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U.S.-European Relations - Daniel Fried

U.S.-European Relations

Daniel Fried, Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs
Press Briefing at the U.S. Mission to NATO
Brussels, Belgium
April 29, 2006

Assistant Secretary Fried: Thanks for coming. This is on the record.

The central theme of this conference and my principal take-away so far was summed up by Javier Solana's speech at the dinner last night and the panel discussion this morning. That is, and these aren't Solana's exact words, but this is pretty much his sense: Europe and the United States are not arguing about their relationship any more. We are putting that relationship to work in the world to deal with problems that exist outside of Europe. We are knit-up conceptually in terms of values and strategically. And you heard, I think, with Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Javier Solana this morning, but also Senator McCain and Ambassador Holbrooke, a strong sense of transatlantic common purpose. That's the good news. The bad news is, as a reward for this common purpose, we get to deal with some very nasty problems like Iran. The bad news is the world is a rough place.

But as difficult as Iran is, and I think we all know it is, and you heard that this morning, it would be impossible to deal with Iran if Europe and the United States were not as united as they are, which is considerably.

I think how much better off we are dealing with this problem, having closed, not at the popular level yet but certainly at the level of governments, closed the gaps that were widened in 2003. You don't have to take my word for it, but I think the panel discussion was fascinating. You had Europeans and Americans, the EU and NATO, two Europeans and two Americans on the one hand talking about common purpose; and you had at least one journalist appearing to be pained by all this evidence of transatlantic harmony and not wishing it weren't so, but incredulous that it exists.

So what is that agenda? What's this transatlantic agenda I've been talking about? There are really two parts to it. One is the constituent problems of the broader Middle East Iran, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, and the overall challenge of reform and democracy. These are huge and difficult issues, but we and the Europeans are working these.

The other set of issues are what we call roughly the frontiers of freedom issues Belarus, Ukraine, South Caucasus and challenges of working with Russia which is a vast subject in its own right. And here, because these are issues I work on myself, U.S.-European cooperation has been exemplary.

I was astonished at the moderator's questioning today of whether we were actually in contact with each other, whether we had communication. Remember that sort of first 20 minutes he kept harping on it? The day doesn't go by when we're not in touch with the Europeans. Not just on general principles, but on an issue like Belarus. All the time. Tactics, strategy, timing, language. It's a model relationship. I must say the European Union has been quick decisive, creative. It looks like a functioning strategic relationship here. There are questions of who's leading. I don't know, this is very much a joint project.

Finally I'll make one specific remark and then stop and go to questions. I agreed with almost everything Dick Holbrooke said, and I usually do, but I'm not sure I agreed with him about Turkey because he put Turkey in a group of countries Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq in crisis. And he said that Turkish-American relations are extremely difficult.

Well Turkish-American relations have had a rough time over the past four years, but first of all, Turkey is not a country in crisis. Turkey is a country undergoing a democratic transformation and handling it rather well. I think some of the difficulties in U.S.-Turkish relations have been a function of the fact that the Turkey of 25 years ago -- which had, what did they call it, the deep state? -- has become a much more democratic Turkey.

Turkish party politics are none of our business, but it is quite clear that the democracy is deep and the victory of the AK Party was part of this process. So, naturally, it's more complicated.

Secretary Rice was just in Ankara. The Turkish press in response was as positive as I've seen it in years. We want to work with Turkey in a close strategic partnership, and frankly I've found on a lot of issues it's extremely easy to work with Turkey because we have underlying commonality of views -- broader Middle East, energy issues. And on Iraq, although we differed as we did with many European countries, we clearly now want the same things and the new government there that's coming into being gives us all an opportunity to work together. So just one sort of minor note, and I will stop here.

Question: What do you make of Solana's comment that the EU wouldn't be willing to enter into a coalition of the willing? I understand all the particularly good atmosphere we've been seeing between NATO nations and Russia. Given what [inaudible] said about [inaudible], the criticism of Russia [inaudible]. Can you think of a worst backdrop to try and get Russian backing for a Security Council Resolution on Iran?

