Media Roundtable with Trud, 24 Hours, and Standart Dailies
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Thanks for coming together for this. This is my first official visit to Bulgaria and I spent a very rich day meeting with the Prime Minister, the President, the Foreign Minister, the Defense Minister and others. I wanted to come here to discuss a range of global and regional issues, to talk about our cooperation on law enforcement and anti-crime and anti-corruption efforts; I wanted to come and express our support for Bulgaria’s efforts as a NATO ally in Afghanistan, and the Balkans, generally, because Bulgaria really has been an excellent solid partner of the United States; it is a country that has made great strides over the past 20 years as it advanced towards the EU and NATO membership. And I wanted to talk about energy issues. The United States and the Obama Administration is committed to energy diversity in Europe, and I think Bulgaria plays a key role in that process, so I wanted to consult with counterparts here on that as well. Then finally, there is a set of regional issues we are very much engaged in the Balkans and Central Europe, and Turkey and Greece. In fact, I’m going to Greece tomorrow. It was important to consult with the Bulgarian counterparts. There’s a lot of expertise here on those areas and I had the opportunity with all of the people I mentioned today to discuss those things. And finally, inevitably, I need to mention the turbulence in the Arab world that has been going on for the past several weeks that affects us all; it certainly affects this region in different ways, and all of NATO – so that was another big topic for our very rich discussions in the course of the day. With that I would be very happy to take any of your questions.
QUESTION: As you mentioned about NATO and the turbulence in the Arab world, so actually at this moment the U.S. is discussing with NATO possible military action against Libya. Is it possible to do some militarily operation against Libya – what is the possibility for military intervention?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I think we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves on that score. We have said that all options are on the table. Given such a turbulent volatile situation, it would be imprudent not to be prepared to consider all alternatives. And Secretary Clinton has said that that consideration of alternatives includes the consideration of potential no-fly zones. And NATO, the Supreme Allied Commander, has been tasked to undertake prudent planning. So all of that is true, and I think the right thing to do. But it is premature to be thinking or speculating about military interventions. That’s not what we would want to do here. It’s for the Libyan people to determine their future, and nobody is thinking in terms of an outside invasion or military intervention.
QUESTION: I asked this question because U.S. carriers have started to move near the Libyan border, actually, in the sea.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: As I said, we are taking and considering all prudent actions. There have been ferries going in and out; we have seen cases of Libyan aircraft being used. And in a situation like that, you just want to be ready, and that’s what NATO is there for. And the actions you mentioned are the sort of prudent steps that we think is appropriate to take. It’s not a signal of a pending military invasion. It’s doing what we think is necessary – both to deal with potential contingencies and also to signal that we think the end of this regime is coming. We are trying to send this signal to the people of Libya that there’s really no point in rallying to the Qaddafi regime because it’s on its way out.
QUESTION: How much is the United States losing in oil contracts and other business contracts in Libya, and how long do you intend to allow this situation to last, in Libya?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I don’t know the answer to that question. I can only say that right now the top of our concern is not contracts lost or oil contracts fulfilled. We have a violent situation, and the future of Libya is at stake and a lot of lives are at stake – that’s what we are focused at on at the moment. Obviously, the removal of Libyan oil from the international market is an important factor and it has caused the price to go up a little bit, but that’s not first and foremost our concern, and secondly it also needs to be kept in perspective – Libya is just a few percent of the world oil market.
QUESTION: Mr. Gordon, you mentioned all those military precautions which are being taken around Libya – ready for what? What are the options which may trigger some kind of military action?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: As I said, I don’t want to speculate on the different precise scenarios that may or may not come about. I gave a couple of examples that already we’ve had our own ferries going in and out of Libya to pick up our citizens, and when you’re doing that in a turbulent violent context you want to be prepared. I’ve mentioned that Libya has put aircraft – fighter aircraft – in the air and used them, and you want to be prepared for that type of thing. So those are some examples of the types of things that you want to be prepared for. As I said, it’s not useful to speculate as to how these things might be used. We’ve seen around the world – in situations like this – contingencies come up that you weren’t necessarily focused on; it’s just important to be ready for anything that could transpire.
QUESTION: In the past few years we’ve seen obvious warming relations between the United States and Libya. Are you ready to assist in some way Mr. Qadhafi to get out of this situation in the least – not in the worst way for him?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Any specific U.S. assistance, to my knowledge, has not come up. I would just say that first of all, as the President has said, he needs to go. And if and when he decides to go, I’m sure a way can be found to remove him from the scene.
