COMMISSION ON SECURITY & COOPERATION IN EUROPE:
U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION
ADVANCING WITH U.S. INTERESTS IN THE OSCE REGION
PHILIP H. GORDON,
ASSISTANT SECRETARY, EUROPEAN AND EURASIAN AFFAIRS,
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
MICHAEL H. POSNER,
ASSISTANT SECRETARY, DEMOCRACY, HUMAN RIGHTS AND LABOR, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
ASSISTANT SECRETARY, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY AFFAIRS,
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE
THE HEARING WAS HELD FROM 2:00 P.M. TO 3:30 P.M. IN THE CAPITOL VISITOR CENTER
SVC 212/210, WASHINGTON, D.C., [SEN. BENJAMIN CARDIN (D-MD), CHAIRMAN, CSCE],
SEN. BENJAMIN CARDIN (D-MD): Well, the Helsinki Commission will come to order. I want to welcome all of our guests that are here, particularly our three panelists who are a real contact between the legislative and executive branches of government on the Helsinki Commission and we look forward to their testimony.
It’s good to be here with Chris Smith, the ranking Republican member of the Helsinki Commission.
This is an important hearing for us to talk frankly about where we are with the U.S. participation in OSCE, where our strengths are so that we can build upon those strengths and where we can really try to correct some of the weaknesses within the OSCE framework.
I think it’s an appropriate time to talk about that as we approach the milestone 35th anniversary next year of the signing of the Helsinki final accords. The ministerial meetings will be coming up in December. We’re anxious to know the strategies moving into the ministerial meetings. This an unusual one in that the chair in office recently changed because of the elections in Greece as well as the first time that the chair in office next year will be from Central Asia, which is, of course, an interesting development within OSCE and one that adds additional opportunities, we hope, during 2010.
We also, of course, understand the importance of OSCE in that it is not only the largest regional international organization in the world, but it’s an organization in which both Russia and the United States has equal membership, which is not typical in most of the regional organizations. And, of course, we have so many open issues between the United States and Russia today giving us we hope the opportunity to advance some of those issues through the OSCE framework.
There’s much to celebrate within the recent accomplishments of the Helsinki Commission. We looked back to what we did during the Soviet years with the refuseniks and the release of Soviet Jews and we bring that to the current problems of the Roma population through much of Europe and the work that we’re doing developing strategies to end human trafficking.
And I want to acknowledge the tremendous leadership of Congressman Chris Smith on that effort. It started within the Helsinki Commission and has now become, I think, the norm among all the countries in OSCE that have a game plan, not only laws but a strategy to end human trafficking. The commission played a very key role in that.
Today, we are still pushing very hard on election monitoring and the key field missions. And the list goes on and on and on of positive developments within OSCE and, of course, the three representatives in regards to the tolerance agenda.
All these are success stories in large part due to the U.S. participation in OSCE through the Helsinki Commission. But there’s reason to be concerned today. There’s reason for us to take stock as to how we can do things better.
There’s been backsliding in several of the OSCE states that is very troublesome to us all. There are frozen conflicts that are still frozen and I think many of us had hoped that we would have been made more progress.
There’s open conflict, for example, between Georgia and Russia in which the process did not work and it causes us to rethink as to whether we have the right framework to deal with those types of challenges.
And, of course, we have the bureaucratic issues in Vienna and how decisions are made within the OSCE and how the budgets are developed within OSCE and the U.S. participation both in Vienna and in the funding on the budget requests that come in to us through OSCE or through its different institutions including ODIHR.
I want to just acknowledge the cooperation that we have received from the Obama administration. I particularly want to acknowledge Secretary Clinton’s strong interest in OSCE. She’s a former member of the Helsinki Commission. And just recently had the opportunity to talk with her concerning the OSCE and I know that is focused on the need for an ambassador in Vienna and we hope to have some news on that shortly.
I look forward to the testimony. I look forward to the continued strong relationship between the legislative and executive branch. It’s actually seamless as it relates to the U.S. participation in OSCE.
SEN. CARDIN: Thank you.
REP. SMITH: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Again, I think we’re talking to the choir here, three individuals who care deeply about human rights and democracy. But I would just – and echo what the Chairman said, then I said in my statement as well. There is concern among many of us who – I’ve been in Congress now 29 years. My first trip on behalf of human rights was with the National Conference of Soviet Jewry and Mark Levin – I believe is here. He usually is here. Maybe not. There he is. For10 days, stayed in Moscow and Leningrad pushing for refuseniks. And the concern is that – and Mr. Posner, your post was left painfully unfulfilled – unfilled I should say – for far too many months. The ambassador or the director of the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act, the office that was created by that – and I would note parenthetically, I was the prime House sponsor of that and offered the amendment to make it permanent and to have a person in that position to promote or to combat anti-Semitism to the best of his or her ability. That remains unfilled. The ambassador at large for religious freedom, to the best of knowledge, still remains unfulfilled. The distinguished senator, Mr. Brownback from Kansas and I and Frank Wolf worked a decade ago to establish that.
