Ambassadors Archive 2

Ambassadors Archive 2

Macedonia: Bridging Past and Present

Interview with Ambassador HE Zoran Jolevski

By Alan Dessoff 

Observing its 20th year as an independent nation and with a history that reaches back more than 2,500 years, the Republic of Macedonia finds itself bridging the past and present, principally over one key issue that stands in the way of its continued advancement: Greece’s objection to its admission to the European Union because of its name. Resolving it in Macedonia’s favor is the top goal of Ambassador Zoran Jolevski, who was appointed to his post in March 2007.

Since Macedonia, with a current population of 2 million, gained its independence peacefully from Yugoslavia in 1991, Greece has objected to the new state’s use of what it considers a Hellenic name and symbols. The name derives from the Greek “Makedonia,” a kingdom and later a region, named after the ancient Macedonians. Greece’s objection of its modern acceptance delayed international recognition of Macedonia, and although Greece lifted a 20-month trade embargo in 1995 and the two countries agreed to normalize relations, Greece’s refusal to accept Macedonia’s name remains an obstacle—the only obstacle—to Macedonia’s accession to the EU, says Macedonia’s Ambassador. In addition to his Washington assignment, he is the Macedonian government’s chief negotiator on the name differences with Greece under the auspices of the United Nations.

WI: Ambassador Jolevski, please outline briefly the origins of the name Macedonia.

Ambassador: Excellent question, but it really should be answered by a historian or anthropologist. What matters most today – and to us Macedonians – is that we define ourselves, our language, our land, our church and our culture as Macedonian. And we have been doing this for a very long time.

WI: What is the significance of the name that makes it a tug-of-war between Greece and Macedonia?

Ambassador: You know, it is often repeated but it is still very true: young people are the future of any nation. A young high school student named Ivan in our capital of Skopje said this in a documentary film about Macedonia: “What the name Macedonia means to us Macedonians words can’t describe. It is something that we are born with and we die with. That’s what our ancestors left to us and we are supposed to continue it with future generations. The name Macedonia determines our Macedonian language, our nationality and everything else related to the identity.”

In other words, the name “Macedonia” becomes a descriptor for our nationality, our language, our church, our culture, just as the name “Estonia” does the same thing for the Estonians, “Mongolia” does for the Mongolians, etc.

WI:. When you changed the flag to become a member of the EU was it a symbolic gesture?

Ambassador: First of all, we did not change our flag to become a member of the EU. Our neighbor Greece placed an economic embargo on our land-locked country in 1994/95. We took into consideration their concerns and in a gesture of goodwill, changed our flag and a small part of our constitution to address their concerns. We did that with the understanding that they would then not stand in the way of our membership aspirations into the EU and NATO. Unfortunately, that turned out not to be true and they are still blocking us because of our chosen name and identity.

WI: After the recently released annual progress report on EU accession what does your country need to work on?

Ambassador: There are a number of areas that we have been working on, are working on and still need to work on including reforms in the judiciary, public administration and the fight against corruption. We are not a perfect country, by any stretch of the imagination, but we are working to improve our country and we are making progress.

WI: What is Macedonia's status at this moment on membership in the EU, and is it something Macedonians really want without ambivalence?

Ambassador: I’m not entirely sure what you mean when you say “without ambivalence,” but yes, polls have consistently shown that upwards of 90% of the Macedonian population wants membership in the EU and NATO. At this moment, we are waiting on Brussels to give us the green light to begin EU accession negotiations. The European Commission has recommended – three times now – that Macedonia begins talks on accession but the first two times the beginning of accession talks have been vetoed by Greece. We hope that this December will we will get a green light.

WI: Your economy improved in the last part of 2010 but has it been affected by Greece's current economic situation?

Ambassador: Fortunately the events in Greece have not had a big impact on our economy. As you may know, Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski was re-elected in June to a third term in snap elections and he has implemented, among other reforms, a 10% flat tax on individuals and businesses (this he did in 2008). The government continues to create conditions which allow wealth creation among businesses while at the same time pursing structural reforms in the administration, fighting corruption and ensuring that private property is respected. All of these reforms have paid off: The latest “Doing Business” report from the International Finance Corporation and World Bank ranked Macedonia 22 in the world in terms of ease of doing business. Macedonia ranked higher than such countries as Estonia, Taiwan, France and Slovenia just to name a few. And after gains of 5% or more in GDP in 2007 and 2008, Macedonia’s economy shrank by less than 1% in the 2009 global economic downturn but is now set to expand this year by 3.4% and next year by 4.3%.

WI:. What are your greatest resources and exports?

Ambassador: Our people to answer both questions. The Macedonian people are hard-working, generous, hospitable, creative and honest. They are the ones who deserve the credit for bringing Macedonia to this point today, 20 years after voting for independence. The people of Macedonia are our greatest resources and exports, but if you are looking for a traditional answer, I would say that resource-wise, Macedonia has abundant agriculture resources, including wine, tobacco, fresh and organic vegetables, minerals, and of course, a stunning landscape – including Lake Ohrid – that can offer inexpensive yet unique touristic opportunities for those people looking for something different. As for exports, again, it is agriculture but also culture. But I should also mention our human exports two of whom are our world-famous opera singer, baritone Boris Trajanov and the world-famous pianist Simon Trpceski.

WI: Are you planning many cultural events at the embassy to celebrate 20 years of Macedonian independence and what makes you most proud of your culture?

Ambassador: Again, it is our people who make our culture and make me most proud of our culture. The Macedonian people are the ones who make up our language, music, visual arts, culinary traditions and so many other aspects of our country and people. The Macedonian people are open, hospitable with a giving spirit and attitude. That is what makes me most proud of our Macedonian culture.

WI: What are the three major goals you would like to achieve while in Washington?

Ambassador: First, I would like to see Macedonia as a member of NATO and in substantive talks on EU membership. Second, I would like to see greater economic investment in Macedonia from US private sector companies. Third, I would like to see an expansion of the educational and cultural cooperation that already exists between Macedonian and their US counterparts. We have already made great strides towards all three of these goals and while we may not accomplish all of them during my tenure, we will make significant progress toward all of them.

Ambassadors Archive 2

The Republic of Cyprus: Seeking Unity


Interview with Ambassador Pavlos Anastasiades

By Alan Dessoff 

Celebrating 50 years of independence, and with an archaeological history that dates back 9,000 years, the Republic of Cyprus is looking to its future with one overriding political objective: Reunification of the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots who share the island nation that is about half the land size of the state of Connecticut.

Ending Turkey’s occupation, since 1974, of 37 percent of the island’s territory is “the most important issue for us. It is of burning concern. It defines the essence of our policy and national priorities,” states Ambassador Pavlos Anastasiades, who arrived in Washington and presented his credentials to President Barack Obama in September 2010.

While he is hopeful that the objective will be achieved, several rounds of talks between the island’s two main Cypriot communities have failed so far to lead to any positive development. Anastasiades maintains that is due to the Turkish side’s intransigence and continuing effort to partition the island by means of maintaining an occupation army of 40,000 soldiers and by colonization of the occupied part of Cyprus with more than 80,000 settlers from Anatolia.

“It is something we can not allow to continue forever. The people of Cyprus want to end it. They have been suffering violations of their human rights for so many years,” says Anastasiades. He points out that nearly 200,000 Greek Cypriots — 40 percent of the total Greek population — were forced to leave their homes in the occupied area and have become “refugees in their own country.”

The Ambassador cites his hometown, Famagusta. “I was born there, grew up there, went to school there,” he says, but “I have not been back.” A large part of it has been fenced off and other parts have been colonized, he says. “It is a tragic situation. You have a city rotting there. It is a ghost town now. Its inhabitants are not allowed to return.”

To address both the situation in Famagusta and the overall occupation, Cypriot President Demetris Christofias has proposed that the walled area of Famagusta be placed under United Nations administration for reconstruction and restoration. Within the walls is the old medieval city of Famagusta, where Shakespeare’s “Othello” was set. “The old medieval Famagusta is part of the common heritage of Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Putting it under the UN for reconstruction would make it politically more acceptable,” Anastasiades says, adding that the Cyprus government would fund the reconstruction with support from international sources “that would wish to help.” He notes that the U.S. Congress, in the 1980s, authorized a “substantial amount for reconstruction whenever we have a solution.”

The proposal for Famagusta includes opening its port and placing it under the auspices of the European Union, which would enable Turkish Cypriots to “trade legally with the world,” Anastasiades continues. That can not happen now, he explains, because its location, in the occupied area of Cyprus, means it is not under control of the country’s legal government.

Placing the port under EU auspices would provide an added benefit for the Turkish Cypriot community, Anastasiades says. “To reconstruct Famagusta would require billions of dollars of material that would be expected to come through the port, so it would provide a huge economic infusion” for the Turkish Cypriots, he says.

“The proposal would be beneficial for everyone concerned. It is a win-win situation,” he declares. Even though the Turkish Cypriot leadership has not accepted it, “it is still on the table. It is a significant confidence-building measure that would show that we can work together. It would change the whole political climate.”

While its major political problem remains unresolved, Anastasiades points out that Cyprus’s economy has remained “very robust,” even in the face of “a severe global economic and financial crisis.” It has impacted Cyprus in a “secondary way,” the Ambassador says, acknowledging that “we suffer the effects of the downturn in major markets,” especially in western and northern Europe.

He cites Great Britain as an example. Cyprus has close trade and tourist relations with the United Kingdom and much of its real estate market is influenced by what happens there, he explains. The downturn in the UK’s economy has caused a drop in the number of tourists coming to Cyprus, where tourism provides the most national income. Similarly, Cyprus’s real estate market has been impacted because of reduced interest by British and other northern European buyers in coming to Cyprus and investing in its real estate.

Still, “our financial situation is healthy and robust. We don’t have the problems others have had,” Anastasiades says, although “we have experienced the after-effects” of the economic problems in other countries. It has been reflected in Cyprus in a drop in the rate of growth and increases in the country’s budget deficit and unemployment.”

The budget deficit has “created difficulties for a certain strata of the population” but Cyprus has taken measures to combat it. “It is important that we return to a budget deficit that is within the limit of what the Eurozone demands. We estimate that within two or three years, we will be within three percent of that. Being a member of the Eurozone is an important safeguard for Cyprus. We have not faced the uncertainties that other small states perhaps have face,” Anastasiades maintains.

While financial services and its maritime industry — Cyprus is among the world’s top 10 shipping countries — are the mainstays of its economy, Anastasiades says the Cyprus economy is fundamentally service-oriented, with a professional workforce including accountants and lawyers. Its location and its network of relations and agreements with many countries in the Middle East and Europe make Cyprus “a robust and important international business center,” Anastasiades says. “And people speak English,” he adds.

Although it has become more service-oriented, Cyprus essentially has been an agricultural-based economy, and maintains significant agricultural activity for its “social significance; we want to maintain incentives for some of the population to stay in the countryside,” Anastasiades says.

He cites the country’s “niche” products, notably Halloumi cheese and Cypriot wines. New archaeological evidence reveals that winemaking on the island dates back some 5,500 years. “Cyprus: Culinary Crossroads of the Mediterranean” was the subject of a December lecture at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, in collaboration with the Smithsonian Associates, as an extended celebration of the country’s anniversary of its 50 years of independence. The Smithsonian exhibition, “Cyprus: Crossroads of Civilization,” which opened last September and will be on view in the Museum of Natural History through May 1, features the largest collection of Cypriot antiquities, coins and other artifacts that the country ever put together and sent abroad, to date it has drawn more than one million visitors, Anastasiades reports.

While Cyprus prides itself on its rich historical and cultural heritage and its modern economic and financial strengths, its unresolved political problem with Turkey underscores its concerns. Anastasiades has met in Washington with Turkish Ambassador Namik Tan. “We had a very civil meeting. There was no problem in establishing a relationship with him,” Anastasiades says.

Similarly, Cyprus’s relations with the United States “are good, on a very high level. One country may be large and the other small, but we have been valued partners,” he says. Although there is no special U.S. envoy in Cyprus now, “the U.S. maintains interest in Cyprus. It supports reunification, supports ongoing negotiations, wants very much to see a resolution of the problem,” Reunification of Cyprus and safeguarding the country as an independent state, free from foreign domination, are “very consistent with the values of the U.S. and also with U.S. strategic interests,” he declares.

He says he will seek to “deepen and widen” the relationship between the countries, particularly on security, economic and energy issues, and “hopefully get a Visa waiver.” Also, “we want to become more well-known in the U.S.”

He underscores that his principal mission in Washington is to “do what I can” with the Administration, Congress, the media and “the wider community of the America people” to assist in the overall effort to end the occupation and to reunify Cyprus. “It is a terrible injustice that has been going on for 37 years,” Anastasiades says. During that time, he points out, “so many other seemingly intractable problems, like the Berlin Wall and Ireland, have been resolved.”

The blame for the continuing division in Cyprus rests with Turkish leaders in Ankara, he asserts, “because they are the dominant power, economically and politically, in the occupation of Cyprus. They have more than 40,000 heavily armed troops there. They really call the shots. Unfortunately, Turkey does not recognize Cyprus and chooses not to have direct communication with us,” he says.

“If Turkey took the position to engage constructively in moving negotiations forward, it would be of great benefit. There are constructive ways of meeting the fundamental concerns of basic human rights without undermining the basic common objective — a bi-zonal, bi-communal declaration with political equality; with a single, international personality, a single sovereignty, a single citizenship. Within that framework, we can find solutions to meet the concerns of both sides.'

“Cyprus is a small island, too small to be divided, but it is large enough to accommodate all its people. There are more things that unite Cypriots than divide them,” Anastasiades exclaims.

“This is our top priority. Nothing else matters as much to us. We remain at the negotiating table and hope the Turkish Cypriot side and Ankara will respond positively. If I see that question resolved satisfactorily during my term of duty here, I will be ecstatic,” Ambassador Anastasiades concludes.

Ambassadors Archive 2

Turkey: A Democratic, Dynamic, Transforming Country

Interview with Ambassador Namik Tan

By Alan Dessoff

Washington International (WI): What is the current relationship like between Turkey and the US?

Ambassador Tan: We have a comprehensive relationship with the US that goes back more than half a century. Turkey’s membership in NATO began the development of the relationship into a friendship, an alliance, a partnership. The United States is at the top of our foreign policy agenda. It has been tested in the pasta, but the relationship is as critically important to Turkey as it is to the US in the sense that Turkey, as a Muslim country, is a generator of peace and stability. We cherish the same values as the US does — transparency, freedom of speech, free trade, a free market economy.

WI: What are Turkey’s greatest resources, and how much has the downturn in the global economy affected your economy?

Ambassador: The figures speak for themselves. Turkey is the 17th largest economy in the world and the 6th largest in Europe. Excluding the difficult last year, when we all suffered from a global economic downturn, the Turkish economy has expanded uninterruptedly during the last six years with a 7.4 percent average growth rate, and thus achieved the highest economic growth rate among the OECD countries. With an 11.7 percent growth rate in the first quarter of 2010, Turkey ranked fifth in the world.

Turkey’s construction sector ranks second in the world, following China. There are 35 Turkish construction firms among the top 225 international companies. Turkey’s cumulative exports increased by an annual rate of 13 percent over the last nine years. Turkey’s foreign trade volume had surged to $334 million (US) by 2008. Turkey attracted some $20 billion US worth FDI annually over the last three years prior to 2009.

Last year, 27 million tourists visited Turkey, ranking our country among the top 10 tourist destinations in the world. We have the largest young population in Europe, with 65 percent under the age 34. Every year, 400,000 students graduate from 125 universities in Turkey.

Turkey is the second largest flat glass producer and the 7th largest cement producer in the world. We are the 8th largest shipbuilder and 3rd largest mega yacht producer. Turkey is the 5th ranked iron and steel producer, the largest fertilizer producer, the 6th largest automotive manufacturer, the largest bus manufacturer, and second largest light truck maker in Europe. We are the largest TV panel supplier to Europe and the second largest home appliance producer in Europe. In 2008, 18 million units of refrigerators, washing machines, ovens and dishwashers were produced in Turkey, with more than two-thirds of them exported to Europe.

Turkey is the second largest apparel and home textile supplier to Europe and fourth largest to the world. We are among the top 5 countries in global vegetable production and among the top 10 countries in fruits and crops production.

The Internet audience in Turkey is one of the most active in the world. We are the fifth largest Internet market in wider Europe. Turkey now has the third largest country presence on Facebook, behind only the US and Canada. There are 64 million cell phone subscribers in a population of 72 million. With a 90 percent of cell phone penetration rate, Turkey ranks as one of the highest in the world. Every month, more than a million cell phones are sold in the market.

Located in the vicinity of regions holding 70 percent of the world’s hydrocarbon resources, Turkey serves as a natural energy bridge between the East and West, North and South. Almost 10 percent of the world’s tradable oil will pass through Turkey once the proposed pipeline projects are realized.

Last year was a difficult one for all of us, so our economy shrank almost 30 percent altogether. But it is recovering now. In the first four months of this year, the figures show the economy is coming back and we are very happy about that. The potential is far beyond that. That is why, during our Prime Minister’s visit to the US last December, we signed a framework arrangement with the US that established a board of ministers, two from each side. These four political figures are tasked to find ways to expand even further the existing relationship between our countries. They will hold their first meeting in Washington in October. Presently, our Minister of Commerce is touring the US — Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta. He visited New York and Washington earlier.

We have reenergized all our agencies and businesses and they are aggressively working with their American counterparts to explore the potential of bringing our relationship with the US to new heights.

WI: To what would you attribute Turkey’s economic success?

Ambassador: We have a very young, dynamic population. They are well educated and creative. Entrepreneurship is booming in almost every sector. When President Obama had the global entrepreneurship conference, it was opened to participation of entrepreneurs from Muslim countries. He announced that the next meeting will be held in Turkey next year, because he saw the potential and the energy and the willingness and the courage of the young entrepreneurs who participated in the conference. There were many interesting projects so they attracted a lot of attention.

Having the unique ability to reach out to almost every corner of the world because of our diverse culture, we have extensive relationships. Our aim is to create a peaceful and stable neighborhood.

WI: What about trading with your neighbors?

Ambassador: Yes, we are trading with our neighbors. It is a very tough neighborhood and we have several problems in the region. We have the Iranian situation, and complications in the Caucusus. We have very serious problems in the Middle East and other complications in the Balkans. We are surrounded by complex problems.

We try to project our soft power, reaching out and engaging all our neighbors irrespective of their political orientation, or faith or beliefs. We try to engage them in some common activity. That’s how we tripled our exports in the last 5 or 6 years.

WI: Have you seen any changes in the neighborhood because of your faith?

Ambassador: That is a very good question; why are we doing this? From east to west, west to east, north to south, south to north, every part of Turkey is working to reach out to reflect the best example of a democracy in a Muslim country, which creates a lot of attention.

We have been negotiating with the EU since 2004 to become a member. Several hundred Arab and Muslim journalists from all over the world were watching this process for the first time in the history of the EU. Why? Because they wanted to see Turkey’s experience as a Muslim and Arab country. It resonates in a powerful and effective way to all those countries that want to cherish the values we cherish. Turkey, with its democracy and vibrant economy, is and will be the best example for all those countries.

This is a huge change from Turkey a decade ago. It was a different Turkey. It is entirely changed now. You see change every year. Turkey’s dynamism is changing the country. The change is not well understood in your part of the world—the vibrancy that Turkey has, when you look at other countries, even the EU members, going through a very difficult time. But Turkey, with a stable, sound economy, is there, very powerful. I think the news comes here and goes into people’s minds and memories very late. They think of Turkey as a country with old habits and practices. It’s not any more. It is a different, vibrant country.

We have been doing a great job with the US in Iraq and will continue to do that. In Afghanistan, we have helped coordinate our efforts again to bring peace and stability to the country. Turkey is a positive actor there, with the US and other NATO allies. And in the Caucuses, again we have tried hard and are still trying to find solutions to the existing problems. We’ve been doing the same things to bring together the warring parties. In the Balkans, Serbia, Bosnia, in all these areas that have complex problems, Turkey is helping. Turkey is a NATO member and a founding member of all the western institutions that you can name. And we are a member of the most of the institutions in Eurasia and a founding member of some of them. And again, we are trying to find a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Turkey is next to no one in trying to bring these parties to a peaceful solution.

WI: Would you care to comment on the humanitarian flotilla from Turkey to Gaza that was intercepted by Israeli soldiers? And what is the current relationship between your country and Israel?

Ambassador: Well, of course, Israel made a big mistake. Turkey has always been a friend to Israel in this volatile region and is still a friend. But Israel, with this operation in international waters, they intercepted a civilian aid convoy and killed 9 Turkish civilians, including one who was an American citizen. So it really offended all the Turkish people. It can not be accepted unless they apologize for what they have done and compensate the families of the victims. This is a necessity and if they do not do it, I think our relationship will be strained. It’s already strained but will get worse, and we don’t want that. But the responsibility is not ours. They have to bear the responsibility and take the first step.

