relations Committee I believe supported a resolution to institute perhaps visa bans on people involved in the alleged mistreatment of Yulia Tymoshenko in Ukraine. Would that be possible, do you think? And do you think it would be an effective way to get some movement on the issue?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: We share the concerns expressed by both Houses of Congress about the upcoming elections in Ukraine and about selective prosecutions. I think we’ve been very clear ourselves, directly and privately with Ukrainian leaders and in public about our concerns about selective prosecutions, and the need for free and fair elections.

It is already the policy of the United States to deny visas to people who commit serious violations of human rights. It is not our policy at present to cut off ties with the Ukrainian government as part of an effort to get them to do the right thing on elections or prosecutions -- we don’t believe that that would be effective. We want to continue to engage and make clear that there are other consequences to failure to act in these areas and I think they know what those consequences are, they’re already in effect. Our bilateral relationship can’t be what we would like it to be so long as they’re doing this. I think they’re going to struggle to get support from IMF members for the economic assistance they need, so long as they haven’t dealt with this. The European Union has made clear that the Association Agreement, a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement, won’t move forward. So there are other pressures the Ukrainians are feeling -- and that’s what we’re going to continue to pursue.

QUESTION: On the Magnitsky list, do you see any situation in which the administration might support the efforts in the Congress to adopt the Magnitsky list?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, it depends on what you mean by the Magnitsky list. As you know, we strongly support Permanent Normal Trade Relations with Russia because now that Russia’s going to join the WTO it’s in American firms’ interest to have PNTR extended to Russia -- we’ve just been very clear that that should happen as a core American economic interest.

Congress in both houses has attached legislation to the PNTR measure that would have implications for democracy and human rights in Russia, including what you’re referring to in the case of those responsible for the imprisonment and death of Sergei Magnitsky.

We completely share Congress’ intent in making sure that those who were responsible for this crime are punished. But as I noted before, it’s already our policy to deny visas to anyone who would be implicated in such a crime, and we’ve already done so. We’ve been clear that there are people who will not get a visa to the United States because of this.

So in that sense, there are still some differences between the two Houses on what exactly -- that’s why it’s impossible to say do we support that legislation because there are still different versions that they have to work out. We certainly share Congress’ view that there should be consequences for those involved in suppression of democracy, grave human rights violations -- but we’re also absolutely clear that PNTR should move ahead -- it’s in America’s interest to do so; it’s not a gift to Russia; it’s something that’s in our own interest to do.

QUESTION: Thank you so much.

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