QUESTION: You said to be prepared -- are you expecting a provocation from the Libyan regime?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Are we expecting a provocation?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Already we have seen a provocation from the Libyan regime. That’s the point, and that’s what the President said – that when a regime is forced to resort to widespread violence in order to maintain its grip on power, it has clearly lost the support of the people and it has clearly lost the legitimacy, and therefore it needs to leave. So there’s already been -- I mean, the violence we have seen from Tripoli so far, from the Qadhafi regime – is already a provocation, a massive provocation.
QUESTION: Would you mind if we jump to Afghanistan now? Do you still expect Bulgaria to send some more troops there?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Let me first say how grateful we are for the contributions that Bulgaria has already made to Afghanistan. This is a serious challenge to the international community, a serious challenge to NATO and countries like Bulgaria that are stepping up with sizable troop commitments, medical facilities, training civil capacity – I had a very good discussion with the Defense Minister about this - is critical contribution to our common security. I didn’t come here on a mission to ask for more troops from Bulgaria. I did come in part to thank Bulgaria for what it is already doing in Afghanistan which is very significant. It is also the case as we move forward that we’re all going to have to continue to assess what we are in a position to contribute to both in the military side and the civil society side. I think in the wake of the NATO Summit in Lisbon, we have a good plan in place to move towards a transition to lead Afghan authority by 2014 – that’s what we are focused on. But we are all going to have to remain flexible in adapting to the needs on the ground. But my main point is that we value the contributions Bulgaria is making to this common effort.
QUESTION: What happened to the – we haven’t heard very much about it – the Strategic Defense in Europe that had been prepared once? Is this idea now off the table?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: The Strategic Defense – you mean Missile Defense?
QUESTION: Yes, Missile Defense.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Missile Defense is far from off the table. Missile Defense is moving forward. President Obama presented a plan in September 2009 – the European Phased Adaptive Approach – because there is a growing threat from ballistic missiles to Europe, to American troops in Europe, to the United States, to our allies, and we need to be able to deal with that threat. And NATO embraced that proposal and agreed that the European Phased Adaptive Approach should be the U.S. contribution to a NATO missile defense. And at the Lisbon Summit, NATO agreed that NATO should have the capability to deal with this threat, and so we are moving forward. The President has said that deployment of the first phase should be underway in 2011, and we are still on that timetable because it is a common threat that we feel we need to deal with.
QUESTION: Are the differences with the Russians settled?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: We’ve made a lot of progress with Russia. As you well know, Russia vehemently opposed the previous administration’s missile defense plans that were based on ground-based interceptors in Poland and aradar in the Czech Republic. This administration, the Obama administration, reviewed those plans and concluded that a better approach was to not deploy the ground-based interceptors in Poland and the X-band radar in the Czech Republic but instead take advantage of developing technology of a new type of missile, the Standard Missile 3 – SM 3 – and to deploy that in Northern Europe and Southeastern Europe, in this case in Poland and in Romania, plus Aegis ships that would be deployed initially in the Mediterranean and elsewhere and gradual deployments over…
QUESTION: What kind of ships?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Aegis. And that is what we are moving forward with. Russia had and has questions about that approach as well, but less so than it did about the previous project. But I think it is important to know that at the Lisbon Summit NATO and Russia agreed to cooperate on missile defense. They agreed to resume theater missile defense exercises and they agreed on an assessment of 21st century security challenges which included the ballistic missile threat. So we’ve made a lot of progress with Russia. We have a very clear vision in mind of how NATO and Russia can cooperate on missile defense in our mutual security. The point I am making is that missile defense should not be seen as anti-Russian in any way. It’s not designed to deal with Russian missiles; it’s designed to deal with missile threats from beyond Europe that affect all of us, including Russia. And we think we can get to a point where we’re actually working together with Russia in a positive way rather than in any antagonistic way.
QUESTION: When do you think a decision will be taken if some elements of this shield will be placed in Bulgaria?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, I think as I described it, it’s a Phased Adaptive Approach, and over the next decade we will be adapting to the threat and moving forward in different ways. So there is no deadline whereby there is a certain architecture and, once it’s decided on a certain day, that’s the end of the story. I think all our allies will be participating and contributing in different ways, and those ways will evolve over time.
