U.S. Department of State
Philip H. Gordon
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
The Hague, Netherlands
January 8, 2013
Media Roundtable in The Hague, The Netherlands
Assistant Secretary Gordon: Thank you, and thanks really to all of you for turning up for this discussion. It really is a pleasure to be here.
Like I said, I’ve spent the day in consultations with Dutch counterparts including the Foreign Minister, the Director General of the Foreign Ministry, the Political Director, the Foreign Policy Advisor to the Prime Minister, and I didn’t have a single specific agenda item in coming here. There’s no one issue that I’m working on with Dutch counterparts -- more than anything I really came to consult with them on the full range of issues we deal with together -- which is a very wide range -- and to express appreciation on behalf of the U.S. government, the Obama Administration, for the partnership that we have with the Netherlands, which is truly excellent and wide-ranging.
It is often the case that people in a position like mine spend their time going to places where we have difficulties and challenges -- that’s sort of inevitable -- but it’s important sometimes to take the time to go and consult with and express gratitude towards those with whom you’re working very well -- that certainly covers this country.
By that I mean the way we’re working together in Afghanistan, where the Netherlands has made tremendous contributions for more than a decade, and continues to maintain troops there, and has made a significant pledge for Afghan National Security Forces after 2014 -- which is not easy, but it’s critical to our common effort there; Iran, where we’re together pursuing a dual track approach including sanctions and financial pressures on one hand, but openness to diplomatic solution and dialogue on the other; dealing together with the huge challenge we face together in Syria, on which again I think we’re on the same page; the Dutch contribution in Libya.
Obviously the economic relationship is huge and we very much, especially at a difficult economic time like this, welcome all of the Dutch investment there is in the United States and the very significant trading relationship we have, which is something that was on my agenda in terms of talks about how we deepen and strengthen that.
As you know, the general approach of the Obama Administration to international affairs has been to recognize the importance of allies and multilateral efforts, knowing that in a difficult and dangerous world we, the Americans, can’t cope with all of these challenges alone -- we need strong partners, democratic partners, partners who bring something to the table, and that is certainly the case for the Netherlands, so it was a real opportunity for me to again discuss this full range of issues with our counterparts.
Secretary Clinton had a chance to meet with the Foreign Minister at the NATO Ministerial in Brussels, had an excellent meeting and kicked off our cooperation within NATO. Obviously there I would highlight the contribution the Dutch and we along with the Germans are making on the Syria question by deploying Patriots to Turkey. It’s just one more and most recent example of the way this country can step up and make a contribution on an important international issue.
We discussed the full range of topics on which we’re engaged together, and I mentioned a few of them. There are many others as well, including the challenges that we face within Europe. We talked about Russia; we talked about the European Union; we talked about the Eurozone, and I would be happy having noted some of the highlights of our conversations to just open it up and hear what’s on your mind.
Question: You mentioned the significant trading relationship and you talked about how to deepen and strengthen it. Did you particularly talk about prospects for a free trade area?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: We did, because as is well known that is something that’s on the transatlantic agenda. It has of course been on the transatlantic agenda for a long time, but I think is now being discussed with renewed seriousness in part because, arguably, the need for it is greater at a time when both Europe and the United States have faced tremendous economic difficulties -- and when you need to look for jobs and growth, expanding trade and investment opportunities is a place you could find it. There are real opportunities there -- I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. We’ve used fiscal policy, we’ve used monetary policy, and expanding trade and investment could be a third pillar in that approach that Europeans and Americans are following.
Our interagency process will soon advise President Obama on whether we think the prospect of a comprehensive trade agreement is worth launching a negotiation. The President’s made clear that he is interested in expanding this trade and investment relationship.
We’re not naïve about the question -- if there are remaining barriers to trade and investment across the Atlantic it’s because they have political constituencies and there’s no low-hanging fruit, so to speak. Nobody has any illusions that this would be easy, but I think it’s fair to say, and I point to, Secretary Clinton addressed this issue in her Brookings speech a couple of weeks ago and I encourage you to take a look where she signaled our potential interest in doing this.
I think it’s fair to say that if our European counterparts are serious about doing the difficult work that would be necessary they would find a willing partner in the United States to our mutual benefit.
