Philip H. Gordon
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
Bucharest, Romania
August 13, 2012

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Let me just start by thanking you all for coming. It’s a good opportunity to share some views.

I want to say how pleased I am to be back in Bucharest. This is my first official visit as Assistant Secretary. I was actually just in Istanbul with Secretary Clinton and wanted to come here to see key leaders and share some messages from Washington and get a better understanding of the situation.

So I did have a chance to meet today with suspended President Basescu, acting President Antonescu and Prime Minister Ponta.

I came here, obviously, because we are following developments very closely. We care a lot about the partnership between the United States and Romania, and the people of Romania as indicated in our Joint Declaration on the Strategic Partnership for the 21st Century that we agreed last year, and it’s because of this care for Romania and its future and its democracy that we’re concerned about some of the recent developments regarding the conduct of the referendum and the process by which it is being reviewed, and I came here in part to share those concerns.

There have been, as everybody knows, credible allegations about widespread illegal voting in the referendum. There have been efforts to change voter lists that would affect the quorum threshold and apparently attempts to coerce the Constitutional Court regarding the validation of the referendum. All of these things, if confirmed, would raise questions about the legitimacy of whatever outcome were to emerge, and all of these steps would be counter to the values and principles that unite Europe and the United States, and it’s not something we would want to see in a NATO ally and a member of the European Union that is committed to democratic institutions.

I should add that these are not just concerns of the State Department or the United States, but I think they’ve been expressed by others, the European Commission, the Venice Commission, prominent NGOs, and other key NATO allies.

We, the United States, fully support the 11 points provided by the European Commission to help Romania on its democratic path. Ambassador Gitenstein has made our views known both publicly and privately, and I also came here to stress that he is absolutely speaking for Washington, for the Obama administration, when he makes those public and private comments.

I also want to make clear as I made clear to the leaders throughout the course of discussions today, we’re not taking sides and we’re not here to support one party or one leader over any other -- we’re here to support shared principles and democratic institutions and respect for democratic institutions.

Again, as the Ambassador has said, governments come and go in both Romania and in the United States, but what is important is the relationship between our countries and I would add what is important is respect for independent, democratic institutions and values.

So it was in that spirit of care about the relationship, the friendship, that I came here to express these concerns and views with the leadership of this country, to hear from them their perspectives, and to encourage absolute respect for democratic values and institutions and their independence in this process moving forward so that whatever the result might be, it emerges legitimately and allows us to continue to work together as partners.

With that, I’m open to your questions.

QUESTION: I’d like to know if you bring into discussion the strategic partnership agreement between Romania and the United States. If this partnership is in danger by events in Romania. This is my first question.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, no, I made clear, as I just expressed, the United States wants to see an enduring strategic partnership between our two countries. We agreed recently to formalize that partnership and we want to see that move forward.

But I also made clear that it’s hard to bring projects like that into fruition, or it would be hard if there were questions about the legitimacy of democratic processes here. We want a strategic partnership with a democratic NATO ally, and I made clear that when there are questions raised about the common practices and values on which that partnership is based, it’s more difficult to pursue it, so that’s why I hope and expect that leaders will respect these common values and principles so that we can move forward with the partnership.

QUESTION: A second question about the anti-missile shield from Deveselu, have you ever discussed a possibility to replace that elements from Romania if the situation will grow worse in Romania?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: No, we haven’t discussed that. I didn’t discuss that today. It is our full intention to proceed with the plans as agreed. The leaders I met with today expressed the same view, and I don’t think anybody is questioning the importance of moving forward together with that project.

QUESTION: What do you expect concretely from the political leaders of Romania, and more exactly from Victor Ponta and Mr. Antonescu? Concretely, which steps are you expecting from them at this point?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I’m always careful to avoid specific prescriptions in other countries’ detailed constitutional processes. It’s not for me to say exactly how voter lists should be treated or what schedule the Constitutional Court should do its business on. What I asked of them is that they respect the rule of law in Romania and the independence of the institutions of Romania. That’s what we expect from them and all leaders in this country. As I said, we’re not taking sides. It’s not a message directed at any particular individual or individuals, it’s respected across the spectrum and we expect respect for the independent institutions; we expect credible allegations of fraud or interference to be investigated and pursued, and we expect them to support what will be perceived to be a legitimate democratic outcome, and I put it that way meaning it’s not for me to say precisely what that is in some cases or for others, but you often know it when you see it. And it’s their responsibility as leaders and elected leaders to pursue outcomes that would be widely judged by the people of Romania and by outside actors as legitimate and sometimes it helps to bring in a third party validator. We discussed the role that the Venice Commission might be able to play, because when things are partisan domestically and when they’re complicated, it’s sometimes useful to have an external validator put a stamp of approval and that could be useful in some circumstances here. But the bottom line is avoid any actions that Romania’s friends and the Romanian public would question as not fully legitimate.

