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Daniel Fried IV - The U.S.-Danish Relationship

The U.S.-Danish Relationship

Daniel Fried, Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs
Interview with Danish TV2, Aired June 7, 2006
June 5, 2006

Danish TV2 Correspondent Allan Silberbrandt: Thank you for talking with us.

The Danish Prime Minister has visited President Bush I think it's four times over the past couple of years. The President was in Denmark recently. And there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of controversy. Now the Prime Minister is coming back, going to Camp David. What is there to talk about if they agree on everything?

Assistant Secretary Fried: What they have to talk about is not a troubled bilateral relationship, because we have a wonderful bilateral relationship. But what they have to talk about is the world outside. Really, U.S.-Danish relations as frankly, U.S.-European relations are not really about themselves. They're not about the relationship, they're about what we do with this relationship in the world where our efforts are needed. What we do to extend freedom or greater security or help people in need, as in Darfur; help extend the wealth and prosperity we have known since 1945, or have built since 1945, together in parts of the world where this is needed.

So the U.S.-Danish relationship, like the U.S.-European relationship, is an outward-looking relationship, and there's a lot to talk about.

Danish TV2: That close relationship was tried recently during the controversy about the Mohammed cartoons. A lot of Danes felt the U.S. reaction, support for the freedom of the press, was less than lukewarm, the Americans put religion over freedom of press. That was a surprise to many Danes. How do you see that controversy in the back mirror?

Assistant Secretary Fried: Well, I think we, the Americans, felt very badly about what happened to Danes and Danish products and the Danish flag. It wasn't right. Denmark did not deserve any of this.

I was in Copenhagen shortly after this all occurred and I went there to express support for the Danish people and the Danish government. I think we extended that support. I think Denmark deserved that support. I think the one newspaper made an error of editorial judgment publishing the cartoons. We found the cartoons offensive. But, that said, the country of Denmark did not deserve having its flag burned; it didn't deserve its embassies being attacked; its people threatened. That was terrible. I felt badly for the Danish people who did not deserve this.

The question of religious sensitivity and the question of freedom is a complicated one. In the United States because of our own history there are certain editorial taboos, usually having to do with race, and they're not enforced by government edicts. They're enforced by a kind of social consensus. It's quite interesting; we're known as a society without social consensus. That sounds very European. But in the United States on these matters our social consensus is very strong.

But we also value freedom of the press, and in a free society editors, people work these things out in an atmosphere of freedom and respect. I think Denmark and in Europe these issues are going to be worked out also and I believe, and certainly hope, in an atmosphere of freedom and respect.

Danish TV2: Friendship between the two countries went up, the reaction to the cartoons was [inaudible]. The friendship, but it's also two very different societies. When we talk about, if we say public health care, you would call it socialized medicine; if we say public schools and talk about quality, it's not always the case here; and when you say you have high taxes, we have no idea what you're talking about because we don't think you have high taxes.

What, if anything, can Americans learn from the Northern European model?

Assistant Secretary Fried: We have a lot to learn from each other, frankly. There are a lot of clichés in America about Europe. That European economies are completely unproductive; or that socialized medicine is, the socialized economy is like it was in the 1960s or '70s. There are a lot of clichés in Europe about the United States, that we don't have a social safety net, or that poor people are left to fend for themselves. Neither stereotype is, in fact, accurate.

Taxes, well, I pay over 50 percent of my own income in taxes. Is that high or not high? It depends on your point of view. I think government has a purpose in balancing people's interests and corporate interests and protecting the environment and providing for national defense. In America there is a range of views. In Europe there are a range of views. The British model, the Danish model, the Italian model. All right. Now, no one model is applicable for all countries and all peoples at all times. We will debate these issues forever, and it's good that we debate them.

America has adopted many day-to-day features of life in modern Western Europe. Oh, little things that really aren't so little. Greener technologies, bicycle lanes, frankly much better beer, all of these things are America's imports from Europe. A better coffee. Europe has adopted some traits of American society that you've decided as a society are worth it. A kind of entrepreneurial spirit, a productive economy. So we do have a lot to learn from each other and this is a good thing.

Danish TV2: You talked about freedom a few minutes ago. One of the issues that Danish people and the Danish government have been worried about is the prison camp at Guantanamo. It's a big issue in Denmark. Everybody understands the statements that the President has made that we can't let these people loose, but what Danes cannot understand is why these people there cannot be tried in a court of law.

Assistant Secretary Fried: The issue of Guantanamo is not just a hotly debated issue in Europe. It's a pretty hot issue in the United States. It's not as if the American people aren't concerned with this. The fact is we have a problem, all of us. We're challenged by terrorists, and international legal norms which were designed for one era and one set of problems don't necessarily apply perfectly or smoothly to a new set of challenges.

