Transcript of Interview of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Philip Reeker with Janusz Bugajski, Albanian Screen (September 8, 2012)
Bugajski: It is time for the Bugajski hot seat and my guest today is U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Philip Reeker. Welcome to the show, Philip. Thank you for making the time during your busy schedule not just in Tirana, but throughout Albania.
DAS Reeker: It’s a pleasure.
Bugajski: Just a little background on the Ambassador for our audience. Phil is responsible at the State Department for U.S. relations with the entire region, not just with Albania, but Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia. He has also served as U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia and has extensive and in-depth experience throughout the Western Balkans. So, let me jump straight into the questions, Phil. Let me begin actually with the broader region and we can zero in on Albania. What would you say are the core U.S. priorities in this region?
DAS Reeker: I think it is pretty straightforward. We want see this region integrated into a Europe which is whole, free, democratic, at peace, and increasingly prosperous. That has been, of course, our goal in U.S. foreign policy for Europe since World War II. It has been shared by presidents and secretaries of state from both political parties for many years. We have made great strides in that realm. If you look at the enlargement of NATO, which is an open door for new members, including Albania, if you look at the European Union and our efforts to work with our European partners to bring these countries in, to help them with the reforms necessary to become candidates for EU membership, and then the difficult path through accession to join the European Union. We’ve seen that in Slovenia, of course, but this time next year, Croatia will be a full member of the EU, and there’s a European perspective for all the countries of the Western Balkans. So, that is very much our policy, our goals. We have strong relationships here. We have embassies staffed with excellent diplomats and we very much appreciate our relationships with each of the countries in the region.
Bugajski: Looking at the region, what would you say – particularly as you have been here for many years and you understand many of the problems, many of the challenges – what would you say are still the outstanding challenges to be resolved, threats to be overcome? I don’t think it’s necessary to go into worst-case-scenarios, but what are the still unresolved issues in the region?
DAS Reeker: I think all of the countries in the region are consolidating democracies, focusing on building the institutions that are necessary for successful, free market democracy, and that is something that takes time. If you look back at the past two decades, the progress has really been extraordinary and being here in Albania in this centennial year, you think of one century, one hundred years of Albania’s independence, to think of what has been accomplished just since the end of the Hoxha era is really just remarkable. There is still much work to be done and the path towards Europe, towards EU membership very much lays that out, reforms that are well defined through the European perspective, particularly in the area of rule of law, in the area of the judiciary – these are critical institutions that involve reform, involve a new way of thinking for many people of the region. It is something we, through our assistance programs, have tried to continue to work on with these countries, and that will continue to take time.
Bugajski: Is it a sort of generational question, would you say, to some degree? In other words, the younger generation is more experienced in this period, is more familiar with democratic values, with the West, and so forth. Presumably, that is the generation that will consolidate all the progress that these countries have made.
DAS Reeker: I think that is true to a broad degree. It is something that takes time, that requires new ways of thinking, and in the world we live in today where communication is instantaneous, where social media connects people like never before, some of the long-held beliefs, some of the mythology that has been peculiar to the Balkan region is slowly disappearing, and they are realizing that borders can be used to unite, not to divide. That is the goal of the European Union, and if you think what Europe has accomplished since the end of the WWII, where former enemies are now fully united economically, politically, working together for standards of living, for levels of prosperity despite the current challenges in the global economic situation. These are levels of prosperity that were never imagined before.
Bugajski: It is interesting, you mention presumably how Germans and French, Germans and Poles have managed to reconcile after these changes and are now good partners in the European Union. Do you see that happening between neighbors here, because there are still, as you know, some outstanding disputes, to mention but a few – between Macedonia and Greece, even between Montenegro and Serbia, certainly between Serbia and Kosovo. Do you see these questions being resolved in the framework of accession to the European Union?