QUESTION: Did you discuss with the President how he would deal with his opponents in case he returns?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Which President are you talking about?

QUESTION: Basescu.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I’ve met with several different presidents in the course of the day.

Yes. We envisaged a number of different scenarios, but I did discuss with him the scenario in which he might be returned if that’s what the rule of law and constitutional processes bring him back, and urged him to -- like I urged everybody -- respect the rule of law in the country and to the extent possible pragmatically work with the government. Nobody expects these political rivals to be best of friends and to be forming coalitions and happily doing business together, but we do expect them to work within the constitutional structures of the country and to work together in the interests of the people of the country and of our partnership.

There are a number of common projects, some of them have been mentioned already, that shouldn’t be partisan, and I would think leaders on all sides of the spectrum want to see the economy recover; want to see the NATO partnership with the United States and the missile shield go ahead; want to see energy security. So I reminded them that we in our country sometimes often have cohabitation where the leaders of the executive branch and the leaders of the legislative branch are not always the best of friends with the same agendas, but we work within our constitutional structures, and that’s what I encouraged him to do if he’s returned as president.

QUESTION: The ambassador said that governments come and go, and you were repeating this. Does this imply that presidents are not coming and going that easily? Do you have a vested interest in keeping as your main partner in this country, Basescu. We all know that the Brits say “you vote the devil you know.” Probably you have a devil in Basescu and this is it.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Let me clarify. It’s a welcome question. Just to be clear, I could have easily said presidents come and go, administrations come and go. In a democratic process it’s the leadership -- we’re not trying to make a distinction between, as one does in Europe, between the presidency and the government. Leaderships in democracies come and go. And that of course applies to presidencies as well.

This president, like all presidents, will come and go. So don’t misunderstand that expression, and also, just to repeat, no, it’s not about wanting to see the government come and go and the president stay the same. It’s not up to us to decide who should be the president of Romania -- that’s up to the people of the country.

QUESTION: And another question. Do you read the recent political developments in this country in a broader map where the Russian Federation, the events going on in Syria, Turkey, Greece, are also playing their role? So do you see it place Romania on this broader Middle East map so that you could see in this country, given the recent developments, a weak link within the greater map?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Yes, we place Romania in a broader strategic context. Obviously we care about it because we care about the people in the country, but it’s a NATO ally, and NATO is an organization that plays a role all around the world in some of the cases you mentioned, and even further afield like Afghanistan where we appreciate the Romanian contribution.

So of course we care about the health of the democracy in a key NATO ally, not just for the sake of the people but for the sake of our partnership. It’s strategically located, there are a lot of energy issues going on in the region, environmental, trafficking, you mentioned some of the important neighbors -- Russia and Turkey, not too far from the Middle East, refugees --so of course we place it in a wider context and we want a healthy, strong, prosperous democratic partner to help us deal with the challenges we face all around the world.

QUESTION: Are you satisfied with the answers you received from the Romanian officials in your conversations today?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I think it’s fair to say that I heard the right things. I heard -- I shared with you what my message was about respect for democracy and institutions and legitimacy, and I think it’s fair to say that the leaders I spoke to expressed support for those same values and practices. Now obviously it’s what people do more than what they say, but all I can expect in an initial day’s meeting is that they acknowledge the importance of these issues and pledge to respect those principles -- but you’ll have to turn to them and they should tell you themselves where they stand.

QUESTION: Do you think Romania is capable to deal with the situation? Institutionally, does Romania have the institutions working for dealing democratically with this situation, do you think?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: It certainly has the institutions, they just need to be used properly, and that’s what’s being tested now and it is being tested. Again, that’s why I’m here -- because we’re concerned about the trend and the potential outcome.

Institutions can be fragile. It obviously has the institutions and the constitution necessary to be a healthy democracy. But it can be challenged, it’s often challenged in tough times. This is not the first country to face a tricky political situation with questions about removal of a president or governments falling and pending elections and cohabitation. These are all -- these things stress the system, and there’s no question that it’s a challenge for Romania. We want to help Romania pass the test; it would not be in Romania’s interest to fail the test.