Assistant Secretary Fried: First of all, I don't have Javier Solana's words in front of me, but what I thought I heard is, at the present time the EU is not thinking about a so-called coalition of the willing. In fact, we all are focused on the next step which is the Security Council. That is the vehicle. Now that the IAEA has issued I think a very clear, forceful, unambiguous report of Iranian misbehavior, the next step is the Security Council. That is where we are headed. We obviously want a strong resolution. I can't predict how things will come out, but that is where we are headed united with Europe.

You're asking a hypothetical, and I think we will continue to work with the Security Council. Some countries may decide that there are things that they have to do, but we're talking about, very clearly we're talking about financial and diplomatic pressure. At the moment we're concentrating on the UN Security Council. That's the next step.

With respect to Russia, there were several speakers today who pointed out that it is most certainly in Russia's interest to work with the Europeans and the Americans because a nuclear-weapons-armed, radical, and irresponsible Iran is a danger to us all, including Russia. We want to work with Russia. Russia, which does understand the dangers, we hope, works with us.

I was present at the NATO-Russia Council meeting yesterday. NATO and then Russia separately expressed strong support for the Council. There are other issues on which we differ, for instance Belarus. That came up at the NATO-Russia Council meeting. But we are committed to the NATO-Russia Council and it actually has some tangible results to show for itself as well as NATO-Russia military cooperation which is proceeding.

Question: Mr. Fried, you're talking about the joint challenges including on Russia. Will the Bush administration take up the [inaudible] call for joint efforts to get Russia to amend its energy markets? Or are you going to pursue the role of trying to negotiate a bilateral deal?

Assistant Secretary Fried: We are working very closely with Europe and the European Union and have been intensely since the very exciting New Year's we had. Remember there was New Year's morning I was on the phone with the Austrian Ambassador who is the newly -- because Austria had assumed the [EU] presidency. We want to work with Europe to advance our common interest in an energy regime in Eurasia which is open; which is commercially based, not politically based; which allows for multiple sources of energy so there is no one single source in one party's hands. We've had consultations both bilaterally with European governments and with the Commission. Our thinking is moving in very, very similar ways. We believe in an open investment regime, so does Europe. We believe in multiple sources, so does Europe. We think this is in everyone's interest. So I think transatlantic solidarity and cooperation is important. The Dutch are hosting an energy conference in May, a transatlantic energy conference at which these issues will certainly be discussed.

Question: But will there be joint pressure, which is very key?

Assistant Secretary Fried: We're going to work jointly with Europe. If Europe has an energy problem, so do we. If Europe feels itself having an energy vulnerability, we're vulnerable too.

Transatlantic solidarity is not just an abstract notion. Our economies are intertwined and I think it's important that we work together. We have every intention of doing so.

Question: You have mentioned about a strategic partnership with Turkey. Would you elaborate that? And you have been working on a paper, a document, --

Assistant Secretary Fried: That is true.

Question: Would you be able to open up a little [inaudible]?

Assistant Secretary Fried: Yes. That's come out in the Turkish press. Foreign Minister Gul and Secretary Rice mentioned it during their press conference. Yes, we're working on it. No, I won't elaborate, because it's not a finished document, but we had very good talks with the Turkish Foreign Ministry. Rice left, you now know where she went. I stayed behind, spent the day with the Foreign Ministry. Very good day. We're not finished with it yet, but by strategic partnership we want to outline a common agenda, certain common principles, and use this as a vehicle to demonstrate that the differences which we had over Iraq -- which were serious, and it was painful -- are really behind us, and to demonstrate that this partnership is rooted not just in sentiment about the past but in clear-eyed common interests and common values about the future.

Question: Mr. Fried, so you think, from our point of view sitting in Washington, do the Europeans "get" China better now than a year ago in terms of saying strategically This is since

Assistant Secretary Fried: You've asked me an easy question. Certainly better than a year ago. I don't believe that this problem developed because of deliberate European opposition. I think Europe sort of stumbled into it almost by accident. We had a misunderstanding which was cleared up. The European Union sent a delegation to Washington which arrived the very day the Chinese parliament passed its anti-secession law by which China claimed the right to intervene, including militarily, if Taiwan did something that they didn't like. That they considered to be an act of cesession. That made the EU position very difficult.