QUESTION: Do you think that Turkish chances of getting some elements of this shield have diminished already, given the latest developments, and the Turkish rapprochement with Iran and other Arab countries?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: At the Lisbon Summit, all our allies agreed that this is a capability that NATO should have, all our allies including Turkey, and we can only go on that basis that Turkey agrees that there is a growing threat and NATO needs to be in a position to deal with that threat.
QUESTION: So, if you’re saying that in the next decade there is a possibility to deploy some elements of this shield in Bulgaria. Is it possible?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I am not excluding that. I think again the whole concept of a Phased Adaptive Approach is flexibility in terms of what the requirements are and meeting the needs as the threat may change.
QUESTION: Mr. Gordon, your sphere of interest is Eurasia, as far as I know. Does this include China?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: No. My bureau is Europe and Eurasia which goes from Portugal; it includes Russia, it includes the Caucasus, but it doesn’t include…
QUESTION: And Central Asia as well?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: It does not include Central Asia or Asia what we would consider.
QUESTION: I have a question which goes a little bit back to the first subject we discussed. According to you, what is the prevailing mood in the United States? Is there an Islamic threat to Europe or not, especially in light of the latest events?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: We don’t talk in those terms. When you said the latest events, which latest events are you referring to?
QUESTION: Libya, probably
QUESTION: I mean, the events which are happening in the Arab world.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: There’s obvious turbulence and many challenges emanating from the broader Middle East that’s been clear for some time. But we don’t talk or think in terms of an Islamic threat to Europe.
QUESTION: But Israel seems to be very annoyed by the latest events. And I’ve heard comments that Israel in a way feels betrayed by the fact that the United States has supported the fall of regimes which are friendly and more cooperative with Israel.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I think these developments in the Middle East have raised lots of questions in lots of places, including sometimes within the same individuals who see potential for huge positive change but are also very nervous about the consequences of such change. And it’s true that such a change brings about uncertainty, and some of these regimes that have fallen, namely Egypt, where there was a certain factor that could be counted on in Israel’s case, the Camp David peace agreements, and 30 years of peace with a crucial neighbor. So it’s understandable that Israel has anxieties about what will follow. Whether there’d be instability – could there be an Islamist regime; what’s the fate of the Camp David peace accords? – it is true that Israel has had questions, and it’s not the only one in the region that has wondered about what will follow. But what I would say is first of all, it really is up to the people of Egypt and Tunisia and these other countries what type of governments they should have, and we strongly support their aspirations to more freedom and democracy. And I don’t think any of us wants to be in a position of opposing that simply because we are afraid of the uncertainties or the unknown. But secondly, I would say one shouldn’t overstate the American role in dictating these outcomes because you referred to those who think that we are responsible for pushing this or that regime out. We don’t control the world as much as sometimes people attribute to us, and it’s not the right way to think about it, to imagine that we had…
QUESTION: You are trying to shape it in some way.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Of course we are trying to shape it. We are trying to shape it in a positive way, and there is an opportunity to do so. But one of the positive things that I think is emerging in these countries is that the people of these countries are taking their future into their own hands. We didn’t decide to change the regime in Tunisia or Egypt. The people stood up and said they weren’t satisfied with the way they’re being governed, and they demanded change. And we – it is true – embrace the notion that people should be able to influence their own future.
QUESTION: How long, in your opinion, will it take for these reforms and changes to continue in the Arab world – it’s a year, two years, ten years?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: You know, getting back to uncertain, I don’t think we know. I do think we’re seeing only the beginning of this process. No one should think that somehow Tunisia and Egypt are past events, and now we can think about other things. Regimes that had been in power for a long time – in the case of Egypt, 30 years, in the case of Libya more than 40 years, and I think in Tunisia, closer to 20 – are being removed; there’s going to be uncertainty and change. First of all, in democracy, these questions are never answered. It’s constantly evolving, and I suspect there would be many ups and downs and twists and turns in the fate of these countries. We can only hope and try to shape it in such a way that even if there are setbacks and twists and turns, the longer-term trend is one towards democracy and stability, which really would be good for the people living in those countries, and for us.
