In the weeks since Moldova’s July 29 legislative elections, politicians have been huddling to find a way to form a new government and elect a president. With the economy badly hit by the global crisis, Moldova cannot afford the months of political gridlock that would be the inevitable result of the failure of these talks. U.S. Ambassador to Moldova Asif Chaudhry has been actively participating in this process, meeting with leaders of the opposition and the Communist Party. RFE/RL correspondent Robert Coalson spoke with Chaudhry about the prospects for a political settlement in Moldova.
RFE/RL: The elections are over and the opposition has made considerable progress toward a coalition. How do you see the atmosphere in Moldova now? Are the divisions of the last few months any closer to being overcome?
Ambassador Asif Chaudhry: Thank you for that question. I think it is very relevant at this point. I think what has happened in the latest elections is a very positive indication and a very positive trend. Everything that I have seen over the last couple of months and in the last few weeks since the elections is indicating an atmosphere of consultation. There is an atmosphere of talking to each other and there's an atmosphere of realizing that they have to move forward in terms of cooperating with each other for the sake of the country. So, all the contention that was seen after the elections of April 5 is certainly not present at this time. As you know, there has been an announcement by the four parties that they are going to form a coalition. That indicates that they are talking to each other, but, of course, they have to talk to all political parties in order to be successful in forming a government.
RFE/RL: You have been meeting with political leaders, including both opposition leaders and acting President Vladimir Voronin. Can you comment on what you are telling both sides? Do you see a realistic prospect that the new alliance and the Communists can come to some sort of working arrangement?
Chaudhry: You are absolutely right. I have been meeting with all party leaders. The United States Embassy in general maintains contact and dialogue with political parties in countries and, as you said, I have met with President Voronin and other leaders of the Communist Party as well, in addition to members of the opposition. Generally, to be very honest, I am in a listening mode when I talk to the parties because my intention is to find out what are they thinking. This is their country and they have to figure out a way to move forward. So, most of the time, I am in a listening mode to find out what is on their mind and how are they going to come together for the sake of the country.
But in terms of discussions and consultations as friends, of course, we try to give them whatever advice we think is relevant at this point and the most important thing we can tell them at this point -- which is what I have been emphasizing in all my meetings -- is that they have to find a way to form a government and move forward. Because it is absolutely important that they secure an IMF loan and, in fact, move forward with the agenda of reform that has been proposed to them. That is absolutely necessary because of the current economic situation in the country. In addition to just suggesting constructive dialogue, the emphasis is on moving forward, making sure that a government is formed in time and very quickly so that we can get through these economic difficulties.
RFE/RL: You say you have been listening to the opposition leaders – can you give us a sense of how strong the desire for revenge against the Communists is there for the way that they were treated over the last eight years?
Chaudhry: That, to be honest, has been a very pleasant thing for me to have seen because I have not seen any indication of or feeling of revenge in the opposition parties when I have spoken to them in that listening mode. They have been more preoccupied with what are they going to do in terms of how to form a government and what are they going to do if they are successful in forming a government to implement the reform agenda and how are they going to make sure the IMF returns to the country and works with them. And they are also focused on part two of forming the government because it is absolutely true that it is not possible for the opposition parties to form a government by themselves. They have to work together in some form or fashion with the fifth party, which is the largest party, the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova [PCRM], in order to elect a president. Only after the election of a president will we have a stable government and, hence, the return of the IMF and, hence, a way to move forward as far as the economic-reform agenda is concerned.
RFE/RL: Two of the big domestic issues facing Moldova are reforming the legal system to insulate it from political manipulation and establishing a free-media climate. Is there anything the West and specifically the United States can do to help with these projects? Does the political will exist in Moldova to push forward with reforms of this sort?
Chaudhry: I think the answer to both your questions is absolutely right and absolutely yes. There is a need for reforming both the legal system and the media atmosphere. And in all my discussions with opposition leaders and with the leaders in government, the PCRM leaders, we have at times discussed these things and, absolutely, there is present the political will in all parties to take the necessary steps. The United States, in fact, has been involved in this process for quite some time with the government of Moldova and continues to have that role, to be involved with whoever is in government after the new set-up is formed. We have had a number of projects and programs through USAID. We have had some activities through the Threshold Countries Program that we have been implementing over the last couple of years. So, we have been working with them on legal-reform issues with some very specific projects. Likewise, we have also discussed with them how we can assist them in reforming the media and making sure that there is independent and free media in the country, especially the public television. So, yes, we are ready to assist and I have a feeling there is political will present in the country to do that.
RFE/RL: In both Moscow and the West it is something of a cliche to say that Moldova’s East and West ties are not a “zero sum game,” the Moldova can and should have fruitful relations with both. But on a very practical level – if Moldova secures the promised $500 million loan from Russia and the $1 billion from China, won’t this lead to a reduction in financial support from the West? If so, won’t that reinforce the impression in Moldova that there really is a “zero-sum game”?
