Media Availability at the Global Security 2011 Forum
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Thanks. I will be very brief. Really, just to thank you for coming out and apologies for being late.
I was delighted to have a chance to be in Bratislava today for this conference. It’s an opportunity to talk about the way the United States sees Central Europe and Europe and its role in global security, but also to have an opportunity to meet with counterparts. I met with foreign ministers and senior officials from Visegrad-4 countries, from Baltic countries and other Central European counterparts.
We put a great priority on cooperation with our European partners on European issues and on global issues. And just obviously in the past weeks one of the biggest issues has been how we handle this North African/Middle East development. As I say, from the start the Obama administration has wanted the international community to speak with one voice, wanted to make sure that we’re in close touch with our EU and NATO counterparts, and I think we’ve done just that through the Security Council Resolution, through Secretary Clinton’s trip to Geneva earlier this week, through our discussions at NATO and our discussions with the EU, and I carried through that process today in some of my discussions with counterparts. It’s just one example of many of how we work with our friends and colleagues in Central Europe and in Europe more broadly.
In my speech to this group I addressed the full range of Trans-Atlantic issues including NATO, missile defense, European security cooperation and Afghanistan. I would be happy to address any of those or other topics with you this evening.
QUESTION: When was the last time when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heard the word Slovakia in a sentence related to foreign policy? What do you think?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Secretary Clinton is very well aware of the contributions of all of our European allies to security. I don't know if you mentioned Afghanistan specifically, but she met with Foreign Minister Dzurinda not too long ago. So for at least half an hour she heard it in that context a number of times and was focused on the partnership and expressed appreciation for the partnership in terms of Slovakia’s contribution to regional issues like integration in the Balkans.
At that time, if I recall, we were very much focused on the process with Serbia following the ICJ opinion and Slovakia as a key player in the Balkans but also a non-recognizer of Kosovo had an important voice. She consulted with the Minister on how we could together deal with that situation. It included a proposed UN General Assembly Resolution and Slovakia played an important role. I myself consulted with the Minister and I think together we and the EU, including Slovakia, managed to maneuver through difficult terrain together. So that’s just one example among others of how Slovakia has been a partner of the United States.
QUESTION: What do you consider the biggest failure of United States-Russia reset policy?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: We don’t normally talk in terms of failures, but we do recognize there are challenges, and we have been very frank -- First of all, we think the reset overall has been very positive and successful. We have reached concrete agreements in a whole range of areas from the New START Treaty to Russian cooperation in Afghanistan, to Russian cooperation on Iran, to setting up this Bilateral Presidential Commission in areas ranging from the environment to sports, to others, to the 123 Nuclear Agreement with Russia, worked together on Russia’s WTO application. We genuinely believe that now potentially missile defense cooperation, resumption of the NATO-Russia Council. We genuinely believe that U.S.-Russia relations are in a much better place and that we benefit, Russia benefits, and all of Europe benefits from that reset.
But we have also been very clear and direct that there are things we disagree about. One of them, since you asked for a specific example, is Georgia. We have a very different view on Georgia. We respect Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We believe that Russia is currently in violation of it. We raise it with the Russians at every level pretty much every time we see them. President Obama has raised it with President Medvedev. Secretary Clinton raises it with Minister Lavrov. We have real disagreements.
We also are very clear on human rights and democracy and our emphasis of the need for Russia to respect rule of law and free speech and free media. And the relationship we’d like to have with Russia includes a Russia that becomes increasingly democratic and again, it’s something that we don’t pretend is going entirely in the way that we like, even as we also focus on the things that we’ve accomplished.
QUESTION: You speak now about the missile defense system. How should missile defense cooperation with Russia look?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: First, just to clarify, we have talked about cooperation with Russia on missile defense. We do not foresee Russian participation in U.S. missile defense or NATO missile defense. NATO missile defense is designed to be NATO countries protecting NATO territories, forces and populations. NATO will be responsible for NATO.
When we talked about cooperation, we envisage ways in which Russia may be pursuing its own missile defense capabilities, and there could be ways to take advantage of each other’s technologies or early warning or sensors or even ultimately more than that. But we’re very clear that we’re not talking about an integrated system or a joint system or a system in which Russia would participate, but rather two independent systems that would cooperate with each other.
QUESTION: To continue on missile defense topic, what is the place of Ukraine in these talks, because of the non-alliance status and these negotiations between NATO and Russia? Should Ukraine come back to Russian system? And after these Georgia common negotiations with NATO is there some opportunity for Ukraine to participate in whole negotiation for missile defense?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: That’s a question that hasn’t yet been answered. As I said, first things first. First the United States made a proposed national contribution to European missile defense through our European Phased Adaptive approach. NATO endorsed that approach and agreed to work together to develop it. We have a plan in place to do so. It is designed to protect, as I said, NATO countries, populations and territories. So there are countries in Europe that are not Russia, but are also not members of NATO and one of the issues we’ll have to think about, obviously we don’t want anyone excluded from protection against ballistic missiles.