And so it sends a message to many of us that human rights are a talking point, but not central and fully integrated and certainly is not first in the dialogue.
I had a meeting. And I say this and I hope you’ll bring this back. Harry Wu is one of my closest dissident friends. I meet with him all the time. When he was being held, after going back into China – actually he held a hearing to call for his release, I did everything I possibly could. It was joined by a whole lot of other people, doing the same thing.
Harry Wu was in my office three weeks ago and I’ve never seen this before with Harry Wu. He’s probably the toughest guy you’ll ever meet. He had tears in his eyes. And he said, the Obama administration got all worked up, doesn’t care about human rights. I said, Harry, calm down. And he had tears in his eyes. And I don’t think we should take that and just look at scans and say, here is the man who has paid with his blood close to 20 years in the Laogai system, actually when back and took great risk. Was rearrested at the border, we’ll all remember. And just eats, sleeps, and breathes human rights. And when Ms. Clinton made her trip on her way to Beijing and said, we will not allow human rights to interfere – her words, not mine – with global climate change. And I support the administration on global climate change, voted for the bill in the House, so there’s no disagreement there, but not at the expense of human rights and certainly not to sell our treasury bills to finance a debt that is truly unsustainable.
Human rights all of a sudden becomes under the table. I know it won’t be that way with you, Mr. Posner, Secretary Posner, because I know you believe this so passionately, but I’m worried about the administration’s approach, especially on the eve of a trip to China, which will have repercussions in the Caucasus and throughout the OSCE because what happens in Beijing will be heard around the world, not just throughout all of the PRC.
So those open positions, fill them. We need – acting are fine at religious freedom ambassador at large, but we need a point person and we need it now. And we need it at the anti-Semitism office as well. So please take that back.
I don’t care what administration is in. When Bush was in, when Clinton was in, when Bush I was in, I’m the one who, with David Bonior and Dick Gephardt held press conferences lauding President Clinton in his first year, when he linked human rights with MFN only to find out it was a false promise and he ripped it up. But –and then went in to complain both. But believe me. This is a nonpartisan issue as far as I’m concerned and human rights have to be first, first, and always first. And sadly I don’t think they are.
Secondly, I’d like to raise – and if you want to comment on that in a second, I appreciate if you would – on Belarus. Our chairman led us to Minsk. We had an excellent meeting. We had more than a dozen members in a face-off friendly but firm with Lukashenko. And I know, Mr. Gordon, I think on the 14th of August, you met with Lukashenko as well. I believe that was the date, whatever date it was.
MR. GORDON: I didn’t actually meet with Lukashenko –
REP. SMITH: Okay, but it seemed as if he wants to obviously see a reversal or a amelioration of those sanctions. My hope is not until we have real deeds and not promises or even minor deeds. We need some substantial deeds from this event. And again, that’s the message we heard from our friends in the dissident community. If you could speak to that.
Thirdly, on – if I could – today we marked up a bill on Afghanistan authored by the chairman of the committee and the ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr. Berman and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, which I’m not sure how it’s being looked at by the administration, but I know this frustration among both sides of the aisle about our policies vis-а-vis Iran. And one of the things that seems to be missing is human rights there. And Mr. Brownback has had hearings in this commission repeatedly on Iranian human rights and democracy building. And I’m wondering if you might want to speak, especially with Russia’s, obviously an OSCE member, what you see we should be doing vis-а-vis in the OSCE with regards to Iran and Russia.
I read Pravda every day. Maybe I shouldn’t admit to that. I read the People’s Daily every day as well online of course and in English. The saber rattling towards Ukraine and Georgia seems to be getting – growing. There’s a crescendo there of animosity reflected in the newspapers. It’s also coming out of the mouths of some of the politicians. If you could speak to that as well because all of us are concerned about new eruptions, if you will, in South Ossetia especially.
MR. POSNER: Can I lead off the points that you’ve made at the outset? If you were frustrated by my not being in the position, I can assure you I was with you. It was seven months from the time I had an initial conversation with Secretary Clinton until I took office. And there was no controversy. I was voted by consensus. And so there is something wrong with a process that takes that long. We have somebody identified to be in the anti-Semitism position, an excellent person who’s now going through a less onerous, but also exhausting process. And hopefully that person will be in place in a few weeks or certainly within a month.
REP. SMITH: (Off mike.)
MR. POSNER: No, I can just say that we’re in the process and there will be somebody soon. I want to say to that point, though, and again, this is something you and I have talked about. I think we were in Berlin together at the OSCE meeting focused on anti-Semitism, which led to the creation of that special representative. I share your commitment to this entirely. And I share your view that the level of – my concern about the level of anti-Semitic attacks and comments in Europe, in the Middle East, and elsewhere is something of great, great concern. We track these things. We’re going to continue to do that.
