Press Conference Ambassador Richard E. Hoagland
January 28, 2009
Ambassador Hoagland: Good morning and welcome to the U.S. Embassy. What I would like to do is make a short opening statement and then I want to have as much time as possible for your questions.
One week ago last night I stayed up late to watch CNN and BBC as Barack Obama took the oath of office as the 44th President of the United States. This historic event marks not just a new page in American history or even a new chapter, it’s a new book for American diplomacy and leadership.
In just one week it has become clear that the Obama administration is going to place strong emphasis on building respectful and productive international partnerships. The new Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, recently told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill, “The President-elect and I believe that foreign policy must be based on a marriage of principles and pragmatism, not rigid ideology. On facts and evidence, not emotion or prejudice.”
I’m convinced that this pragmatism will allow us to work increasingly well with all of our partners including certainly Kazakhstan.
Later in her same speech, Secretary Clinton said, “Too often we see the ills that plague us more clearly than the responsibilities in front of us. We see threats that must be thwarted, wrongs that must be righted, conflicts that must be calmed, but not the partnerships that can be promoted, the rights that can be reinforced, the innovations that can be fostered, the people who can be empowered.”
With these words Secretary Clinton is making clear there are limits to American power, but there are no limits to our values which we will continue to promote.
As President Obama said yesterday in his interview on Al Arabia Television, “We will listen first. We will not dictate.” In my view, this is fundamental to building strong partnerships -- listening and understanding. When we disagree, we will do so with respect.
It’s my privilege as the U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan to help President Obama and Secretary Clinton strengthen the already strong partnership between our peoples and our governments.
Now I hope you have some good questions because I’m ready to answer whatever you ask.
Question: Panorama Newspaper: What is the new development strategy for America and what will distinguish it from what was going on under President Bush, under the Bush administration?
Ambassador Hoagland: I think fundamentally the difference is going to be a strong emphasis on partnership and on relationships rather than on first instance military force.
Besides that there is a strong consensus in Washington right now for much more resources, financial resources, and human resources for diplomacy and for development around the world. But for specific development strategies it’s really too early to comment on that because many, many, many of the new people in Washington are still trying to find where their offices are and how their computers work.
Question: Mr. Ambassador, recently the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff visited Kazakhstan and during the discussions with Kazakhstani officials the issue of transit of major military cargo to Afghanistan was raised and that transit was supposed to go through Georgia, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan, on to Afghanistan. Has any progress been made in this area?
Ambassador Hoagland: First of all let me clarify several of the facts in your question if I may, please. The recent military visitor to Kazakhstan was not, at this time, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but it was the Commander of the Central Command of the United States.
Now sometimes there is confusion because there are two separate tracks for agreement and negotiation. One is a broad NATO agreement for military transit. The other is the Central Command agreement for the transit of non-military, non-lethal goods to Afghanistan. And you can understand why this is important for the U.S. military, because in the coming months there will probably be an increase of about 32,000 U.S. military troops in Afghanistan. Obviously we will need to build places, military barracks, for them to live, we will need to feed them, we will need to provide medicine and the other kinds of normal daily living supplies. That’s what our agreement is about, and it’s in conjunction with other countries -- Russia, Kazakhstan, other countries in Central Asia -- simply to ship by surface, meaning mostly train, containers on trains, these kinds of goods into Afghanistan.
One final point - In our agreement we will make every possible effort to purchase those kinds of supplies in Kazakhstan.
Question: Megapolis Newspaper: Right now in the Senate they are discussing the possible elimination of Jackson-Vanik. Do you have any information on this?
Ambassador Hoagland: This is the second year that Senator Richard Lugar has introduced this bill as a good friend of Kazakhstan. Introducing a bill simply means it’s open for discussion. I hope it moves forward, but it’s very early in the stages of this legislation.
Question: (Taszargan Newspaper/Zona.KZ): Recently a Kazakh MP named Roman Madinov filed a suit against our newspaper, an opposition newspaper, and he estimated moral damages to be in the amount of 300 million. So to your knowledge, has any Senator in the United States filed a similar suit and asked for similar damages against any opposition newspaper in the United States?
Ambassador Hoagland: In recent history I’m not aware that any U.S. Senator has taken such an action. However, in our history, especially in the early part of the 19th Century, this kind of action by public officials against the private press did in fact occur.
In the process of developing a democracy one of the important elements that has to be considered is the role of a free press, the responsibility of a free press, in its interactions with the government. And in the modern world this generally comes down to laws about libel.
Different developed democracies have different kinds of laws about libel. The United States law is different from some of the European laws, which is different from the law in Japan or in India, for example. So I would certainly hope that the parliament and the government of Kazakhstan would continue this process to develop a responsible libel law that makes a place for freedom of speech, free press, and also recognizes the responsibility of journalists to report accurately.