Certain leaders might emerge as the, at least nominal leadership, but if their legitimacy is challenged it will not be healthy for them or the country. Financial markets would be spooked, investors would find other places to go, allies would be less comfortable moving forward with common projects, so there are real consequences for actions that would challenge the legitimacy of the country, and I appealed to all of the leaders I saw today to keep that in mind for the sake of Romania’s national interest.

QUESTION: But what will happen if Romania doesn’t pass the test from U.S. point of view?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I think I just described some of the consequences that would emerge if its legitimacy – if these practices and institutions weren’t respected. It’s not a question of anything the United States or any other particular actor might do but no doubt there would be consequences.

QUESTION: You came here, so that means your concern grew after the referendum, because the concern of Washington was expressed at a meeting about the crisis. So how would you describe your concerns today? Actually they grew in intensity after the vote.

The second thing, you talked about the Venice Commission. How would you see it intervene? Did you go into details, how --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Not great details. That would be up to Romanians and the Venice Commission itself. I just noted that it can sometimes be helpful to have this sort of external validator.

Yeah, I think it’s fair to say that our concerns have grown. We expressed them initially in reaction to some ideas about changing the makeup of the court and about questioning the court’s decision that there should be a 50 percent plus one quorum necessary, so we had concerns all along and we expressed them. Sometimes they were taken into account which was a positive thing. But they grew with the questions about the Constitutional Court’s role in validating the referendum, and so when we heard allegations of interfering with the court, when we heard allegations about fraudulent votes, when we heard questions about recounts to change the quorum threshold, yes, we grew more concerned because any of those things could result in questioning the legitimacy of the outcome.

QUESTION: When you say recounts, you mean changing the --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: The voter lists, that’s right. Certain electoral rolls were used for -- and then the question came up well maybe we should take a different look at electoral rolls, and that’s not the normal process to examine the electoral rolls after they’ve been used.

QUESTION: But this process of recounting the electoral list is ongoing. When you met Prime Minister Victor Ponta, this process was still ongoing. Did you ask him if he’s going to stop this process or it was not an issue?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: As I said, I expressed our concern about a process that would put into question the electoral rolls that were used. It’s our understanding that the Constitutional Court asked for the original lists to be delivered, that’s what Mr. Barroso communicated in a letter which we support, and that’s the view that I expressed to Prime Minister Ponta and others here today. So that those initial voter rolls and lists can be examined as part of the validation process by the Constitutional Court. That’s what the court asked for and we said that that’s what should be delivered.

QUESTION: Do you have the impression that the acting president, and the prime minister, got your message in an appropriate way?

QUESTION: I will complete the question. Did they assume something to do in order to calm down Washington and the Western countries?

QUESTION: Because there was a kind of ambivalence during the last weeks between statements done by the acting president and especially by the prime minister abroad and inside the country?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: You ask if they got my message. I can’t speak for them. I can say that I clearly delivered the message that I’ve been sharing with you now. I said earlier that they said the right things. They expressed an absolute commitment to rule of law and the independence of the institutions and a willingness to see that serious allegations of fraud or interference are addressed.

So yes, I can say that I heard the right things about these issues. I believe that my message was heard loud and clear. Now we’d like to see the results so that the outcome in Romania is the democratic legitimate one that will serve everybody.

QUESTION: But there was not anything concrete on this issue of the voters of the electoral rolls? To update them or not to update them. Because the government is clearly saying that they are updating them according to nine categories.

QUESTION: That’s a little bit unclear. I think he refers very clear that among the concerns is the recounting of the electoral lists --

QUESTION: The updating?

QUESTION: Updating, yeah, of the electoral lists.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: That’s up to the court to say exactly what lists it wants to see and what it intends to do with them, and we’d like to see the court address that as quickly as possible and move forward. So it’s not for me to say exactly in what ways lists might be updated or not updated. My understanding is the court asked for the lists that were used. Those lists should be made available. No one should allow for any ambiguity about whether they want to see those lists turned over or not. I did make clear -- again, while the bottom line being it’s up to the court to decide what lists should be used -- that I think everybody needs to be careful about giving the impression that they’re looking for ways to make the numbers different from what they actually were. It is not the normal process to revisit electoral lists after the result and after votes have been counted. Maybe in exceptional circumstances there can be reasons to look at certain factors, but that will be judged, and so that’s what I say from the outside and that’s why I say it might be useful to have the Venice Commission or someone else look at this. If the result were one in which certain lists were used and then they were updated, changed, revised in such a way that changed the outcome, I believe that people would have real questions about that outcome.