Two days ago, we rolled out the Religious Freedom Report, which takes a comprehensive view. We were very hard hitting on a whole range of fronts, including on China, including on a number of countries in the Middle East, including on countries in Europe like Russia that still permit too much intolerance against minority religions. This is a big problem and it’s something that we are really committed to work on. In fact, I’m very committed. We’ve had an office on religious freedom and we’ve had a special envoy on anti-Semitism. My view is let’s bring everything together and really integrate this within the State Department, take it to the regional bureaus and say let’s make this a more central piece of the way we do foreign policy.
I think these issues are critical and I stand ready to work with you all to make that happen.
MR. GORDON: If I might, I’ll briefly address the three main points that you made. One the first, you asked us to take a message back and I certainly will. I already underscored the way in which I think the president and the secretary, at least in Moscow, drew great and important attention to the human rights issue, but we’ll also certainly pass along the perceptions that you raised about the need to do more. And as for these positions, as was discussed, sometimes this process takes too long to get people in place, but we’re absolutely committed to doing so. And those positions are important. And they will be filled with the right people.
On Belarus, indeed I appreciated the opportunity we had to compare notes on this after your trip and before mine. To clarify, I spent some time with the Belarusian leaders, but didn’t meet with President Lukashenko. That could happen at some other time, but we felt this time it was appropriate to do business at a different level. And the business was what we discussed. And I think we had very much the same message, which is that as the administration has mentioned in other cases, we are open to dialogue and engagement. And we have noticed a couple of signs, not nearly enough, but enough from Belarus to merit talking further about this. And I went to Minsk with a very clear message. And I was the most senior official to go to Minsk for 10 years from the State Department. And we wanted them to notice that as well. And the message was that if they want a better relationship with the United States and certainly if they want any scope for lifting the sanctions that have been put on them, then they need to go about their democracy and human rights practices differently. And that’s the core of the issue.
There’re other things we care about, like getting our embassy fully staffed. We welcome the fact that they released an American citizen, Mr. Zeltser, thanks in part to your good work. We took that as a sign that they might want to different and better relationship. And some other modest steps that they had taken about registering NGOs and media. But I made clear to them that they still have a very long way to go and that there was linkage between the two things. So we’ll see what comes of that. I think it was a good thing that you all went. I think it was appropriate for me to go and let them know the different future that could be available if they do different things at home, but also that there won’t be a different future if they don’t. And we’ll see what comes of that. From our point of view, we’re going to sustain this approach, but we will need to see results from them before there’s a significant change in our policy.
We’re also, I should add, working very close with the Europeans on this, who I think have a similar approach. They also have sanctions on Belarus. They also focus on democracy and human rights. And we’re more powerful when we work on this together because of one of us slips, then you lose the leverage of the entire West pushing them on the issues that we care about.
Final point on Russia and the OSCE, I think we have seen – we’ve talked in other contexts about the reset with Russia and what we’re trying to accomplish. And I think, honestly, there have been signs of progress in areas where we clearly need to do more and see more.
We have reached some concrete agreements in some important areas. When the president was there in the summer, the Afghan (lethal ?) transit agreement, which allows us to have diversified supply routes to Afghanistan and can save us a considerable amount of money by being able to cross Russian air space. It’s good for us. It’s good for Afghanistan and it’s the type of agreement we can have with Russia where we have common interests and we work together. And there are others in the Bilateral Presidential Commission, hopefully a START agreement. We have some common interests and we’ve seen some constructive work with Russians and we want to pursue that.
At the same time, we have made clear from the start that we have differences and we don’t paper over the differences in order to have the successes in the agreements. And you highlighted some of those differences. And we have underscored them as well. And they include Ukraine and Georgia, as you mentioned.
We’ve a fundamental difference about Georgia and its sovereignty and territorial integrity, which we recognize and we’ll continue to recognize. Fortunately, so does the vast majority of countries in the world. Only Russia and two others have recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia and we, with the united international community, don’t and won’t. We have a real difference on that and we have a real difference on the implementation of the August, 2008, ceasefire agreements and on access through humanitarian groups and NGOs to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. And we’re very clear with the Russians about that, both within the OSCE and bilaterally.
And we have concerns about Ukraine as well and some of the things that had been said recently there. We have differences on NATO enlargement and one of the core principles of European security that we think countries and democracies in Europe should have the right to join alliances of their choosing. And we have differences on human rights, which I already alluded to that the president and the secretary both made very clear in Moscow.