But I can give you a short anecdote. Not about a Senator, but recently in the United States a public judge brought a lawsuit against a dry cleaner because they lost the pants to his suit, and he asked $34 million in compensation. And eventually the court threw out this case and said it was irresponsible.
My point is that when rule of law is strong, independent courts make fair judgments.
Question: (Express K Newspaper): I have two questions for you. Question number one, in light of the Russian-Ukrainian gas dispute, Europe and America expressed in the past their support for alternative supply routes. And also recently, Steven Mann of the United States expressed his support and that of the United States at the recent KIOGE Conference for Trans-Caspian pipeline. And with the new administration in Washington, do you think that support will continue to be provided and will continue to be voiced?
Ambassador Hoagland: I think there’s almost the same answer to both questions.
Question: That’s just one question. That was question number one.
Ambassador Hoagland: That was question number one, okay. [Laughter].
It has very long been the policy of the United States to support multiple transportation routes for hydrocarbons from Central Asia. Some will go north, obviously, some will go east, some will go south and some will go west.
In some ways this is like Kazakhstan’s multi-vector foreign policy, to have strong partners in all directions. I’m quite certain that the Obama administration will follow the same general policy of multiple export routes simply because that is profitable for countries and profitable for the companies that participate.
As for supporting one particular pipeline, for example Trans-Caspian, over other possibilities, that’s really going to be a commercial decision in the future, not so much a government-directed decision.
Okay, that was the first question.
Question: My second question harks back to the issue of non-military cargo transit because Robert Simmons, the NATO Special Representative for Central Asia, did hammer out agreements with many countries including Russia for such transit, but in light of the conflict in Georgia which pitted America against Russia, do you think these plans are now in abeyance? And what do you think will happen with this non-military cargo in light of the new administration coming to Washington and in light of the current relationship that the United States has with Russia?
Ambassador Hoagland: This goes back to the answer to the first question because there really are two separate issues here. It is non-lethal, non-military support for American troops and that’s not controversial. Most of the governments in the region have agreed to that. Separate is what Mr. Simmons was working on, which is the NATO military agreement.
I really don’t have exact details on the status of a NATO agreement. I know that in the NATO-Russia Council in Brussels there are ongoing discussions about this as well as in Moscow.
But let me also say that Russia and the United States are not enemies. We’re friends that sometimes get on each other’s nerves. There are some points where we disagree and there are some points where we do agree. I think one of the points where we do agree is the necessity for a stable, peaceful, non-extremist, non-narcotic Afghanistan. This is one area, Afghanistan, where Russia and the United States can and will work together very productively, I’m convinced.
Question: KazInform: I have a question that is three-fold. First of all, the presidential elections in Afghanistan have been postponed twice already, and the latest timing for the elections to take place is supposed to be in the fall of this year.
Question number two, Hamid Karzai in his latest statements expressed his concern that international forces operations caused significant collateral civilian damage. So how would you comment on that?
Also question number three, how would you rate the effectiveness of international force separation in Afghanistan?
Ambassador Hoagland: First of all for the presidential elections in Afghanistan, ultimately this is a decision that Afghanistan as a sovereign nation will have to take for itself. If there is enough security throughout the country to conduct reasonably fair elections, then I would suspect that President Karzai and his government would go forward with the final deadline. But I can’t predict, because that is their decision.
First of all, I personally have known Hamid Karzai for 20 years and I know him to be a good and honest man. As the president of his country, he is responsible for the citizens in Afghanistan. When President Karzai makes these kinds of statements he’s speaking for the protection of his people and it’s important to listen very carefully to his views and to come together and talk to find a solution to this problem.
For the third part of the question, rather than rate the effectiveness of the International Security Assistance Force, I think what I would rather do is emphasize the new international consensus of the importance of this issue in Afghanistan. The soldiers of many countries have served with honor in Afghanistan in recent years, but now it’s time to think again, how do we really solve this problem?
Question: ERA TV: Recently Kazakh citizens have been buying foreign currency in bulk, and mostly they prefer not the euro, which they had preferred in the past, but the dollar. So how would you comment on that?
Ambassador Hoagland: First I would comment by saying I am not a professional economist, so whether it’s a preference for buying dollars or buying euros, it depends for the most part on what people think is the stronger currency.
Of course there is a massive international economic crisis right now, so it could be that economists are placing bets on which currencies will recover faster in the future. But I emphasize again, I’m not an economist and I shouldn’t be talking about things that I don’t know. [Laughter].
Question: Also I would like to bring all of us back to the situation in Kazakhstan, the recent developments that have taken place. Because recently seven political parties have made a declaration to the effect that they will boycott the next election. They did so citing the fact that those amendments that were introduced in parliament and that amended the law on political parties among others were in violation of international standards including those of the OSCE. How would you comment please?