WI: They said the people were armed.

Ambassador: This can not be farther from the truth. I don’t want to go further into this tragedy, but nobody so far has proven that there were any weapons on those ships and they will never be able to do so. They were all civilians and the whole cargo was checked in Turkey. There were no weapons or devices of that sort. But anyhow, Israel is about to lose a friend.

WI: Will that affect your relationship with the US?

Ambassador: It has nothing to do with the US relationship. That is entirely separate. This is not a problem between Israel and Turkey. It is a problem between Israel and the international community. But everybody should know what we have done for Israel. We tried to find solutions for their problems with the Syrians; we mediated between Syria and Israel. So we have never had any intention to destroy our relationship with Israel. It’s the Israeli government that has taken a clumsy stance.

But we are actively working in the region to reach our common goal of bringing peace and stability and democracy to the whole neighborhood. The tool that we use is economic, commercial integration, with the countries around Turkey. Now we have a very good relationship with Russia, and good relations with Greece, Syria, Iraq and Iran. I mean in the sense that we are trying to reach them economically and on a human-to-human level, no political thing.

WI: What about sanctions against Iran?

Ambassador: Iran is our neighbor, so whatever happens there has an immediate effect on all of Turkey. This has happened in Iraq as well. In the crisis of Iraq, we paid the price, we suffered, we lost a great deal, so we don’t want a similar thing to happen to Turkey again.

So the fundamentals of our position with the US are exactly the same, 100 percent overlapping. We don’t want nuclear weapons in Iran. We are against nuclear weapons, and not only in Iran. We don’t want any nuclear weapons in our region.

We think that engagement should be the solution, especially with regards to Iran, so we fully support the engagement policy of the US. Our political leaders — our Prime Minister and Foreign Minister — have spoken to their US counterparts, President Obama and Secretary Clinton, tens of times. They have exchanged extensive information as to what we have done in trying to bring the Iranians to the negotiating table. If we want to have a sustainable peace with Iran and the international community, the only way should be finding solutions to the differences only in negotiations, not by any other means.

We see hope. We strongly believe we can deliver on this and that the international community can deliver, because we have been talking with them, we are engaging with Iran. We are telling them they should be transparent and work closely with the international bodies.

With Brazil, we signed a trilateral document that commits Iranians, for the first time in the history of the Islamic Republic of Iran, to sign a commitment. The sole aim was to create a future to have Iran negotiate with us. So we made that commitment on paper. This was an important achievement and at every step we coordinated all our efforts with the White House and State Department. They have been briefed at the highest levels by our ministers and they had several meetings. So there should be no disillusionment about Turkey’s efforts.

WI: Can you trust that Iran is not building nuclear weapons?

Ambassador: If you have prejudices or prejudgments, you cannot negotiate with anyone. We want to have them commit themselves to peaceful means so that they won’t be willing or able to develop any nuclear weapons. That’s what we are trying to do. What is engagement? It is sitting and talking with somebody. It’s a negotiation. That’s what it is. It should go on as long as the Iranians keep themselves committed to those papers that they have signed. So long as they are committed, we should follow the diplomacy track until the last moment. We have to follow it.

WI: What are the major issues right now that you are trying to deal with?

Ambassador: In our relations with the United States, my major objective is to make the American people, the American audiences, understand the new Turkey, the emerging power in Turkey. And make them understand that this is an asset to them, not a liability. It’s been seen somewhat as a sort of liability. Turkey is an asset for the West and for the United States in particular.

This is important because what I see from my post is that they have some perception gaps in their minds. I need to explain to them what Turkey is today. I try to make them understand that this is a country of enormous vibrancy.

WI: I think one of the things we as Americans are trying to understand is the possibility of Turkey changing from a secular society. You are 98 percent Muslim. Are you moving away from Ataturk?

Ambassador: That perception cannot be farther from the truth. It seems to me it is inconceivable for Turks. How can you imagine us deviating from the founding pillars of our society? Turkey is the only democratic country out of 57 with Muslim majorities. We have always had a conservative society in general, like the US. We are not so different from the US. in terms of having a conservative base. But as a democracy, we have many colors, and different levels and expressions of conservatism. We have freedoms of speech, dress, way of life. I would advise Americans to go and see Istanbul. The life and standards there are no different than in the US. There are some parts that are better than the US. Of course there is an economic disparity. That’s the way it is in a democratic society, a free market economy. There has never been radicalism, the kind of extremism. It is a society with some conservative values. That has always been, and it hasn’t changed.

WI: Are you promoting tourism from the US to Turkey?

Ambassador: Very much so, but there are some difficulties because of the recent economic downturn. But it is not so bad and is picking up again. We have some incentive programs. Turkish Airlines has done a great job. They will soon have direct flights from and to Washington, Miami and Los Angeles, with brand new 777’s they will receive soon from Boeing. They are flying now to New York and Chicago.

Turkey is among the top 10 travel destinations in the world. It is full of history. But to motivate Americans to travel to Turkey is not easy. You have 310 million people here in the U.S. and it is a vast and great country and you have everything. It takes five hours to travel across it and you have the diversity of the mountains, the valleys. We need to educate Americans more about Turkey and create more incentives, attractions. That’s what we are trying to do.

I would tell Americans that in many places in Turkey they will see a church, a chapel, a mosque and a synagogue. We once had a large Jewish presence in Turkey. Now most of them — 125,000 Turkish Jews — have emigrated to Israel. There are 35,000 left in Turkey. There once were 650 synagogues. If Americans knew this, and knew that they would see things like the mosaics that have been on display in art museums in Baltimore and Boston, and that there are thousands of them in our country, they would rush to see them. And if they knew that we have several thousand years of history.

So that is our richness. We are rich in history, in people and their backgrounds, in food. We want to share our riches, the colors of Turkey, with all our friends.

WI: There is a demonstration right now outside the Embassy over the Cyprus situation. What is the latest on the solution to that issue between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots?

Ambassador: The solution was missed a few years ago when United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan drafted a peace effort. It was negotiated between Turkey, Greece, and the Turkish and Greek Cypriots, under his auspices and with observers from the European Union. So it reflected a very powerful consensus. That was in 2004. The Secretary General said it should be put before the people of both sides for their approval by referendum. The Turkish Cypriots said overwhelmingly ‘yes’ for the reunification of the island and the Greek Cypriots said overwhelmingly ‘no’ for some reason we have never understood.

We expected that they would not be rewarded by the EU. But the EU made a big mistake in accepting them and excluding the northern Cypriots, the Turkish, although they said yes to a peace plan. If you reward the party that has rejected the peace plan and penalize the party that accepted it, this complication will never come to an end. That’s what we are living through, because the Greek Cypriots see their membership in the EU as leverage to block everything. In a way, they stop the process of peace. Whenever something is done, they refuse it. But we still encourage the Turkish Cypriots to sit at any negotiating table, and the negotiations still are ongoing.

This problem can not be solved by other countries or institutions. It can be solved only by the people of Cyprus, the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. Meanwhile, the Green line is there, so they can go across, although it is discouraged by the Greek Cypriots. But the gates are open.

WI: Has the Turkish government improved the economy on the other (Turkish Cypriot) side?

Ambassador: They are under isolation and the isolation has not been lifted. They were promised that it would be lifted if they said ‘yes’ to the Annan peace plan. We give every support to the parties to find solutions to their differences at the negotiating table. We encourage the Turkish Cypriots and urge our friends, the Greeks, to do the same with the Greek Cypriots so they can agree on a solution.

WI: And the European Union’s decision?

Ambassador: They made a mistake in accepting one side although it had said ‘no’ to a peace plan. I don’t want to go into details why they did it, but there are reasons.

WI: Is there anything else you would like to say before we end this interview?

Ambassador: I am thankful that you would make our vision known to Americans. It is very important. We want this relationship to be expanded and diversified. We want the alliance to be more powerful. That is the ultimate objective in our minds. We are committed to this relationship. Our objective is to uphold the values that we cherish.

And of course, we want more Americans to come to Turkey. It is easy for me to tell you these things, but for Americans to understand it, they need to come and see Turkey — the transforming and booming Turkish economy, Turkey’s soft power. They have to see it with their own eyes. Then they would understand.

We are located strategically in a crucial part of the world. So we are doing everything we can to generate and resonate peace and stability. That is all we want to do.

Ambassadors Archive 2

Iceland: A Resilient People


Interview with Ambassador Hjalmar W. Hannesson

By Alan Dessoff

Most people, certainly in much of Europe and North America, are familiar with Iceland these days largely as the location of the volcano Eyjafjallajokull, which caused widespread havoc for international travel when its eruption in April spewed an ash cloud that forced airlines to cancel flights and strand travelers around the world.

But as Hjalmar W. Hannesson, Iceland’s Ambassador to the US, points out from a historical perspective, another volcano, Katla, also bears watching. Each of the three times in recorded history that Eyjafjallajokull has erupted, the larger Katla has done the same. Katla is a more active volcano and “sometimes has a big eruption, sometimes small. But nothing indicates this will happen now,” says Hannesson, adding that “everything is under control and we are prepared for eventualities, so no one is in danger. This is what you have to do when you live very close to nature, and live off nature, as we do.”

Straddling a seam in the earth’s crust, Iceland is always vulnerable and the latest eruption is “just an indication that Iceland is still in the process of being made,” Hannesson says. But Icelanders are “resilient people who have learned to live in harmony with the forces of nature,” he declares.

They have been living that way since 874, the start of the island nation’s recorded history, when it became the last European country to be settled, mostly by “chieftains who fled from Norway because the King of Norway was consolidating his powers,” and rather than become subservient to the King, they decided to leave for Iceland, Hannesson explains. They also came from elsewhere in Scandinavia and from Viking settlements in the British isles, bringing a Celtic element with them.

Irish monks had come to Iceland even before 874, seeking solitude and contemplation, but they fled or were killed when the Vikings arrived. In another link with Ireland, “the Vikings took beautiful women with them to Iceland,” and now, through modern comparative DNA studies of Norwegians and Icelanders, it is calculated that a third of the original mothers in Iceland were Irish, Hannesson says. By 930 most of Iceland’s population of 70,000 had arrived in their new country this way, but the culture was only built on the Viking heritage, he says. Now the population is about 317,000, with about two-thirds in or around the capital of Reykjavik, far from volcanoes.

One thing the original Viking settlers found, Hannesson relates, was that “it was not very practical to have no government.” So they started a parliament, but no executive branch, leaving it up to individual chieftains around Iceland to implement the laws the parliament adopted. “That was a big weakness of the system,” Hannesson says, but the parliament — the Althing — survived, and today is the world’s longest continuously serving legislative body. Iceland is a republic with a written constitution and a parliamentary government where the power rests with a Cabinet that sits at the majority will of the Althing, which in turn is elected in a proportional electoral system. There usually are at least four or five national political parties. A ceremonial President is elected as head of state by direct popular vote for an unlimited number of four-year terms. A Supreme Court and district courts exercise judicial power.

Not much was known about Iceland generally in the Anglo-Saxon world for many centuries, until the masterful Icelandic medieval Sagas and the Eddas were translated — the word “saga,” commonly used in English today, was originally an Icelandic word — and told of the country’s early history, its heroes, and their Viking explorations to Greenland, Vinland (North America), Russia and elsewhere. The Eddas depict the ancient world of the Vikings, their gods and philosophy. Another word in English from Icelandic is “geyser,” from the (great) Geysir that spews hot water high into the air.

The Icelandic language today has changed very little from the old Viking language that was spoken in all Scandinavian countries and parts of England, Normandy and elsewhere until about 1000, Hannesson says. “It is a difficult, old-fashioned language,” he acknowledges. All Icelanders speak a second and a third language, most commonly “Scandinavian,” a mix of Danish/Norwegian/Swedish, as well as English, which children learn in schools from the age of ten, with reinforcements from computers, movies and television. But “we do not open our language to foreign words,” Hannesson says. “Our mission in life as a small nation is to preserve our culture, and the language is at the core of any culture.”

While Icelanders are proudly committed to that, they also have had to adjust to modern circumstances, most notably a recent economic crisis similar to what happened in the United States during the same period.

It’s “a very complex issue” that began when Iceland’s three major banks were privatized, Hannesson says, then expanded at “an extremely fast pace” while regulatory authorities could not keep up. By 2008, he says, the three large banks, constituting about 85 percent of Iceland’s banking sector, had grown to 10-12 times the country’s gross domestic product. A year earlier, according to United Nations statistics, Iceland topped all other countries as “the best place to live for quality of life,” based on indicators like healthcare and income. “Everything was going extremely well,” Hannesson says.

But it turned out, he recounts, that “the financial tycoons and banking directors were prone to extreme risk-taking,” and when Lehman Brothers collapsed in the US in 2008 and the international liquidity crisis ensued, the banks in Iceland quickly experienced major liquidity problems and “everything came down, very quickly.

The government took over the three banks and new “good” banks were established. Since then, two of them have been taken over and are operated by their creditors, mostly foreign. The stock in the three old banks became worthless at the time of the banking crash and “a lot of people are angry after what had to be done in order to keep the economy going,” Hanesson says.

A government-established commission —some Icelanders call it a “truth commission,” like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission formed in South Africa after the abolition of apartheid — produced a 2300-page report that reviewed every detail of the economic crisis, blaming bankers, a regulatory system that did not keep pace, and some government officials and ministers for their inaction. Bankers were recently put into solitary confinement in jail for questioning because there is suspicion that some of them and some big investors transferred wealth to tax havens, Hannesson says. “Many hope that they will not be able to enjoy it because they almost ruined the country. People feel that this money should be brought back to Iceland to help rebuild the economy,” he says.

Meanwhile, with support from the International Monetary Fund, “things are looking up,” Hannesson says, although Iceland still has 9 percent unemployment (up from almost 0 in 2007) and a “too high” 8.5 percent inflation rate. But “our exports are really moving,” because Iceland’s currency, the krona, at about 62 per dollar in October 2008, is now about 126 per dollar, “which means everything is half-priced, compared to what it used to be, for foreigners with their currency,” Hannesson explains. But at the same time, “because of the devaluation of the krona to this extent,” foreign products are expensive to buy and imports have declined drastically, he adds.

Iceland has applied for membership in the European Union and “a lot of people say that if we had been a member, and had been in the Euro zone without our independent currency, we would have had more stability. The krona was the smallest independent and free floating currency and therefore was vulnerable,” Hannesson says. Still, he continues, the IMF and the international marketplace believe Iceland has a strong long-term economic foundation. Icelanders are a young nation and their work force is highly educated, trained, and very flexible, he says.

“We are a fishing nation second to none and we utilize the resources of the sea in a sustainable manner. We have some of the most fertile fishing grounds of any country in the world” and Icelandic fishermen — about 4,000 of them out of the population of 317,000 — are “by far the most productive” in the world, Hannesson exclaims. Iceland exports much of its fish catch, especially to Europe but also to the US, Japan and elsewhere.

Iceland has many rivers running from mountain glaciers in the highlands down to the ocean and has harnessed them for hydroelectric production. In addition, it has tapped the extensive geothermal hot water in the ground and uses it to heat every house in the country as well as producing electricity. Overall, says Hannesson, Iceland uniquely meets 80 percent of its energy needs with “clean, sustainable, never-ending” energy.

Because of its energy resources, international companies have set up aluminum smelters in Iceland that use hydro- and geothermal-electric power and produce little pollution. Other companies needing high energy have established subsidiaries in Iceland, the latest being “data farms” that “need a cool place” to operate, Hannesson says.

Because of its climate, Iceland’s agricultural production is limited and expensive, although the Whole Foods Market chain buys Icelandic products including butter, meat (lamb), cheeses, water, chocolate and skyr — “a healthy type of yogurt,” Hannesson says. Iceland’s agricultural products satisfy buyers “who are looking for organic products and are willing to pay for quality,” Hannesson says. Also in the agricultural sector, the many greenhouses are heated geothermally to grow bananas, tomatoes and other products. “There are great possibilities within certain agricultural sectors,” Hanesson says. Mink farming also produces mink skins that are exported to Nordic countries, he adds.

Summers are short in Iceland but days are long — 24 hours of sunlight for several weeks — “so we have people playing golf at midnight,” Hannesson says. In addition, he points out that on a per capita basis, Iceland has the most swimming pools in the world, almost all year-round, outdoor pools heated by water from the ground. More than a half million tourists visited Iceland last year, he reports.

Iceland’s young people are another asset. Many go abroad to study, and he was one of them, earning BA and MA degrees in political science in the US, at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Each of his three children also has at least one degree from an American university. “I have a lot to be thankful for. The open doors of America’s universities are one of the great strengths of this country,” Hannesson says.

But even if Icelanders might stay abroad for a few years, most return to their homeland. “There is a strong bond when you are from an island,” Hannesson says.

At 64, with 34 years of diplomatic experience, Hannesson says his function in Washington is largely to keep his and the U.S. governments informed about what each is doing and the possibilities for further cooperation in all mutually beneficial areas, including trade, geothermal energy, and culture. The US is “our biggest and most important ally for security and defense,” he says. As the smallest member of NATO, and with no military, Iceland contributes civilian support in positions like flight controllers, police and medical personnel in Afghanistan and other places where NATO and other international organizations are involved, Hannesson says.

There have been no incidents of terrorism in Iceland but “we all have to worry about that. We are in this together and no country is an island in this sense, even an island country,” Hanneson says. Accordingly, Iceland has imposed strict security on flight arrivals from other countries — “the same security as throughout Europe and the US,” he says.

There is nothing Iceland can do about its erupting volcanoes but with its assets, including fishing grounds, energy resources, an educated population and a flexible workforce, the country is recovering from its economic breakdown and “in the not too distant future, we will be firmly back on our feet,” Hannesson says, citing forecasts of economic growth starting late this year and through next year.

He points to a bright side to the recent volcanic eruption as well. Although it initially had some effect on tourism as some people canceled their bookings, now “many more adventurous people are coming to see the greatest show on earth” and for geologists and natural scientists as well as nature lovers, Iceland is a “dreamlike laboratory,” Hannesson says. “We think that in the long run, the Eyjafjallajokull PR will only be beneficial” to Iceland, he declares.

Whether they have to deal with their economy or the forces of nature, Icelanders are prepared. “We have endured many worse things throughout our history,” says Hannesson. The most famous volcano in the country, he says, is Mt. Hekla. The fallout in 1875 from Askja, another volcano in the northeastern highlands of the country, caused many Icelanders, especially on the east coast, to move to North America.

Hannesson cites another volcano that had been dormant for thousands of years until it suddenly erupted in 1973 in the Westman islands off Iceland’s southern coast, causing the evacuation of 5,000 people to the mainland and destruction of about 30 percent of their town. “But they all came back as soon as the eruption was finished and rebuilt their town and their lives. You should just see the town now,” he says. The lava made the harbor better sheltered and the Westman islanders are using the heat from the volcano to heat their houses, he adds. “The resilience of Icelanders is not to be underestimated,” Hannesson concludes.

Ambassadors Archive 2

Kosovo: A Fresh Start

Interview with Ambassador Avni Spahiu 

By Alan Dessoff

For a country with a history that dates back to the Neolithic era, but which became independent just two years ago, the Republic of Kosovo is getting off to a fresh start. Both its ancient and modern beginnings shape the mission of Avni Spahiu, who was credentialed by President Barack Obama last November as the new country’s first ambassador to the United States.

Slightly smaller than the state of Connecticut and with a population of 2.2 million, Kosovo is working hard to overcome a history of oppression that finally has brought it into the international community as a free nation. But as one of the poorest countries in Europe, and with some countries still not recognizing its independent status, Kosovo’s fresh start is encountering bumps in the road that Spahiu is working hard to overcome.

During the medieval period, Kosovo was the center of the Serbian empire, and that has underscored its centuries-long and often war-torn journey that continues to have some diplomatic implications today. After World War II, Kosovo became an autonomous province in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Its status changed, however, in the late 1980s, when Slobodan Milosevic propelled himself to power in Belgrade by exploiting Serbian nationalism and the question of Kosovo.

In late 1998, after the Kosovo Liberation Army had been formed to secure Kosovo’s independence, Milosevic unleashed a savage police and military campaign that included widespread atrocities against civilians. “It was a terrible war,” Spahiu recounted. “We had more than 12,000 people killed, hundreds of thousands maimed, wounded, raped — all kinds of terrible things.” More than 800,000 ethnic Albanians were forced from their homes in Kosovo.

That followed nearly two decades in which “we were denied basic human rights,” Spahiu said. Schools were closed. “We had to continue our education in basements and private homes because the police were persecuting people who were attending classes in the Albanian language,” Spahiu said. “It was a difficult time for our people. We tried to find a solution through peaceful means, but it didn’t work. The provocations continued and war was imposed on our people.” It ended only with the intervention of NATO, followed by the United Nations Security Council's adoption of a resolution suspending Belgrade’s dominance.