QUESTION: You’re dealing with Europe and Eurasia. I wonder when you try to call Europe, who do you call, actually, who’s the leader? Would you agree that it’s a big problem that there is actually no leader in Europe?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: As you know, that’s a question that has been around for a long time and it’s one that will never have an answer. It’s not a one or another thing, that either we call an individual in Brussels or we call the member states. It’s always going to be some combination of both. Over time, there has been more and more authority in the European Union compared to the member states. But it’s still a balance, and the answer is - today and will remain – both. And that has been the case in every issue that we have just discussed. As Egypt emerged, as Libya emerged, we called High Representative Catherine Ashton, but we also called the foreign ministers of the member states, and we’ll continue to do that. The balances may change, and in some issue it might be more one or the other, but it’s always going to be some combination, and that’s ok. I would say, though, because the tone of your question suggested a divide in the EU and a divide between the EU and the member states, I do think that Europe is coming more and more together on these issues. You have certain spectacular cases like Iraq which completely divided the Europeans and deeply divided the Europeans. But one, you know, that’s now almost a decade ago when that split took place, and two, it’s more the exception than the rule. Think through everything else that we’re dealing with. On these recent cases in the Arab world, the EU acted very quickly. This Council decision on measures to deal with Libya last week was remarkably fast and remarkably unified.
QUESTION: You mean surprisingly, or…?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, surprisingly given how long it usually takes the European Union to come together on anything. Just, inevitably, when you have to get 27 countries to agree on anything, it’s not easy. It came together remarkably quickly. On Iran, as recently as 5 – certainly 10 years ago – [inaudible] deep divisions over how much pressure, reluctance on sanctions. Look at the European Union on Iran now. The complementary sanctions to Resolution 1929 came very quickly, strong and with little dissent, even among those traditionally more opposed to sanctions. On the Balkans, which once deeply divided the European Union in the early 1990s – Yugoslavia’s falling apart, deep divisions – now, I won’t say that there is an exact harmony of view in every single EU state, but there is a EU policy and relative coherence on the issue. And I think across the board, there is increasing coherence within Europe and coherence across the Atlantic. And issues on which we have had bitter transatlantic disputes, now we are cooperating well on whether it’s Iran, Afghanistan, Missile Defense, Balkans, Africa, and that’s a positive thing.
QUESTION: Don’t you think that Europe is going to be a secondary player in the world power play, I think, between the United States and China? Of course, we are allies, but we don’t have a say in major issues.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, I’ll tell you how we look at it. Obviously, the United States is a major power, China is an increasing power, India – but when we in Washington look around the world and ask ourselves, who is our potential partner on issue X or Y, first on the list tends to be Europe. Take the cases I mentioned – Iran – the Europeans are our partners in trying to deal with the diplomacy of the Iranian nuclear issue; certainly in North Africa, Middle East in the last few weeks. Now, of course we are in touch with India and China on the Libya issue, but we are really working this together with the Europeans. Afghanistan – who’s got 40,000 troops in Afghanistan? China and India and Brazil are rising powers, but they are not the ones that we are turning to help us deal with this major global challenge, so that needs to be put in perspective. Yes, they are emerging powers and, yes, Europe is divided and so on, but it’s still the case that when we need to deal with global challenges; it is the relatively…it’s the democratic, prosperous, militarily capable members of the European Union we are working with first and foremost, and those are the countries with whom we share values and interests.
QUESTION: Do you want to say that the trans-Atlantic link is still alive but it’s dying down in a way?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: It is absolutely still alive. It’s not used for the same purpose that it once was. We don’t have to… the primary pre-occupation is no longer the defense of Europe from a Soviet threat but when you go to the 21st century challenges that we are dealing with, I think it’s still alive.
QUESTION: One of the challenges is energy security, one of the topics of your visit here. So how do you see the participation of Bulgaria in delivering the energy security of Europe? So you know we are participation in two main projects for gas pipelines, but it’s my opinion that one of the pipelines probably will not be a reality, or not very soon.
QUESTION: Or even both.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: That remains to be seen. I do think Bulgaria is a critical piece of that puzzle. First of all, we believe that energy security, energy diversity in Europe is critical. It’s critical not only to avoid shutdowns or shutoffs as we have seen in the past – including that affected Bulgaria – but it’s critical to avoid the political dependence that comes when you are dependent on a single supplier for energy. And just as a general rule, it is in countries’ national interest to have diversity of supply to avoid crises or shutoffs, to avoid political dependence and economically because you can get a better price when you have alternative suppliers. So that’s why we have been so committed to energy diversity in Europe through the US-EU Energy Council and bilaterally, and all of those issues require one way or another Bulgarian participation. And the more Bulgaria is connected to neighboring states and the more Bulgaria is supportive of these alternative energy routes, we think the better for Bulgaria and the better for Europe.