MR. VERSHBOW: If I could just follow on to what Secretary Gordon just said in response to the question about saber rattling by the Russians. I think that this is an area of concern that we watch very carefully. I was just in Ukraine about three weeks ago and in Georgia last week. And one of my purposes was to reassure those two countries, who are feeling a little nervous, that we do stand by them and we support their sovereignty and territorial integrity. I think part of our common work between the Defense Department and the State Department is to try to help these countries strengthen their own institutions, their political institutions, their economies, which is a key part to their becoming more self reliant and able to strengthen their own security.
We also support their legitimate right to self defense and to choose their security alliances. We pledged to assist them and as they pursue their NATO aspirations. This is a process that’s going to take some years. They have a lot of work to do, but it’s something that as a matter of principle we stand by them on.
The focus of my visits was on strengthening our bilateral defense relation and working on bilateral defense cooperation, helping with their defense reforms. And there too, I think we sometimes are criticized by the Russians, but as a matter of principle, these are sovereign countries that deserve our support and we’re very transparent about it.
I think we also do raise these issues, as Phil Gordon just said, in our dialogue with Russia. And I think that as we try to reset our relations with Russia and create more of a mutual stake and cooperation, hopefully it will give the Russians incentives to manage their differences with countries like Ukraine and Georgia, rather than to exacerbate existing tensions.
And I think there are means within the OSCE process where we can help as well. Part of the focus of our efforts in the Corfu process is to strengthen all countries’ commitment to those very fundamental Helsinki principles, starting with things like sovereignty and territorial integrity, respect for the independence of all states and for their existing borders.
We, I think, recognize that we could do better in our conflict prevention efforts and if we can find better mechanisms to prevent crises as occurred in Georgia from happening again, we should certainly do that. More transparency about military activities, confidence building measures, these are all things that we will pursue to try to contribute to a de-escalation of tensions.
And I think encouraging Russia and its neighbors to work together on common security projects, which is another area where the OSCE can be useful, things like border security, fighting narcotics trafficking, dealing with nonproliferation issues, this also can give them a mutual stake in cooperative relations that can provide longer term solutions to these problems.
SEN. CARDIN: Sen. Brownback?
SEN. BROWNBACK: Thanks, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, gentlemen, for being here and for your work.
Sec. Vershbow, just following up on that about Georgia and the Ukraine, is there – what timeframe are you looking at to see their joining NATO because that, as a tangible think, I would think that would be one of the most tangible that we could stand for and push for aggressively and quickly to stand against the saber rattling by the Russians.
MR. VERSHBOW: Well, I think it’s very hard to come up with a timetable at this point. I mean, NATO has taken a very important decision at its Bucharest summit last year in stating that these two countries will be members of NATO. And there are now mechanisms that NATO has established by which both countries have to demonstrate that they are able to meet NATO standards.
So in part, this is up to them – whether they are prepared to put their shoulder to the wheel and do the necessary preparations, which involves not just military things but strengthening democratic institutions.
SEN. BROWNBACK: But you could help them with the military things: administration –
MR. VERSHBOW: We certainly – in a responsible way because we’re trying to maintain stability as we go forward and we’re very transparent about our defense relations. But we do stand ready to be their mentor in this process. Even though NATO itself has the mechanisms by which they pursue their aspirations.
SEN. BROWNBACK: So what timeframe are you –
MR. VERSHBOW: I think we’re talking about a matter of years. But I wouldn’t want to put a number on it because a lot depends on the efforts of Ukraine and Georgia. And also, at the end of the day, there has to be a political decision based on consensus by all the members of NATO as to when they could be admitted.
SEN. BROWNBACK: But you would agree the sooner the better? And you’re going to be pushing for that? The administration will?
MR. VERSHBOW: We believe that we should stand by the decisions NATO has made and assist these countries moving as quickly as they’re prepared to go. And then NATO will have to make its decision at the appropriate time.
SEN. BROWNBACK: Well, as I understand – I had a Ukrainian official in my office yesterday – they’re prepared to go right now, very quickly. And I really think some strong prodding by the administration and then tangible support would be a key thing in standing up in this pretty aggressive Russian atmosphere right now towards both of those countries.
MR. VERSHBOW: I think in the case of Ukraine – and this is a subject of my defense consultations when I was there a few weeks ago – they have a lot of work to do to stay on track for meeting the NATO standards. So their defense budget has declined precipitously. They’ve missed opportunities this past year to participate in Partnership for Peace exercises because their parliament couldn’t pass the necessary legislation. So there are issues on the home front that Ukraine has to tend to which may be easier to address after their elections early next year.
But ultimately, the pace is really more for the candidate members to determine rather than for us. But we, as I said, are openly ready to advise them and assist them. We have FMF for both countries. We have other defense cooperative activities. So we will do our part but they have the lion’s share of the work to do themselves.
SEN. BROWNBACK: If I could submit to you, this could be one of the most tangible positive steps that the administration could really put its shoulder into to help out and as I said I would hope you would. Since Secretary Posner on Iran – we’ve put forward different funds over time for democracy and civil society building in Iran and at different times we’ve had various responses from administrations whether or not to use those funds.