You expressed the problem rather well. You can't let people go who are dangerous. On the other hand, for people who were picked up on the battlefield, the rules of criminal evidence and the criminal legal system don't really apply either. In World War II we didn't think about putting Wehrmacht soldiers who were POWs on trial. We treated them according to the laws of war.

The war on terrorism to some degree is a war and the laws of war apply. A European critic would then turn around and say well, but they don't apply perfectly and you need to improve your practices. The fact is, we all have a lot of thinking to do about how international law can be applied to a new situation. It's a tough problem. I'm not here to tell you I handled this perfectly, but my only plea to Europeans is please understand that this is a real problem, not a made-up one. It isn't easy.

My colleague, John Bellinger, the State Department Legal Advisor, usually asks audiences in Europe, well, would you accept Guantanamo inmates if we hand them over to your country? Will you vouch for their behavior in the future? Will you keep them under guard? Usually there's an embarrassed silence.

These are serious issues and we're debating it and we're trying to find a way forward.

Danish TV2: Are you saying that these people are hypocrites?

Assistant Secretary Fried: No. The Europeans?

Danish TV2: Yes.

Assistant Secretary Fried: No, not at all. I'm saying that a lot of the Europeans are seriously and honestly concerned about a real problem, and I respect that. I think other critics have not fully thought it out. But I'm not making a charge of hypocrisy. I would say that Americans and Europeans are thinking through this. Of course they're concerned. No one likes having to do this, but we have a genuine problem we have to deal with.

Danish TV2: Another genuine problem we have to deal with is Iran. It was said last week there was a major change in the American politics towards Iran. Could you explain right now what that change really is about?

Assistant Secretary Fried: Well for the last year and a half the Bush administration has decided to do everything it could to work in solidarity with our European friends in dealing with the problem of Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions. I don't know whether we can solve this, but I know that we cannot solve it at all unless we act together. The we being the United States and Europe, plus hopefully the Russians and the Chinese on the UN Security Council. We need to build a strong coalition to solve this diplomatically.

Last week the United States made the decision to offer if Iran suspends its enrichment program, to sit down with the EU3. This is a major step forward. It presents Iran a choice. Will Iran work with the international community to resolve this issue? Or will Iran obfuscate, defy, delay, and act irresponsibly as I fear it has up until now? This was a step forward and a step forward with Europe. Now Iran has a choice to make and it's in our interest to make sure Iran knows the seriousness of the situation and to give Iran a real choice. I think we've done so.

Danish TV2: One last question about another maybe troubling area, that's Russia. The situation seems to have changed, the relationship between the United States and Russia. It's changed over the past year or two, and it's troubling to Europe. How would you describe the relationship between the United States and Russia?

Assistant Secretary Fried: I think the United States and Europe together have similar hopes for Russia and for good relations with Russia, for cooperation with Russia around the world, whether in Iran or in the Balkans or the South Caucasus, in the fight against terrorism. The United States and Europe want to work in partnership with Russia. At the same time, we and Europe have similar sorts of concerns about Russia. We're all concerned, not just the United States. We're all concerned about the problems in Russia's democratic development. We're concerned about Russia's use of energy and its energy resources to push around its neighbors. This isn't an American concern. You remember what life suddenly looked like on January 1st when Russia turned off the gas to Ukraine and suddenly Europe was suffering. This is not a good situation. We're all concerned about Russia's support for dictatorship in Belarus or its pressure on Georgia. This isn't an American concern.

Nor does it suggest that we want a bad relationship with Russia; we don't. We want a good relationship, but we've got to be clear about the issues that trouble us, as well as clear that we want to cooperate with Moscow. Again, this isn't an American issue. This is a U.S.-European issue. We consult, I consult very closely with my European colleagues.

By the way, I do want to take this opportunity to express my pleasure, the pleasure I've had working with the Danish government, my Danish colleagues over the past several years, my respect for Prime Minister Rasmussen. He went to Iraq. The second leader, I believe, after Tony Blair who did so. He visited the Danish troops. But he also expressed support to the Iraqi government, democratically elected, according to its own constitution. It is a difficult situation in Iraq. It is painful to see the losses there, both of Iraqi lives, lives of the coalition soldiers helping the Iraqi people. But we need to move ahead and we need to move ahead together.

Denmark has been staunch, it's been consistent, it has been principled. Denmark is a good friend and an ally and I'm looking forward to the Prime Minister's visit.

Danish TV2: Thank you very much.

Assistant Secretary Fried: It's been a pleasure.

Released on June 8, 2006

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