Although there is peace now, Kosovo’s relationship with Serbia continues to be unsettled, making it difficult for Kosovo to gain the full international recognition that it seeks. But it is making progress and Spahiu is confident that it will achieve its goal.

So far, 65 countries, including the United States and all of Kosovo’s neighbors except Serbia, have formally recognized Kosovo, and last year Kosovo joined the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Of the 27 members of the European Union, 22 have recognized the new country. Kosovo intends to become part of the EU as well as NATO. Even though it is part of Europe physically, “we want to integrate into Europe,” Spahiu said.

To do that, Kosovo is pursuing positive relationships with the countries that have not yet offered formal recognition, including Russia, which has chosen to side with Serbia. “We would like to have good relations with Russia. Our message has always been friendly towards Russia, asking them to accept a new reality and a new country because it is to the benefit of peace in the region. Kosovo has proven to be a constructive, stabilizing factor for the region,” Spahiu declared.

Similarly, he said, Kosovo would like to establish good relations with Serbia, but “with Serbia, we have some problems.” Serbia’s “mentality of hegemony” has been caused by the many wars in the region and “we hope they give up that kind of mentality. All the countries in the region are small and they are a small country, too. We don’t need confrontation; we should work together and look forward to the future. We hope Serbia will realize this some day and recognize our country and live as good neighbors,” Spahiu said.

“Our government has expressed its willingness and readiness to discuss practical issues with Serbia,” he continued, “but not the question of status, because that is over. Kosovo has become a country and should be treated as such by Serbia. But Serbia has been trying to block our participation in regional conferences, meetings, and this has made things difficult.”

Serbia also has been “pressing” local Serbs in the north of Kosovo “not to recognize our institutions, not to integrate into our society,” which adds to the difficulties. “Our government has been very cautious in dealing with the Serbs in Kosovo,” Spahiu said. Kosovo has called on Serbian authorities to talk about “how to improve the lives” of Serbians in Kosovo. “They can read our constitution and see what we are doing. The offer is there from our government. We are trying to do the best for the Serbs and for other minorities as well, which all accept Kosovo as a country and are participating in our institutions.”

But “Belgrade is refusing; they say we are not a country so they won’t talk to us,” Spahiu said. “I think it is political. They don’t want to let Kosovo go, no matter what.”

Still, there have been “some good signs,” Spahiu added. 'Serbs participated in the latest municipal elections in Kosovo and four towns now have Serb mayors. There are Serb MPs in Parliament, one of whom is effectively Vice-Speaker, as well as two Ministers in government. Currently, there are 10 set-aside seats for Serbs in Parliament, in addition to however many seats they gain in regular voting.' The Kosovo constitution, Spahiu explained, stipulates that Serbians in the country “will be able to decide their own affairs in the areas where they live.”

Today Kosovo is a nation of three religions — predominantly Muslim and Catholic (Albanians) and Eastern Orthodox (Serbs). Spahiu pointed out that Kosovo’s new flag contains six stars, representing all the country’s ethnic groups. “Even though Albanians make up 90 percent of the population, there are no differences with the minority groups. We don’t even call them minorities. We call them ‘ethnic communities.’ We’re doing our best to accommodate all of them,” Spahiu declared.

Kosovo’s independence is “a very clear case,” he reiterated. “Those who are against Kosovo’s independence say we can not secede. It is not a matter of secession. We were part of a country, Yugoslavia, that disintegrated. It doesn’t exist any more.” Kosovo was one of eight federal units of the former Yugoslavia and “seven of them became small countries and are living in peace,” he said. After resolving some border questions with Macedonia, “we have no open questions with any of our neighbors.”

But there are questions about some other countries have not recognized Kosovo. Among the holdouts is Spain, which is “difficult to understand,” Spahiu said. But Spain currently presides over the EU and has stated that it will not block Kosovo’s participation, “so that’s good enough for now,” Spahiu said.

Greece also has not yet recognized Kosovo as a country although “they recognize our passport and have an office in Pristina,” Kosovo’s capital, Spahiu said. China does not recognize Kosovo, either. “We want to friends with China, of course,” he said, noting that “we have many Chinese who have opened shops” in Kosovo.

Spahiu acknowledges that a question about the legitimacy of Kosovo’s independence, which Serbia took to the World Court, has caused delay in gaining recognition from many countries. The court is expected to issue a non-binding opinion in May or June, “and we are not afraid” of what it will be, Spahiu said. While Russia sided with Serbia in the case, the U.S., Great Britain and “all the other western democracies” supported Kosovo’s independence. “We hope this opinion will once again confirm our right to have our freedom,” or that at least it will be “neutral, stating that no international law has been violated. And we will move forward after that,” asserted Spahiu.

As Kosovo continues to seek recognition and respect in the international community, it also is redeveloping itself domestically and looking for investors to help build its economy. “We have an excellent legal infrastructure and a good banking system,” Spahiu said. With its membership in the IMF and World Bank, “security is better” for investors, who so far include many Albanian Americans, and “there are good prospects for profit,” Spahiu said.

“We would like to see big American companies invest,” he asserted. He said Kosovo is trying to develop a conference for investors, maybe this fall, in Washington or New York. “We will invite some big American companies and show them the investment possibilities in Kosovo,” he said.

Membership in the IMF and World Bank also help Kosovo obtain loans for redevelopment projects, including a highway construction job now underway, supported by the World Bank. Another, also with World Bank support, would increase the country’s electric power capacity based on Kosovo’s coal reserves, the largest in Europe. Government officials said in early March that six international consortiums have expressed initial interest in building a coal-fired power plant in the country.

Kosovo is rich in minerals including lead, zinc and chrome, as well as silver and gold mines, although they are currently closed. “They could become operational in the future, Spahiu said.

Agriculture is a strong resource; the food it produced sustained the country during the war, and with its food processing capacities, Kosovo fills about 70 percent of its needs. It looks forward to exporting its agricultural products, including wine, to the U.S. Before the war, it sold its wines in Europe, particularly Germany, Spahiu said.

But he reminds that Kosovo had to “start over, from zero,” to rebuild after the war. “Everything was destroyed. For more than 20 years, nothing was built,” he says. “We had craftsmanship, silversmiths. Now everything is slowly coming back. The people are trying to get things going again,” with support, he added, “from our friends, including the U.S.,” through the Agency for International Development and other organizations.

Once a Christian land, Kosovo was converted under 500 years of dominance to the rule of Islam, but Spahiu made clear it is different from the fundamentalism in other Muslim countries. “We are European Muslims. We are Muslims who live with MTV,’” he said. “Even though the Serbs tried to portray our fight as fundamentalist, that was not the case. We can not ignore our past, when everyone was Christian. Our oldest authors and intellectuals were Christians. The first writers, who wrote the first books in Albania, were Catholic priests.”

Albanians are a nation of three religions — predominantly Muslim but also with Catholics and Orthodox Albanians — and “we are very tolerant of each other; we have never had any religious problems,” Spahiu said. “We believe in God just like the other big religions, but we are not overcome by fanaticism, and we hope we will be able to preserve that. There are influences in the modern world trying to get into Kosovo and influence our young people, but that has not been acceptable to our general population.”

With an average population age under 30, young people are one of Kosovo’s greatest resources, a “demographic dividend” for the country and “a blessing, but also a headache,” he said. The blessing is that they are highly educated and trained in information technology and other fields. The headache is that it is difficult for them to find jobs in a country with an unemployment rate above 40 percent, another problem that more foreign investment could help remedy.

Kosovo today is a modern, European culture of young people, Spahiu said. It also is a culture of artists, writers and poets. “I think suffering produces good poets,” he said. He cited Ibrahim Rugova, a professor and writer who led a nonviolent Albanian resistance movement in the early 1990s and whose heroism is a key element of Kosovo’s character now. “He followed the only road the true intellectual may follow — being against violence. He tried to save his people,” Spahiu said.

Rugova’s peaceful movement failed to yield results and was followed by Milosevic’s brutal campaign, “but that period is cherished as something very valuable for the soul of our nation. It united our people in the cause of freedom,” Spahiu said. Children in Kosovo’s schools are taught about it. “It should not be forgotten,” Spahiu declared.

Education is important to Kosovo and Spahiu cites the single public university and many private ones throughout the country, including the American University in Pristina, affiliated with Rochester (N.Y.) Institute of Technology.

As it continues to improve its economy and infrastructure, Kosovo is starting to promote tourism and has hired Saatchi & Saatchi, a global advertising agency, to help in the effort. “We have so many other problems, but we want people to know about the country — its people, culture, scenery,” Spahiu said. There are flight connections to Pristina through many European countries, he pointed out. Americans in particular will feel “at home” in Kosovo “because everybody likes them; they helped us,” Spahiu asserted.

That is why “it is an honor and privilege” to be the first ambassador of his country to the U.S., said Spahiu, who was a journalist before his diplomatic appointment. But he had to get the embassy off to a fresh start. “We had to set it up from scratch,” he said. “It is the youngest embassy in Washington,” currently housing Spahiu and four staff members in an office suite in Georgetown.

While seeking more economic development assistance from the U.S. public sector as well as private investors, Spahiu spends much time these days lobbying other ambassadors for their countries’ recognition of Kosovo. “We want to make our presence felt among the diplomatic community in Washington, and let them know that Kosovo exists as a new country,” Spahiu declared. “We have to build our image.”

Ambassadors Archive 2

Taiwan: A Beacon of Democracy

Interview with Representative Jason C. Yuan

By Alan Dessoff

For the Republic of China on Taiwan (ROC), an island nation slightly larger than the state of Maryland, political and economic relationships with other countries are vital, particularly with the United States and the mainland People’s Republic of China (PRC). Both countries have played important roles in Taiwan’s history, and the nature of the relationships of all three countries with each other will be important in shaping Taiwan’s future.

Fostering Taiwan’s relationships with the U.S. is the mission of Representative Jason C. Yuan, who heads the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) in the U.S., the equivalent of an embassy. The two countries have not maintained formal diplomatic ties since January 1, 1979, when the U.S. switched diplomatic recognition from the ROC to the PRC. But informally, through government and private-sector contacts, Yuan, in his post since August 2008, and with extensive previous diplomatic experience in the U.S. and elsewhere, knows how to effectively advance his country’s interests. He demonstrated that at the recent annual conference in Los Angeles of director generals, the equivalent of consulate generals, of TECRO’s 13 offices in the U.S. Each office covers the states in a region of the U.S., but Yuan, who coordinates them, emphasized that while they focus on Taiwan’s business in those regions, their principal responsibility is to “help the Washington office improve the U.S.-Taiwan relationship as a whole. In everything they do, they have to consider if it is good for the relationship.”

He believes it’s important, for example, that Taiwan’s regional representatives know the U.S. Senators and Representatives who represent the states and districts in their regions and ”why these political leaders are important to us,” It’s good for the relationship, he added, if Taiwan’s representatives “get closer” to the U.S. leaders and their constituents “where they live,” not just in Washington.

That played out last September, when Taiwan sent a large, agricultural buying mission to the U.S. After a visit to Capitol Hill, they traveled to key agricultural states, and Yuan briefed mission members on the political importance of those states and their Congressional representatives — including Montana, represented by Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Indiana, whose Sen. Richard Lugar is the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

It was important as well, Yuan said, for the U.S. legislators to understand how much Taiwan means to their states and districts economically in its purchases of soybeans, corn, wheat, barley and other agricultural commodities. “We try to let our American friends understand that we don’t just take from the U.S., we want to give business back. That is how to maintain a friendship,” Yuan asserted. The buying mission wound up spending $3.5 billion.

Maintaining a consistent relationship with the U.S., regardless of the U.S. political leadership, also is important to Taiwan. Yuan related that he recently called on former President George W. Bush. “I know the Bush family very well,” and when Bush was President, “maybe it was very difficult for him to receive us at his office. But it is easier for us to go to him now that he is a private citizen. We can review how he conducted his foreign policy towards Taiwan and mainland China and how we can use that to deal with the new Obama administration. That will be helpful to me and to them,” Yuan said.

He noted that it was Bush who characterized Taiwan as “a beacon of democracy in Asia and the world” in a congratulatory message that Bush sent to Ma Ying-jeou after Ma was elected Taiwan’s president in March 2008. Now the Obama administration “seems very happy” with the Bush administration’s position on U.S.-Taiwan-China policy under the Taiwan Relations Act, which Congress enacted in 1979, so continuity of that policy seems assured, Yuan said. He noted that President Obama, on his recent visit to China, reiterarated the US's continued support for the three communiques with China and for the Taiwan Relations Act' .”

Yuan said the Bush administration might have thought that Taiwan, under its previous president, Chen Shui-Bian, “pushed them a little too hard.” But under President Ma, Taiwan has tried to adjust its policy, which, Yuan said, now has three basic principles: “No unification, no independence, no use of force.”

“No unification” means Taiwan “will never consider itself part of China,” he explained. “No independence” means Taiwan will not become an independent republic. “We don’t want to take a risk that China will invade Taiwan,” Yuan said. Also, “from the U.S. standpoint, we don’t want the U.S. to fight in Taiwan’s streets. It’s already standing up in the Mideast and Korea.” And “no use of force” to settle sovereignty issues means simply “we want peace,” Yuan declared.

Ma wants the policy to lead eventually to a “win-win-win” situation for Taiwan, China and the U.S., Yuan said. The policy buttresses Ma’s strong feeling that “Taiwan can not stand alone; we need friendship internationally, most importantly from the U.S.,” Yuan said. Since Ma came into power, he not only has improved relations with mainland China but also has “won back trust and confidence from our friends in the U.S.,” Yuan said.

Meanwhile, he maintained that Taiwan’s relationship with China “has never been better in the last 30 years.” He cited dialogue underway between the countries, including three important bilateral meetings in 2008 and 2009, two of them in China and one in Taiwan. Differences between China’s communism and Taiwan’s democracy notwithstanding, “we have seen eye to eye,” and the results have included signed agreements on tourism, direct shipping, direct flights, postal service, food safety, financial cooperation, insurance and banking, Yuan said. “There even is a joint effort to fight terrorism and economic criminals. If they flee from Taiwan to China, China sends them back to us. We catch some of their criminals and send them back to China,” Yuan said.

Despite the basic ideological difference in the Taiwan-China relationship, Yuan suggested that the two countries are able to improve their relationship because they focus on economic issues, not politics. “We set aside political issues. Time eventually will have a solution for the political problem. We’ll wait until the time is ripe — maybe 2012, 2013, if we all are doing well economically, to maybe conduct more bilateral meetings on the political issue; to sit down and talk about either an eventual or temporary peace agreement between Taiwan and the mainland,” Yuan said. Even if the leaders of the two countries ultimately agree on that, he suggested that the issue of unification with China or independence for Taiwan might be left to “the younger generation,” which might have different opinions “when they are all grown up.”

Meanwhile, Yuan said President Ma “will present no surprises” while economic issues, including trade, dominate the relationship between the mainland, with its 1.3 billion people, and Taiwan with its 23 million. Already China has almost become Taiwan’s number one trading partner, Yuan said, and more than one million Taiwanese work in businesses in mainland China.

He acknowledged that the recent global economic downturn and financial crisis in the U.S. impacted Taiwan because it has no natural resources and its economy is based on exports and imports. While high-tech exports to the U.S. were “miserable” in the first half of 2009, more orders signaled improvement later in the year and exports and imports were up by double digits at year’s end. “That’s a good sign,” Yuan declared.

Although Taiwan grows rice, vegetables and fruits on its limited land, harvesting rice four time a year and exporting some of it to the U.S., it must rely on imports for other agricultural products, including meat. American beef became an issue when Mad Cow Disease was discovered in the U.S. and “we stopped for a while,” then reopened trade for boneless beef and recently signed an agreement to import bone-in beef from the U.S., Yuan said. He added that Taiwan also imports a lot of U.S. turkey.

Yuan pointed to Taiwan’s other economic strengths. Among them, it ranks fourth in the world in foreign exchange reserves, with more than $300 billion, behind only China, Japan and Russia. “I feel proud that our private sector is doing well in export-import and working on new ideas all the time. We have no choice. We are talking about survivability. Every day is survival,” Yuan said.

With a high individual savings rate, and a government guarantee of the safety of their money, Taiwan’s citizens are “pretty well off,” He explained. Also, the government implemented its own economic stimulus plan, providing $100 shopping vouchers to all 23 million of its people. “The economy is coming back,” he declared.

Every time he returns to Taiwan’s capital, Taipei, Yuan said, he is “amazed at how diligent and efficient the people are.” There are three shifts of workers in the country, and “people all set goals for themselves and work two or three jobs to fulfill their goals.”

As an example of workplace efficiency, he told how tailors provide visitors from the U.S. and elsewhere with custom-made suits and shirts, “with cuff-links, everything,” in less than 24 hours and at an “incredible” price. “The tailors rush to your hotel room to do the measurement. They give you two fittings in a day, and the next day you get a perfect suit to take home with you,” Juan said, noting that U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch told him he got a suit that way on a visit to the capital. Yuan compared Taiwan’s way to the practice in the U.S. where, “no matter how much I want to spend, they say 'ok, come to my shop and pick out the material' and then you wait three weeks.”

Yuan reflects Taiwanese efficiency in his own work habits. With a staff of almost 1,000 employees to manage at the 13 TECRO offices, including 200 in Washington, “I am very busy,” he said. The home office is “very demanding; they don’t care how busy we are, we have to get answers for them. So it’s a tough job,” Yuan said. Accordingly, he skips most of the “glamour parties” and other Washington social events that usually attract ambassadors of other countries. “I don’t have time. All I do is make small luncheons and dinners where we talk business,” he said.

Business these days includes trying to gain a visa waiver to make it easier for Taiwanese students and others to come to the U.S. “We know the U.S. is our number one friend who wants to encourage more people to come, but they go to Japan, Canada, Australia and New Zealand because it is so difficult to come to the U.S., and once you get a visa and come in, immigration and customs are very strict,” Yuan said. But “we are the least dangerous people to Americans; even the Homeland Security people told me that.”

Also on his agenda are reaching agreements with the U.S. on extradition and a trade investment framework. In addition, Taiwan is seeking help from the U.S., Japan, Canada and other countries to allow it to participate in some international organizations like the United Nations’ World Health Organization and its decision-making body, the World Health Assembly. Taiwan lost its U.N. status in 1971, when the PRC became the official representative of China.

When severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) struck China badly, “we were kept in the dark so we could not help. If we were part of the WHA, we could help each other. Health is universal and we want to be part of it. This is nothing political,” Yuan emphasized. In May 2009, for the first time in 40 years, and with no objection from China, Taiwan was allowed to attend a WHO meeting as an observer.

Similarly, Taiwan wanted to participate in the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December. “We asked the U.S., the United Nations, everybody, why not have Taiwan participate? This is nothing political. Everybody has to be involved,” he said.

Because of climate change, he continued, sea level has become “a big threat” to his island. A typhoon and heavy rains last August wiped out several villages and cost more than 650 lives and “we should share this experience with the international community. We need an early warning system to know if an earthquake or hurricane or typhoon is going to hit us,” Yuan said. “This is a legitimate request, and we can make a contribution, but if we are not part of the U.N. climate change, how can we help? We want more support from the U.S. and other major countries to be part of it.”

Further, he asserted, “it’s ridiculous” that Taiwan, with so many flights into and out of the country, is not part of the International Civil Aviation Organization. “This is a reasonable request but it takes time. Not just the U.S. alone or China alone can decide if we can be part of it. We have to get everybody’s support,” he said. “Hopefully, in a year or two, we will get some kind of status in the ICAO.” Becoming involved in climate change talks might take longer “because they just had the Copenhagen discussion, but you always set a goal. We think there is a good chance for us and it is one of our goals now,” Yuan said.

While the absence of full diplomatic ties with the U.S. is “a limitation” on what Taiwan can achieve in the international community, Yuan said it does not diminish the values Taiwan offers, particularly to U.S. and to China through relationships that will benefit all three countries. “The core value of our tie with the U.S. is democracy, and we are the best example to influence mainland China down the road because we share the same culture, same race and same traditions. There are one million Taiwanese living in China and so much intermarriage. That kind of influence and impact down the road will be tremendous,” Yuan declared.

In conclusion he pointed again to our common democracy as the bond holding the relationship together. “That is a reason that the U.S. can not give up Taiwan, a reason for the U.S. to promote Taiwan. We still consider the U.S. the most important country to us. We can easily trust the U.S., while it’s still a question how much we can trust China, a communist country. We love your system and we are grateful for the support of the U.S. for the past 60 years that has enabled us to stand tall. We are proud of ourselves, and I am very optimistic. As long as we never give up, I think we’re going to do well.”