I think it’s one of the most positive things we can do, given the desire from a lot of people in Iran to move forward, to have a bigger say in their own governance. When we had the various revolutions taking place in Eastern Europe, it seemed to me the ones that took root the most were those that had some civil society platforms built into the countries already.
Ukraine was one. Georgia had done a lot. In the ’Stans, maybe a lesser standard but Kyrgyzstan probably done more than others even though they’ve all had some difficulties. And yet we’re hearing now that they’re pulling funds back from – State Department’s not renewed the grant for the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center at Yale University. And other reports that it seems like we’re pulling back from some of these fundings. Now, I hope that’s not to try to get concessions from the regime in Iran. But I hope it’s not taking place. And if you could shed any light on that, I would appreciate it.
MR. POSNER: Thank you for asking that and I, in fact, I was going to come back on Iran and also say that Congressman Smith – obviously we share your concern about the long-term systematic repression in Iran. I testified yesterday at the U.N. General Assembly in the Third Committee about three countries: North Korea, Burma and Iran.
And we talked, I talked not only about the systematic repression but the post-election violence, the use of forced confessions – there is a very serious and very, very troubling situation. I don’t know the specific grant you referred to. One of the things I’m looking at – I’ve been there a month – and one of the things I’m looking at is, across the board, how we direct funds to civil society, to NGO activists, to independent press – in particular in closed societies.
And one of the things that’s apparent is that we don’t have an embassy in Iran. We don’t have an embassy in North Korea. And so the process of figuring out what to fund is usually driven by local diplomats working for the U.S. – we don’t have that there. And I think we ought. And I’d love to work with members of the Congress to think about setting up a fund that explicitly looks – as we did 20 years ago at Eastern Europe in closed societies – how do we deal with closed societies today and give that kind of support that you’re talking about to the people that are fighting from within to try to change things?
There are issues, and again, the first response I’ve gotten from some people is in a place like Iran, there’s certain dangers to people inside the country. We have to be careful of how we do it. I accept that. But I think the principle is sacrosanct. We ought to be on the side of those who are challenging these governments from within and we ought to be looking for creative ways to open up space for them to challenge their own societies. So I’m with you on that. I will look into the particular –
SEN. BROWNBACK: If you would.
MR. POSNER: – grant you described.
SEN. BROWNBACK: I would appreciate that and just, it’s been a frustration for me that for years we’ve gotten some funding for civil society and democracy building in Iran and then a lot of times it doesn’t get spent by the administration. And I presume they use the same sort of statement that you have, well, it’s, kind of, hard to tell because we don’t have somebody in on the ground but there are a number of groups working on these topics.
And then, just that lack of any infrastructure of civil society – then when you get a moment where change could actually happen, you don’t have any fertile soil for the seeds to take root and move forward with. And so I would urge you – you may have to take some risk in doing that. And then finally, the Congress is close to appropriating 30 million (dollars) for Global Internet Freedom programming. Maybe this is for you, I don’t know, maybe Gordon, but perhaps for Assistant Secretary Posner.
During the Iran revolutionary – not the Iran revolution – but the Iran election and the follow onto that – some very creative folks outside the system set up ways that people could access Twitter and Facebook. You look at it and it’s almost like with sticks and knives that they whittled this thing together. But they did it. And it gave people a way to communicate.
I would hope that these sort of funds, with some others, could open up that Internet. That could really be just a huge benefit in any of the closed societies around the – particularly Iran and China but other closed societies too. Thanks, Chairman.
MR. POSNER: We actually have a group in our Democracy, Rights and Labor Bureau that’s looking just at this issue. And I feel very strongly that there are lots of opportunities. I think this is the new activism. As in the ’80s, people were trying to keep books out of the Moscow Book Fair, the Russians were.
I think we’re now looking at a new generation of activists who use Twitter, as they did in Iran, and who used the Internet and used new means of communication to talk with each other and to talk with the world. It is in our interest to open up that space and I’m delighted that Congress is supportive of that. We’re equally interested in trying to pursue and push the limits of how to do that.
SEN. CARDIN: We’ve been joined by Congressman Issa, nice to have you here. I’ll give you a moment to catch your breath and then, as I understand that we’re okay till three-thirty when your schedule – make sure I have the right – let me talk about a couple areas specific. Let’s start with Georgia because we did have some discussions about Georgia. But I do want to get your assessment as to how stable things are in Georgia today without having an international mission there, without having access to certain areas. What is the prognosis and is there any suggestions as to how we could, perhaps, provide greater monitoring as to what’s happening?
MR. GORDON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman for raising that issue. The situation in Georgia is clearly unsatisfactory. I don’t think we see signs of any imminent conflict re-emerging but it’s certainly not time to be complacent given such an unstable situation. We regret, as you point out, that the diverse international monitoring groups that were there are, for the most part, no
The U.N. is no longer in Abkhazia and the OSCE is no longer in South Ossetia. We regret that because they were performing an important role of transparency. They were our eyes and ears on the ground. We got to a point where we could no longer, we could not go along with the conditions that the Russians were trying to put on their continued presence which were, in our view, would have changed the status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
We insisted all along that any U.N. mission or any OSCE mission be status-neutral. They couldn’t agree to that and therefore, we, and the Georgian government even more importantly, wouldn’t agree. And that led to the department of the OSCE and the U.N. missions, which was regrettable. Fortunately, the European Union stepped in and has provided monitors. And right now, those are the only eyes and ears on the ground. It is far better than nothing because they’re able to independently verify.
You sometimes get murky reports about what’s happening at checkpoints and what different people are doing with military forces. And it’s helpful to have the European Union monitoring mission there although it’s not in all of Georgia. And we believe, continue to believe, there need to be independent international, unbiased monitors throughout the whole country.
So that’s why I say it’s not a satisfactory situation nor is it satisfactory in terms of access of humanitarian assistance and NGOs to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. And we raised this at the highest levels and frequently with Russia but have yet to get satisfaction in terms of getting those NGOs and humanitarian groups in. We continue to do so. We’ll do it again at the OSCE Ministerial in Athens.
But we’re not satisfied, we also – let me just repeat – believe that Russia needs to fully implement the August and September cease-fires of 2008 which would require them to bring their forces back to the positions that they held before August 7th, 2008. And they haven’t done that. So we have a lot of work to do. We don’t see any imminent threat of a military conflict breaking out again. But it can’t be excluded and, therefore, we have a lot more work to do.
SEN. CARDIN: Well, I think our observations are the same here so we – it’s a little frustrating because without having the international mission there, it’s difficult for us to know whether there are changes taking place, getting objective information about it. And clearly that’s needed. So I hope we’ll continue to work on a strategy that can try to cool that circumstances down so that we don’t have a threat of open conflict.
We’ve invested a lot in the Balkans and there’s certainly been a lot of positive signs in the Balkans. Many of the countries are emerging much stronger. They’re our allies in NATO; they’re our allies in many other areas. They’re just strong democracies that are coming out of the Balkans. But there’s one country that’s backsliding and that’s Bosnia. And I say it openly and with regret.
We were in Bosnia not too long ago. And I think we all held out hope that we would be much further along in regards to NATO and in regards to the EU than we are today. And we still, obviously, that’s our goal. And we’re going to continue to focus on that. But quite frankly, there’s been concern that the ethnic factions within Bosnia are preventing the type of constitutional reforms that are necessary for Bosnia to make the transition.
And troubling to us is that we’re not sure there is the will within Europe to firmly stand behind the necessary constitutional reforms before moving to the next step in Bosnia – particularly with the Office of High Representative. So if you could, could I get your assessment as to where you think we are in Bosnia?
MR. GORDON: Sure, thank you. We share much of your assessment, certainly about backsliding in Bosnia. And that’s in contrast not only to much of Europe overall where, broadly, over the 14 years since the Dayton Agreement we’ve made significant progress in Central Europe, Northern Europe and parts of Eastern – but even in parts of the Balkans. Albania and Croatia have joined NATO.
Serbia, with which we have some differences over Kosovo, has elected a government that is pro-Western, pro-European Union, cooperative with us, the general trend in the region is, with all the difficulties, countries gradually reforming economically and politically and moving towards the West. Bosnia, as you point out, on the other hand, has stagnated, at best, or slid backwards, at worst.
So we certainly share that analysis, which is what motivated us recently to enhance our engagement. I think in the Obama administration, there are a lot of people who have great experience and expertise in the Balkans; we went through that in the Clinton administration. Many senior officials including the gentleman to my left, were very deeply engaged in it at the time, and now are back in office and are very interested in Bosnia and committed to our engagement there.
So in recent weeks, we recommitted and we did so, as I’m sure you followed, together with the European Union, and this will allow be to address your point about whether the Europeans are equally committed. We felt that was necessary because ultimately, we can only do this together with European partners.
Bosnia’s in Europe; the greatest motivating factor for many of these countries in the Balkans is their ultimate desire to join the European Union and join the West, and Euro-Atlantic institutions. Indeed, one of the few things, frankly, that all Bosnians do agree on is ultimately the desire to be a part of Europe, visa-free travel, membership in the European Union, and the prosperity and democracy that comes with it. So we have to do this together with the European partners. And there I would actually say we’re very satisfied with the degree to which we see it in the same way and are committed to doing the same things.
So Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg together with Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt in the rotating EU presidency have been twice together to Sarajevo in the past several weeks to try to make clear to the Bosnians, we are ready to help.