So yes, there are challenges and no one can guarantee that this or that pipeline will be built. But you know, I remember the whole debate about Baku-Ceyhan in the 90s and the same thing was said, and ultimately countries came to see it in their strategic interests to do this, just as I believe they are now. And even in the past months, you have seen, I think, an increase in European commitment to this goal. You saw at the EU Council – they decided on pursuing interconnectors—and you saw it in Barroso’s visit to Azerbaijan where he made commitments on supplies from the Caspian. So I think that Europeans understand that it’s not an economic issue but a strategic, geo-political issue as well, and that’s a positive thing.
QUESTION: You know, Richard Morningstar was here, I think two years ago, and we were talking about the same thing. And as far as I know, the only thing that’s changed so far is Bulgaria’s signature on this South Steam project. Do you see any improvement from Bulgaria’s side or any movement ahead on diversification?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, I can tell you from my talks here today I got the impression that Bulgaria understands, agrees that energy diversity is an important thing. I gave the example of looking at interconnectors and specific projects are in place to develop Bulgaria’s connections with its neighbors which is a critical piece of avoiding overreliance on a single source. And I think Bulgaria is committed to the Southern Corridor alternatives that I mentioned as well. So, yes, it’s my impression…obviously, final deals have to be done on these things, but I do get the sense that the government here agrees with the notion that countries are better off when they have a more diversified energy supply.
QUESTION: Let’s be more specific about the Nabucco project. Iran is talking about energy diversity, Nabucco is a project which implies this idea in the best sense, but the project is stalled. We have been talking ten years already about it, and the obvious reason is that we are not sure if there is enough gas to put in this pipe. And this gas should come from Central Asia or from Iran, probably. What is the American position – could we accept gas from Iran?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: No. We don’t think Nabucco depends on gas from Iran nor are we committed to Nabucco. Lately, when we talk about Southern corridor or diversity, it’s going to depend on supply, it’s going to depend on demand, it’s going to depend on market forces coming together to decide which of the alternative corridors are the best ones. I think there has been progress on the supply side and the demand side, even without Iran, which for other reasons we think is not the right way to go. It may – now, sometimes there are competing strategic objectives – it may be a way of finding more supply for energy diversity. But if a consequence of that [inaudible] is that it takes the pressure off of Iran and undermines our strategy on containing the Iranian nuclear program, which is a very serious thing, for us it is not a strategically smart move to make so that’s why we’ve taken it off the table.
QUESTION: But this may change in time?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: We would welcome developments that reassure the international community that Iran wasn’t pursuing a nuclear weapons program that satisfy the Security Council resolutions that then made it possible to rely on Iranian oil and gas supplies. But we haven’t seen that yet and therefore aren’t prepared to support the notion that Iran should be part of this picture.
QUESTION: What about – I saw the message from the government after your meeting with the Prime Minister – the efforts of the Bulgarian government fighting corruption, one of the main topics here in the past 20 years?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I am glad you raised that because it was an important discussion with the Prime Minister and an important aspect of what I want to talk about here because I did want to signal our support for those efforts. I think that, first of all as a general rule, we believe that countries need to tackle – if they are going to be successful, respected members of the European Union and NATO – then they need to be and seen to be dealing with corruption issues, crime and rule of law. I think there has been important progress made here and I wanted to underscore our support for that and our willingness to contribute to those efforts because we know how hard it is. I also wanted to note that real challenges remain and more work needs to be done, and again we are prepared to help with that. Because if Bulgaria is going to succeed as a democracy in the European Union and attract the foreign investment it needs, then it needs to be seen as a place where corruption has no role and organized crime is being dealt with. So that was an important set of issues to discuss with the Prime Minister. I think he is committed to doing so, and we are prepared to help as we can.
QUESTION: Is it succeeding, because it’s very difficult from inside sometimes to see the results of this fight?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: It is hard to see, it’s hard to measure. Our impression is that important progress has been made. It is also our impression that more work needs to be done, there are continuing challenges and I think that’s the view of the European Union as well. So that’s why, as I say, we want to applaud and support the efforts that have been undertaken while also underscoring the need for constant and increased effort.
QUESTION: Maybe the last one and a short one? Can we expect a high-ranking Bulgarian visit to the United States - Prime Minister, for example?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I don’t have anything to announce on visits, but you will be the first to know.
QUESTION: Or, awaiting a visit here in Bulgaria also?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: When we have something to announce, then we’ll make sure you get word. Thank you very much.