Question: The interagency process that you mentioned, that is State Department, Ministry of Finance, all giving advice to the President?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: That’s right. As you recall, the U.S. and the EU set up this high level task force on growth and jobs and has been exchanging views on the subject for about a year, and that’s the transatlantic aspect of it.
Internally, we have an interagency process that is the State Department, the Treasury Department, U.S. Trade Representative, Commerce and other agencies that are all weighing the different aspects of this and will again report to the President on whether they think this is a promising route to pursue, and they’ll do that in the near future.
Question: How does the U.S. government view the Euro crisis? Is the worst over, or is it still in doubt?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: The first point to make about that is we have an enormous stake in the positive outcome of the Euro crisis and that’s why we’ve followed it so closely, why the President follows it on a day-to-day basis and speaks so regularly to his counterparts about it as does the Secretary of State, Secretary of Treasury and so on because I already mentioned Europe being our most important trade and investment partner, but it’s also our most important partner in global affairs, in development assistance, in security cooperation, and so without a prosperous Europe, it not only hits us in the wallet or pocketbook, so to speak, but it has a real impact on our ability to pursue our national interests all around the world -- so we have a huge stake in the positive outcome, and therefore we’ve consistently urged Europeans to act as aggressively as possible and as quickly as possible to deal with it.
No doubt it has been a slow and uneven process, but I think we can say that we’re encouraged by developments over the past year, most of which have been in a positive direction which is something I think has been reflected in the market’s reaction. There’s not a single event, but the setting up of the firewalls, the EFSF and then later the European Stability Mechanism, the ESM; the austerity measures that have been undertaken by a number of governments including this one; the economic reforms that have been undertaken by a number of governments including those that were struggling -- Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Ireland. In a number of cases actually changing governments, in Italy putting in a technocratic government: in Greece, first a technocratic government and then elections which led to a government committed to staying in the Eurozone and committed to austerity in reforms; the Dutch election played its part where once again you had an election outcome that reflected a desire to support and stay in the Eurzone and even stick with reform, economic reform, even in a tough economic climate. The German Constitutional Court decision to approve of measures collectively agreed in the Eurozone; steps towards banking supervision; and then most recently the European Central Bank’s initiative on outright monetary transactions which enables them to buy the bonds in some of the vulnerable countries if it appears that those bonds are not being judged on the basis of what the government is doing but rather irrational market behavior which has helped bring bond rates down in Spain, Italy and elsewhere.
I think you put all of that together and you do have to reach the conclusion that we’re in a lot better place now than we were a year ago or six months ago. I think it’s premature for anyone to be complacent and say well, the problem’s solved and we can move on, but it does appear that European leaders are making the difficult decisions --
Question: Do you think it would help, for instance, if the American government would make a sort of official statement in the sense that we think it’s over or we are encouraged by what’s happening?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: I think we’ve been clear that we’re encouraged by what’s happening -- I think the President has said so and others have said so. We’re also very cautious -- we understand it’s a European problem that requires European leadership and European decisions. We are not, there’s not American money in the firewall; we’re not bailing European countries out; we don’t vote in the European Union or the European Central Bank -- we respect that this is something for European leaders and publics to deal with.
Obviously we have views because we have such a stake -- we have some experience because we went through a financial crisis ourselves, so we share those with our friends and partners in Europe, but ultimately it’s really for European leadership.
Question: Another issue, I’m not sure if it came up today. But the Dutch government has to make a decision here about replacement of the fighter F-16. There is a lot of discussion in the coalition also about the Joint Strike Fighter. It’s still an issue and a good replacement. Did you talk about that today?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: We did because it’s an important issue and we understand the way the Netherlands is thinking about it, and I can just repeat what I said which is that one, we remain committed to the Joint Strike Fighter; and we would like to see the Netherlands remain committed to participate by JSF because not just because of the industrial benefits of doing so to the United States, but because the more countries that participate the less it costs per plane, so that’s in everybody’s interest including our own, but all of our allies.
As an important NATO member what the Netherlands does will be watched carefully by other countries, so that also can help bring costs down -- and going back to the points I made at the very beginning, we want to see strong and capable partners. We need allies like the Netherlands that have advanced aircraft, that can be used in coalition with us as they have so often in the past, and so we not only have an economic or industrial stake in this project working, we want strong and capable allies that have modern advanced defense equipment.
Question: There are a lot of issues about the Joint Strike Fighter that are of concern to Dutch politicians but also to other European partners in the JSF. How should I imagine a conversation with Mr. Timmermans? He’s from the Socialist party who’s opposed to the Joint Strike Fighter. Do you make certain concessions or is he asking some concessions?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: We clearly didn’t discuss it at that level of detail, which is more a Defense Department responsibility than a State Department responsibility, and the Foreign Minister can speak for himself on his own views of the subject, -- I can just share mine which are along the lines I just said.
Clearly, this is a hugely complicated and ambitious and long term project that always has many variables and aspects, but the bottom line is we in the United States remain committed to it, we think it will ultimately prove to be a hugely versatile, newest generation, important contribution to our collective defense needs.
Question: To put it another way, according to you is there a feeling that your side needs a push in the back to still be on board after this year when they finally make this issue?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: Well, for any major defense or other purchase like this, these are legitimate questions to ask. Nobody expects a country to just spend, especially in these tight economic times, tough defense budgets, to not ask hard questions, but we think we have the answer to those questions, and like I said, I don’t know if it’s a push in the back, but it was important to me to make clear that we think this is important for the Netherlands, for the relationship and for the Alliance.
Question: The perception of the United States in Europe, if I remember well, four years ago when the first term of the present president started the public image of America, the United States of America, was in Holland about the same as North Korea and Saudi Arabia [inaudible] very, very low. And whether that is justified or not is beside the point. We are now four years further on, we have the same president, which most Dutch would very much like to see [inaudible], but can you give us your insight of how much of the harm of the very low public image of the U.S. has been repaired or overcome during the first term of President Obama’s presidency.
Assistant Secretary Gordon: I think there was a very positive and very rapid increase in the U.S. image when President Obama took office, which is confirmed by all sorts of public opinion polling. Every year I comment on the German Marshall Fund’s Transatlantic Trends poll and we saw public views of the United States and the favorable image of the United States numbers rise from the very low levels at which they were in 2008 to remarkable levels, in many countries over 80 percent.
I remember that because I distinctly recall in about year three of the Obama Administration the same polls showed that favorable, the opinion of the United States across Europe had fallen from 83 percent to 78 percent; and I recall one Reuters headline which was “Europe cools toward Obama” which struck us as a little bit of a high standard when he was still at 78 percent which I think most leaders around the world would be quite happy to have.
Question: He would love to have that approval rating in the United States.
Assistant Secretary Gordon: The President has himself pointed out a number of times that he would welcome a domestic approval rate along the same lines, but the fact is, that was the case then and it remains the case now. The German Marshall Fund Transatlantic Trends this year shows that it’s really been sustained, and that’s very gratifying to us, not because international politics is a popularity contest, but it does matter what your friends and allies think of you, especially in democracies where you’re constantly appealing them to join you on sometimes difficult things. If their public has a favorable view, they’re more inclined, and their parliaments are more inclined to work with you. So we’re very gratified that this rise in the favorable views of the United States has not just been marked, but sustained, and we work at it, in part for that reason that we have such, we’re so engaged with European publics through our embassies and our officials, and at the highest levels the President, Secretary Clinton who has made 38 trips to Europe and on just about every occasion engaged with the public in some capacity because it’s important to, we think, to work at it and show appreciation for the contributions and underscore our common values and interests.
Question: The same Transatlantic Trends survey that you mentioned also shows that supportfor NATO in a number of European countries is going down steadily, even in a country like Poland. Does this worry you? Is that something that the United States intends to try and counter?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: It is important to us to see sustained support for NATO, and I wouldn’t over-interpret any one poll or trend on that issue, but it is something we watch carefully. Publics need to be reminded of NATO’s value, -- it’s not automatic -- there’s a new generation in Europe that doesn’t remember the Cold War and doesn’t automatically or instinctively see NATO as vital to national security, but we find that one way or another it just keeps proving itself to be useful. No one ever would have imagined years ago that NATO would be fighting in Afghanistan for ten years or doing a military operation in Libya, or even before that military operations in the Balkans, or deploying Patriots to the Turkish border with Syria.
Libya is a very good example because no one really imagined NATO for that and yet the command and control system of the Alliance and the political decision-making system and the ability to cooperate militarily proved absolutely essential, and so it’s important to remind people of that -- we tried to do that a bit for our own public at the Chicago Summit by bringing all the Alliance leaders and underscoring how NATO contributes to our security. It’s moving ahead and the decisions to move ahead on missile defense which is just -- we clearly believe there’s a growing ballistic missile threat that can be one day combined with a nuclear threat, and NATO is acting to protect our allies and our troops and our populations from that. Afghanistan, like I said, NATO’s been helping us deal with the challenge there for a decade; Libya, managed to save tens of thousands of people from violence -- I think that when we explain it to our publics they understand that NATO remains vital to us all.
Question: If I may add, is this something you need to convince the Europeans of considering or is there maybe something you need also to convince the Americans of, because there is a feeling that since more and more Americans are feeling that the global weight is shifting towards Asia and even the President has sometimes been called a Pacific President instead of an Atlantic President. Is there a shift going on and how will this be for the next four years?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: There are a couple of aspects to your question -- the NATO piece and the issue of where we’re oriented, and I’ll just say a word about both. Yes, we need to convince Americans and Europeans of the value of the Alliance, even if the numbers may be dropping, they’re still pretty strong, I don’t think there’s any crisis in support for NATO. There’s still widespread support for NATO -- I think in the United States and in Europe alike.
We do have concerns about sustaining support in Europe because while it’s absolutely clear what contributions NATO can make to Europe and that Europe can make to NATO now, we’re worried that on current defense spending trends that will be less clear in the future. And if European publics and parliaments don’t understand the value of the Alliance for their own security, then we’ll just see a continuation of those trends and that does worry us because, I’ve said before, the good news from Libya was that Europeans -- and you could say Afghanistan as well for that matter -- but to take the specific Libya example, the good news is that Europeans demonstrated that they could still make really important contributions to a common military intervention. That they more than anyone were responsible for bringing it about in terms of colleagues in Europe’s neighborhood more than that of the United States. They were very concerned, they had longer links with Libya, very concerned about the humanitarian situation, called for an intervention, and then were able to contribute under, in some ways, a new model for military intervention where the United States provided unique assets for a short period of time and then looked to Europeans to sustain the bulk of, in that case, the airstrikes and the no-fly zone, and they did it, and that was really impressive and it reminded us all of NATO’s utility and Europe’s utility.
But if defense cuts continue at the current rate it’s not clear that five years from now that will be possible, and so that’s why it’s critical to remind publics how important NATO is and to do that countries need a sort of a vicious circle or a virtuous circle to do that -- countries need to make the contributions necessary so that it actually can make a contribution, and I do worry about a world in which Europeans aren’t able to make the contributions that they can make today.
As for turning away from Europe or however you want to describe concern about the Obama Administration’s orientation, I’d just say briefly a couple of things.
One is if President Obama wasn’t significantly focused on the rise of important powers in Asia and the crises we face in the Middle East, I think that would be a cause for Europeans to worry. They should want and I believe do want the United States to be focused on these global challenges, even those that are not in Europe because you certainly have an interest in open trade with Asia, and sea lanes remaining open for global trade, and stability in Asia, as in the Middle East where we get so much of our oil and where migration and refugees would come first and foremost to Europe rather than the United States if there were instability let alone a nuclear crisis or something even more dramatic.
So I would hope and I believe that Europeans are pleased to see the attention the United States is paying to Asia and the Middle East, but what I would stress and the President has stressed and Secretary Clinton has stressed, is that this does not come at the expense of Europe. Even the concept of a pivot, you’ll recall, is really a pivot from a decade in which we were deploying massive military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 100,000 in each, and pivoting some of those to Asia and elsewhere in the Middle East. It wasn’t a pivot from Europe and it wasn’t any withdrawal from Europe.
On the specific question of troops, we have as many troops in Europe today as we’ve had for a decade or more because even if there were more troops nominally allocated to Europe, they’ve been in Iraq and Afghanistan fighting for the past decade or more, and Europe we believe has been adequately protected and defended during that decade and that won’t change now.
But in addition to that we’ve even made new investments in Europe in terms of missile defense where we now have a radar with U.S. personnel in Turkey. We’ll soon have deployments of equipment and personnel in Romania and Poland. Other countries including the Netherlands are involved through upgrading radars in frigates -- it’s a common enterprise, but importantly where this is concerned, it’s a new deployment of personnel and an American presence in Europe and a commitment to Europe. There’s also an aviation detachment in Poland, and other force modernizations, rotating troops in for training and partnership that I think underscore our commitment to Europe in Article 5.
But I also, and I’ll encourage people not to equate our commitment to Europe solely with numbers of troops or heavy brigade combat teams -- that’s important and we’re committed to it, but it’s also in the, all of the other ways in which we have a relationship -- the trade and investment relationship which as I said remains greater than anywhere else in the world, but also the partnership. And once again, like I said at the beginning, when we think about the world and the need for partners around the world it’s primarily in Europe where we find them -- those who are working with us on Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Libya, hopefully more and more Asia, Africa, climate change, economy, poverty. We turn to Europe for that, and so long as we continue to find our best and most like-minded democratic partners in Europe, then our attention to Europe will not diminish, and so I really think it is misreading the way Americans or the administration thinks about it to imagine somehow that we’re not very much focused on the critical importance of this partnership to the United States and our interests.
Question: You mentioned your worries about the defense cuts. About two years ago then Secretary Gates said that NATO was headed for a collective military irrelevancy, something like this. Do you see any signs that the Europeans are getting it, that the Europeans know what’s at stake?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: I think Europeans understand what is at stake. I don’t think there have been, that that has translated into the sort of investments in defense spending that we need to see. I think some European leaders share Secretary Gates’ concern because it’s just simple math. If the investments aren’t made, the capabilities aren’t going to be there long into the future.
Look, it’s a tough time and we’re all tightening our belts and the U.S. is certainly cutting defense spending significantly ourselves, but I would just reiterate that the concern remains that without the necessary investments it’s going to be hard to sustain NATO as the viable institution we need it to be.
Question: Did the Dutch government give you any signs that, say anything to show that they get your point?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: Yes, I think they share the concern that I just articulated.
Question: I wanted to ask who are these European leaders who seem to understand the point that they are spending too less on defense?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: I think just about all of them.
Question: Also Mr. Hollande and Angela Merkel…?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: Yes, and that’s not to say, like I said, that that translates into a commitment to increase defense spending, but they’re not oblivious to the problem, and they share the concern that Europe’s voice will be reduced. I would like to believe that they’re consolidating during a period of economic difficulties and then as soon as they’re able, will address what they acknowledge to be a real challenge and a problem.
Question: Would you say their voice would become more important if they spend more on defense?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: Of course it would, because they would have more to bring to the table -- they would be bigger players on the big issues of the day; they would be able to influence events around the world more; I’d be the last one to equate military spending with a voice around the world, they’re not always exactly in line, but there is a relationship, and there aren’t too many countries that play and have a major voice and can influence events without some military capability.
That of course is an argument in part behind the European Union and the efforts of a Common Foreign and Defense Policy. Single small countries can’t necessarily do that alone, but together Europeans can have quite a voice and that’s why we’ve always welcomed European cooperation when it comes to security and defense.
Question: As far as Afghanistan is concerned, did you discuss the possibility of a certain number of American troops staying after 2014?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: In general terms, yes -- not in specific terms because President Obama’s still considering options for what type of presence we’ll have after 2014. I think you can assume there will be an American presence; you can assume there will be a NATO presence after 2014; I think we’re all agreed on that, but specific numbers is something we’re still looking at very carefully.
We in the U.S. understand that our allies are very interested in what our plans are as they try to develop their own -- we think it’s something we need to do together and collectively so that we can consolidate the gains that have been made and make sure that they’re not squandered and the President’s considering as we speak options for what we would call the slope of the reductions that we’ll see over the course of the next year and then what we do after 2014.
Question: So is it fair to say that some American troops will stay?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: Yes, I think we’ve been pretty clear.
Question: You will urge your European NATO partners to do the same?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: Yes. We’d like to see a multilateral, a NATO presence. At the Chicago Summit we made clear that we wanted to see a milestone in 2013 where the Afghans would be in the lead across the country for security -- I think we’re on track for that but need as an Alliance to figure out exactly when that milestone takes place. Then we also agreed that there would be a NATO presence after 2014 focused on training, that all of our combat forces would be out by the end of 2014, but there would be another presence in Afghanistan afterwards, and we’re working on the modalities and the numbers for that.
We also agreed that we would collectively support ANSF through training and funding because we determined it would cost around four billion dollars per year to finance ANSF. The Afghans will put a half billion of their own money into that. We asked the international community to come up with about a billion, which it did and we were very pleased with that -- now obviously countries need to uphold their pledges -- but for us that’s the way forward, is to train Afghans to do their own security so that we don’t have to.
Question: Are you still saying that the Afghan Army is on the right track and will be able to hold its own after 2014, 2013 actually?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: I don’t think anybody’s making promises, I think it is fair to say that it is on track as are our efforts to work with it, but I don’t know anyone making guarantees or promises -- it’s going to take a lot of work to get it right.
President Karzai is in Washington this week, will see President Obama, and that will hopefully take this process another step forward.
Question: How do you explain that NATO always tells us that Afghanistan is on the right track and all independent observers say it’s not?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: You can define on the right track. Afghanistan is certainly in much better shape than it was, take your pick, ten years ago, five years ago, in terms of the threat from the Taliban, in terms of people going to school, in terms of girls going to school, in terms of economic development, in terms of political development. So --
Question: I always read the Taliban is on the rise and when the Americans and the Western troops leave they will take power again. They’re all wrong, these?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: We’ll see. I can tell you what our policy is which is to strengthen the Afghan National Security Forces so that they are able to withstand a likely assault from the Taliban -- that’s what we’re trying to do.
The Taliban, you’ll recall, used to be in power in Afghanistan. They’re not anymore.
Question: We all, whatever our views are on Afghanistan, appreciate the enormous effort but we don’t have a flowery image of Afghanistan after 10 years and I wonder how you as an administration are able to keep bands of boys in Ohio, Virginia, or Nebraska from not exploding and going on to the streets – it’s so awful. In this stage of the fight it seems like you train your people to train people to kill your own people. There are a lot of outright murders of NATO troops in Afghanistan and it doesn’t seem to get better. I know what the difference was with Vietnam there was a draft and there’s no more draft, but if I would be an American parent and had my child murdered by Afghan policeman, I would make havoc. How do you explain that it is relatively quiet?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: I’ll say a couple of things. First, I don’t know anyone who has a “flowery view” of Afghanistan, and I certainly don’t and I don’t think any of us take that view, and equally, this question that you alluded to of insider attacks is horrific and has been proliferating and is a major problem that we need to address for all the reasons that you say.
I think the answer to your question is not just for America but for Europeans as well -- who I remind you have also faced casualties, difficulties, costs, and yet are sticking with the plan -- in together, out together, 2013 milestone, 2014 combat troops -- I think that’s partly the answer to your question, and I daresay it is part of President Obama’s leadership on the subject.
When he came in, he increased our troop presence to get precisely, to degrade the Taliban, force the Taliban out and start training the Afghans, but at the same time he led the Alliance to agree that we would have a milestone in 2013 for the Afghans to be in the lead and our combat troops would be out by 2014.
So if this were open ended, if we were just saying we’re going to have 100,000 U.S. combat troops in Afghanistan as long as necessary for the foreseeable future, I think there would be greater questioning, but instead he came up with an intensive plan to try, and particularly get the Afghans trained so we can leave, and we’re on track for that -- we’ve gone from 130,000 to under 100,000. We’ll announce this year what 2013 will look like, and by the end of 2014 we won’t have any more combat troops in Afghanistan, and that largely applies to other countries as well, and that helps assure publics.
Again, there’s no guarantee that this will be successful after that, but I think the alternative to the approach that I’ve articulated of putting in more troops, trying to train the Afghans, and leave something stable in place would have been to just give up and in 2009 say this is just too hard, we’re tired of paying the cost and dying, we’re just going to leave and we just hope it’s not so bad, but if we did that and it reverted to 1988 or 2000, I think we would regret it after ten years of investment, so this is what we’re trying to do.
Question: In this respect, I read an interesting book last summer. It was called the Obamians, written by James Mann. He said that the Obama people consider themselves to be the first generation of people who were not haunted by Vietnam. Now we are going to see a new Secretary of State, John Kerry; and Chuck Hagel on Defense; both of whom had a past on Vietnam. Do we have to read anything into this? Do you also think that this could have something what’s their view on Afghanistan for instance? We also have the feeling that Afghanistan in a way has more potential to turn into a sort of Vietnam than Iraq in the past or whatever.
Assistant Secretary Gordon: Except -- there are a lot of exceptions and differences -- but I just made clear one very important one which is we’ve already announced our intention to take all of our combat troops out by the end of next year, so the Vietnam analogy falls apart right there because we’ve made clear this is not going to be Vietnam, we’re not going to have 500,000 troops fighting indefinitely in Afghanistan, and in that sense maybe the experience of those who served in Vietnam is actually relevant. I wouldn’t read too much into it, but I guess we can read at least as much as the President read into it when he announced Senator Hagel, because he was very specific that this is a man who knows what war is like and knows that you only do it when you absolutely have to, and that will be a principle that is kept in mind as we face the challenges around the world today.
Question: Do you have any expectation that in the second term this administration will send the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to the Senate?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: The President’s been clear that he supports the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, as for any congressional time tables, I don’t know -- that would obviously depend on calculations of what the prospects are for passage, which I imagine remain far from guaranteed, but it’s something we’d want to have a look at.
Just to finish this point, because I mentioned Hagel but not Kerry, again, without trying to read too much into anyone’s experience, I’d just remind you that Kerry, as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been very much involved with and supportive of the President’s policies and I expect regardless of his own personal background that that will continue as Secretary of State.
Question: What can you tell us about the new American Ambassador in The Hague?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: The White House is well aware of the need to nominate and get an ambassador confirmed as quickly as possible, that the White House is also very pleased with the service of the Chargé in the interim -- knowing the real challenges that the Embassy and the Charge have faced but have dealt with superbly, but now that the President has been reelected and we have a nominee for Secretary of State, I think we can get on expeditiously with getting the ambassador that we know our Dutch friends want to see and we all need.
Question: It will be another political, another White House nomination?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: They’re all White House nominations.
Question: You know what I mean. Not a career diplomat.
Assistant Secretary Gordon: That I can’t comment on, we’ll have an announcement when we have an announcement.
Question: When do you plan to have the new ambassador? What’s the timetable? Before summer or -- ?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: There too I can’t give you an example. I can tell you that we’re very conscious of the fact that there hasn’t been one for some time, which is not ideal and certainly not a reflection of the relationship which, as I said, is very strong and very important to us.
Question: Maybe it is. [Laughter]
Assistant Secretary Gordon: If you had greater problems and crises maybe we’d be obliged to reinforce our presence here, but it’s certainly not that -- you know the particular circumstances of why the fine ambassador we had had to leave early; you know how difficult it is in our system, especially on the eve of an election, to get someone else nominated and confirmed before that election, and so that’s what led to a situation that none of us would have chosen, but like I said, now that we have a reelected President and a nominee for Secretary of State, they’re well aware of the importance of moving forward, and I suspect we’ll expeditiously, again given the way the system works with vetting, nomination, confirmation, and then getting someone out here.
Question: One question about Afghanistan. We were talking about after 2014 training will be very important in Afghanistan. The Dutch are training police in Kunduz and are protected by the Germans. They will pull out this year. The Dutch are planning to pull out next year, but if there is no protection to say we will go this year as well. Are the Americans willing to get the protection the Dutch need? Is there a request from your side for the Dutch to also stay after 2014?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: We’d like to see as many allies as possible stay after 2014 in a coordinated way, -- we’ll have to make an assessment of how many trainers are needed for what purposes and who has them, so that remains to be worked out, but in a general sense important allies like the Netherlands could make real contributions.
As for Kunduz and the Germans, all I can say about that is it needs to be sorted out as an Alliance decision -- that’s the whole point of doing this as an alliance and the real benefit of doing it as an alliance. If we were just a bunch of haphazard countries deciding things, it’s all too interlinked to do it that way, because you say certain ones provide force protection, that’s why we have an overall ISAF commander and are in constant touch, NATO Foreign Ministers’ meeting, Defense Ministers’ meeting, so we need to work this out in a rational way so that decisions by one country don’t spill over and inevitably affect another -- I’m confident we can.
Question: When should it be worked out? End of this year?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: All of this is going on as we speak. I don’t have a deadline in mind -- others at NATO might, but just as we are very actively trying to sort out what we’re doing with our troops and the right timetable, we’ll be very transparent with allies and we’ll work it out together.
Question: Does that mean you hope to convince the Germans to stay a little longer?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: It means we need to work it out as an Alliance in coordination with all of those who are participating.
Question: Did you talk about Russia?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: We did -- we talked about Russia in part because it’s such an important issue, it’s obviously important to the United States where we’ve had a real focus on this in our foreign policy, but also an understanding that the Netherlands is pursuing a particular relationship with Russia during this very year. So it was I think important to Dutch counterparts to hear our experience and we shared an analysis.
I reiterated what has been our view of Russia, that the President came in determined to try to improve what was a really poor and deteriorating relationship with Russia by looking for concrete areas in which we could cooperate and we found a lot of them: we did the New START Treaty; we did Afghan Lethal Transit which has been invaluable to us for the Afghanistan mission; did a 123 Nuclear Agreement, a civil nuclear agreement with Russia; we got them into the WTO -- or we worked together to get them into the WTO -- which has been a goal of American administrations for 20 years; we worked together on North Korea, on Iran with Security Council Resolution 1929. So we’re very proud and happy with what we accomplished with Russia as part of what was called the reset. But I also reminded them, as we’ve always said, that this was never a one way street, but also there was a corollary to the reset which was our determination to be honest about our differences, and we’ve had them over missile defense, over Georgia, to continue to stand firmly on issues of democracy and human rights in Russia and we’ve spoken out about that.
I’ll let the Dutch counterparts speak for themselves, but I shared increasing concern that the domestic trends in Russia were not positive -- we expressed our disappointment that they asked our USAID mission in Moscow to leave; we’ve been very critical of some of the steps we’ve seen in terms of cracking down on protesters and laws on NGOs where NGOs that take money from abroad initially had to declare themselves as foreign agents, and now are even banned from political activities. Most recently the Russian reaction to the Magnitskiy Permanent Normal Trade Relations legislation in the United States was not just reciprocal in terms of visa bans, but went on to ban NGOs with foreign money from participating in political activities and even worse, abrogated our adoptions agreement and banned Americans from adopting Russian children which is not a punishment of the U.S. government really, but rather a punishment of poor Russian orphans and the families that wanted to give them loving homes.
So we’ve been very clear about those differences. We’ve been very clear about our differences over Syria where despite significant efforts we haven’t managed to persuade Russia to join the rest of the international community in insisting that there be a political transition and that Assad needs to leave.
So we continue to have an interest in a constructive relationship with Russia and we’ll continue to pursue that interest but we’re also going to be very clear about what our differences are and speak out about them.
Question: Does the restart need a restart?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: The reset? I think we should retire the phrase reset.
Question: Because it didn’t work?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: No, because it was an appropriate metaphor for taking a relationship that was bad after the war in Georgia, and the Bush Administration, and taking it in a new direction, but I don’t know how many years a reset can be a reset -- we did reset it, we put it on a more constructive course, and now let’s just get on with Russia policy along the lines that I said, but efforts to get rid of words are never successful, so I can propose that, but --
Question: I have one more question which is not about Eurasia but still is an interesting thing. From time to time we view that Argentina is trying to make let’s say, trying to turn things around in the Falklands. Do we have to worry about that? Because from a symbolic point of view it could be very important in the sense that the Falkland’s War in 1982 was also somehow a change of, how should I say, perception of international relations, that the West was coming back, et cetera. And now it could be viewed as some sort of, how should I say, it shows the weakness of Europe, Britain, America and the West if Argentina can have its way there. Or is this too much fantasy?
Assistant Secretary Gordon: I don’t know about the last part. I’m on my way to London tomorrow and I was perfectly prepared to get this question there -- I didn’t think I would get it here, but you’re rightly pointing to a recent set of developments and letters back and forth which raise the issue following the 30th anniversary of the war, and it is a cause for concern -- we have important relationships with both of those countries, a special relationship with Britain and the last thing we want to see is tension over something like this.
Our policy on the issue has been clear for some time: we recognize the de facto authorities in the Falkland Islands and are very clear that we don’t support any -- while we don’t take a position on sovereignty per se, we don’t support challenges to the de facto authorities that are in place -- administration by the Falkland Islanders that are in place today.
Thanks to all of you. I appreciate it.
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