We’ve been frank with them, as the vice president was when he took a trip there last spring, about their backsliding. And we have told them that if they want this future in Europe and in Euro-Atlantic institutions, they need to get over these ethnic and nationalist disputes. And they need, at least, to get on the starting line towards European integration. And that requires some domestic changes in having a functional government.
We don’t believe that there can be a massive reform of Bosnia’s’ constitution immediately because the parties aren’t ready for it. But to make changes that would allow them to be a candidate for European Union membership, to have a functional government, to deal with the issue of dividing state property, we think we put on the table a very reasonable package that would allow them to do that.
And, again, Secretary Steinberg and Foreign Minister Bildt have presented that. The parties are considering it. We appreciate the fact that they have all come to these meetings and engaged even though there are differences, and we’re going to continue to work it because ultimately, as you suggested, we’ve already invested a lot in Bosnia over the past 15 years and more. And it is in Europe’s interest as a whole to have a more stable Bosnia on the path towards Europe.
SEN. CARDIN: Well, I’m glad to hear that we’re working closely with Europe. There was some concern about that. Congressman Issa?
REP. DARRELL E. ISSA (R-CA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Secretary Posner, President Obama made a statement or a series of statements – but one of them was about dictators loosening the clench of their fist. And he was referring, in many cases, to the countries in the East. That was very reminiscent of Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush. What is different in this administration? How is that going to be accomplished vis-а-vis not just some of the remaining nondemocratic states, but also Russia’s impact on maintaining some of these strongmen?
MR. POSNER: Congressman, I think the approach of this administration, which is in the long term going to get results, is a combination of a willingness to engage in a principled way; a determination to hold every government to a single, universal human rights standard; and a tenacity about telling the truth. So when I met in Warsaw with my Russian counterpart, the conversation was about Natalia Estemirova, the memorial researcher in Chechnya, who was killed, and the failure to investigate. It is not for us, necessarily, the only issue. There are other issues on the agenda.
But we are going to be direct and forthright in raising the concerns about civil society, about the ability of people within a society to challenge government actions. And we’re going to look for results. It’s going to take time, it’s going to take energy – it’s partly what I’m there to do – but I’m determined to do it in a way that brings in my colleagues who work on these issues day-to-day in each of the regions, and to do it in a principled but practical way that really affects real people.
We’re going to struggle with some of these, I don’t have any doubt. These are the toughest issues, in some cases, to take up with a government like Russia. But they’ve made a commitment in the Estemirova case that they’re going to investigate, and I think it’s critical that we hold them to that commitment.
REP. ISSA: Do you believe you’ll be holding the Syrian government to that same standard for the assassination of Rafiq Hariri?
MR. GORDON: Absolutely. It is in our interest, again, to be honest and to hold every government – including ourselves – to a set of standards that are outlined in the universal declaration of human rights. That’s what this is about. And is it easy to do it? No. But it’s the only way, I think, to get results.
REP. ISSA: Secretary Gordon, this is not intended to be astray but it will sound astray at first: As I look at the Eastern and Western European situation, it seems to be Russian-centric because of Russian oil and natural gas – no surprise – and we have here on the Hill today a large group of EU parliamentarians who are very concerned and very involved in seeing that we live up to a cap-and-trade agreement.
Having said that, it’s not the cap-and-trade agreement I want to talk about. It’s if we assume for a moment that Europe dramatically reduces its dependence on carbon-based fuels through any means, it’s probably good for their reducing their dependency on Russian carbon products.
However, if the United States is competing for those same resources – in other words, if, in some cases, it’s – do we get alternate energy or not – and in the case of the Europeans, if Russia’s allowed to continue using it as a weapon during the interim to those who need it, isn’t it, in a sense, going to simply raise the cost of doing business but not deter the Russians from using it as a weapon?
In short, how is it we use cap-and-trade, global warming, the reduction on carbon fuels – how can we use it as a positive part of creating a situation in which Russia’s weapon is less powerful?
MR. GORDON: Thank you. I think it actually would make a positive contribution to the political side of the energy security equation. Those who are most focused on cap-and-trade and alternative energy – and no doubt the European parliamentarians you saw are interested in it primarily for climate change reasons. That’s the main thing on their list. But if you’re reducing your dependence on carbon, which, in Europe’s case means imports –
REP. ISSA: And from Russia for the most part.
MR. GORDON: Natural gas from Russia; oil from both Russia and other places – then it would have a positive corollary in political and security terms because you would be less dependent. We have seen that countries that are exceedingly dependent for energy on Russia are naturally, inevitably, at least partly dependent on them politically.
So in that sense, the focus on reducing energy imports for reasons of the environment has a positive political corollary from which we would all benefit. We have put great emphasis on European energy security for both of those reasons, but including the one that we believe that countries that are dependent on a single supplier – and this is more true of gas than oil because oil, being fungible, can come from elsewhere –
REP. ISSA: At least in some cases, yeah.
MR. GORDON: In some cases – but if you’re dependent on a gas pipeline, you can’t just build a new gas pipeline the next day. So we’ve been very much focused on that and believe – I mean, there’s not one fix to this problem.
As you know, the president and secretary named Ambassador Dick Morningstar to focus solely on this question of Eurasian energy security because it is so important to us. We know there’s not one fix to this problem. It’s not just going to be renewable; it’s not going to be diversification; it’s not just going to be conservation, but all of those things together will hopefully contribute it to the lessening of political dependence of Europeans on Russians.
REP. ISSA: And then this last question along that line, the previous administration was very supportive of Kazakhstan and other Caspian Sea exports – the idea being that if they exported around Russia, it created a genuine second path; if they exported through Russia, it actually made it more difficult for us to have an independent relationship with some of the –’Stans, particularly Kazakhstan.
Will this administration follow the same tact of finding ways to create those opportunities for oil and also now natural gas to come out of that region?
MR. GORDON: Diversification is the key to this. We strongly believe in that. It’s the corollary to the answer I gave to your first question about dependence. And therefore, alternative sources of energy – be they Caspian, Central Asian or other – lessen Europe’s energy dependence and therefore political dependence on Russia.
That’s why we’ve been promoting the Southern Corridor – without committing to any particular pipeline or another – the idea that even if the gas and oil comes from Central Asia, if it passes through Russia, then you’re still at least some part dependent on Russia. If you have another corridor for gas and oil, then you have alternatives. And that, we think, has political end and economic and energy benefits.
REP. ISSA: And then for actually any of you that feel comfortable answering it, we who are here look at Russia-Iran, Russian-Eastern and Western Europe. Is there a tradeoff? In fact, are we giving up – when we push hard to get something on the Iran front, are we, in fact, selling out European, if you will, strong pushes and vice versa? And if so, how do we maximize the ability to do enough to deter Iran, with Russia’s help, and at the same time, not sell out the efforts for democracy and rule of law in Eastern Europe?
MR. GORDON: I’ll make a brief comment; I don’t know if others will want to weigh in. Obviously, there are always potential challenges and tradeoffs in diplomacy; what I would say is that the president has made very clear – certainly where Russia is concerned – that our desire for a better and more constructive relationship with Russia, and even concrete agreements with Russia, will not come at the expense of our principles or our friends.
So when we look to sign a START treaty with Russia or an Afghan lethal transit agreement with Russia, or anything with Russia, we’re doing so because we think we have a mutual interest in doing so with Russia. And we don’t compromise on important principles that we have about supporting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of our friends in Europe or their right to choose their alliances or anything else, for that matter.
REP. ISSA: Thank you, Senator.
SEN. CARDIN: Congressman Smith?
REP. SMITH: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Let me just – on Bosnia very briefly – and you may want to comment or not comment, but it seems to me that entity voting remains the reason why the parliament, the legislature in Bosnia, is dysfunctional.
When a small group, a small clack, of people can block virtually everything the parliament does, leaving it all to the high representative – I know that it was a very substantive suggestion made that could have led to, I think, serious reform. And we had our own small states/big states problem at the beginning of this democracy, and we resolved it by having two senators and representation by the House to reflect population.
I would hope that the idea that was put forward will be revisited. I know it’s been largely rejected thus far but I think we have an impasse until something along the lines of that idea, which you know very well all about, is resurrected and promoted. And I hope our European friends would buy into it as well. To the best of my knowledge, they have not. But we’ve got to make that parliament functional – or at least encourage it; they’ve got to do it themselves, of course.
On another issue, we had a hearing just a few days ago, several days ago, where the three personal representatives from the OSCE on the anti-Christian efforts – to combat that – the anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic – all made very cogent presentations. Rabbi Andy Baker, who is there to combat anti-Semitism, made a very important point that there are a large number of projects that are falling through the cracks because of insufficient funding.
One would be the Train the Trainers program, which we initiated back during the Berlin conference. It came in collaboration with the American Jewish Committee here in the United States, and it is an excellent example that with a very
small amount of money, huge benefits can be realized. And I would hope that project in particular and others that Rabbi Baker has outlined would be looked at to see if a small amount of money – and we’re not talking big change in a Capitol now that’s talking trillions and not even billions anymore – could make an enormous amount of different in combating anti-Semitism and those other forms of intolerance. So I would ask you, if you could take that back?
MR. POSNER: (Inaudible, off mike) – with Rabbi Baker and one of the other representatives, but we agreed we were going to have a follow-up conversation. I’ll take it up.
REP. SMITH: Thank you very much.
SEN. CARDIN: The record will remain open for written questions, and we do appreciate your time, and thank you for your input. And we look forward to continuing to work with you, and in Mr. Posner’s case, we look forward to you joining us in our workload on this commission. With that, the commission will stand adjourned.