DAS Reeker: I think that is very much the goal of that, and as the countries in Western Europe have demonstrated, these things can be overcome by taking a new approach, by putting the past behind and looking toward the future. This is what our goal has been in terms of encouraging integration, Euro-Atlantic integration. What can the United States and our European partners do for the countries of this region? We can help them make the changes that are necessary to be eligible and come into these institutions. It still takes a lot of work. It is not perfect. The countries of the European Union have to work together all the time. They have to focus on compromise, and that is a word that has to be learned in this region. For too long in the Balkans, the idea has been that there is only capitulation. That is not the key to success in the 21st century. Compromise can mean positives for both countries, for all peoples in the region. And I think we have seen a lot of that. You see great cooperation, working together through NATO and the Partnership for Peace, through structures like the Adriatic 5, where countries are working together on security issues, on stability issues, through integrated border management between and among countries in the region. You see great progress in terms law enforcement, in terms of interdicting narcotics trafficking and trafficking in human beings. These are the types of steps that are vitally important and it is what our programs have been designed to support.
Bugajski: You mentioned the European Union. What is the degree of coordination, would you say, between the United States, Washington and Brussels in terms of its approach towards the region?
DAS Reeker: We work very closely with our partners in the European Union. Obviously, the United States is not a member of the EU. We don’t have a vote in the European Council or a veto. But we determined long ago that it was in our interest, as well as in the interest of all of Europe – all of the transatlantic, trans-European space – to bring these countries of the Western Balkans into these institutions. So, we coordinate closely. Our assistance programs – the billions of dollars that the U.S. has invested in this region since the early ‘90s – are all designed to help these countries meet the requirements and expectations, to help them on the reform agenda for EU membership, and of course, NATO membership is very much a part of that. NATO has proved to be the most successful security alliance in human history, quite arguably. And you don’t see NATO countries going to war with each other. Instead, you see a political and security institution that allows countries to resolve their problems and increasingly work together to deal with security threats from outside the region as well.
Bugajski: As you know, and I’m sure you’ve heard it expressed, a view around here among some people that America is going to withdraw, a divided Europe, an uncertain European Union is going to take over responsibility for the region. How would you address that in terms of the U.S. approach now as compared to when the crisis was in the Balkans 10 or 15 years ago?
DAS Reeker: I think you just look at the progress that has been made. There are still challenges, as you pointed out in this region. There are still issues that need to be and should be resolved, but you don’t have the threat of war and major violence, and the U.S. is very committed to this region. Secretary Clinton takes great interest in this region.
Bugajski: A very personal interest.
DAS Reeker: A very personal interest. And so has every administration. You can see it through our presence here. Every one of the countries in the region has a major U.S. Embassy presence engaged in so many areas to, again, help our partners and friends make the necessary reforms required to move forward, to achieve their goals, to keep open the door of NATO and EU membership, because that is what people increasingly throughout this region have said – they want to be a part of this Europe that is whole and free, a part of the 21st century, not looking backwards to the horrors of the late 20th century, and of course, the 19th century before that.
Bugajski: Looking now more at Albania’s progress towards the EU. I know you can’t give us a timeline of when Albania will be a member, but what are the priorities, what are the things that the government has to do to qualify for accession?
DAS Reeker: I think the EU set out a very good list of recommendations, 12 recommendations that were needed to become a full candidate, to achieve candidate status, and that’s what the government should be focused on. The time is really now. We all know that there’s been disappointment at the pace of reforms that slowed greatly when politics got in the way of progress, when individual agendas and political parties took precedence over the wellbeing and the future of the whole country. Now is the opportunity to make some real strides, even in the next few weeks, as European officials have pointed out, before the European Commission issues its next progress report, with the hope that Albania could achieve candidate status by the end of this year and then look forward to the very difficult process necessary to begin accession talks, and ultimately, as we’ve seen with other countries in the region, become full members.
