Interview by Interfax Information Service
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
QUESTION: Russia says the American forces do not fight opium crops in Afghanistan actively enough. Why is it so?
ANSWER: Obviously, I cannot explain why others would make that suggestion, what I can offer is the evidence of just the past year. In the past year, our governor-led eradication campaign, whereby we in the United States Government provide resources to local governors to do eradication, have produced substantial reductions in opium poppy cultivation in the two largest producing provinces in Afghanistan: Helmand Province and Kandahar Province. In both provinces the overall cultivation has dropped by an estimated 50%, so I would suggest to those who say we are not serious about eradication to look at those figures.
Obviously, it is difficult to eradicate opium poppy, if you do not have security on the ground, if you do not have permanent state presence, if you do not have law enforcement and police presence in the communities. And I acknowledge Afghanistan remains a very complicated situation, but I do suggest, as is frequently the case, we have made substantial progress. The criticism is a year or two behind where we are today.
QUESTION: Why does the United States refuse to join the CSTO-led Channel operation?
ANSWER: I am afraid the simple answer to that question is, to the best of my knowledge, we were not invited to join the CSTO mechanism, as we were not invited to join the SCO, Shanghai Cooperation Organization mechanism. We agree with the effort. We applaud CSTO‘s plan and strategy and initiative to attack narcotics production in Afghanistan and its trafficking through Central Asia on the way to market. And we are happy to be supportive, but obviously since we are not members of, observers of or invitees of it, we must have a different mechanism whereby we can support.
Our proposal, by the way is, that we would support through CARICC, through the Central Asia Regional Information Coordination Center headquartered in Almaty that includes the five Central Asian nations and the Russian Federation as members of CARICC. We are an observer in that organization, so we can be supportive, but it is difficult for us to participate in initiatives by organizations of which we are not members.
QUESTION: Some experts say that the U.S. is not interested in fighting drugs in Afghanistan, because the main drug threat comes to the U.S. from Latin America, Colombia say, but not from Afghanistan. Do you agree with that?
ANSWER: Look, obviously most of the illicit drug product consumed in the United States of America comes from Latin America, whether cocaine, which comes from, principally comes from the three Latin American nations Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, or heroin, most of the heroin that is in the United States’ market tends to come up from Mexico and to a small extent elsewhere in Central America. I do not deny that.
I also, however, would quote the President of the United States who has said publicly and repeatedly: our objectives in Afghanistan, for which we have dedicated a vast amount of blood, lives and treasure, hundreds of billions of dollars, are a democratic society, a secure and stable country, and an economically prosperous country. We cannot expect any of those objectives to be accomplished so long as Afghanistan is the world‘s leading producer of heroin and opium. So, it is obviously in our national interest as well to address the drug threat from Afghanistan. Perhaps, we have different reasons for our commitment to the task, but our objective is exactly the same. The Russian Federation‘s objectives and the U.S. Government‘s objectives are exactly the same on drugs in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Talking about Russia, do you think it is capable of fighting drug trafficking from Afghanistan given that Russia has virtually transparent borders with Central Asian countries, such as Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and so on?
ANSWER: It is more complicated. There is no question whatsoever that when you reduce your borders or, in fact, eliminate your borders, which is a good thing for trade and commerce, it is the direction of much of the world. In Europe or for that matter as free trade agreements are developed among other countries in the world, borders are gradually disappearing, but a non-existent border becomes an opportunity obviously for criminal organizations and narcotics traffickers.
The challenge for the Russian Federation, its government and its law enforcement institutions is to figure the best mechanisms to account for the diminished border controls between the Russian Federation and several Central Asian countries and their need and desire to control the flow of narcotics from Afghanistan to the Russian Federation, that is a law enforcement challenge, that’s an intelligence challenge, that’s a challenge for the courts and the legal system, that is a challenge for community leaders to control their own communities, that is a challenge in many ways for internal law enforcement. In other words if you are not going to have border control, you need to have greater control within the country itself of the movement of traffic. It is complicated, it is not impossible.
QUESTION: Russia plans to ban sales of codeine drugs without prescriptions. Do you think it is the right way to go and are there similar restrictions in the U.S.?
ANSWER: Obviously, that is a decision for the Russian Federation and its government. I am not precisely certain but I believe codeine in its clinical form does require a prescription in the U.S. In other words, it is legal but only if formally prescribed by a registered doctor, medical doctor, licensed to practice medicine in the United States of America. Now that works for us, although I have no doubt whatsoever that there is some abuse. There is less abuse so long as the prescription is required, because in order to abuse it on a massive scale, a licensed doctor would have to participate in the fraud and would eventually risk losing his license to practice medicine in the United States of America.
Every country has its own system, and I do not suggest in any way that it would be appropriate for me to offer an opinion on how the Russian Federation chooses to control, manage, restrict or permit the sale and use of codeine in the Russian Federation.
QUESTION: Some Russian experts say that it is necessary to introduce some laws that would make it necessary to check, examine adolescents and young people if they are on drugs, do you think that the idea is worth considering?
ANSWER: Again, it is not my place to offer a view as to what the Russian Federation should do. The United States of America, the Russian Federation and all of the nations of the world are signatories to a number of international conventions, UN conventions that are conventions on human rights, conventions on civil and political rights, conventions on protection of minors and children. Every government has an obligation to abide by those standards, but how they then choose to apply their internal laws and policies so long as they comply with their international obligations is a sovereign decision for each individual country.
In the United States of America, we actually have somewhat different policies among the 50 different states. In all of them, our law requires respect for the rights of minors and children, and it normally requires up to a certain age the consent of the parents, or at least one parent, before their child can be subject to any law enforcement activity whatsoever. That is our system. But every country has a right to its own system so long as they comply with their global international obligations.