Ambassadors Archive 2

Liberia – A Country of Firsts

By Alan Dessoff

From its flag with the familiar red-and-white stripes and blue field, but with a single star instead of 50, to the elevation of women in its society, including one who is now its president, Liberia —“land of the free”— has much in common with the United States. Founded in 1820 by freed slaves, and with its capital, Monrovia, named after U.S. President James Monroe, Liberia enjoys links with the U.S. that underscore and facilitate Nathaniel Barnes’ job as the African Republic’s Ambassador in Washington.

Barnes, who also serves as Liberia’s permanent representative to the United Nations, points to Liberia today as “the poster child on the continent” and “a country of firsts” as the first independent country in Africa and the first with a democratically elected female president.

But he acknowledges that Liberia has problems to overcome. Many are the legacy of a bloody civil war that ensued from 1989 to 1996, under the corrupt and ruthless President Charles Taylor, claiming the lives of more than 200,000 Liberians and displacing a million others into refugee camps in neighboring countries. The war left behind not only a ravaged country but also devastated the lives of many women and young girls who became the victims of rape. A documentary, “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” chronicled on “Bill Moyers Journal,” airing on PBS on June 18, 2009, shed new light on the violent abuse of women in Liberia.

However, the war also brought about one of Liberia’s most acclaimed achievements, as women united and rose in defiance against their aggressor and began to take control of their lives. They conducted peaceful demonstrations and refused to have sex with their partners, tactics used successfully by women in ancient Greece.

Further, the political empowerment of women has brought them into the top levels of government, headed by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. In the wake of Taylor’s resignation and departure into exile in Nigeria in 2003 under intense U.S. and international pressure, Sirleaf was elected over an international soccer star in a run-off in 2005. Although there have continued to be “several ugly incidents” of violence against women, the country now has anti-rape legislation in place and a “fast legal process” to deal with offenders, Barnes says.

With “incredible support from the international community” and under President Sirleaf’s leadership, Liberia is making improvements fueled by “the permeation of hope,” Barnes says. “With the new government and the existence of peace and stability, there is incredible hope among Liberians that we will not allow this sort of self-mutilation, (the civil war), to happen again. When you get off the airplane in Monrovia and walk around, you can literally feel the vibrancy of hope,” Barnes declares.

Three years into fulfilling a six-year blueprint, the Sirleaf administration has adopted to lift the country -- “we are preparing ourselves for the future,” Barnes says. The blueprint, a poverty reduction strategy, was developed on four pillars: peace and security, governance and the rule of law, infrastructure and basic services, and economic revitalization.

With 10,000 international peace-keepers still in the country as an aftermath of the war, peace and security are largely assured, as are governance and the rule of law under a democratically elected government. According to the U.S. Department of State, Liberia’s political situation has remained stable since the 2005 elections, President Sirleaf is supported by “highly experienced and technically competent” senior officials, and “the public has more confidence in her administration than in any of its recent predecessors.”

Much of Liberia’s focus now is on the other two pillars of its strategy. In developing the blueprint in the first place—“a document unprecedented in our history,” Barnes says—the country went to its citizens in grass-roots forums in hamlets and villages as well as larger communities and asked what was important to them. The “recurring themes,” Barnes says, were a transportation network, education for their children, and good health care, and “we have made good progress in many of those areas.”

But much remains to be done. Although the government has approved legislation requiring free and compulsory education for all Liberian children—“a great law,” Barnes says—Liberia now faces the challenge of building schools and hiring and training teachers. “Because the war was so devastating, much of our infrastructure was destroyed,” he explains.

With “friends and supporters in the U.S.,” he continues, President Sirleaf established the Liberia Education Trust, a private initiative to raise money in the U.S. with specific goals: build 50 new schools, hire and train 500 teachers, and provide scholarships to 5,000 students, mostly girls. In its first three years, the Trust met those objectives, doubling the enrollment in primary and secondary schools, Barnes says. As for constructing new schools, that’s “as simple as the climate,” he says, noting that Liberia has just two seasons: rainy for six months, dry for six months. “So we have a very narrow window in which to build schools, roads, clinics, that sort of thing, but we are making great progress, primarily because we have received a lot of help from bilateral and unilateral and private partners,” he declares.,<./p>

Liberia also has made progress in health care. “We have been very effective in our vaccination campaign to just about eradicate polio,” Barnes says. But with one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world, “we have a serious problem with pre-natal and maternal health care,” he acknowledges, adding that malaria and various waterborne diseases also present challenges.

There are other challenges in restoring infrastructure and basic services. One is electric power, which was destroyed in the civil war but is coming back now. “Monrovia was in darkness for many years; people used private generators,” Barnes says. At the time, “one lone traffic light was functioning and children were fascinated by the changing red-yellow-green lights,” he says. Liberia is looking at hydro-electric, solar and wind power as long-term solutions, he says. The country also does not grow enough food “to feed ourselves,” Barnes says.

Economic revitalization, the fourth pillar of its strategy, also faces challenges. One of them is reducing the current 75 percent unemployment rate. Liberia, slightly larger than the state of Ohio, is “well endowed” with iron ore, gold, diamonds and minerals, and has the largest rubber plantation in the world, Barnes says, but its dense tropical rain forest—40 percent of West Africa’s rain forest—has been seriously depleted. “We need money from timber resources, and how to get that and maintain ecological responsibility is a challenge,” Barnes says. “We’re trying to find ways to use best practices to do that. People live in the forests and depend on them,” he says.

Liberia is “looking for investors from anywhere,” and “under the wonderful phenomenon of globalization, we can pick and chose who we want to do business with,” Barnes says. “Political ideology is secondary to serving Liberia’s fundamental national interests.” He points out that the Chinese government recently made a “significant investment” in Liberia, signing a $2.5 billion agreement to mine iron ore, and Liberia has another agreement with an Indian company. But the U.S. government investment so far is “not very significant” and “we want to find ways to improve American private sector investment,” Barnes asserts. “There is American interest; we just want to spur it,” he says.

He suggests that tourism is one opportunity for U.S. business interests, citing a $12 million investment by African-American businessman Robert L. Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET), in a new 4-star ocean villa resort that opened in Monrovia in June 2009. According to a report of the opening event by the Liberian government, Johnson, in his remarks, described a friendly business climate in Liberia and noted that it is easier doing business there than in most other countries. Barnes adds that Liberia has “wonderful beaches, great lagoons and lakes,” as well as a world-renowned culture of music and art, and an appealing cuisine, “depending on your palate.”

With “long and strong ties” between Liberia and the U.S., Liberia now enjoys “incredible support from Congress on both sides of the aisle,” Barnes says. While it seeks additional investment from the U.S., Barnes says his country recognizes that the U.S. government has “a pretty full plate to deal with,” including two wars and its own economic and health care issues.

As he pursues his principal goal in Washington—“to expand U.S. investment, particularly from the private sector”—Barnes says he also wants to improve collaboration of U.S. scientific and educational institutions with Liberian organizations “to build our research capacity; research is a springboard to development and Liberia can be an open laboratory.”

His third goal is “touching our diaspora in the U.S.,” estimated at 350,000 people. “The middle class in Liberia exists in the diaspora, mostly in the U.S.,” and it provides “significant financial contributions,” Barnes says. To engage this constituency, the Embassy has established a Diaspora Advisory Board comprised of Liberians and non-Liberians alike, including former U.S. Peace Corps volunteers who served in the country. The Board will serve as “a catalyst to leverage the diaspora,” including building a database of lawyers, teachers, doctors, engineers and other professionals and “getting them to go to Liberia,” Barnes says. He notes that there are more Liberian physicians in the U.S. than in Liberia.

Reaching this point in its post-war development has not been easy for Liberia, Barnes says, but overall, in the first three years of fulfilling its blueprint, the country has made “incredible progress” and the effort must continue. “Liberia is a wealthy country that had been poorly managed, with huge priorities but a low capacity to achieve them. Now, with our democracy and new freedom, there is enthusiasm. But we need to develop self-sufficiency and we don’t have the luxury of time,” he concludes.

Ambassadors Archive 2

Moldova – A Painful Transition to Democracy

An Interview with Ambassador Nicolae Chirtoaca

By Alan Dessoff

Eighteen years after Moldova declared its independence from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and began a move toward democracy it still finds some hurdles to overcome. The violent disruptions after a recent election have demonstrated that it is having a hard time fully letting go of its past. Moving in fits and starts to become fully democratic, but still ruled by a Communist government, the country of 4.1 million people, located between Ukraine and Romania, is finding the change it seeks difficult to achieve.

But the energetic and optimistic Nicolae Chirtoaca, Moldova’s Ambassador to the United States (and also to Canada and Mexico), said he is confident it will happen. As an observer of political change in the democratic US, he places the emphasis on the electorate's “need for change.” In 1992, as a self-described “young political leader” in Moldova, he came to the US to observe “the election of a president, a lesson of democracy” — in that case, the election of Democrat Bill Clinton and the failed reelection bid of Republican President George H.W. Bush. Last year, three years into his Washington posting, he again saw a political party defeat the one in power as Democrat Barack Obama was elected president over Republican John McCain.

“I came to the conclusion that Bill Clinton had a great chance to win because America was in need of change, and it was the same with Obama,” said Chirtoaca. Now Moldova also needs a change, and while older Moldovans with lingering ties to the former USSR resist it, the younger generations are pushing for it, and it will happen, Chirtoaca firmly maintains.

Moldova’s political dilemma was demonstrated this spring when former President Vladimir Voronin, 68, was voted president again by his Communist Party colleagues while three opposition parties boycotted the election, claiming that it was rigged. A former baker and police general, Voronin initially was elected president in 2001, making Moldova the first former Soviet state to elect a communist as its leader.

The Communists won about 50 percent of the vote in April, but the results were disputed and triggered violent protests in which parliament buildings were burned, two people died, and hundreds were detained or mistreated, according to media reports from the country.

Under Moldova’s constitution, new parliamentary elections must be held if deputies twice fail to elect the president with the support of at least 61 of the 101 legislators. The liberal opposition forced Voronin to dissolve the parliament that was elected in April; he called for new parliamentary elections on July 29. Preparing for a new election, Moldova, already reeling from the economic woes of 2009, faces an uncertain future, with continuing uncertainties about a fully functioning government, parliament and president. That is not encouraging to investors.

In June, in a meeting in Moscow with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Voronin said he was “grateful” that “during these difficult days when attempts were made to destabilize the political situation in our country, Russia was the first and probably the only country to voice its support for the legally elected government.”

Chirtoaca acknowledged that Moldova is experiencing a “political crisis” and “very tense situation.” But he maintained that communism is a political “brand” that is used for “electoral purposes” in Moldova, while basically the country is “social democratic, socialist.” He said that older Moldovans, “nostalgic for the past,” have been “disillusioned” by attempts at democracy, which they see as “anarchy and corruption and weak government.“We are in transition from the Soviet past toward a national Moldovan identity, from a lack of any kind of democratic institutions to a functional democracy. We are inventing ourselves as a nation. That means a huge complexity of everything we have to do,” he declared.

In a briefing last September held by the US Helsinki Commission, Chirtoaca said: “In order to advance democracy, peace and territorial reintegration of the country, Moldova has to be successful in its efforts to end the transition from the Soviet past to the sustainable and durable democracy of market economy and efficient governance. For the time being, old-style practices still exist alongside more democratic ones, as is the case in many traditional democracies.”

Elaborating in the interview, Chirtoaca said Moldova’s own history presents challenges. “We have been occupied by empires,” he asserted. Occupying what has been known as Bessarabia, Moldova’s location made it a historic passageway between Asia and southern Europe as well as the victim of frequent warfare as Greeks, Romans, Huns and Bulgars invaded the area. In the 13th century, it became part of the Mongol empire. In the 16th century, it fell under Ottoman Turkish rule. After the Russo-Turkish War of 1806-1812, the eastern half of Moldova (Bessarabia) was ceded to Russia while the western half remained with the Turks. Romania took control of Bessarabia in 1918 and was forced in 1940 to cede it to the USSR, which established the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic.

That’s the way it stood until 1991, and although politically independent since then, Moldova has continued down a rocky road, facing “extraordinarily big challenges, a lot of pressure. We have pressure from our neighbors, principally Romania. They consider us part of Romania,” Chirtoaca said. He cited recent “inflammatory statements” by Romanian President Traian Basescu to the effect that “Moldova doesn’t have a future and should reunite with Romania,” according to Chirtoaca.

In Romania’s eyes, Chirtoaca suggested, the two countries are “the last divided state,” as Germany was. “But we are not like Eastern Germany. We are like Austria to Germany. We speak the same language and have a lot in common, but we are different. We are recognized as an independent state by all the big powers and international organizations, and we will struggle to continue to be an independent state.

“Amazingly,” he continued, Romania is one of Moldova’s biggest trade partners, because “people are traveling in the region; there are a lot of cultural contacts.” It’s the political relationship that “creates a lot of animosity,” he said.

Meanwhile, Moldova has good relations with the US, its “biggest partner,” which provides “strong support” including economic and technical assistance, Chirtoaca said. There are no outstanding issues between the two countries and he hopes the US will “help us become again a strong international and military country,” he said. In 2006, Moldova and the US signed a $24.7 million “Millennium Challenge Corporation Threshold Program” agreement aimed at reducing government corruption. Moldova was to use the funding to address persistent corruption in its judiciary, health care system, and tax, customs and police agencies.

As one of the poorest countries in Europe, slightly larger in geographic size but about 20 percent smaller in population than the state of Maryland, Moldova needs all the economic support it can get. “We have no raw material. Our resources are human resources,” said Chirtoaca. But he insisted that “we are not as poor as we look statistically.” There is cash coming from Russia and a “big boom in construction,” he said. Moldova’s gross domestic product was $7.5 billion last year, up from $4.4 billion in 2007, and its government is projecting it will grow 3-4 percent this year, Chirtoaca said.

Most of Moldova’s GDP comes from services — “supermarkets, stuff like that,” Chirtoaca said. “We have a more or less developing industry,” he added. He cited “huge military-industrial plants” that Moldova “inherited” from the USSR. “We don’t know what to do with them.” Some areas “lag behind, underdeveloped,” Chirtoaca said. With the “huge assistance” of the US government Moldova privatized some rural land at the end of the 1990s. “But,” he continued, “we were not able to create an efficient system to finance a system of commerce. It is still in stagnation.”

Moldova would like to attract international tourists but “unfortunately, it is not included in the network of big tourist companies,” although many tourists come from Russia and Ukraine, Chirtoaca declared. There are no big international hotels in the country, but a Marriott is under construction, he said. For tourism to become an industry in Moldova, “we need investors,” he said.

Moldova’s attractions include good wine and a wine festival in mid-October as well as many small restaurants that feature “very distinguished cuisine,” Chirtoaca said, adding that Moldovan farmers produce only organic foods. His American friends who visit Moldova “fall in love with it and can’t wait to get back,” Chirtoaca continued, citing the country’s “nice climate” and forests, hills, rivers and small villages as well as the capital, Chisinau, with its “strong international community, people with money, and the young generation.”

Younger Moldovans speak good English, which many learn on the Internet, and the country maintains “very high” education standards, Chirtoaca said. Moldovans and visitors also enjoy the cultural presentations of artists, musicians and performers who mostly were educated in Russia, he added.

But he acknowledged that Moldova has no free press. “The problem is political engagement,” he said. “The media will become really independent when the population needs news and the media will sell the news without being politically engaged. But that means they have to be financially independent. They have to make money,” Chirtoaca stated. Meanwhile, he said, younger Moldovans get their news online.

The country also has no independent judiciary because it is a “captured state,” the “most dangerous period in a transition,” with only limited freedoms, he said. In that type of situation, he explained “oligarchs” not interested in democracy control the judiciary, as they do the media. “This will blow up from the inside. The young generation is not very happy,” the Ambassador asserted.

Chirtoaca was involved early in the events in Moldova that led to its independence from the USSR. As Director General of the Department of State, which became the Ministry of Defense after independence, Chirtoaca played an active part in creation of Moldova’s national army — “we hid them in the forests” — before the “Moscow putsch” of 1991, he said.

Chirtoaca taught himself English and also speaks Romanian, Russian, French and Italian. He is also an architect by profession. His wife is still learning English, he said. They have a son, 28, in Moldova, and a daughter, 33, who is a lawyer in Boston.

Halfway through what he said is the usual 6-year posting for a Moldovan ambassador, he made it clear that he enjoys Washington and the “very intensive life — political, social and cultural” — of a diplomat here. He said he would like to stay longer.

During the interview, Chirtoaca frequently spoke of “karma” and he ended by citing a fragment of Oriental philosophy that “the sense of life is life itself, because life is a lesson.” Moldova’s transition to democracy is a virtual lesson he is living this very moment.

Ambassadors Archive 2

Bosnia -- Under War’s Shadow


An Interview with Ambassador Mitar Kujundzic

By Alan Dessoff

It’s a short walk across a park from the Embassy of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Washington to the State Department, but while that facilitates access to America’s foreign policy headquarters for newly arrived Ambassador Mitar Kujundzic, he might find his job to be no easy walk in the park.

Fourteen years after a brutal war in his country ended in an agreement negotiated by the U.S. at an Air Force base near Dayton, Ohio, the war and its aftermath still shadow Bosnia’s relations with the U.S. as well as with other countries in the European Union and NATO, both of which Bosnia strives to join.

From the unusual rotating presidency at the top of his parliamentarian democratic government to landlines remaining from the war that continue to cause deaths and injuries, Kujundzic, trained as a mechanical engineer, is called on to address sensitive issues that require all the skills he has developed in 11 years in Bosnia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Barely two months into his Washington posting, for example, Kujundzic said it was “very difficult” for him to talk about statements made early this year by Haris Silajdzic, a member of the Bosnian presidency. As reported by The Wall Street Journal, Silajdzic said in an interview with the paper that increased U.S. engagement and enforcement of the principles of the Dayton Peace Accords are essential to avoid a repeat of the 1992-1995 conflict.

According to the WSJ, Silajdzic said Bosnia, a country slightly smaller than West Virginia, remains ethnically divided between Muslims, Serbs and Croats. He cited “benign neglect” since the Dayton accord and international “fatigue” Bosnia faces in trying to resolve its issues, both of which create a “potentially destabilizing situation” that could lead to a new conflict.

“It is very difficult for me to talk about it,” said Kujundzic, a Serb, when questioned about Silajdzic’s statements. “I can not comment on a statement made by a member of the presidency.” At another point, he said he was “not familiar” with what Sliajdzic had said and was “not authorized to comment specifically” on it.

“I can only suppose he was trying to stress the partnership, the friendship” between the U.S. and his country and that “the already very high level of cooperation and relations between them should be preserved and more developed,” Kujundzic said. Since the war ended with the Dayton accord, he continued, “there has been peace and everything has gone in a good direction,” with no security incidents or attacks on international peacekeeping forces, who have been reduced from 60,000 initially from NATO to 2,500 now from the European Union.

“We are very grateful to the United States for everything they did for peace. The Americans successfully led the efforts to end the war after some previous peace negotiators failed,” Kujundzic said. Today, he said, Bosnia maintains “very close contact” with the U.S., with “political cooperation at a very high level” and “consultations on every significant issue.” The U.S. “has been very supportive all these years; there is no real conflict of interest.”

Bosnia’s principal foreign policy goals today, Kujundzic emphasized, are membership in the European Union and NATO and the U.S. has been “very supportive” of both, especially towards NATO membership. Since 2006, Kujundzic said, Bosnia has participated in the NATO Partnership for Peace program. Bosnian troops also joined the NATO mission in Afghanistan and until last year Bosnia participated in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq, withdrawing “with permission of the Iraqi government, as other countries did,” Kujundzic said.

While Silajdzic spoke of continuing ethnic divisions in Bosnia, Kujundzic said the ethnic cleansing that took place during the war “was a matter of individual involvement of some people and can not damage the general relations” between Bosnia and other countries. “In general,” he said, Serbia was not responsible for the genocide that took place in Bosnia-Herzegovina and relations with Serbia now “are generally good,” notwithstanding “some minor issues.”

But he added that “some people were very involved in war crimes,” and whether they were “high in the chain of command or ordinary soldiers,” they must be brought to justice before either the International Criminal Court in the Hague or domestic courts in Bosnia, and “held responsible for everything they did during the war.” One of them is Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb general indicted for ordering the massacre of more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men in Srebrenica in 1995. He remains at large and “we are sure he is not in the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina,” Kujundzic said.

He acknowledged that the aftermath of the war still is experienced in other ways. Most refugees have returned to their pre-war homes, although “in some cases, the people didn’t want to return” and remained in other countries, Kujundzic said. Also, many children lost their parents during the war and some “must be affected by what happened to their parents; they can not forget it forever.” But although some in the “new generation” remember the war, “they are not bothered by it,” he said.