Chaudhry: I think the way to look at this, probably the best way, is to go back to the statement that Senator John Kerry issued after the elections in which he said there is no reason for Moldova not to be able to be a bridge between East and West. So I think we should not have that notion that Moldova has to choose between East and West. Clearly Moldova has made a determination that they want to move closer to the European Union and they have chosen a European path for themselves.
But, at the same time, it is absolutely true that this country has all kinds of cultural and linguistic and other ties with the East, and besides that, they have economic ties with the East. So there is no reason for Moldova not to be able to have good ties with the West and the East. I don't think that this is a point where they need to choose between one side or the other.
As far as the loans are concerned, first, I truly do not know all the details of the two loans that have been discussed. All the indications that I have seen up to this point is that there is some doubt about these loans, whether they will eventually come to fruition once all the details have been worked out and negotiated. Second, when the new government is formed, I believe that whoever is in the new government, they will have to work out through the parliament to determine what loans they will or will not take. As far as the United States is concerned, we are going to continue to emphasize that we are going to assist Moldova in any form or fashion that we can in their efforts to have economic development for the country and for the people.
RFE/RL: Is the United States disappointed in Moscow for working on this loan bilaterally instead of with the IMF, together with the West, which would really emphasize to Moldova that they don’t have to make a choice?
Chaudhry: No, this is an issue that Moldova… Moldova has to make a determination about what are they going to do to get through this economic difficulty and economic times. When the IMF team left after the first round of elections, the Moldovan government had to make a determination about what next steps to take and this is part of what they did. Moldova is a sovereign country and that was their choice to make.
Eventually whatever they do, when the real money shows up in the streets of this country, then at that point whoever is in power in Moldova will have to decide what is the best way to move forward. And similarly the international organizations, like the IMF, will have to make a review and a determination about what is the best course to move forward in light of what might be happening in terms of other resources available and sources of funding.
RFE/RL: But I’m interested in your view on Moscow’s actions. Wouldn’t the United States welcome it more if Russia channeled their money into Moldova through the IMF and the West and East were seen to be working together toward the same developments in Moldova?
Chaudhry: I honestly believe that the ultimate objective that we all have, whether West or East, is the same -- which is the development of Moldova. People may have different views about what can be done at a particular time. Moldova has been going through very difficult times economically in the last few months and this is not an isolated or an insulated place that is not affected by the rest of the global economic crisis. So I think each country has to make a determination. Of course, Russia and other countries that are part of the global economic clubs are going to have to look at how they are going to play their role. And I think in the end all countries are going to do what is right in terms of playing through the economic assistance that comes through the international bodies or working bilaterally. Both things happen at times and that is for each country to decide.
RFE/RL: Do you intend to meet with the Russian ambassador to discuss how that pending loan could work together with any possible assistance from the West?
Chaudhry: I have not met with the Russian ambassador on this issue. He and I consult and talk about other issues, but we have not discussed this up to this point.
RFE/RL: Russia has been issuing some pretty tough statements regarding Georgia in recent weeks, and the other day Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sent a strongly worded letter to Ukraine’s president, prompting many in the region to speak of Russia’s “imperialist longing.” Is the political elite in Moldova concerned about these developments?
Chaudhry: During this time, I can tell you that those of us who live in Moldova are totally preoccupied with internal affairs, and that is making sure that we have a stable government, making sure that we have dialogue among the political parties. These elections were a good thing, a good part of the democratic process. We have now five political parties that are in the parliament and there are people who have interests for and support for each of those political parties. That is what most people seem to be focused on. What Moldovans might be thinking, that's, of course, for them to state.
But I'm sure your implication is how does this affect the Transdniester issue? I think that we all recognize, all of us who are part of the internationally recognized forum for moving forward on this issue, which is the 5+2 forum, including Russia and the United States, that 5+2 is the only legitimate internationally recognized format and, of course, through that we have to find a solution that is acceptable and agreeable to all parties. And, more importantly, it recognizes Moldova as a sovereign and integral state within its internationally recognized borders. And Moscow, being an important negotiating partner and a mediator in 5+2, they of course have an important role to play and we hope and expect that they will continue to play and active and constructive role in this process.
RFE/RL: Do you expect progress on the Transdniester issue in the next year?
Chaudhry: We have had discussions on that issue over the last couple of months and we definitely expect that there should be progress on that. There was actually general agreement that we should look for ways to move that process forward, so I certainly expect that there should be progress. That is in the interest of all concerned, whether it be the mediators, negotiators, or the affected parties within the Republic of Moldova. There has not been a single indication from anyone as far as I am concerned from the political parties and the elite here or the government that for any reason that particular situation should not be looked at. So I expect that there is interest and will within the country and outside among the negotiating and observing partners and there should be progress.