NATO’s ability to defend itself will no doubt also imply an ability to defend others, even if they’re not part of the NATO system, just because of geography. If there’s an incoming missile and you intercept it early on, then anyone who could have been in range would be protected, but that’s obviously not the same thing as being a part of it, and it’s something we’re going to have to think about ourselves and discuss with our friends in Ukraine and elsewhere.
QUESTION: How much is for United States Hungarian dual citizenship an issue, especially in the sense that this is a disagreement between two allies, and especially in the sense of some citizens of countries which are not on the visa-waiver program could be admitted to the U.S.?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: It’s an issue because we care about our friends and differences they might have and we follow it closely and try to provide advice if we can, but ultimately as you underscored, it is a matter between two friends and bilateral allies of the United States. We encourage them to resolve it through dialogue and don’t pretend to have a particular mediation role in it.
QUESTION: I’d like to ask you how you look on current cuts in defense budgets in European countries?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: We know you’re in a tough economic climate because we are too, and we’re making significant budgetary cuts as well. But at the same time we strongly believe that we have common interests, there are real security challenges, and all Allies need to do their part. NATO has made a recommendation of two percent of GDP to defense spending which is far less than the historical norm and is a level that we don’t think unduly interferes with economic growth or shared prosperity. So we do encourage our allies to maintain such levels of defense spending so that they can contribute.
We have a lot of challenges. While cutting budget deficits is critically important in the world in which we live as we try to deal with Afghanistan and now developments in the Middle East and North Africa that can clearly affect us all in maintaining a robust defense of Europe, it’s important for countries to continue to maintain military capability.
QUESTION: The United States and European Union, they both since the war in Georgia stress the fact that they don’t recognize independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. My question is, sir, what measures must be taken to restore Georgian integrity? Because we are always discussing that we are opposing occupation but what steps must be taken to change it?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: As I noted in response to an earlier question, we’re not satisfied with the status quo in Georgia. We strongly support Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and the status quo we believe is a violation of that. We are active in our bilateral relationship with Russia and through the Geneva talks in efforts to change that status quo, but we haven’t made the progress we would like to see.
We don’t believe there’s a military solution. We don’t believe there’s a short-term solution either. We would like to see, our strategy does include strengthening Georgia and working with Georgia and making Georgia an attractive place, and ultimately the people in South Ossetia and Abkhazia will see that the rest of Georgia is free, prosperous, democratic, moving towards the West and attractive, and if they maintain their current approach they will be none of those things. Then they should want to be part of a unified Georgia. But we have no illusions that there is a quick solution or a military solution. We’re just going to determinedly continue that approach.
QUESTION: So that means this is a long-term strategy to make Georgia attractive and to make Russia less attractive?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: It’s not Russia, it’s South Ossetia and Abkhazia. But yes, --
QUESTION: -- in Russia there is no, any kind of independence of Ossetia and Abkhazia.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: First of all, yes, it is a long term strategy because we certainly don’t see a military solution and we don’t see a quick fix. But we also believe one of the theories of the reset, if you will, is that while they were very difficult, hard problems like this one, it wouldn’t make sense to subordinate the entirety of the rest of the relationship to it and refuse to have any cooperation with Russia until this problem was solved. We don’t think that would be good for us or Russia or Georgia.
We do believe, however, that if we can strengthen the U.S.-Russian relationship, give Russia a stake in it, gradually increase trust and continue gradually to develop a more democratic Russia, a more secure Russia, that Russian views on some of the harder security challenges we face, like Georgia, might be easier to deal with. So that’s part of the strategy as well.
QUESTION: I want to ask about a popular Libyan/Egyptian question but with a slight focus on our region. What do you think about a possibility of this kind of Libya or Egyptian scenario could happen just in the eastern neighborhood, in this region like Belarus or Ukraine? Not speaking about Azerbaijan or Armenia…
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: You actually reminded me that I skipped that question in the wider forum.
The situations are so different, and one has to be careful about these analogies. But what is clear is that these transitions, revolutions, have triggered thinking all around the world. I think when you see the protestors in Albania, the protestors last week in Armenia, obviously the Egyptians saw the Tunisians, the Bahrainis saw the Egyptians, the Libyans saw all of the above. Inevitably, people have on their mind the question, can we also promote change and bring about transition and win more freedom through protests? So that is on people’s mind. Whether it will actually lead to significant change in any further countries, we don’t know yet, but I do think it’s obvious that this has raised the question of democracy in a number of different places around the world. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.