Kujundzic emphasized that “there is no hatred” among the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina today. “You can ask anybody, in any village or city, on the street, if they feel the other people are enemies, and they would say ‘no.’ That doesn’t mean the war didn’t hurt relations, but it didn’t hurt in a way that couldn’t be repaired in a few years. They have been living together for centuries,” he asserted.

When telephone lines were reestablished immediately after the war, “people started to call their friends and acquaintances on the other side” and three years later, Bosnians had “complete freedom of movement” throughout the country,” Kujundzic said.

Land mines are one issue still unresolved from the war. There were two million of them when the war ended and although about 500,000 remain, deaths and injuries are “very seldom,” Kujundzic said. It is a government priority to “get rid of them” and the most dangerous places are known and marked, he said.

The Associated Press reported late last year that more than 600 square miles of territory—an area larger than Los Angeles—are still riddled by mines and the impoverished country is having trouble coming up with money it needs to get rid of them. When Sarajevo, which hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics, bid for the 2010 games, it was eliminated from consideration largely because ski slopes and a bobsled run that would be used were still heavily mined, according to the AP report.

Still, tourism, a government focus, is improving with “good facilities for skiing and hiking,” Kujundzic said. In Sarajevo, the capital, “almost everything has been repaired” and many new buildings have been constructed. But while construction continues, he acknowledges that unemployment “remains a problem.” It is officially about 43 percent and rising, according to the Associated Press, although Kujundzic maintains it is less than that.

Bosnia and Herzegovina was among the poorer areas of the old Yugoslav Federation and remains one of the poorer countries in Europe today. Although it has made considerable progress since peace was reestablished following the Dayton Accords, it still is regarded as a transition economy and sees the long-term goal pf EU membership as a driver to further economic growth and development. The banking sector has been fully reformed, with a significant inflow of foreign banks, and although lending has slowed significantly since 2008, Kujundzic make the point that “no bank has failed so far.”

According to the most recent census, conducted in 1991, before the war, Bosnians, who are Muslim, made up 48 percent of the population; Serbs, who are Orthodox Christians, comprised 34 percent; and Croats, who are Roman Catholics, represented 15 percent. The remaining ethnic divisions in the country are reflected today in the presidency, which rotates every eight months among three members—a Bosniak, Serb and Croat, each elected for a four-year term.

“All are equal” and obliged to “represent the common opinions on issues. No one is authorized to represent the view of only one side,” Kujundzic explained. Accordingly, Silajdzic’s remarks should represent “the views of the whole government,” Kujundzic said.

Among other assignments before his Washington posting, Kujundzic headed the American desk in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and served as Bosnia’s Ambassador to Germany. Now getting settled in Washington with his wife and four-year-old daughter, “I like it here very much,” Kujundzic said.

Ambassadors Archive 2

Croatia - Looking to a Bright Future

An Interview with Ambassador Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic

By J. P. Finley

Stepping out of her stately Massachusetts Avenue office, Croatian Ambassador Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic exudes grace and elegance. Through the course of an interview, she applies the depth and knowledge necessary for a diplomat of one of the fastest developing nations in the world.

Amongst the seven languages Ambassador Kitarovic speaks, her English is flawless, with few hints of an accent. She attended high school in Los Alamos, New Mexico, mastering English, before embarking on a worldwide educational tour. Kitarovic holds a BA and MA in political science from the University of Zagreb in Croatia. In 2002 she received the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship doing pre-doctoral research at George Washington University in Washington DC. While at GW, Kitarovic won the Presidential Medal for her studies on international relations and security. She also studied throughout Europe, attending seminars, conferences and academic retreats in Zurich, Brussels, and Geneva, where she cultivated an understanding of successful democratic and free market societies.

In January 1992, during the breakup of Yugoslavia, Kitarovic began her career of service to her country. Working her way up the ranks of the Croatian Foreign Ministry, she concentrated on relations with the United States. By 1995 she headed the North American Department of the Foreign Ministry, and in 1998 she took her first diplomatic position in Ottawa, Canada.

After returning to Croatia in 2003, Kitarovic was elected to the Croatian Parliament and was consequently appointed Minister of European Integration. She has acted in many roles to help Croatia prepare to join the EU. In 2005 she was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration of Croatia. On April 9, 2008 she became Ambassador to the United States.

The Ambassador first spoke with us about Croatia's post war period. On June 25, 1991, Croatia declared its independence from Yugoslavia and war broke out. After a tumultuous period that wreaked havoc and destruction, the war in Croatia ended in 1995.

Washington International: What were the major issues for Croatia after the war?

Ambassador Kitarovic: During the war almost 1/3 of our territory was occupied, and we had a lot of displaced persons whom we had to take care from the occupied area, along with a huge number of refugees who came to Croatia from the war in Bosnia. Through time, we were able to reintegrate the occupied territory. In 1998 we reintegrated the last remaining portion of eastern Slavonia into Croatia. Over 230,000 people have returned to their homes, 140,000 people of Serbian background. Croatia remains determined to accept back every single refugee who wants to, and has the right to return to Croatia. So after people started returning to their homes, the building of infrastructure was very important. Every person whose home was damaged in the war had the right to apply for assistance.

As people start returning, you have to work on reconciliation at the local level, which I believe was done successfully. Incidents do happen from time to time, but they are immediately sanctioned and are becoming fewer and fewer. The biggest problems now in the return areas are of an economic development nature. I’m happy to say that Croatia has gone through a tremendous transformation. We have really become an exemplary country, not just in the immediate region, but as a country in general -- a country that has been able to successfully overcome the legacy of war, successfully reintegrate and reconcile the population, and foster good neighborly relations.

This was a huge economic challenge because 90 percent of total resources came from the State budget. Today, we have not only rebuilt infrastructures, but we are well on our way to becoming members of the European Union and NATO. Of course, we have been implementing a lot of criteria while conducting numerous reforms in the political and administrative areas toward building and strengthening the economy.

We are progressing well in our EU accession negotiations, and we plan to close them by the end of 2009. I expect that next April, during the NATO anniversary, we will become a member. I’m happy to say that the US was the third country to ratify Croatia’s and Albania’s accession protocol to NATO which sends a very important message to our people. What President Bush said during the ceremony -- that Croatia has undergone and successfully conducted this transformation -- also sends an important message to Southeast Europe -- that we have taken the right path, and want other allies to go ahead with their ratifications as well.

What about the other countries of the former Yugoslavia. How are they doing?

Ambassador: Countries are at different stages of EU and NATO integration, and we support every single country in southeast Europe in becoming members in NATO and the EU, provided they fulfill all the relevant criteria. I believe this will insure a truly lasting stability in the entire region. The prospect of membership serves as an excellent catalyst to go ahead with reforms, and as a blueprint, because we basically have to go through the same transition that other Central and Eastern European countries already went through in moving from a planned economy to a market economy, from a Communist system to a Democratic nation.

How do you assess your relations with Serbia?

Serbia’s new government is more pro-western oriented, and we hope they will fully realize that joining the EU offers the best future for Serbia. Unfortunately, after Croatia’s recognition of Kosovo and the recent decision of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, that it has jurisdiction over Croatia’s lawsuit against Serbia, there has been stagnation in the bilateral relationship. We have established a diplomatic presence in Kosovo, operating in the status of an Embassy. We hope that the reality of Croatia’s recognition of the independence of Kosovo will not dominate our bilateral relationship with Serbia, and that we will continue working on the relations between the countries in the spirit of mutual respect.

What about Bosnia?

We have a special interest in Bosnia becoming a stable country. We share a long border with Bosnia which is 99 percent determined, however, there are actually two spots that have not been resolved yet. There are a few other open issues which we are leaving to the experts. We believe these issues should not be critical, and we are determined to be supportive and to concentrate on the bulk of the relationship which is very positive. We recently supported and, actually, were the co-partners in inviting Bosnia and Montenegro to become part of the US Initiative in which Croatia and Albania were already a part.

We firmly support not only the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia, but also the constitutional equality of all three nations -- Croats, Serbs and Bosnians -- in the entire country. We hope they find solutions to strengthen the institutions in an emancipated, functioning government and create the mechanism for the protection of national rights in the entire territory.

Before the recent global economic downturn, there had been a lot of investment in Croatia, and visitors saw numerous construction projects in the capital, Zagreb. How has this been affected?

Our financial and monetary institutions have remained quite stable. Croatia is still the most dynamic country in southeast Europe with steady economic growth, relatively low inflation, a stable currency, and a GDP that continues to grow. According to the World Bank, for the past two years we have had a place among the top 10 performers of the world. The regulatory improvements we have made are important for investment in Croatia, especially foreign direct investment.

Our economy is primarily service based, 67 percent of GDP is derived from that sector. We have ship building, food processing, also biochemical industries and pharmaceuticals. The agricultural sector is showing more potential as we grow natural produce free of chemicals. We would like to increase exports without affecting quality. With the increasing demand for organic foods, I think Croatia will have a place in the European Union and many parts of the world for its agricultural products.

But as far as the financial crisis goes, you would expect a slowdown in trade and exports to certain countries, and that is how it could affect Croatia. We have become a huge vacation destination, with 10 million tourists attracted by a small country with a spectacular coast, fine hotels and wonderful cuisine. We receive hundreds of cruise ships along the Dalmatian coast. We have about 1,200 islands off that coast, all different and picture perfect, and great for nautical tourism.

It remains to be seen how general economic trends will affect us, but we hope that the popularity of Croatia as a tourist destination will attract at least the same number of tourists as we had last summer season.

Could you expand a little on the Green Field investment?

We have a state agency promoting investment. The agency works to find the best places for potential investors and helps them to carry out the deal. Opportunities are vast -- from hotels and marinas to the potential opening of a Coca Cola bottling plant. Much depends on local planning and how they view the land's purpose -- whether they want industry, and what kind of industry is in their economic development plan. We want to encourage ecological sensitivity. We offer incentives for this kind of investment and want to make it long term.

What are your goals while in Washington?

Well, you know Croatia has reached the highest level of relations with the US since its independence. Our relations are very good. Of course, we still have a lot of room toward further building of bridges of friendship and working together, particularly in the economic sphere. We would like to see more US investment in Croatia, higher trade figures, and more American tourists.

Right now we are members of the UN Security Council. We have been cooperating with the US in many fields and been a part of the Global Cooperation in combating terrorism. We have 300 of our troops in Afghanistan and have been participating in many UN peace-keeping missions.

We want to continue our cooperation with the US in working for global peace and stability. Our imminent NATO membership will present us with another framework for closer cooperation. We very much appreciate the early ratification of our NATO accession under the leadership of President Bush and also the bi-partisan support that secured early ratification.

One of the objectives for Croatia is to become a part of the Visa Waiver Program. We don’t require a visa for US citizens visiting Croatia, but Croatians are required to have a visa to visit the US. We are currently working on the bi-lateral agreement and other aspects that we must satisfy in order to become part of the program. We are looking forward to continuing our dialogue and cooperation on all these issues with the new administration.

The Ambassador lives in northwest Washington with her husband, Jakov, and their two young children, Katarina and Luka. Her children attend American public schools, like their mother years before.

Ambassadors Archive 2

Singapore: A City With A Buzz


An Interview with Ambassador Chan Heng Chee

By Alan L. Dessoff

As Ambassador Chan Heng Chee puts it, Singapore is “a city with a buzz.” The buzz applies as well to Ambassador Chan, a diminutive dynamo of a diplomat who has represented her city-state in Washington for 11 years and speaks with authority and passion about the prominent role it plays in Southeast Asia and the global community.

Small in size geographically, but significant in its political, economic and cultural stature and influence, the city-state of Singapore operates with authority and crisp efficiency, just like Ambassador Chan, goal-directed and business-savvy, who acts and speaks with conviction in the best interests of her country.

Singapore’s regional prominence was demonstrated most recently by the way it jumped in to provide aid after a massive earthquake struck Sichuan province and by the assistance it offered to Myanmar in the wake of Tropical Cyclone Nargis.

“Singaporeans rise to the occasion,” says Ambassador Chan. With the permission of Chinese authorities, Singapore sent a disaster assistance relief team, members of its armed forces, and $25 million in financial aid that included private donations.

Similarly, in Myanmar, “we certainly wanted to help immediately; we offered equipment and men. But the Myanmar government does not seem very open to support,” says Ambassador Chan.

She notes that Singapore has held the chair this year of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which established a coordinating mechanism for aiding Myanmar. “The point is that Singapore is always ready to help countries in the region if they are willing to accept our help,” she adds.

Ambassador Chan is well grounded in the issues of Southeast Asia and beyond. Formerly Executive Director of the Singapore International Foundation, which created a Singapore version of the U.S. Peace Corps, she also was Director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies and founding Director of the Institute of Policy Studies. She has served as Singapore’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations and was concurrently High Commissioner to Canada and Ambassador to Mexico.

Educated at the University of Singapore and Cornell University, Ambassador Chan has served as a member of the International Advisory Board of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Council of the International Institute for Strategic Studies and the International Council of the Asia Society.

Now as Singapore’s chief government representative in the U.S., she keeps a close eye on a wide range of issues and opportunities that impact her country. “We enjoy a good relationship” with the U.S., Ambassador Chan says. “There is a good atmosphere, we are good friends, and we have worked with Democratic and Republican administrations very well.”

She cites a strong defense relationship that allows U.S. military forces to use facilities in Singapore. There also is “good economic cooperation” between the two countries, with about $60 billion in U.S.-Singapore trade, in favor of the U.S. Trade has increased by 40 percent since the U.S. and Singapore signed a free trade agreement in 2003, effective the next year. Now, Ambassador Chan reports, Singapore is the 15th largest trading partner of the U.S., the 9th largest export market for the U.S., and the 8th largest services trading partner.

“I find the issues in Washington very exciting,” she says. “The U.S. is straightforward and open and I enjoy working with American officials enormously. There are good outcomes as we work together.” She cites the “inspiring creative spirit” of the U.S. and its philanthropic spirit as well.

She also finds the language of politics in the U.S. to be “very stimulating, sometimes entertaining, but always interesting. This is the home of the most powerful country in the world so everything seems relevant.”

Although Singapore’s history dates from the 11th century, the island was little known to the West until the 19th century. It became an independent republic with a parliamentary system of government in 1965 and has maintained formal diplomatic relations with the U.S. since then.

One of the most densely populated countries in the world, Singapore and all of its 4.2 million people could fit inside Washington’s Capital Beltway, but it still has a need to grow and the space for it and aims to do it, Ambassador Chan says. “There is a school of thought in Singapore that believes we must have a critical mass and that we can accommodate up to 6 million people. We have not put a date on when we want to achieve that, but we see room for some population growth,” she says.

Meanwhile, Singapore has “good standing” in Southeast Asia not just because of its willingness to help other countries in the region but because of its own successes in economic development, social policies and other areas. “Many countries, especially smaller ones, come to Singapore and ask us how we did it. We try to be helpful. We offer technical assistance to other countries and show them what we have done in different policy areas — what we do with education and health, how we operate our airport, and run our tourism program,” Ambassador Chan explains.

Its strategic location on major sea lanes and its industrious population have given Singapore an economic importance in Southeast Asia disproportionate to its small size, and its economic development, principally in manufacturing, communications and services, underscores much of Singapore’s success in other areas.

“Singapore has always been known as an economic miracle,” Ambassador Chan says. These days, Singapore is focusing on growth in the “knowledge” industries, including environmental technology, biotech — “We do a lot of stem cell research under ethical rules,” she says — and digital media.

Developing water technology is critical for Singapore, which does not have water sources of its own and must buy water from other countries. Using American technology, Singapore now is trying to “create new water out of used water,” Ambassador Chan explains.

Economic growth takes place in other areas, too, including financial services. There also is “a fledging fashion industry that we are trying to build.” In recent years, Singapore has promoted its creative services. “Hollywood does some of its work in Singapore,” Ambassador Chan says.

She cites investment and trade opportunities that Singapore offers, noting that the free trade agreement that Singapore and the U.S. signed in 2003 was the first of its kind that the U.S. signed with an Asian country. That has made Singapore “an even better place for Americans to invest,” she says. She points to surveys that show Singapore has a business-friendly environment. “We are one of the top one or two places in the world to do business in,” she says. “Singapore is welcoming, pleasant to live in, and safe.”

But she acknowledges that the recent economic slowdown in the U.S. and Europe has impacted Singapore, where this year’s growth rate probably will be between 4-6 percent compared to 7.2 percent last year.

With no oil resources of its own, Singapore buys oil from nearby producing countries in Southeast Asia and the Middle East and is impacted by high oil prices. Paradoxically, Ambassador Chan says, Singapore is home to the third largest oil refining center in the world.

As it seeks to expand economically, Singapore also wants to broaden its educational focus. “We are very good at producing scientists and engineers, but we feel we have to produce well-rounded graduates,” says Ambassador Chan, who points out that she received a liberal arts education. Now, a film school has opened in Singapore and a music conservatory is being developed. Culturally, Singapore has a symphony orchestra and ballet company as well as creative artists and art schools.

Meanwhile, Singapore has increasingly become a tourism destination, drawing about 7 million visitors a year. “It used to be that we were known as clean and green and staid,” Ambassador Chan says. “Singapore was green before it became fashionable to be green. We have been quite good about regulating industry to meet environmental standards. We are very conscious of that.” Recycling has been practiced “for decades,” she says.

Now Singapore has gained that “city with a buzz” reputation. “We see ourselves as a garden city that is clean and green and where things work, the food is great, and the people are pleasant and speak English,” Ambassador Chan says. Visitors often comment, she says, on how “different races lives in harmony — Malays, Chinese, Indian, expatriates.”

In some ways it’s like Washington, she says. “I enjoy Washington very much because I like the green, the beautiful flowers in spring, the good cultural life. Also, people are very friendly here. It’s a good place to be.”

Singapore’s greatest challenge currently, Ambassador Chan says, is “how to maintain and manage success.” As a small country, “we are a little red dot on the world map, and with no natural resources, we always worry about how to keep up with the competition, not just in our region, but globally. We have to always anticipate what is around the corner.”

“If you have a small space, you have to plan carefully, and Singapore is quite rational and very planning-conscious,” she continues. “We have a politics of anticipation. We have to always anticipate what is around the corner and it has to do with the size of the country.”

That’s a key reason for Singapore’s interest in growing its population. “Our only resource is our human capital,” Ambassador Chan says. “You enlarge your space in different ways and that’s what we are trying to do.”

Ambassadors Archive 2

Latvia - A Fresh Start

An Interview with Ambassador Andrejs Pildegovics

By Alan L. Dessoff

Ninety years after its founding and 17 years after it was reborn as a free and independent country, the Republic of Latvia is proud of the advances it has made in the global community and the place it occupies in contemporary world affairs. After experiencing domination through much of the 20th century, first by Nazi Germany and then by the Soviet Union, and losing a third of its population, Latvia has reestablished itself as a modern and democratic nation that seeks to promote its political stability, economic opportunities and rich cultural traditions to the rest of the world.

The territory known today as Latvia has been inhabited since 9000 BC and became famous as a trading crossroads. The early Baltic peoples who arrived in the first half of 2000 BC are the forefathers of the Latvian people. Because of its strategic geographic location on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea, Latvian territory frequently was invaded by neighboring nations, largely defining the fate of the land and its people even after Latvia initially proclaimed its independence in 1918.

Now, as a member of the United Nations and the easternmost member of NATO and the European Union, Latvia is presenting a new face to the world and is recognized as an important and strategic player in political and economic affairs in Europe and beyond.

The face of Latvia today is represented in the United States by Ambassador Andrejs Pildegovics, who began his career as a civil servant and advanced through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to become foreign policy advisor to the previous President, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, and then Chief of Staff in the Chancery of the President before being accredited in his current post in July 2007.

Pildegovics was educated in international affairs, at the University of St. Petersburg, where he studied Chinese history and language, then in Chinese language studies at the Beijing Foreign Languages Institute. He spent a year in diplomatic studies at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and two years in the foreign service program at Oxford University.

Now, at 36, Pildegovics represents Latvia in a world capital that is vitally important to his country’s continued development and international standing. That was demonstrated recently by the visit of Latvia's new president Valdis Zatlers’ on his first official visit to the U.S. in April.

Zatlers met with President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and senior Congressional leaders. He held a news conference at the National Press Club, addressed the Heritage Foundation, visited Arlington National Cemetery and the Victims of Communism Memorial, and was honored at a reception that Pildegovics hosted at the Latvian Embassy. Zatlers concluded his week-long U.S. visit with a trip to Cleveland, Ohio, in a part of the country that is home to many Americans of Latvian heritage.

“It was an extremely important visit for,” Pildegovics says. “The history of the 20th century was not kind to my country. The United States has been of paramount importance in helping us restore our independence and preserve our freedom and democracy. We are proud to be allies and close partners of the United States and one reason for our President’s visit was to celebrate this partnership as we celebrate the 17th anniversary of our statehood.”

Another reason, he continues, was to forge further dialogue and cooperation between the two countries. “We don’t want to rest on the laurels of previous accomplishments. We have new priorities and challenges and we would like to address them together,” Pildegovics says.

One priority is to remove visa requirements for Latvia and other Baltic countries that Pildegovics characterizes as a “remnant from the past, the Cold War” and an “artificial barrier” to further contacts and visits between the two countries.

Another objective is to solidify economic interaction with the U.S. “in areas where we are compatible” like energy production and conservation. “We see the U.S. as a pioneer in technology and expertise and we wish to have as much collaboration as possible,” Pildegovics declares.

Tourism is a growing sector of Latvia’s economy and Latvia would like to welcome more visitors from the U.S. There currently is one direct flight between Riga and New York and “it is just a matter of time until we have more,” he says.

Latvia also presents attractive investment opportunities for U.S. and other foreign businesses, Pildegovics asserts. “The time is really ripe for quantitative and qualitative leaps forward in this respect in the most advanced areas of our service-oriented economy,” he says, citing banking in particular and noting that banking and other “significant U.S. business players” are already active in the Baltic region.

Other Latvian industries that present good investment opportunities include telecommunications — “the Baltics in general are quite advanced in this ”— as well as chemicals and forest products. “Half of our country is covered by forests and given the new technologies, we are anxious to do more on the value-added side of the production chain,” Pildegovics says.

“When I first arrived in the U.S. in 1995, most people I met didn’t now about the Baltic countries or Latvia specifically,” Pildegovics states. “Now it’s a different ball game. We are small players but we play in the big leagues. We are in NATO and the European Union and we are optimistic that with the attention of the U.S., there will be more growth and interaction in the Baltic region, which already is one of the most dynamic and prosperous parts of the world. “We hope that this model of development that has been so successful in Latvia will inspire other countries in the region to follow the same path. We have shown that small countries without significant deposits of gas and coal and gold can succeed and develop with significant economic growth rates.

“The democratic transformation has been remarkable and with establishment of the rule of law we have been able, to a large extent, to overcome the legacies of the totalitarian regimes, although we still are struggling in some sectors. But we have been able to create a society with active media and a vibrant NGO community and a dynamic political process with constant competition between the parties. These changes have resulted in substantial improvements in the well-being of a majority of the people, and they appreciate the changes and see the results of independence.”

Pildegovics acknowledges that Latvia’s accession to NATO and the EU “hasn’t been a free ride. It took difficult decisions.” But “we kept the goal very clear that this was the right way and we had to succeed, and now we feel very pleased that the Baltic Sea has become almost the internal EU Sea, and we are in the same boat, the same family, with our Scandinavian neighbors and Poland and Germany. Our membership in the EU and NATO has helped us, quite significantly, to develop dialogue with our neighbors and with Russia.”

Although Joseph Stalin “left a very tragic legacy in the region,” Latvia wants to develop “mutually respectful relations with the Russian people,” Pildegovics says.

He makes clear, “there is no place for complacency” in Latvia today. “We lost too much time behind the Iron Curtain. We have to constantly modernize the foundations of our state.” He cites strengthening Latvia’s legal and education systems as internal priorities.

Notwithstanding everything Latvia is doing in its modern age, it also wants to retain its rich cultural and language traditions, Pildegovics says. A key one is music, including a national song festival; “Latvian Song Festival” first held in 1873 and featuring massed choir concerts. Even during the Soviet period, “when there was little room for expression of national identity,” Latvians managed to retain that tradition and “now we would like to pass it to our children,” Pildegovics says.

The summer of 2008 presents an opportunity to do that when the festival, which takes place every five years, and is held again in Riga, the capital. It will feature thousands of “ordinary citizens” joining together in singing songs both ancient and modern. “We are proud of this tradition and would like to showcase it to the world,” says Pildegovics, encouraging U.S. travelers to plan their vacations around the July 3-14 event.

He also hopes to bring “new bright stars” from Latvia to the U.S. in the years ahead, noting that Latvian athletes already play in the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League. Meanwhile, the Embassy displayed Latvian art at a “Passport DC” festival in May when EU countries opened their embassies to showcase their cultures.

With his wife and three children, Pildegovics is happy and comfortable in Washington. “To be ambassador here is a big privilege and absolute pleasure,” he says. “I am enjoying every minute.”

Ambassadors Archive 2

Czech Republic: A 21st Century Czech Mate


An Interview with Ambassador Petr Kolar

By Hugh S. Galford

The Czech Republic has come a long way since its Velvet Divorce from Slovakia. Having thrown off Czechoslovakia’s dreary communism, the Czech Republic has become a massive draw for tourists and a vibrant cultural nation. Long famous for its beer, its classical music and its architecture, the country is adding IT and biotechnology to its resume, hoping to become the Silicon Valley of Europe. A member of the European Union, the Czech Republic is once again taking its place on the international stage.

The country’s new-found vibrancy and outlook are embodied in Petr Kolar, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Czech Republic to the US. With degrees from Prague’s Charles University in Information Technology and Library Science and in Ethnography, and post-graduate research at the Woodrow Wilson International Center and the University of London’s Institute of Historical Research, Ambassador Kolar takes a forward-looking approach to relations, but understands the importance of looking to the past and learning its lessons as well.

The breakup of Czechoslovakia, Kolar says, “was probably inevitable. I was very sad at the time, and opposed it, but from today’s perspective, it was an important step. There were many bad spirits and irrational accusations at the time, on both sides: who paid more, who was better off…. It was like a marriage: when you start to fight about money, it’s better to separate.” But from this Velvet Divorce, he says, “a new kind of love” has developed.

“Some in Brussels joke that the Czechs and Slovaks fooled them — we just wanted more votes in the European Union Council! They say that we always work together, so why did we separate?” Economically, Kolar says, the two countries are close. “We are both signatories to the Schengen accords. There are many mixed Czech-Slovak families, and artists from both countries constantly cross the border. Our shared cultural life is strong.” He notes that the Slovaks, just like the Czechs, have “braved economic reform, leading to an increasing GDP and a progressive outlook.”

In addition to research at the Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo and serving as Ambassador to Sweden and the Republic of Ireland, Ambassador Kolar also served for two years as Advisor for European Integration and the Balkans to Vaclav Havel, the Czechs’ first post-Communist president. Asked if he felt that Havel’s dreams for his country have been realized, Kolar responded that Havel “is a very modest man, not very demanding personally, but never satisfied politically.” Havel, he says, still sees that there is much to be done.

“He is quite happy to see how the country is doing, the people’s improved situation, its international position as a member of both NATO and the EU, and that it is clearly defined as a responsible and reliable ally of the US,” Kolar says. “But he is still not satisfied with the quality of public life, with local issues, and with how the people take a free, democratic country for granted.

“Democracy and freedom are very fragile,” Kolar added, “and could disappear quickly. It is very difficult to win democracy back once it is lost,” a lesson the Czechs should know from their own history.

Havel, the Ambassador says, is very clear about his own political future — he will not run for office again. “While he has no direct input, he does have influence and respect as an intellectual. He is quite happy to comment in his writings and work on his playwriting.” Though it must be mentioned that he “recently launched strong comments on the Russian elections — stronger than those contained in the OSCE report,” Kolar says.

An important issue in Russia’s electioneering was the proposal by the US to place a missile defense system in the Czech Republic. Originally explained as a means of early detection of Iranian missile launches, the system has been called into question with the recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that states Iran’s nuclear weapons program had been suspended in 2003. Ambassador Kolar points out that the NIE covers two broad programs: nuclear weapons, and ballistic missiles.

“For me,” Kolar says, “it is not so important if these missiles have nuclear, biological or chemical warheads. What is important is what rogue states might be capable of in the future. The missile defense program is not only about Iran, but about rogue states or groups who could attack our allies. The NIE doesn’t basically change this — but if there is a change of mind in the administration or in the congress, we should be the first to know.”

The Czech Republic was chosen as a location for the system, Kolar says, by specialists who had studied distances and missile trajectories, and who decided that Central Europe was the best location for radar and interceptor installations.

Yet many Russian leaders see the missile defense system as a direct threat to their own military power. “Russia’s reactions were surprising for me,” Kolar says. “I thought the Cold War was over. The Cold War led to the defeat of Communism, not the defeat of Russia and the Russians. Russia was another winner of the end of the Cold War.” After the collapse of the Soviet Union and communism in Europe, Russia “is building a new society and growing economically. I don’t understand why they perceive us in the West as an enemy.”

Kolar emphasizes that the missile defense system is for prevention — “before the Flood, not after it,” he says — and is not aimed against Russia. Despite “offering them information and participation” in the project, Kolar notes that “some Russian military personnel have been quoted as saying that once the system is built, Russia will target its missiles at the installation.”

Such views strengthen the Ambassador’s views that Czechs need to learn the lessons of their own history. “For us Czechs,” he says, “the question is, should we be passive or active? Should we try to prevent bad things, or be really relaxed? This is a debate we find even in our literature.” He cites Munich, 1938: “This idea of appeasement — sacrifice Czechoslovakia to prevent further attacks from Hitler — was a total failure. Some maniacs, such as Mr. Hitler, have a never-ending appetite. Always measure twice before you judge someone.”

The US, he says, understands its responsibility for the planet and for its own democracy. “We are partners. There needs to be more debate, diplomacy and dialogue between the US and the EU before events.” Kolar takes the example of the Balkans. “The attack against Milosevic — not against Serbia, but Milosevic — was a NATO undertaking. We preferred this method — a decision taken in partnership.”

Leadership, he says, “is another question. In a democratic system, the leading country is respected and chosen by the others. It is not someone who says, ‘We’re the leader. Take it or leave it.’ In our idea of partnership, leadership is earned — one must work for it. If the US wants to lead, it must build partnerships first, and then leadership will follow.”

One area that calls for partnership is climate change. After the Communist years, the Ambassador says, “we were in bad shape environmentally. The Communists only cared about profit, not about pollution and the land.” Since independence, the Czech Republic has invested heavily in the environment. “All governments since 1990 always took the question seriously,” he says, and were able to move the country forward on the question of “how we should care about the environment, clean water and air, industry and health.”

The greater question of global warming is more problematic. Asked about his country’s President’s views, Kolar says that Vaclav Klaus believes it is “important to have a serious debate of all experts, both pro and con. There is clear evidence of change, and it is clear that humans are impacting the climate, but the question is: What to do about this? Should we slow down economic growth? Should we ask developing nations to focus on the environment, or on development so they can feed their own people? Is the latter unfair? The Czech President is asking for a serious, honest, debated approach.” While it might be “hard for the Czech Republic, a small, landlocked country in Europe, to lecture others about these issues, scientists should be encouraged to measure changes and make proposals for action.”

In addition to its own moneys, the Czech Republic has received EU funds for environmental projects. The success rate is high. “Given the time I spend away from home,” Kolar says, “I can see great differences each time I go home. Both the government and the citizens are involved and making changes. Young people, especially, take this matter seriously.” Noting the age of the Czech Republic’s embassy in Washington, the Ambassador says, “we should build an environmentally friendly embassy. There are lots of green buildings in the Czech Republic, built with the owner’s own money. It’s always better to have a building that saves you money.”

The Czech Republic faces major issues during the first half of 2009, when it inherits the EU Presidency from France. The common task between the US and the EU, Kolar says, is “to destroy as many barriers — trade, exchange, economic, administrative — as possible.” The slogan “Europe without Frontiers” must be not just geographical, but must extend to free markets. “We need to make Europe an open and transparent space, governed by the rule of law, that works for all its people.”

The Czech Presidency sees some very important factors. First, there will be a new administration here in Washington. Second, there will be a US-EU Summit during their presidency, held in the US. And third, there will be changes across Europe, including a new European Council and elections to the European Parliament. “My headache and nightmare,” Ambassador Kolar says, “is knowing who will be where, and how to interact with them. It is not easy to predict how to work with all these variables.”

In the meantime, however, Kolar is focusing on “being Ambassador to all of the US, not just DC.” The US is a “huge country,” he says, with 50 states, one district, four dependencies and numerous Trust Territories in the Pacific. “The US is not one administration, or one to three politicians,” he says. “It’s a very colorful place with its different views.” While he acknowledges the stereotype of the ignorant American, as well as acknowledging the stereotype of the cynical European, he finds it “interesting that people in the United States are so impressively informed about international affairs, even in small places.”

He does not believe that “the credibility of the US has been damaged. Perhaps some US politicians or administrations might be less popular in some places yet that does not damage the credibility of the country. The worst times for Europe have always been when the US was isolated from the world. Europeans are the best partners for the US — we share the same archetype of civilization and culture. We are like two branches of the same tree, and we need to make sure that the two branches grow close together.”

The Ambassador contrasts his time in Washington now to when he was a Research Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in 1991, “the freely-floating scholar vs. the diplomat.” He says he loves Washington and finds it very beautiful, “though summer can be difficult.” He hopes to attract more investors to the Czech Republic, and to see Czechs invest more in the US. “I want Americans to see how vibrant, growing and progressive a country the Czech Republic is today. We are expanding beyond our traditional wares of beer, glass, and automobiles into IT, biotech and other value-added research and product areas.”

Ambassador Kolar summarized his office this way: “It is not only challenging to be Ambassador to the US — change here could influence dramatically all international politics — but it is also very nice. I like it even socially, living here. I get to meet both politicians and other citizens, the basic backbone of the country. I like America. I like Americans.”

Ambassadors Archive 2

Taiwan; Striving Toward Healthy Relationships


An Interview with Taiwan’s US Representative, Jaushieh Joseph Wu

By Hugh Galford

Named Taiwan’s Representative to the US in April 2007, Dr. Jaushieh Joseph Wu has hit the ground running. Energetic and engaging, Wu will need a marathoner’s endurance because of the number of issues facing Taiwan and a sprinter’s speed because of the upcoming Taiwanese elections that could shorten his tenure here.

China looms large for Wu. The international community’s concerns about China — its economic growth, rising military power and role in the UN — impact Taiwan immediately. In 2001, Wu edited a volume titled China Rising: Implications of Economic and Military Growth of the PRC that dealt with these issues.

“China’s economic growth is a blessing to and for the rest of the world,” Wu says, “but with that economic rise, we see problems.” Beyond the external issues mentioned above, Wu points to the domestic factors of corruption and pollution. The basic solution to these issues, Wu holds, is “a legal framework for China.” Taiwan, he says, “can provide assistance with this.”

Working indirectly through NGOs, Taiwanese legal groups have traveled to China to review and suggest changes to the Chinese legal system. China, Wu says, is interested in the German legal establishment, and as Taiwan shares Germany’s continental-style legal framework, China “can learn from us.” China’s lack of a legal system “leads to a lack of redress.”

Furthermore, Wu says, China suffers from “a lack of responsive government institutions. The media, for example, are subject to government control. Without oversight, the government can do anything.” This problem extends beyond Beijing to the provinces.

“Local governments follow the central government’s example, and thus they cannot deal with pollution, the environment and air quality issues.” Wu notes that the average life expectancy of a traffic policeman in Beijing is about 47 years. Beijing has recently implemented “quick fixes”, such as trying to decrease the reliance of households on coal as a fuel, moving factories out of the city and limiting traffic by alternating days on which cars can enter the city.

These moves, Wu says, have produced “only minimal change.” The International Olympic Committee has even issued opinions that some events of the 2008 Summer games should not be held in Beijing. Outside the capital the situation is equally bleak. The World Bank estimates that 16 of the 20 most-polluted cities in the world are in China. And the Blacksmith Institute, in a 2006 report, cites Linfen City, in Shanxi Province, as perhaps the most polluted city in the world. Despite these findings, Chinese officials “consider activists more dangerous than environmental degradation,” Wu says.

Taiwan also has food and health issues concerning China. While US toy and food retailers recalled Chinese-produced items earlier this fall, and Japan inspects goods before they leave China, Taiwan is at a disadvantage. “It is easy for Chinese goods to be smuggled into Taiwan,” Wu says, given its proximity, “and for Taiwan to ask China for an inspection regime such as Japan has, government-to-government talks would be needed, and these are difficult, if not impossible.” Taiwan’s Ministry of Health conducts random inspections of goods from China and has found serious problems. The Taiwanese love crabs, and commercially import them from China. Individuals returning from China are also allowed to carry them back. Last winter, the Ministry found some crabs that had exceedingly high levels of antibiotics and banned crabs altogether. “We need to advise the Chinese government on food issues,” Wu says, “and help them develop a responsive government structure.”

Health concerns in Taiwan could be mitigated by their admission to the World Health Organization (WHO). “Taiwan has tried to apply for observer status at the WHO as the ‘Health Entity of Taiwan’ for over ten years, but this effort has gone nowhere.” Wu says that while China has ignored Taiwan’s efforts to depoliticize its participation in the WHO, “more countries are voicing support for Taiwan’s real, meaningful participation in the WHO.” The US has supported this publicly for the past several years, and is trying to coordinate with other countries, especially Japan, to push for universal support of Taiwan. Wu adds that Canada and European countries have become more supportive as well.

Full participation in the WHO still seems a distant goal for Taiwan, though. In 2005, the WHO implemented a set of International Health Regulations, under which information is forwarded to national “contact points”—Ministries of Health or Centers for Disease Control. Under the current system, Taiwan’s CDC is ignored by the WHO, which sees China as contact point for Taiwan.

The danger in this was seen in September 2007, when China was notified that shipments of baby corn from Thailand might be contaminated with a pathogen that could cause serious food poisoning. Despite being informed by the WHO on September 12, China delayed passing the information on to Taiwan for ten days.

“It should be against ethics that Taiwan is treated this way,” Wu says. “We must be treated the same, and our people’s health protected.”

In 2005 China and the WHO signed a Memorandum of Understanding concerning Taiwan: If Taiwan experts are to be included on WHO- related conferences, WHO needs to notify Beijing in advance.

“The more Taiwan shares in these works,” Wu says, “the more Taiwan looks like part of China. But if we don’t participate, our health suffers. The international community does not understand this.”

Tensions between Taiwan and the PRC extend to military issues as well. Taiwan’s attempt to purchase 60 F16s from the US to supplement their current 250 and to bolster their air defenses fell through in October. “The US needs to look at China’s air defense capacities,” Wu says. In addition to SU-27s, China has acquired SU-30s, one of the most advanced fighter-bombers, and has produced its own J10 planes.

Taiwan, Wu says, has seen a threat change from China. In part this is due to China’s budget increase. With double-digit economic growth, more is available for its defense budget. It is also due to the arms being deployed. In addition to augmenting its current 1000 short-range missiles that could reach Taiwan in six to seven minutes, China has purchased or developed intermediate-range and cruise missiles. While 12 to 16 submarines would be needed to blockade Taiwan, China has 40 to 50, and launched five nuclear-powered submarines early this year.

Since 2002, China has had a “decapitation” strategy against Taiwan. While Wu says the continuing military strategy may be because “the Chinese government recognizes internal problems it cannot deal with and needs a ‘scapegoat’ issue,” he also suggests that we should take a wider view. “Maybe Chinese leaders are more ambitious,” he says. “Maybe they want more than to take over Taiwan, and are preparing to become the hegemon in East Asia.” He notes that while the USS Kitty Hawk was on exercises, a Chinese submarine surfaced alongside it, and that “Chinese naval officials want a ‘Blue Water’ navy and an aircraft carrier by 2011.”

Wu also points to China’s TF31, a long-range (8000-12000 km) ICBM; the JL-2 SLBM, that would give it second-strike capability against a US target; and unmanned aerial vehicles developed with Israeli support.

“Some congressmen understand this well,” Wu says. “The problem for the US now is that it is caught in other places, and China can expand its military without scrutiny.” And while many feel that China can use its new-found power to provide solutions to issues ranging from Darfur to Myanmar, Wu holds that “China is a problem itself” in these same conflicts. China has sent 300 troops to Darfur to rebuild, Wu says, “but continues to send arms to Bashir and to get oil from the Sudan.” Even China’s role in negotiations with North Korea is suspect, Wu says. “Christopher Hill should be credited with the results. China got to host the talks, but the US was behind all the advancements. Throughout the negotiations, China provided the DPRK with food and fuel to keep the Kim regime in place.”

For Wu, with an MA from the University of Missouri, St. Louis, and a PhD from Ohio State University, Taiwan and the US share common goals. He has two “Taiwan-US” wishes for his tenure in Washington. The first “is that China would become just another developed democracy. Taiwan’s relations therefore would not be a problem.” The second is to see a reversal of Taiwan’s diplomatic isolation. “Taiwan has no diplomatic relations with the US. We have no official recognition. It is not dignified for a fellow democracy. We want normal relations with the US.”

Ambassadors Archive 2

Portugal: At the Center of Globalization

An Interview with Ambassador João de Vallera

By Hugh S. Galford 

As part of the newly instituted trio of Presidencies of the European Union, Portugal will strive to deepen Europe’s interactions with the rest of the world. As leader of the first wave of globalization in the 15th and 16th centuries, this is not surprising. In the early 1400’s, Portugal, under Henry The Navigator, began exploring the African coast. Bartolomeu Dias rounded the Cape of Good Hope (its name a translation from the Portuguese) for the first time, and in 1498 Vasco da Gama followed Dias’ route to reach India. In 1500 Pedro Álvares Cabral had found his way to Brazil, and a few years later other navigators reached Newfoundland. Portuguese traders had relations with Iran (and forts in Ormuz) by 1507, and had reached Japan in the 1540s.

Portuguese Ambassador João de Vallera could almost be considered a direct descendent and inheritor of these early explorers. Born in 1950 in Malange, Angola, and with a degree in Economics from the University of Lisbon, he has accomplished a fair amount of exploration himself. He served at the Embassy in Bonn, at the Permanent Mission to the European Communities in Brussels, as Director General of European Affairs, as a delegate to the Convention on the Future of Europe, and as Ambassador to Dublin, Berlin and now Washington. His tenure here propels him into an international focus, since Portugal inherited the EU presidency from Germany in July.

Several of Portugal’s earliest international relationships number among its priorities for its EU presidency. The first EU-Brazilian Summit was held in Lisbon on July 4, 2007. The aim of this Summit was to deepen and develop a strategic partnership with Brazil that would complement the EU’s strategic partnership with Latin America as a whole. Ambassador de Vallera noted with pride that of the participants in the Summit — the Head of the European Commission, and the head of Governments of the President country (Portugal), the Guest country (Brazil) and the following President country (Slovenia) — three of them spoke Portuguese as their native language.

Brazil is just the first of a number of such planned Summits. De Vallera referred to the program as dealing with BRICs: Brazil, Russia, India and China. These “continental powers,” like the US or Canada, are areas deemed important to the EU for strategic, energy or economic reasons. These areas may be groupings of nations, such as Latin America or the Persian Gulf states, or major individual countries. In 2000, during Portugal’s last EU presidency, talks at that high level were begun with India.

Ambassador de Vallera expects that a second EU-Africa Summit can be held in Lisbon in December. The original idea for an EU-Africa Summit began in the 1990s as “a Portuguese initiative that had to catch on with wider Europe on one hand and all African Nations on the other.

“Europe has strong links with Africa, both Europe-wide structural links, and Member States’ national ties to individual regions of Africa,” says de Vallera.

While there has long been cooperation between the EU and Africa, this has been based on a bilateral or regional approach or on an international aid donor-receiver relationship. The EU-Africa Summit logic, on the other hand, envisions the two continents “building connections in global dialogue on the basis of equals.”

The proposed second EU-Africa Summit would “further negotiations with our African partners through the African Union (AU). We want the summit to have substance and that is why we are working on the approval of a Joint Strategy and of a concrete Action Plan both to be hopefully agreed in December.”

Topics for discussion include issues of governance, trade, development, migration, human rights and health/pandemics. The ambassador sees this new relationship as “a contribution to prevent and solve conflicts” noting the EU’s continuing support with the aim to enhance the AU peace-keeping capacities. “The Summit has been held up by the situation in Zimbabwe and a solution must be found to overcome this problem. In the meantime, Portugal and the EU are busy with preparatory work for the Summit; as I said before, we are working on substance,” he says.

Portugal has plenty on its plate. There are five scheduled Ministerial-level meetings concerning EUROMED (the Barcelona Process), along with meetings to discuss the European Perspective for the Western Balkans; the enlargement process; freedom, security and justice; and migration and integration.

“There will be over 220 international meetings in Portugal alone over the next six months,” de Vallera explains. The free circulation of people is an important issue for Portugal, as are EU citizenship and “the human face of integration.” The ambassador believes that new Member States will be helped by the Portuguese-developed “SISone4ALL” software technology, for the purpose of ensuring their full integration within the borderless Schengen area.

Portugal’s most urgent priority for its presidency, however, is to finalize talks on the EU’s Reform Treaty. This Treaty, he says, “would enhance the transparency and efficiency of EU decision-making process at different levels.” The Treaty will, he says, “enable the EU to reinforce its capacity to act both internally and in the world.”

Internally, the Treaty makes a number of much-needed reforms. Primary among these is further change in decision-making from the basis of unanimity to majority vote. Unanimity worked well when there were six or even twelve Member States, but becomes a more complex issue with 27 Member States and counting.

Another major change configured by the new Treaty is the concentration on one single personality of external relations responsibilities. The High Representative in charge will accumulate the competencies which are shared today by three different political actors: the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Presidency (as the High Representative will chair the External Affairs Council), the Vice-President of the Commission responsible for Foreign Affairs and the present High Representative of the Council responsible for Common Foreign and Security policy and the European Security and Defense policy.

The new High Representative’s term of office will ensure a much more ambitious level of institutional continuity and consistency and will allow the EU in that domain to finally have a “single address and phone number.”

Another change is the introduction of the concept of a “trio” of Presidencies. Though not yet law, the idea was recently tested by a set of countries — Germany, Portugal and Slovenia. This system is based on a sequential 18-month period of policy planning, translated into a common program, allowing for higher standards of continuity, unity of purpose and distribution of work during the three semesters concerned. As any Presidency, Portugal will launch some initiatives, build on what the previous Presidency did, and leave to its successor the responsibility to develop and hopefully conclude the unfinished work. The difference is that this time the entire process has been prepared in advance by three member States for an 18-month period. When the Reform Treaty is passed, this system will be the norm.

For Ambassador de Vallera, the EU proved to be an extraordinary achievement. In the 50 years since the signing of the foundational Treaty of Rome in 1957, the Union has validated the vision of its founding fathers, that economy combined with the right institutional framework breeds new forms of interdependence and wider and more ambitious models of integration.

Having participated in the drafting of some of the treaty revisions exercises, the ambassador is enthusiastic and knowledgeable on all the nuances and details of this elaborated and unprecedented system of governance.

“The EU is the first — and unique — experience where strong nation-states decided, voluntarily, to share sovereignty in what was not a zero-sum game.” That this decision worked is due not only to political will, but also to the institutional choices made at the time. The ambassador likens the EU Council of Ministers to the US Senate, and describes the European Commission as an independent body, representing common interests, but with some important executive capacities. The Commission is also the first body to judge whether Member States are upholding EU laws. Further, the Commission was given the monopoly of initiative, especially on economic issues. Member States have accepted, through the qualified majority logic, the possibility of being out-voted in legislative decisions that will be applied in their internal juridical order.

The European Parliament (EP) was originally a weaker institution, basically with consultative functions; but in the last revisions of the Treaty has gained more substantial power. Since passage of the Maastricht Treaty (1992), the EP has attained parity with the Council through the power of co-decision on acts dealing with the market, industry, etc., which now must be approved by the Council and by Parliament.

The EU can point to many success stories, among them the rapid economic development of its members. Portugal, for example, joined the EU in 1986 with a per capita GDP 54% of the EU average. In 2005 — in just 20 years — Portugal’s per capita GDP equaled 75% of the EU average.

De Vallera stresses the importance of the trans-Atlantic relationship to the EU. Despite recent policy differences between the US and individual EU Member States, the US-EU relationship has grown closer. Under Germany’s presidency, there were detailed talks prior to the annual EU-US Summit, with major agreements on the creation of a new economic institutional framework, (the Transatlantic Economic Council), and with promising developments on energy and environmental policy. A permanent dialogue exists, at several different levels, on global issues and on current international conflicts.

The ambassador also stresses the links of economic interdependence between the US and the EU. The US, he says, “invests more in Belgium than the whole EU does in China. And the EU invests more in Texas alone than the US does in China and India combined.” Such economic ties, he says, “makes it easier for real integration” of wider policy across the Atlantic.

Asked about the fact that Portugal’s place at the center of global issues may strike some as surprising, as for most of the 20th century, it was a largely overlooked nation. But as de Vallera mentions, not frequently occupying the front pages is not necessarily a handicap, since public attention is not always gathered for the best reasons. From 1928 to 1974, Portugal was ruled by a dictatorship, and was thus “less popular for political reasons.” It was only after 1974 that the country moved back to the democratic circle of nations and began its reintegration into Europe. At that point, “we became a big source of interest and curiosity because of the evolution of the political regime. The direction we would take was, at that time, not at all clear for everybody.”

That direction was clarified in 1986 with Portugal’s entry into the EU. Then “we were back to the European framework” and economic development followed. Despite its small size, Portugal has won a number of accolades, both European and global. In 1998, José Saramago won the Nobel Prize for Literature, (Portuguese is the sixth largest world language with over 200 million speakers and growing). Portugal has also hosted and supported a number of world-class exhibitions and events, and is today much better known for its remarkable tourist, cultural, historical and human resources. Sport — namely soccer — has also raised the image and notoriety of Portugal in the world.

In European terms, Portugal is a middle-sized nation of 10 million inhabitants. It’s generally admitted in European circles in Brussels that while smaller countries may not have the same degree of political capacity and ease that a larger state has in terms of political weight, they do have certain other advantages. “Most of the President Country’s work is to advance projects already started,” the ambassador says. “In smaller countries, there is a great deal of pride involved in doing well, and often there are not as many conflicts of interest with what has to be approved.” In small Member States, he says, “it is easier for citizens to be more motivated about ‘Europe’, and more inclined to accept what they do not see immediately as in their own interest.” Larger states tend to be more conditioned in their action by solidly ingrained national interests.

Beyond the shared global threats, Portugal’s major challenge is at home. Portugal has been a unified country with a single language and largely the same borders since 1245. As a small state with a strong identity, the concept of being part of Europe appears not to be an issue. “For centuries,” de Vallera says, “Portugal was a country of emigration. In the last decade, however, we have also become a country of immigration.” The country now has a sizeable Ukrainian population, along with newly arrived Brazilians and the more traditional Portuguese-speaking Africans.

“We consider ourselves an open country. We have lived all around the world, but now we are integrating communities within Portugal.” The major issues that need to be addressed are the issues of jobs and economic growth, the capacity to employ the new arrivals, and the size and direction of the labor market.

Ambassador de Vallera says that “the idea, and the ideal, of the European Union is still a magnet in Europe. New States want to join.” He also holds that there is “a growing demand for Europe in the world based in the belief that Europe can offer a very positive contribution to international affairs. On the other hand, the integration experience in Europe is being taken as a standard elsewhere. Other regions — Latin America, Asia and Africa, for example — take an attentive look to the evolution of the European integration process. Nobody thinks of an automatic transfer of models since different realities require adapted solutions, but this is nevertheless a domain where Europe leads by example.”

The Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery is hosting an exhibition entitled “Encompassing the Globe: Portugal and the World in the 16th and 17th Centuries” through Sept. 16. For a review, see the link to the NY Times. (login may be required)

Ambassadors Archive 2

Imagine the Role of a Reunited Cyprus


An Interview with Ambassador Andreas Kakouris

By Hugh S. Galford

For Andreas Kakouris, Cyprus’ dynamic and energetic new ambassador to Washington, Cyprus represents “the EU’s lighthouse in the Mediterranean.” The Middle East, he says, is a very important area, and is only a half-hour’s flight time from the EU, given Cyprus’ accession on May 1, 2004. Cyprus, he says, “has value-added status in the region. Look at the situation in Lebanon last year. Cyprus took in 60,000 foreign nationals who needed safe passage, including 15,000 Americans. We were called upon to play an important role, we did, and we would do so again.”

Given its past and its relations with the peoples of the region, Cyprus has on occasions played a supporting role in the international community’s efforts in the Middle East peace process, by engaging in track-two diplomacy. A gateway to three continents, a member of the EU, and a reliable partner in the war on terror, Kakouris noted that “you can only imagine the role a reunited Cyprus could play.”

Ambassador Kakouris’ overarching concern is to find a Cyprus settlement and end the occupation of the northern third of Cyprus by Turkish troops. “The key to the solution of the Cyprus problem is in Ankara,” Kakouris says. The 1974 Turkish invasion and occupation resulted in over 160,000 Greek Cypriots becoming refugees in their own country. The dislocation of the Cypriot people “was the first time that Cypriots were forcibly divided along ethnic lines. If you look at a map of Cyprus, you’ll find there were mixed villages and towns throughout the island. Cyprus has never been a religious issue among the Cypriots. The conflict has never been Muslim Turkish Cypriot vs. Christian Greek Cypriot. On the contrary, Cyprus is a country where the Greek Orthodox and Muslim communities are enshrined in the 1960 Constitution.”

Prior to his arrival in Washington, Kakouris served as Cyprus’ ambassador to Ireland, and was there when, under the Irish EU presidency, his country was admitted to the Union. “It was a poignant moment to see our flag hoisted at the same time as other, larger countries during the EU accession ceremony,” he says. “Despite our small size, the flag-raising ceremony showed that we are all equal.”

The Republic of Cyprus — the whole island — joined the EU, but the acquis communautaire is suspended in the northern occupied part of Cyprus, since the government of the Republic of Cyprus, which is the only recognized government, cannot exercise effective control there, and thus can’t apply the EU’s rules and regulations. The EU recognizes the whole island as the Republic of Cyprus. Had it used Cyprus’ division because of the occupation as a reason to exclude it from accession to the EU, the message would have been that Turkey had the power to block Cyprus’ membership to the EU.

Kakouris says he feels “the EU is the catalyst for change and remains hopeful that the EU can also be a catalyst for a settlement. Cyprus now belongs to a community. It belongs to something larger than itself — a citizen of Cyprus is a citizen of the EU. A citizen of the Republic of Cyprus, whether Greek, Turkish, Armenian or Maronite can, for example, study in Ireland, reside in Sweden, or work in Italy. Consequently, as a result of their Cypriot citizenship, Turkish Cypriots have the same benefits as other EU citizens.”

The ambassador points out that Turkey wants to join the EU, adding that “we have a situation where a country seeking to join the EU is occupying a Member State and does not recognize that Member State.” Despite this, Cyprus, he says, “has extended a hand to Turkey and supports its European orientation, but it is not a blank check. We will support Turkey’s accession course as long as it upholds and adheres to EU rules and regulations. They need to take on board the EU’s rules and values lock, stock and barrel.”

A Europeanized Turkey would be a positive development, Kakouris says: positive for Turkey; positive for Cyprus, as it would have to lead to a Cyprus settlement and the end of the occupation, as well as good neighborly relations; and positive for the EU, “as long as Turkey doesn’t seek to cherry-pick its responsibilities.” Kakouris gives two such examples: Turkey currently refuses to allow Cypriot ships — or even vessels of other countries whose immediate previous port of call was in Cyprus — to dock at Turkish ports, and vetoes Cyprus’ attempts to join various international organizations. Both are in violation of Turkey’s obligations towards the European Union as a whole and run counter to the fact that Turkey must normalize its relations with all EU Member States, including the Republic of Cyprus.

Cyprus’ goal is, simply, the withdrawal of Turkish occupation forces and the reunification of the island as a bi-communal and bi-zonal federation with a single sovereignty, single international personality and single citizenship with respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all Cypriots. A just, viable and functional settlement must be on the basis of UN Security Council Resolutions and the values and principles on which the EU is founded.

“The goal is a settlement for the Cypriots,” Kakouris says, adding that the defeated Annan Plan of 2004, proposed by then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, was “a settlement for others.” He added that the Greek Cypriots did not reject a settlement of the Cyprus problem, but could not agree to a plan that envisages the permanent presence of foreign forces and rights of intervention, where the overwhelming majority of illegal Turkish settlers would have remained on the island and where the rights of Greek Cypriot refugees would not have been protected.

The Ambassador referred to the “cultural destruction” occurring in the occupied area. Historical sites have been illegally excavated and items uncovered and sold abroad. Kakouris cites the desecration of over 500 Greek Orthodox and Maronite churches that have been “turned into anything other than places of worship.” Icons have been stripped from churches and sold illegally abroad. Furthermore, place names in the occupied north have been changed with “the aim of erasing the past.”

Couple this with the fact that today there are nearly 160,000 illegal Turkish settlers — with more still coming — and over 43,000 Turkish troops in the north. The ambassador noted that what is taking place is the erasure of a culture and of the Greek Cypriot presence which is today under 400.

The European Court of Human Rights has also weighed in. Titina Loizidou, a Greek Cypriot refugee with property in the occupied town of Kyrenia, brought a case before the Court, which found in her favor. The Court stated that Turkey, as occupying power, continues to violate her right to enjoy her property and that, legally, the property remained hers. Turkey was made to pay her compensation for her inability to enjoy her property since 1974. The property issue, especially illegal building on expropriated land belonging to Greek Cypriot refugees, makes a Cyprus settlement even more difficult.

Kakouris points out that, as a government, the Republic of Cyprus does all that is possible to improve the economic situation of the Turkish Cypriots. Because of its policies and opportunities offered, in recent years the per capita income of the Turkish Cypriots has nearly tripled. He added that Turkish Cypriots are free to undertake intra-island trade as well as trade with the EU through the legal ports of Larnaka and Limassol. He commented that, regrettably, the Turkish side itself has stifled this possibility by pushing for direct trade, under the guise of ending the so-called “isolation” of the Turkish Cypriots.' Kakouris asks “why are the Turkish Cypriots isolated? They are isolated because of the invasion, the illegal occupation, the declaration of a separate state which was condemned by the United Nations, as well as its total dependence on Turkey. These are the reasons why the Turkish Cypriots are isolated. Turkish Cypriots can benefit from the EU,” Kakouris says. “We draw the line at actions or policies by others that aim to bolster the structures of the occupation regime through what can be described as creeping encroachment, trying to give the impression that the so-called ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ has the trappings of a state.”

“Turkish Cypriots come over to the government-controlled area on a daily basis to work, receiving the same pay, benefits, etc., as Greek Cypriots. There have been over 13 million incident-free crossings since the partial lifting of the restrictions along the ceasefire line in April 2003. This augers well for the future, as it clearly shows that the two communities can live together, and debunks the myth of trouble between the two at first sight.

Kakouris also points out that compared to over 200,000 illegal Turkish settlers and troops, there are just over 90,000 Turkish Cypriots in the northern part of the island, over 35,000 of whom have come to the government-controlled area to apply and receive their Cypriot passport, “in essence their EU passport. The Turkish Cypriot leadership frowns on this and has gone so far as to demand that those passports are returned.”

Where do we go from here? In July 2006, an agreement was brokered by the UN Undersecretary General for Political Affairs, Mr. Ibrahim Gambari, between Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat. The agreement called for the start of bicommunal discussions on substantive issues of the Cyprus problem and on issues that affect the day-to-day lives of all Cypriots. This process is necessary for the proper preparation of new substantive negotiations aiming at a comprehensive solution. As of this writing, these committees have not yet been established. “The Turkish side is trying to backtrack,” ambassador Kakouris says, adding that “the July 8th agreement is the way forward, and we wish to see the process up and running without any further delay.”

Also, the July 8th agreement foresaw confidence-building measures. The Republic’s dismantling of its fortification along Ledra Street in Nicosia in March 2007 was one solid step. Ledra Street, the ambassador says, “cuts through the heart of Nicosia, the last divided capital in the world.” In late April, the government removed another of its posts at Kato Pyrgos in the northwest of the island, again as a confidence-building measure.

The ambassador expressed the hope that the Turkish side will reciprocate the goodwill gesture taken by the Government at Ledra Street, by taking those actions needed to make it a safe and secure crossing point, and importantly, will show the necessary urgency to move forward on the July 8th agreement.

Ambassador Kakouris’ major task in Washington is “to put out the message that an island in the Mediterranean has been militarily occupied for 33 years, resulting in the expulsion and separation of people.” Further, he is committed to developing and enhancing the long-standing close and friendly relations between his country and people with the United States. Kakouris also wants to undertake cultural diplomacy through exhibits and events highlighting the richness of Cypriot culture.

It is this culture that brings more than 3 million tourists to the government controlled area of Cyprus each year. Most come from the EU, with Britons making up the largest part. Tourists, he says, “have no problems. There is a very high rate of return visitors. That speaks to the quality of the product.” Cyprus has moved from being a summer destination to a 365-day-a-year destination, with daily flights from many European cities. Visitors come for the weather, the sun and sea, and 10,000 years of history which has left an “indelible mark.” The quality of Cyprus’ hotels “is second to none,” and the “welcoming nature of Cypriots” adds to the pleasure. Tourism, and the economy at large, will also get a boost when Cyprus joins the Eurozone, if all goes to plan, on January 1, 2008.

Kakouris clearly wishes that Cyprus’ sunny physical disposition extends to the political well-being of her people. “Cyprus cannot be allowed to become a forgotten tragedy which is consigned to the back-burner of international consciousness. To do so would mean that the rule of law has been replaced by the maxim ‘might is right',' he says.

The ambassador ended by expressing his strong belief that a solution that reunites the island, its people, its social fabric, the economy and institutions can be achieved. This is what the government of the Republic of Cyprus is committed to, and it is an absolute priority and a matter of extreme urgency. Such a solution would be a “win-win” for all, firstly and foremost for the Cypriots themselves.