QUESTION: In that case, the answer of the acting president, the interim president, the answer of – prime minister should be like this: Okay, we will stop revisiting lists or updating lists and so on. Did they say that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I communicated the view that I just expressed to them and you can ask them where they stand on the issue.

QUESTION: What do you think about the double standard, the double language of the Romanian Prime Minister outside and inside.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, I’ll leave you to characterize his language. I described it.

QUESTION: Mr. Gordon knows only one standard: what he said today, the prime minister today. You didn’t witness him say the other way around. Probably, [inaudible] but only theoretically.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I know what he told me today and we’ll see how this process develops moving forward.

QUESTION: There are some benefits being older, being older than you, with an important exception here. I was witnessing two equally important visits done by high officials of the State Department in the last [20] years. I’ve been here in this house in May ’90 when former State Secretary Eagleburger was here in order to convince Iliescu and his team to let the opposition parties taking part in the elections.

Then I’ve been here in April 2007 when they first dismissed Basescu and when the [Assistant] Secretary of State Daniel Fried came in in order to warn the opposition parties, especially the Liberals, not to withdraw, not to take advantage of this unsure period and to withdraw the Romanian military from Iraq.

Now you are here. Is your visit signaling the same level of concern as the two precedents?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: It’s hard to compare levels of concern with very different circumstances so I’m not going to get into that comparison. I expressed at the beginning that I am concerned, we are concerned. I don’t -- as much as I’d love to visit Romania at any time, a mid-August trip during a constitutional challenge suggests some level of concern about developments rather than just a nice opportunity to have a visit with my friend the ambassador, or some of you.

So yes, I’m not hiding that it reflects a certain degree of concern about developments, but I also want to be clear, as I said, that I’m confident that the message was received. The leaders I saw said the right things, and I’m very hopeful that they’ll also do the right things because I think ultimately they care about the country, and they must agree that a result whose legitimacy is in question will not be good for them or for the country. So I do think it was a very worthwhile visit and I’m glad I had the chance to come, and we’ll look forward to working with what I hope will be a very positive result.

QUESTION: So you didn’t come just because you have been already in the corner in Turkey? That was not an around the corner visit.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: No. I came for the reasons expressed. I would have come anyway. I have been following this closely and discussing with the ambassador the right time to come, because it was important to reinforce the message he’s been giving and convey a message from Secretary Clinton. I’m glad I had the opportunity to do so.

QUESTION: Just to be clear. So you would ask the government to stop updating the lists you think or not?


QUESTION: I‘m sorry, because you said that it’s not up to you to exactly say what the court should get. But on the other hand you say that changing the list after the votes are -- Just to clarify what you -- Do you see the government is entitled to do this update or not?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I think that question has to be answered by the Constitutional Court. They need to say what lists they want to see and decide what to do with it. They need to be able to do that absolutely freely without any pressure from the outside. Those are the principles. It’s not for me to second guess. If they make decisions based on Romanian law and constitution, it’s not for me to second-guess that. I believe it would be reinforced by outside validators like the Venice Commission. So those are the principles that guide the way we’re thinking about this.

But I would repeat what I said, that if the result of this process were one in which the court’s opinions seem to have evolved, possibly under pressure, and that the original lists that were used were revisited and the numbers were changed and that changed the outcome of the vote, I think there would be serious questions from the outside about its legitimacy. That’s not the same as me dictating what it should be. I just note that as an outside observer. I think there would be questions if that’s -- That’s not the typical way of having a referendum, starting with a list, having a vote, having one outcome, looking at the list again and changing it and having a different outcome -- that would not be an ideal way forward.

QUESTION: But the lists are revisited at this moment as a fact.

QUESTION: The process is ongoing.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I think I’ve been clear.

QUESTION: Recently the Poles said that they would prefer to have their own segment, fragmented segment of the missile shield. That was two weeks ago. Do you think that this has something to do with Romanian, I don’t know, unbalanced perspective?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: No. I don’t think so. I don’t think so -- Poland has its own interests in air and missile defense, but I would say about Poland what I said about Romania. We are absolutely clear about the President's intention to deploy all four phases of the Phased Adaptive Approach to European missile defense --

QUESTION: Integrated into NATO?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: -- and integrated into NATO, and we’re going to move forward with that.

Thanks everybody.

[This is a mobile copy of Press Roundtable]

Short URL: