Interview with Gazeta.Ru
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
QUESTION: How would you evaluate the ongoing dialogue with Russia?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, thank you. It is nice to speak to you. We always have a very long foreign policy agenda with Russia. And I want to cover the full range of topics. The specific focus of my visit this time is the upcoming European security agenda. Of course, President Medvedev has recently agreed to come and attend the NATO-Russia Council Summit in Lisbon in November and we also have an OSCE Summit in Astana the first of December. And it is a big agenda for these two meetings and so the focus of our discussions in Moscow over the past two days has been how to make the most productive use of those meetings.
QUESTION: How does the NATO proposal for an all-European missile defense system that could include Russia correspond with the idea of the American national missile defense system?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, broadly the Obama Administration certainly does not see Russia as a threat. And the agenda of the NATO-Russia Council Summit will be the practical areas in which we can cooperate jointly and work together. And certainly the missile defense that the United States has proposed has never been targeted at Russia or with Russia in mind. I think that we have made that very clear. There is a growing missile threat from the Middle East and we are interested in pursuing the technologies that will help defend our populations and troops and territories against that threat. And in that context we see Russia as a potential partner because Russia could potentially be threatened by the same missiles (inaudible). And that is why we have proposed cooperation with Russia both bilaterally and in the NATO-Russia context. So this will be one of the issues on the agenda for the NATO-Russia Council and we hope that Russia will look favorably on the idea of cooperation.
QUESTION: What would you say to Russians who say the results of the “reset” are favorable only to the U.S.? For example, the new START treaty, the Afghan transit agreement, and the S-300 issue with Iran.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I do not agree with that way of looking at things. You take even the examples that you have given – New START, Afghan transit, S300s. Russia benefits from our cooperation in all these areas. Russia, like the United States, has an interest in a stable Afghanistan. You could even argue more of an interest than the United States because Russia is closer in the way that the drug trade goes through Afghanistan. We absolutely believe that Russia has a common interest with us in stabilizing Afghanistan. And if allowing the United States to transit Russia makes the international coalition in Afghanistan more effective, it is absolutely in Russia’s interest to do so. And similarly the proliferation question in Iran. A nuclear Iran, we believe Russian officials have made clear is not in Russia’s interest. Containing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is in Russia’s interest just as much as in the United States’ interest. So, far from seeing this somehow as a gift from Russia to the United States, it is a common interest that we are pursuing together. And on New START, same thing. We both have an interest in reducing numbers of nuclear weapons and launchers, and thereby contributing to global stability and saving money. So none of these things are gifts from Russia to the United States but actions in our common interest. And finally, to the extent that these agreements contribute to a better overall relationship between Russia and the United States, they provide opportunities for us to move forward in different areas including economic cooperation and other bilateral questions. So it really is a two way street. That is the beauty of it, if you will, is that it is not zero sum – where I give and the other side gains and vice versa. But we are finding areas where mutual cooperation results in mutual benefit.
QUESTION: Can we agree that the Russian and American comprehension of Eurasian security is the same, given that both sides have completely different architectures for Eurasian security?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: We have some differences on the overall European security architecture. It is true that the United States has been and remains of the view that a new treaty is not necessary or practical. We think there are already some pretty good European security institutions in place and some pretty good principles for European security in place, and that we do not need to invent new ones. What we need to do is make sure that the existing principles are implemented. And yes we have been skeptical that a new treaty would be possible to elaborate and ratify and that it could be workable. But we are open to a dialogue on all of these questions. We welcome input from Russia and from all parties to the European security situation. We have a good and strong ongoing dialogue. So we may have a difference on the specific idea of a treaty. But we the United States accept the European security situation as imperfect. There is always room for improvement. We are ready to talk about that.
QUESTION: Do both sides have to overcome the Georgian issue, leaving it in the status quo conditions?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, we do have a real difference on Georgia. The United States continues to recognize Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. I would add that so do the vast majority of countries in the world. Very, very few have joined Russia in recognizing and the United States will continue to support Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We have also been very clear that we don’t believe that there is a military solution to this conflict. And the only way to reestablish Georgia’s territorial integrity is through (inaudible) and patiently working with all of the people of Georgia to move forward. So it is a real difference between the United States and Russia. We try to manage it. We try to insure that it doesn’t interfere with the other areas of practical cooperation we have. But it is an important matter of principal of the United States and we will continue to stand by Georgia in that regard.
QUESTION: Is Georgia still a point of irritation in the U.S.-Russia bilateral relationship? Or have both sides decided to take it easy?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, I think that I have characterized it. It is a real difference and we talk about it, and we have not found an agreement on the right (inaudible). But we have also agreed not to let it stand in the way of the better relationship that we have a mutual interest in. So we have had a difference on Georgia ever since the start of the Obama administration but it hasn’t prevented us from pursuing our mutual interests in arms control, counterterrorism, potential missile defense cooperation, economic cooperation. So in that sense it is not standing in the way of the relationship we are trying to build but it is a real difference and one that we need to work on.
QUESTION: Is the United States concerned about France’s Mistral sale to Russia?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, weapon sales decisions are sovereign decisions for countries to make. And if a NATO ally like France is considering such decisions, we can have our views but ultimately it is a national decision. That said, just as we the United States have refrained from introducing significant changes in military equipment into that potentially unstable part of the world, we would hope that other NATO allies would do the same and exercise judgment and restraint when it comes to selling military equipment that could significantly alter the security situation on the ground.
QUESTION: Could you please comment on Turkey’s recent refusal to participate in the proposed missile defense system? What about the Czech Republic and Poland?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Is the first thing that you said was about Turkey? Let me just clarify. It is not accurate to say that Turkey has refused to participate. There is (inaudible) at NATO. All NATO allies have recognized that there is a potential threat from ballistic missile proliferation and that missile defenses can contribute to the protection of our forces, of NATO forces in Europe. There is an ongoing discussion about whether to adopt territorial missile defense as a mission for NATO, and the United States has offered and made a specific offer of its phased adaptive approach, which would be the U.S. contribution to that European missile defense if allies so choose. Neither Turkey nor anyone else has rejected participation or support for that. It is a matter of discussion among allies that will be agreed we hope at the NATO Summit in Lisbon. And we are talking to Turkey as with our other allies about the adoption of a territorial missile defense for NATO. We are hopeful, I think, because Secretary General of NATO after the last ministerial, we are hopeful that all allies will agree to such a mission because we think that it is a real issue and that missile defense can contribute to our security. As for the rest of the other countries you named in the system, just to clarify, the previous administration, the Bush administration, was planning to build missile defense in Europe based on ground-based interceptors in Poland and expand radar in the Czech Republic. President Obama looks at the issue, looked at the evolving intelligence, at the evolving threat, at the evolving technology, and concluded that we would all be better off building a system based on a different kind of missile, the Standard Missile 3, and a different kind of radar. And so changed the approach from the deployment previously considered. And announcements have been made about locating SM3s in Poland and Romania, and that is the current U.S proposal for its contribution to a NATO missile defense.
QUESTION: Could you please comment on the ratification of the New START Treaty during the period between the November elections and the January inauguration of the new Senate?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I can only say we hope so. We would like to have seen it passed before the elections. That is not going to happen at this point. But there will be a short session of Congress called the lame duck session because it will happen after the election of the new Congress, where they will have the opportunity to pass New START and I can only say we hope they’ll do so. It passed by a large margin out of Committee. We think it makes sense for the United States and hope that the Senate will take it up as part of this lame duck session. Otherwise, it will have to be held over until the new Congress is in place after January.
QUESTION: Do you speak with your Russian counterparts regarding human rights?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Yes, we do speak to Russian officials and representatives about these issues all the time. President Obama has done so, Secretary Clinton has done so, and I and my colleagues do so as well. I have met with NGO groups on visits to Moscow and do pretty much every time I come to Moscow. It is important for the United States and it is our view that countries prosper when they have open and transparent societies like rule of law and democracy and human rights. And we make that clear in our dialogue with our Russian friends.
QUESTION: Could you please comment on the Khodorkovsky case?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, we follow that case very closely as we do all such cases. And again we can only reiterate in general terms the importance of ensuring fair prosecutions and respect for the rule of law.
QUESTION: A bill was recently proposed in the U.S. Congress concerning the Magnitsky case. The bill would deny entry visas to a number of Russian officials. What are your thoughts regarding this bill?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, I think the legislation that you are referring to underscores the seriousness with which Congress and indeed the Administration as well sees the issue of the Magnitsky case, and the importance of following up and investigating what happened and seeing the perpetrators brought to justice. So I think the legislation is a sign that Americans are following this very closely and take it very seriously.
QUESTION: Can you predict the outcome of this bill?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I cannot make predictions about the fate of bills in the Congress. You’ve seen the significant support for it but I cannot predict how it will come out.