Hugh S. Galford is a freelance writer living in Washington, DC, with an academic background in Middle Eastern Studies.

Ambassadors Archive 2

Promoting Finland’s Business


An Interview with Ambassador Pekka Lintu

By Hugh S. Galford

In describing the unique architecture of the Finnish embassy, today surrounded by snow-laden trees, Ambassador Pekka Lintu says, “It is our visiting card here in DC.” An example of homegrown Finnish architecture, it “shows the values that are important to us. The architecture is very high-tech, as is Finland itself. It is very transparent—it is easy to come and go, and it is also a statement of our policies, as we have continuously been voted one of the least corrupt nations in the world. The embassy is also close to nature, with the trees in the back almost coming into the building.”

The ambassador says that these values are also attractive to American tourists. “Finland is a small, successful country where things work quite well. It is easy to move around and people are glad to meet foreigners.” Americans enjoy the safe environment Finland provides, and the wide range of activities available, from nature hikes and watching the northern lights to cultural events such as classical music and Finland’s rich architectural and design heritage.

The history of this small, valiant country is well documented in A Concise History of Finland by David Kirby published in 2006. According to Kirby, during the past 50 years few countries in Europe have undergone such rapid social, political, and economic changes. Finland is a country that, at a great price, has had the courage to protect and preserve its own highly distinctive identity.

Installed as Finland’s ambassador to the United States in January 2006, Pekka Lintu’s focus has been concentrated on his country’s EU presidency. Now that Finland has handed the position to Germany, Ambassador Lintu plans to focus his energies on the US-Finland relation. “It is a constant challenge for a smaller country to bring its good news and our own thinking on issues” to an American audience.

The ambassador is pleased with Finland’s tenure as EU president, stating that while they had hoped to accomplish more, their successes were important and consequential. The early months, he says, were dominated by the situation in the Middle East. The EU was “in a difficult situation, but did quite well to bring about an end to hostilities in Lebanon and to see to the strengthening of UNIFIL.” Given its renewed mandate, UNIFIL (UN Interim Force in Lebanon) needed an increased number of troops, the great majority of which come from EU countries. Finland, a major donor for humanitarian assistance and reconstruction programs, had “hoped to take [policies] further, but now we need new steps in the Middle East, particularly concerning the Israel-Palestine conflict.”

Turkey’s admission to the Union was another major issue during Finland’s presidency. The solution found, Ambassador Lintu says, “was a good one in difficult circumstances. It was decided to continue our talks, reflecting the not-full satisfaction of the EU nations with how talks with Turkey had proceeded so far” and the further policy changes that Turkey needs to make to meet the various EU policy stances.

Relations between the EU and Russia also saw a strengthening under Finland’s leadership. There were several important meetings, including two with President Putin, covering issues such as energy use and the framework of EU-Russian relations. Finland, he says, was able to “take things further, though not all the way to total interdependence.” While he says that there were “good discussions” on the principles of relations with Russia, “we need to see how those principles will be reflected and implemented.”

Finland’s “pet item” for its presidency was the economic competitiveness of the EU. They were able to “push legislation on some major issues, including pushing through a new service directive and a new EU regulatory framework for the Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH).” REACH is intended to improve the protection of human health and the environment through the better and earlier identification of chemical substances’ properties, while enhancing the innovative capability and competitiveness of the EU chemicals industry.

EU-US relations were also “a success story” during Finland’s presidency. The highlight, for Ambassador Lintu, was the first meeting of high-level officials dealing with climate change, sustainable development and clean energy. Furthermore, EU Justice and Home Affairs ministers met here last year, and Economic ministers met with US Department of Commerce officials in November.

One area of EU policy still on hold is that of the proposed EU constitution. Ambassador Lintu says that consultations with member states are on-going, “trying to see what possibilities exist to take matters forward.” The Constitutional Treaty, he says, “is a good document, and we hope to revive it. We don’t want to see any changes to the document. It is good as it is, and must be accepted as a whole. Changing it is not that easy, as that would involve give-and-take negotiations,” effectively starting the process all over again.

Having completed its presidency of the European Union, Finland now steps into presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers, a consultative and cooperative council of the Nordic nations, from Iceland to Finland. The Nordic Council was organized following World War II, and is independent of other organizations. It serves as a bridge of sorts between other European and trans-Atlantic groups. For example, Iceland and Norway are members of NATO but not the EU, while Sweden and Finland are EU members but not part of NATO. This blending of NATO, EU and Eurozone nations proves useful to presenting solutions to issues that did not exist in the 1950s at the Council’s establishment.

The Council, as noted, is more a consultative body than a legislative body. It is not a single market and does not have the same legislative powers as the EU does, but it has led to closer cooperation among the Nordic countries. The Council established the Nordic Passport Area—a rough precursor to the EU’s Schengen Accords—and a cooperative labor area and market.

As with their presidency of the EU, Finland looks to implement a program of sustainable development, research, and innovation. In addition, cooperation in the Adjacent Areas, equality and equal opportunities, children and young people and Nordic-language issues will be central to Finland’s presidency.

Another major policy area is Finland’s neighbor to the east, Russia. As a former Grand Duchy in the Russian Empire, Finland has a long and tumultuous history with Russia, having had to balance Western and Soviet wishes during the Cold War. Ambassador Lintu says that, “in many ways, relations with Russia are better than ever.” Economic cooperation is good and trade booming, the situation is stable politically, and leaders of the two nations at various levels see and talk with each other on a regular basis.

There are, he says, “a number of projects to improve the border and near-border area” of the two countries. “There is more cooperation on the environment, health and transportation, which are important for a model modern relationship.” There is also cooperation in treating wastewater, with Finland having taken part in the construction of St. Petersburg’s southwest wastewater treatment plant, the first major public-private partnership project in Russia. The plant will improve the state of the Baltic Sea as it will treat the wastewater of more than 700,000 of St. Petersburg’s residents.

There is still work to do to solve border area issues such as differences in standards of living, ill-health and poverty and relations with the EU and the Nordic countries. But with normal relations and regular meetings between officials, the ambassador sees these issues as solvable.

Furthermore, trade relations with Russia are good. Finland buys the majority of its energy from Russia, and sells a wide variety of goods to Russia. Russia, the ambassador says, “is now our number three or four export market. We sell everything from telecom to engineering to foodstuffs and forestry products. In addition, the transit of goods to Russia through Finland is still important.”

Lintu’s focus on trade is not surprising. He began his career with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in 1972 after completing a Masters of Arts degree at the University of Helsinki. His prior postings included tenures in Marseilles (1972-73), at Finland’s Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva (1975-79), at Finland’s Permanent Delegation to the OECD in Paris (1984-87) and in Tokyo as Ambassador to Japan (1994-2000). He focused on economic and trade issues during his home postings, ranging from bilateral to regional issues. In the early 1990s, he was in charge of economic relations between Finland and the US, and from 2001 to 2005 was Under-Secretary for External Economic Affairs, serving at the 133-Trade Policy Committee of the EU and participating in the World Trade Organization’s Doha Development Round.

Interested also in theater and art, Ambassador Lintu completed a translation in rhyming verse of French poet Edmond Rostand’s play Cyrano de Bergerac in 1993. Lintu’s translation played at the Finnish National Theater for a number of years.

With Finland’s EU presidency over, Ambassador Lintu is turning his attention to other matters. Two major events in Finland this year are the parliamentary elections on March 18, and the 90th anniversary of independence and the centenary of granting full political rights to women. The embassy and consulates general will serve as election polling places for Finns living or traveling in the US. Ambassador Lintu notes that Finnish governments are normally a coalition of parties, so there is not the same built-in political confrontation as is found here. The three major parties are the Center Party, the Social Democrats and the National Coalition Party, the moderate right-wing party. Finland also has a Green Party that has served in coalition governments before. The challenge for the Greens, the ambassador says, is that “many other parties have become greener, so the Greens must find a way to become a general issues party.”

There will be programs both in Finland and here to celebrate Finland’s independence in 1917 and the achievements and sacrifices involved. Finns will also celebrate being the first country in the world to grant full political rights to women. This occurred before independence, as an autonomous Grand Duchy with its own elections to its own parliament.

While in Washington, Ambassador Lintu’s main objective is to strengthen US-Finnish relations. Finland has “good relations economically and politically” with the US, but DC, he notes, “is a place where countries want to make their views understood” and it is easy to get lost in the constant activity. He plans to continue working with US colleagues and friends to make Finland and her achievements better known to the US public. He wants to publicize Finland’s economic competitiveness, her good governance and her emphasis on environmentally sustainable policies.

Ambassador Lintu also hopes to continue the embassy’s long-standing contact with Finnish-Americans. Beyond providing consular services, the embassy “supports Americans of Finnish descent and their cultural activities.” While Finnish-American groups are independent and organize their own programs, the embassy does its best to support and participate in them.

The ambassador is looking forward to an opportunity to travel and visit some of the US’s natural wonders. He wants to visit Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon, and has a special desire to visit Yellowstone National Park. When he was a boy, he recalls, he saw photos of Yellowstone in one of his books. “I was totally captivated. It has been 50 years but I still remember those photos and their impact on me.”

Hugh S. Galford is a freelance writer living in Washington, DC, with an academic background in Middle Eastern Studies.

Ambassadors Archive 2

The European Union: A Developing Ideal

By Hugh S. Galford

As the European Union (EU) enters its second half-century, the organization faces a novel constellation of issues and concerns. From its inception as the European Coal and Steel Community, a union of six nations at the heart of Western Europe, today’s EU (25 countries) is a global force both economically and politically, but its major focus is still internal.

In a recent interview, John Bruton, former Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and current Head of Delegation of the Commission of the European Union in Washington, discussed the wide range of issues and concerns facing the EU. Ambassador Bruton has had a long and distinguished career, beginning with his election to the Irish Parliament (the Dáil) in 1969 when he was only 22, one year after graduating from University College Dublin with a degree in Economics and Politics. He was returned to Parliament for the next 35 years. He served as the junior Minister of Education (1973-1977); Minister for Finance (1981-1982 and 1986-1987); Minister for Trade, Commerce and Tourism (1983-1986) and was elected Fine Gael’s Party Leader in 1990.

His term as Prime Minister (1994-1997) coincided with Ireland’s emergence as the “Celtic Tiger”. In 1993, Ireland accounted for five percent of total US investment in Europe; in 1997, Ireland’s share totaled 15 percent. Irish economic growth jumped from 2.7 percent in 1993 to 11.1 percent in 1997. While justifiably proud of his home country’s growth, he takes little credit for it, pointing rather to the end of Ireland’s debts of the 1970s and 1980s, and to its IT-literate young population. Even after the 2001 economic downturn, Ireland’s economic growth still outpaces that of other European countries.

Bruton was also involved with the Northern Ireland peace talks that led to the 1998 Good Friday Accords. Further, he presided over Ireland’s EU Presidency in 1996, and helped finalize the Stability and Growth Pact, a major prerequisite for the introduction of the Euro. In the early 2000s, Bruton was a leading member of the Convention that drafted the first-ever European Constitution, which was turned down by French and Danish voters in 2005. The ratification process has not been abandoned, though the original timetable has been postponed. He began his term as EU Ambassador to Washington in November 2004.

The EU’s history can be traced to the post-war years and the efforts of Jean Monnet, a French diplomat. Following WWII, the French took control of coal production in Germany’s Ruhr Valley in an effort to simultaneously boost French industry and to weaken Germany. By 1950, this policy was beginning to give rise to the same backlash in Germany that had followed her defeat in WWI. Realizing that any attempt to cripple Germany could once again lead to war, Monnet suggested that France, Germany, and any other countries wishing to join should form a common High Authority to oversee all Franco-German steel and coal production. “To create Europe is to create peace,” Monnet said. Out of this agreement came the European Coal and Steel Community, which grew into the European Union of today. For Monnet, the European states “must…form a federation or a European entity that would make them into a common economic unit,” which, he saw, was “imperative for the preservation of peace.”

One might think that representing the EU—a multinational organization—to the US would be a difficult task. Surprisingly, though, Ambassador Bruton says, “It’s easier to explain the European Union to Americans than to other Europeans.” Though separated by distance and outlook, shared basic structures make his job here in Washington easier.

“Here in the US,” he says, “you have a federal system, a Supreme Court, and so on.” Europeans’ long history of state systems and unfamiliarity (and, one might say, discomfort) with a federal system means that selling Europe is harder at home than it is here. “Power in the EU is divided between the federation and the member states, with the European Court of Justice defining the rights of EU institutions against those of member states. The European Parliament can be compared to the House of Representatives, while the Council of Ministers—the heads of each of the 25 member states—can be compared to the Senate.”

The three major areas of EU policy fall to the Council of Ministers. Issues of interstate commerce are set by majority vote of the Council of Ministers with the consent of the European Parliament. Foreign policy, on the other hand, must be set by unanimous vote of the Council of Ministers; the Parliament has input into the debate, but their consent is not required. Finally, with regard to cross-border crime, most decisions are by unanimous vote of the Council of Ministers, though a simple majority suffices.

EU policy, Bruton says, comes down to “a balancing of abstract principle versus what is realistic to achieve. In every area of life, values are being balanced off of other values.”

The EU, Ambassador Bruton says, “is the only multinational democracy in the world.” The three major issues he sees facing the Union go to the heart of both its multinational and democratic foundations. First, he says, is completing the EU’s internal market and the Euro. “We must maximize the efficiency of the economy internally, through the division of labor, production, and so on.” Second, he sees the need to “further democratize the EU by trying to make it more visibly democratic and transparent.” Bruton’s work on the Constitution would have done this, by superseding and unifying all previous agreements and treaties under one document. Third, the EU must “make our neighborhood more stable and democratic. We must open up membership to other states if they are in Europe, and to help our non-European neighbors with their economies and democratic structures.”

“The basic idea of the EU,” Bruton says, “is to harness economic interdependence to lead to political stability and peace.” The last great period of globalization, he points out, was the period of about 1890-1914, but this did not stop the outbreak of World War I which was, in his view, “an avoidable war. The set of international institutions, where political passions could be aired without disrupting economic interdependence, weren’t there. Now they are. For member states to live or die, flourish or wither, they must give great care to subsume purely national ambitions to a common European ambition. We must learn that if our neighbor prospers, we prosper.”

While this basic idea is laudable, it is often difficult for the man in the street to see how the EU affects him positively, and how he affects what happens in Brussels. In the US, Ambassador Bruton says, the head of the Executive branch is elected by the people every four years. “Individuals across the US thus have the same conversation everywhere. It brings Americans together, either in support of or in opposition to a given candidate.”

Europeans, Bruton says, need the same. The EU is largely an intellectual construct to most; “people are more attached to people than they are to ideas. The EU needs a human face, and needs a more direct and immediate involvement of its people.” By allowing direct popular election of the EU’s leaders, as was envisioned in the now moribund proposed Constitution, member states’ populations would have a direct link to the Union and its policies. For Bruton, political campaigns “are supposed to be educational for both the candidates and the electorate. Candidates recognize the major issues in the various countries, and the electorate gets to realize how policy affects, for example, Estonia as well as Germany.”

Despite the current lull in structural reform of the EU, Burton holds out great hope. “The formation of the European Union,” he says, “was one of, if not the, most imaginative acts of international statesmanship in the twentieth century. We must need to adapt, even while we are doing much good work.”

One example of this good work is in the area of energy development and use. The EU is concerned that it is “unduly reliant” on imported energy. As a whole, Ambassador Bruton says, the EU imports 50 percent of its energy now, and is heading toward 70 percent. “This is acceptable only if it is clear that supplies can’t be manipulated for political of other reasons.” Much of the EU’s imported natural gas comes from Russia, and concerns arose last winter when Russia temporarily cut gas supplies to the Ukraine.

The EU, Burton says, has a partnership agreement with the Russian Federation and other gas suppliers. He is confident that mutually acceptable agreements can be maintained. “Russia needs to sell their gas as much as we need to buy it—they have major infrastructure investments that they need to cover.”

The Union “is working on becoming, if not more energy independent, then certainly more autonomous by promoting renewables and making energy use more efficient.” He notes that the EU has no overall energy policy at the moment. “We need to find ways to share power internally. There needs to be better integration of energy grids, for example—this would give us economies of scale and related efficiencies.”

The Union is investing heavily in renewable energy and energy efficiency. Its “Intelligent Energy—Europe” program has provided 250 million Euros for research from 2003-2006, and the European Commission has proposed a significant increase in funding for the 2007-2013 budget cycle. The Union’s goal is to provide at least 12 percent of its total energy needs and 21 percent of its electricity demand from renewable sources by 2010.

Ambassador Bruton sees no rifts developing in the close political ties shared by the US and EU. A new interim agreement on Passenger Name Records for EU airlines flying into the US was passed in early October, balancing European concerns over privacy and where this information is passed, and American security concerns. The ambassador says the EU is “very concerned” by North Korea’s claim that it has tested a nuclear weapon. “We stand ready to work with our partners to deal with this,” he says.

The EU is also working hard to see a successful end to the war in Iraq. Ambassador Bruton says that while European public opinion was divided on if the invasion was the right thing to do at the time—while a “bare majority” of member states supported the invasion—the situation now is that Europe and the US “share the same objective: to see a successful transition of Iraq to a law-based democracy where everyone has human rights. The question is now how to do it.” He says that the EU is working to fund parliament and the development of other democratic institutions in Iraq.

Ambassador Bruton is half-way through his tenure here in Washington. Having met with President Bush, former presidents, and congressional leaders, he sees the future of EU-US relations as bright. “No other president has consulted with the EU as has President Bush, especially in his second term. There is a very high level of engagement. Americans are very open to the EU and are ready to listen. They recognize the EU’s importance internationally.”

Ambassadors Archive 2

Palestine: A Change of Peace

An Interview with Palestinian Representative Afif Safieh

By Hugh S Galford

Afif Safieh, who arrived in Washington last October as the new Palestinian representative, describes himself as “an old-fashioned democrat.” Born in East Jerusalem in 1950 Safieh, a Roman Catholic, brings years of diplomatic experience and aplomb to his new post. He has served as PLO representative in the Netherlands from 1987-1990, and London and the Holy See from 1990-2005. Now in the US, with new governments in both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Safieh is at the center of the political battles to come.

Safieh is proud of the recent Palestinian parliamentary elections—describing them as “impeccable” and “irreproachable”—despite his regret at their outcome. In voting universally considered free and fair Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, garnered 44 percent of the vote. Given the mix of voting methods--both list (i.e., voting for a party) and first-past-the-post (i.e., voting for an individual candidate, the winner being the one who receives the most votes), Hamas won an outright parliamentary majority of 74 seats out of 132.

Asked if Hamas’ victory came as a surprise to him and to Fatah, Safieh agrees, adding that “the results came as a surprise to the losers and the winners.” Fatah, Safieh said, “defeated itself,” naming three major areas of Palestinians’ discontent. The first is Fatah’s “longevity in power.” From its foundation in 1964, Fatah has been the Palestinians’ sole legitimate representative. After 42 years, this “results in some loss of popularity.” The second area is the perception of Fatah’s corruption. “The reputation for corruption,” Safieh says, “was greater than the reality — which was real and great.” Third, Fatah “is identified with the peace process, which has been non-existent during the last five years, and was unconvincing prior to that. During the period of theoretical peace-making, the occupation of Palestinian land actually increased.”

Safieh notes also that in the five weeks preceding the elections, Fatah lacked unity. “They produced two different lists, with four or five candidates for a single seat, thus splitting their vote.” He says that he expected Fatah’s share of the parliament to shrink, but to remain the dominant party and form a new government with coalition partners.

Safieh’s hopes for the post-election period seem tenuous at best at the moment. “Sovereignty stems from the people, and the Palestinians gave their answer.” His hope, he says, is “that no outside party will take action — relations at the inter-governmental level is how politics is played. I hope that US-Palestinian relations will be warm. That is needed by both sides.”

The US, however, and the European Union, are threatening to cut off all aid to the Palestinian Authority, and the US has gone further, ordering all contact with the Palestinians to be cut off — whether by US government officials or by US agencies or companies working in the Palestinian territories. This is, in Safieh’s view, absolutely the wrong tactic to use.

“Hamas is not monolithic,” he says. “Even here, there are several schools of thought in the US Republican party, ranging from a more liberal school to the evangelical Christian school.” International relations are carried out “between governments, not parties,” he says. “Others must take Hamas on their pragmatic program.” He notes, for example, that Hamas has rigorously held to a 14-month ceasefire, and has agreed to continue it indefinitely — but that Israel has not reciprocated, and has gone so far as to launch missile strikes on Gaza and to invade the Jericho prison. “I respect Ismail Haniyeh,” the new Hamas Prime Minister, Safieh says. “He is a decent, respectful, open-minded man…though I may not have the same view of some of his colleagues.”