Janusz Bugajski: I’ll have to ask the last question regarding EU membership. By the time Albania is ready to enter the European Union, what kind of European Union will exist? I know you can’t forecast, but the question is how you can reassure the Albanians that it is to their benefit, regardless of whether they get in, to pursue these reforms. It’s not just a question of the presumed membership, but it’s good for the country to have these reforms completed, implemented.
DAS Reeker: I think we all have seen what the EU has done for its member states in terms of not only consolidating peace and stability, but helping the countries of the European Union be competitive in the 21st century. It’s a question of markets, it’s a question of competing, not only with North America but increasingly with Asia in the modern economy, which is very much interconnected, and we can see that in the European Union itself and right here in Albania. What happens next door economically affects what happens here. And the reforms that the European Union requires for membership are very much charted to moving the country into a modern, competitive economy, where institutions reflect democratic values, reflect open economies, so that Albania or any other country in the region can be part of something much bigger.
Janusz Bugajski: In terms of regional cooperation, you mentioned how important this is – there are many examples from European Union, Benelux, Visegrad, and so on, of countries successfully cooperating. In the case of the West Balkans, regional security, economic developments, how important are things like energy, security, infrastructure, transportation, other regional connections, and can Albania play an important role in these spheres?
DAS Reeker: I think energy is clearly a critical matter. It is important for economic growth, has implications for geopolitical questions; it is important for security, economic security and the broader question of stability. So it’s important that countries think together how they can, together, address their energy challenges. And we see that whether that is a question of potential pipelines in the region that can help bring energy sources here. Increasingly, people and countries have to work together. Small, isolated markets are not going to be as successful as those that work together. And that’s, of course, what the European Union and common markets are all about.
Bugajski: Would you support a regional common market? There have been some suggestions, some proposals, quite recently that have been talked about. Some countries would oppose it, others would support. Do you see some sort of – particularly in this part of the word – regional market that could enhance the added value of each country, so to speak?
DAS Reeker: I think really what countries in this region should focus on is their European perspective. The course is well laid-out for them. What needs to be done is what we support – the open door to NATO, the open door to European Union membership, and that’s what we’ve worked on very closely with our European partners and with each country in the region.
Bugajski: In terms of regional cooperation, you mentioned energy and infrastructure, and inter-communication. Should America be playing more of a role here, do you think?
DAS Reeker: I think we play a large role. We want to make sure that markets here are open to potential U.S. investors. We try to encourage opportunities for U.S. investors as well as investors from around parts of the world, and that’s why transparency is so critical, that’s why rule of law is absolutely essential. U.S. investors tell me they come, they take a look at the region, but they want to be sure that their contracts are sacrosanct, that they have recourse to a judicial system that is fair and balanced, that there’s a level playing field. And that’s, again, what the reform process is very much about, the importance of independent institutions, the independence of the judiciary. It’s a competitive world out there and capital will go where it’s safest. And so I think American companies, American investors, have a long history of taking a look at challenges. They are willing to invest, but they have to know that there is a level playing field and know that the rule of law will prevail.
Bugajski: Let me ask you a couple more questions about the region. You are going to Kosovo next, to Pristina. What is the purpose of your trip? I know that it is of great interest to people in Albania.
DAS Reeker: I’ve had the opportunity to visit Kosovo several times in the past year since I assumed these responsibilities. This time I’ll be going to meet with the international steering group, where we expect to take a decision to end supervision of Kosovo’s independence, which will mean the end of the international civilian office. And, as we have already seen, Kosovo’s parliament has taken steps to approve constitutional amendments, legislation necessary to take over these requirements, in line with the comprehensive settlement proposal. So, it’s an important time for Kosovo. It shows that they have made great strides in their little over four years of independence, but of course, there’s much more to do. And they will have to be focused and disciplined when working together and setting aside petty politics and individual agendas, and working for the common good of the country.
Bugajski: I presume part of your job is to gauge the mood and offer suggestions to different capitals in terms of regional cooperation, resolving some of the outstanding problems. I know you have been to Belgrade since Nikolic’s election. How do you see that relationship between Kosovo and Serbia?
