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Senior U.S. Diplomat Says Obama Foreign-Policy Approach Paying Off

  • Heather Maher

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasian affairs Phillip Gordon

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasian affairs Phillip Gordon

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Phillip Gordon has defended the Obama administration's new approach to Russia and denied that the United States has sacrificed its allies in Central and Eastern Europe in the process of "resetting" U.S.-Russian relations.

Gordon told an audience of U.S.-based European journalists in Washington on November 6 that under President Barack Obama, the United States is approaching its relationship with Russia "in a clear and pragmatic way."

He said that approach reflects the U.S. president's view that "we should be able to have a better and more constructive relationship with Russia even as we disagree on some issues; that we have common interests, we should pursue those -- we are pursuing those -- and there are some things we disagree about, but that shouldn't undermine the relationship and our ability to work together."

Since last spring, the United States and Russia have been working together on nonproliferation issues and a new strategic arms agreement. Russia has also opened up new supply lines on its territory for U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

But Gordon said the two countries disagree on NATO enlargement, recognition of Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and Russia's human rights record.

In July, a group of former leaders in Central and Eastern Europe wrote an open letter to Obama asking him not to abandon them in pursuit of what the White House has called "hitting the reset button" with Russia.

The letter cited the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia as one of many signs that Russia is eager to resurrect the old Soviet-era sphere of influence -- what the writers termed a "revisionist power pursing a 19th-century agenda with 21st-century tactics."

Without explicitly mentioning such fears, Gordon said the United States can pursue its new and constructive agenda with Russia "without in anyway sacrificing our important principles, or our friends, across Europe."

"We've made those principles very clear. We think countries in Europe, democracies in Europe, should have the right to choose the security alliances they want," Gordon said.

"We deny the notion that countries have a particular sphere of influence in Europe -- we're not going to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia -- these principles remain very strong and we continue to stand by our friends in Europe even as we hope to build a much more trusting and useful relationship with Russia, and that's what we are doing."

The assistant secretary of state also dismissed speculation that the United States needs Europe less as a foreign-policy partner now, as it tackles global challenges like Afghanistan, climate change, Iran, and the financial crisis.

"Dealing with these global challenges requires a stronger and more intensive relationship with Europe, rather than lesser engagement with Europe," Gordon said.

Gordon said Obama's "view of the world is that we understand that Americans cannot deal with these global challenges alone, we need strong partners, and when we think about strong partners, nowhere are there better or more serious or more useful ones than in Europe."

Improved International Cooperation


Indeed, one of the key issues that the United States is looking to Europe for help with is Afghanistan.

The war is exceedingly unpopular in countries like German, Italy, and Britain, and NATO allies have already sent more than 30,000 troops to fight alongside U.S. forces. Obama is currently reviewing the U.S. war strategy and considering a request from top U.S. and NATO commander General Stanley McChrystal for up to 40,000 more soldiers.

In response to a question from an Italian journalist about what kind of new help the White House might soon ask its European partners for, Gordon replied that the United States and Europe are "in this together. He added, "We will want and expect more support from Europeans."

On Iran -- where Obama has replaced his predecessor's policy of isolation with one of engagement -- Gordon said the United States and Europe are in agreement for the first time in many years.

"For years, many Europeans were asking [the U.S.] to be more engaged and at least provide Iran a clearer opportunity to reassure the international community that it wasn't developing nuclear weapons," he said. "We are trying to do that."

He pointed to the pending offer to send Iran's low-enriched uranium out of the country and give Tehran fuel for its research reactor as evidence of the U.S.-EU partnership.

He added that he "has every expectation" that the United States and European Union will be united on what to do next if the enrichment proposal is rejected.

And in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where the Serbian entity, the Republika Srpska, is leading a drive to end 14 years of international supervision, Gordon said U.S. diplomats are working with members of the Swedish EU presidency to come up with a reform package acceptable to the country's two sparring entities that will put Bosnia on the path to EU membership.

"They have some work to do, there are differences among the parties, but these changes -- the necessary agreement on how to divide up state property, and some decisions that they need to make on how to have a more functional government, which is necessary to apply for EU membership -- you can't even really be on the starting line for the European Union unless you have a government that can represent you in the European Union," Gordon said. "So that's what this package is designed to offer."

Gordon said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will represent the United States at this weekend's celebration in Berlin to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

On November 8, Clinton is scheduled to deliver what the State Department is calling a major foreign-policy address on the White House's "new agenda for freedom and democracy promotion."
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