Ambassador Hoagland: There has been lots of attention recently, lots of discussion in the Kazakhstani media and from international observers about the amendments to these three laws -- the mass media law, the political party law, and the election law. The amendments that were passed by parliament and have been sent to President Nazarbayev for consideration do not necessarily reach ideal standards, but there aren’t very many ideal standards anywhere in the world.
I think it’s more valuable to look at this as a process. There have indeed been some steps taken forward, maybe controversial in some people’s view, but some steps taken forward. In our view we are ready to continue to participate in this process, and to work with the public and with the government in Kazakhstan for further steps in this process.
As for statements about boycotting the next election, I think that’s still several years away, so things can change during that time.
Question: Central Asia Monitor: Mr. Ambassador, recently your counterpart in the Russian Federation, the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, gave a very lengthy and very in-depth interview to Russian national television. He was interviewed by Mr. Pozner, a very famous, renowned Russian journalist. In this interview the U.S. Ambassador to Russia called the war in Iraq a mistake. How would you classify this?
Ambassador Hoagland: My colleague in Moscow is Ambassador John Beyrle. What I would say first, there was another newspaper article in the New York Times very recently that revealed a most interesting detail about his biography. Ambassador Beyrle’s father was the only American soldier that ever joined and fought with the Soviet Army during the great patriotic war. So the Beyrle family has had long association, long positive association with Russia.
I think one of the reasons that President Obama was elected, but only one of the reasons, was that almost from the beginning he opposed the war in Iraq. We know from our free press that there were many mistakes made in the war in Iraq. That’s why it’s important to have a free press so that the citizens can debate extremely important issues.
So rather than characterize an action of the past, my personal point of view is that it is so much more important to look how to solve current problems into the future.
Question: I have a question that has to do with the war on terror. Again in the same vein as you said it is better to look to the future than dwell on the past, I also would like to get your opinion, how do you think this war on terror should be taken forward in the future? Because from my point of view the war on terror is very much akin to the antisocial behavior of a small child. If a small child throws a brick through a window of an apartment in a large apartment building, and then all the people who live in that large apartment building get together and they raze that small house where the child lives to the ground, that’s what the war on terror looks like to many people. Don’t you think that instead of using military force, it’s better to use soft power to tackle this problem?
Ambassador Hoagland: Soft power doesn’t always solve every violent problem.
Secretary of State Clinton is beginning to say what we need is smart power. What that means is somewhat of a de-emphasis on military power and much more emphasis on soft power. But the two really do have to continue to exist in the real world.
I think as the Obama administration develops in the coming months we will see new strategies and new tactics to confront the problem of terrorism. You know he has already taken some very dramatic steps that symbolize a shift in policy thinking. Three of the most public and probably profound right now, the Executive Order to close the prison at Guantanamo; the Executive Order on interrogation of prisoners to ensure that the United States is following international standards; and third, the appointment of former Senator George Mitchell, a very wise international diplomat, as the Special Envoy for Middle East peace. So like you, I will be watching these developments very closely in the coming months and coming years.
Question: There is a question also about hydrocarbon transiting, hydrocarbon shipment. Recently in Budapest there was a meeting devoted to the Nabucco pipeline which is one of the alternatives to Russian-only Gazprom-owned supply routes. You also were posted in the recent past as the U.S. Ambassador to Turkmenistan. From your point of view, do you think there is enough gas in Central Asia to make this Nabucco pipeline economically viable?
Ambassador Hoagland: Well fundamentally there’s enough gas in Central Asia for ten or twenty or more Nabucco pipelines. The real question is how to transit that Central Asian gas to Europe. Should there be a Trans-Caspian gas pipeline? Should Nabucco be built? Should South Stream be built? Should Gazprom totally monopolize all of the gas so it can control what goes to Europe?
In the end I think that these are going to be issues that will be commercial decisions, but they will also be decisions by the independent, sovereign states that promote their own sovereignty.
So like the real world, it’s a little complicated. It’s going to be both money and sovereignty.
I think I saw one more, but then I will have to make this the last question.
Question: Khabar News Agency: In light of the new administration in Washington do you think there will be some significant personnel changes in those departments, in those areas that have to do directly with the relationship with Kazakhstan? And do you think that we can expect some high profile visits in the near future from the United States?
Ambassador Hoagland: Are you asking if they’re going to make me leave Kazakhstan? [Laughter]. The American political system is rather unusual because every time there is a new president, that new administration has about 3,000 political positions to fill. In reality, it takes six to nine months to accomplish all of that.
President Obama and Secretary Clinton have already expressed their confidence in the officials who are working on Central Asia, and so they asked them to continue to do their jobs and in the future there may be some changes. There may be some replacements. But it’s too early to know.
For the last part of the question, high level visits to Kazakhstan. Again, I would say it’s much too early in the administration for senior officials to be ordering their airplane tickets and making their schedules for travel, but I am quite certain we will see a number of high level visits in the coming months and years.
Thank you very much.