I think we're much better knit-up. We have a dialogue about China that my colleague Chris Hill conducts with the European Union. All of this is far better, there's far more understanding on both sides than a year ago.

Question: My problem is really this. There wasn't just one journalist, it was two or there...

Assistant Secretary Fried: You're right.

Question: -- and it was somebody like Charles Grant who said convince me otherwise.

Assistant Secretary Fried: Serious people.

Question: When one leaves the room of this morning's discussion everybody seems to say well actually the truth is we do see things still very differently in terms of how tough sanctions might be or whether one could ever use some sort of military option. People say, my God, the worst option is not that a nuclear-armed Iran would be worse than going in militarily, it is that we might end up with both going in militarily and having a nuclear-armed Iraq. That's really how the Europeans see it. So there's a real gap about how to do it.

Assistant Secretary Fried: But what you're taking I'm obviously aware of that line of argument, but it is both premature and fundamentally misleading.

John McCain doesn't speak for the administration but he's obviously a wise, thoughtful person. Those are lousy options. Who in their right mind wants to have to choose between those? If that's where we are, we've done a lousy job.

The fact is we and the Europeans agree that we must not be forced with those two options, and I think that came out. That means that we need to focus, as Secretary Rice has said all week, on diplomatic and other financial pressures against Iran which requires in the first place European-American solidarity.

Now look, during the days of the Cold War which everybody looks back on as this honeymoon of Euro-American harmony. You know perfectly well that we disagreed often about tactics. Every decade, as Dick Holbrooke said, there was some transatlantic crisis that everybody wrote about.

So when I talk about this era of transatlantic harmony, I don't mean automatic agreement on everything now any more than there was before, but what I do mean is that there is an underlying commonality of strategic purpose. There is an understanding that Europe and America are much much better off in the world acting together than if we act singly. And frankly, it means this end to talk on both sides of the Atlantic which was very popular in 2003 and 2004 about a transatlantic divorce. I don't mean just voices in Europe, I mean voices in the United States. I didn't like either set of arguments, now that's not with us.

I will acknowledge that a lot of Europeans are skeptical about the United States, they're worried. There was a piece in the Herald -Trib today by Cohen that said Rice just mentioned the word coalition of the willing and everybody thought military action, oh my God, which is clearly not what she meant, it's not what she said. So I'm aware of that.

But what you heard today and what's very significant is that the Europeans actually who deal with us every day and I can tell you the organizations they represent work with us intensely and that relationship is proceeding very well.

Question: What's the meaning of this coalition of the willing?

Assistant Secretary Fried: Look, what we're focused on now is the UN process, UN Security Council, and getting a strong resolution. The more unity we have the better. Certainly, transatlantic unity is the core. We want Russia and China obviously to be with us. We need to, in the first place, respond politically so that the Iranian regime understands that you don't have a hopelessly divided world. You have a united world.

We do debate tactics. We always have, and I assume we always will. That's the nature Transatlantic unity doesn't mean lockstep. This is not an armed camp. This is a collection of democracies and lots of opinions.

Question: May I ask you, there have been calls in Europe for the U.S. to enter talks with Iran on other issues than the nuclear issue.

Assistant Secretary Fried: Right.

Question: The U.S. already said you might talk, or you are already talking about [inaudible] with the Iranians. Do you see the European perspective is the same as yours as far as what talks can be, what kind of talks one can have with Iran?

Assistant Secretary Fried: So far Look, I'm certainly aware of the debate. I read the newspapers. But the EU3 in good faith made an impressive, honest try with the Iranians. They made an honest, impressive offer. They got nowhere. Instead, Iran escalated its actions and its rhetoric. A week doesn't go by without not one but usually several outrageous deeds and words coming out of Iran. Under the[INS:s:INS]e circumstances I think that we should not be negotiating among ourselves over what new concessions to offer Iran. That's quite the wrong signal. But I think a firm diplomatic response is what's required.

I can't talk about hypotheticals in the future, but given the IAEA report which is quite clear, we need a strong response.

Question: Two slightly broader points. I [inaudible] either, but I think to have two former and current Secretary Generals standing alongside two very muscular Americans and all of them agreeing is not surprising. How [inaudible] are you --

Assistant Secretary Fried: I thought it was pretty good. Javier Solana's a Spanish socialist, head of the EU. Come on.