DAS Reeker: Well, I think it will be important for Serbia, with its new government, to focus on normalization of the relationship and the context with Pristina. This is what the European Union has made very clear, that it would be necessary for Serbia to take the next step towards its goal of European Union membership. Serbia achieved EU candidate member status earlier this year, and in order to move into the accession process, Brussels has been very clear, along with member states, that certain reforms are going to have to take place, and there is going to have to be progress in the dialogue with Pristina. I think that is very doable. I think we saw a number of agreements that we reached through the EU-led dialogue earlier this year. Those agreements need to be fully implemented as a very first step, and then look at taking the next steps to come to a more normal situation.
Bugajski: Last couple of questions. You served, of course, as an Ambassador to Macedonia. The name dispute – it’s much broader than simply the name – with Greece continues to fester and it blocked Macedonia’s progress to both these important institutions, NATO and the EU. Can you see any light at the end of the tunnel, a resolution?
DAS Reeker: I’ve always been able to see a resolution. I’ve always hoped for a way forward. I think it’s tragic that there hasn’t been progress in that regard. No one more than the United States wants to see Macedonia move forward on its Euro-Atlantic agenda. At Bucharest, a decision was taken. We want to see Macedonia become a full member of NATO. We want to see them progress through accession talks to become a member of the European Union. That’s good for Greece, it’s good for the region, and it’s good for Europe and the whole trans-Atlantic space. So I hope that both countries will be able to work together. They have the good offices of Ambassador Nimetz and the United Nations, a process through which they can find a compromise, a way forward to see that this process is unblocked. It’s an important step. I think it will be a historic step, and we certainly hope that it will happen.
Bugajski: And important for Albania, as well, to have the neighbor that is …
DAS Reeker: Exactly, that’s one of the issues that I have stressed, one of the themes that I have pursued here, is the important role Albania has played as a constructive actor within the region, and I’ve encouraged the leadership here to continue to play that role. Albania is a strong friend to its neighbor Macedonia, it is a strong friend to Kosovo. It can play a very positive role diplomatically – and a good friend, a good neighbor and partner. And certainly we, the United States, have a very strong partnership with Albania, and we are very pleased to see Albania as a full member and ally in NATO. I think we have a very strong commitment to each other, and that is whether we are serving together in Afghanistan, or whether we’re working together on reform efforts, or some of the initiatives that Ambassador Arvizu has undertaken recently to promote citizen involvement in their communities, to promote efforts to improve services and lives for all the citizens in Albania.
Bugajski: Last question – the 100th anniversary of Albanian statehood. How would you summarize the main drivers of that relationship, the Albanian-American relationship? Obviously, there are huge historical, let’s say, anchors. How would you describe that relationship now? What holds it together?
DAS Reeker: I think it’s based on longstanding friendship. There is a strong diaspora of Albanians in the United States. We have supported Albania’s transition, its reforms, its progress, and we want to continue to do that, and we have found Albania to be, as I said, a constructive player in the region. We want to see them keep doing that. We also want to, as friends, speak out and talk about the need to continue the reform effort, to refocus energy to make sure that independent, democratic institutions are respected, to work on judicial reforms, to stress the importance of rule of law, to deal with corruption. These are things, I think, the average Albanian is concerned about, and this is what will take Albania into new directions in its next 100 years. And we, the United States, expect to be a friend in that process.
Bugajski: Good to know you’ll be around by that time, but of course…
DAS Reeker: Speak for yourself…
Bugajski: Thank you very much for being with me and for being on the show, for your thoughts, insight and candor. Best of luck in your important work and hopefully I’ll have you back here the next time you will be back to Tirana.
DAS Reeker: Thank you, Janusz.
Bugajski: Thanks much. I’ll see you in Washington.
We will break now for a few minutes for some advertisements.