Question: [inaudible]. [Laughter]. How concerned are you [inaudible] European democracies that have popular attitudes towards the United States as shown by opinion polls, a high [inaudible], perhaps improving relationship that we see in the summit, officials, government people. It doesn't seem to be shared in European societies at the grass roots.

The second question related to that, must your, and no doubt quite correctly pointing to commonality of interests [inaudible] levels [inaudible] cooperation. Surely there is still no doubt that in terms of the broad strategic thrust of the policy, whether it be the characterization of a global war on terror, whether it be the overarching American plan for democracy in the broader Middle East, Europeans, while sharing many of the tactical goals, are much more skeptical about the kind of broad vision and its ability to be realized than the American administration is. So there are some quite fundamental revisions still, but not at the strategic level.

Assistant Secretary Fried: Not surprisingly I don't entirely share that view. I am aware, of course, of wide skepticism among European publics about the Bush administration. That's simply a fact. Also, the same Pew public opinion poll that we both have in mind also showed that Europeans like the idea of cooperation with the United States about advancing democracy I the world. So that part of your question isn't quite right.

There have always been, again, since 1945, European-American differences about tactics. We have certainly somewhat different styles. However, I have seen in the last couple of years a narrowing of these differences and a growing, underlying, strategic commonality of view. You raised democracy in the broader Middle East. In fact, Europe through the Barcelona process has been trying to do that. Secondly, European governments have joined with us in a common effort to work with the countries of the region to do exactly that. The European Commission, Greece, Spain, other nations have put money into this process. So it's not quite true that there is a major split. In fact, it's not true that there's a major split. There's a major unity of views with some tactical differences.

I was just fascinated by the panelists, Europeans and Americans, sounding like they were very much like people knit-up in a common effort confronting skeptical, serious journalists. I thought that was marvelous. I don't think you would have had that in 2003 or 2004. You would have had more divisions in that panel.

Question: You're setting the bar pretty low then. [Laughter].

Assistant Secretary Fried: Well, after the divisions of 2003 and 2004, and I was thinking about this after I listened to Javier last night. I thought a big story that ends well is no longer news. It's no longer news to say that Poland is a free, successful country that's made a very difficult transition rather well. It's no longer news, it's a banality.

But I was just making an effort to point out that if I were over here two years ago you would not have seen Javier Solana, and I mention him because of the EU, quite as enthusiastic. He wasn't going through the motions. You know him. He was enthusiastic about the relationship with the United States because he knows very well that every day we're working and coordinating policy. And you had the moderator keep trying to draw him out about differences and do the Americans ever listen to you. He wouldn't bite. That is actually quite interesting.

My day is filled with consultations with the Europeans. We work up and down the line with the Europeans on, where we're not debating so much what to do but debating the tactics of how to do it, and that is a change.

Question: Just to follow up on the document you're working on. What kind of commitment will there be on Iraq and Iran?

Assistant Secretary Fried: I don't want to discuss details. It hasn't happened yet. We're going to continue to work.

Last question.

Question: If sanctions do fail or if the UN --

Assistant Secretary Fried: You're asking me a hypothetical? What are you thinking? [Laughter].

Question: I am asking a hypothetical question. It's been widely reported that [inaudible], so it's hypothetical but it's also real.

Do you think that a military option should remain on the table?

Assistant Secretary Fried: Certainly. Look, I will repeat everything we've said. We haven't taken it off the table, but that is not what we are thinking about, that is not on the agenda, that is not where we are. We are not going through the motions.

We believe that a concerted, sustained diplomatic effort can succeed. We're not simply saying that. Our analytic judgment is that this can succeed. So your question is not only hypothetical, but it's really hypothetical beyond the horizon. That's not where we are. I think it was de Hoop Scheffer or Javier who referred to the Foreign Ministers dinner. There are no note-takers there. This was in Sofia night before last. But one of them, go back to the transcript because one of them brought it up. Clearly we're not talking about military options. We're talking about what we can and intend to achieve.

Thank you all.

ENDS


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