Has the U.S. set the goal of overthrowing Gaddafi? What is happening with the Libyan leader’s U.S. bank accounts? Will there be a change in the U.S. policy towards friendly authoritarian regimes? When can we expect visa-free travel between Russia and the U.S.? Do Americans want Russia to become a WTO member? U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Beyrle recently took the time to answer these and other questions.
Today, everyone is concerned about the unclear, drawn out situation with Libya and Muammar Gaddafi. Of course, it has also affected Russian-U.S. relations. Russian President Medvedev initially approved UN Resolution 1973, but recently said that its mandate has been exceeded. Meanwhile President Obama just recently said that the coalition’s goal wasn’t to remove Gaddafi, but later stated in a joint article with the leaders of France and the UK that Gaddafi can’t remain in power. Could you shed some light on the U.S. position on this issue?
I would say that NATO is conducting the military operation in Libya in compliance with UN Resolution 1973, about which you spoke. It’s written quite clearly there that the Gaddafi regime must cease its aggressive actions and attacks on the civilian population of Libya. And what are we seeing? We are seeing that the forces of Gaddafi and his mercenaries are continuing to wage war against Libyan civilians. Gaddafi’s forces bombed the civilian population in the city of Misrata and bombed them indiscriminately, using rockets and howitzers. There have been reports that the pro-Gaddafi forces have destroyed food warehouses and cut off electricity and water to this city. The population there is under siege for all intents and purposes. UN Resolution 1973 states rather explicitly that the international forces have the right to take all necessary measures to prevent these very kinds of actions. I think the ultimate goal of the operation is to provide Libyans with the opportunity to live peacefully in a stable country without fearing their own government. And I reiterate that our goals are quite clearly stated in UN Resolution 1973, which for us is a charter or set of instructions.
The U.S. president has nevertheless called for Mr Gaddafi to step down. Are we correct in surmising that your country’s leadership believes it would be impossible for Gaddafi to remain the leader of Libya?
We are trying to gather reliable information on these violations, not to mention the atrocities being carried out by the Gaddafi regime. I think ultimately we are all interested in seeing leaders who give commands for such brutal actions or attacks against the civilian population having to answer for their crimes.
We recently met with the U.S. deputy attorney general, who is handling the prosecution of corrupt officials, in particular under the RICO law, and he praised the fact that Gaddafi’s U.S. bank accounts have been frozen. Could these accounts become the subject of bargaining if Gaddafi agrees to give up power?
I would rather not comment on what our thoughts might be on this issue. But I would reaffirm what has already been stated in the press about us indeed discovering enormous, gigantic amounts of money in the accounts of Gaddafi’s partners, which allegedly belong to the regime or to the Gaddafi family. This in its own right gives an indication of what has been happening in this country for a long time. According to UN Resolution 1973, we have the right to freeze these accounts and they in fact have been frozen.
Many experts view the events in North Africa and the Middle East as the collapse of American realpolitik: the U.S. had been supporting authoritarian, but friendly regimes as barriers against radical Islamism. But the current Arab revolutions indicate that they aren’t taking place under the banner of al-Qaeda and are more likely aimed against authoritarianism. How do you feel about such an assessment? Will there be a change in the U.S. policy towards authoritarian regimes?
What we are seeing in North Africa and the Middle East, in my view, is a reflection of the fully understandable and normal desire of the people of these countries to feel that they are influencing their own fate in some way and that their governments are protecting the interests of the people instead of their own. If we see that some leader in some country is losing the support of his people, this can’t help but affect our appraisal of whether we can have partner-based relations with such a leader. So, I think the more important issue here is not America’s policy, but rather the feelings and aspirations of the people in these countries, who, in my opinion, are entirely worthy not only of our respect, but of our support as well.
How does one assess if a regime has lost the trust of the people? Do we really have to wait for a social and political explosion to take place?
It’s difficult, of course, to assess this. But I think our interests mainly involve promoting peaceful processes in political competition as well as openness in the media. We always call on our partners and friends to observe these elementary principles. If we see that they aren’t being observed and are clearly being violated, however, this inevitably has an impact on our relations, even with those countries with which we have productive and mostly friendly relations.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin recently had some harsh things to say about the WTO, basically saying that we should stop observing the rules that are being imposed on us since we won’t be accepted anyway. In actuality, more Russians don’t understand if we need to join the WTO or not. For the bureaucratic elite, this seems like a very important, even symbolic, sign that the ‘reset in relations’ has in fact taken place. Do you think Russia and the WTO need each other? Is there hope that the process of Russia joining this organisation will actually be successful?
First, it must be admitted that the process of Russian joining the WTO has continued for 16-17 years. So it’s clearly understandable that some people have run out of patience. We also believe that it’s long past time for Russia to join the WTO. The fact that Russia is the largest economy outside of the WTO speaks for itself about the abnormality of the current situation. And this is why our governments and our presidents have been working very closely over the last two years in order to accelerate this process: our bilateral issues were for the most part resolved some six to eight months ago. Now we see that Russia has a real chance to join the WTO this year. Why is this important? It is symbolic, of course. But it’s not just the symbolism that is important. Russia should be inside of the organisation when decisions are made there that impact its economic development. Russia shouldn’t be in a nearby room listening as the WTO passes regulations that directly affect its economic progress. Americans, and I think our European partners, want Russia to have a voice inside the WTO, because we see that the economy here is developing rather well. We certainly want to support market institutions in your country. I think that joining the WTO will strengthen these institutions, which will have a very positive impact on your future economic prosperity.
Prime Minister Putin and Vice President Biden discussed the truly sensational issue of possibly cancelling visas between Russia and the U.S. How does your country view this major development in the situation and what could it lead to?
I would like to live to see a time when there isn’t any visa regime between the U.S. and Russia. Of course, this isn’t going to happen overnight, but it is logical and correct as a long-term, ambitious goal. What we are expecting in the near future is an increase in the duration of our bilateral visas. We have been working rather intensively with our Russian partners on an agreement that we hope will be signed in the near future.
For what period would a long-term visa be issued?
For two years. The global standard for us is generally ten years. But for starters, two years would be a very logical and nice step.
Mr Obama actively used the Internet and social networks during his campaign. Now a new election cycle is beginning. How do you feel about the prospects of this election campaign? How do you assess this technology?
Obama’s first election campaign, of course, was distinguished by the fact that it used the capabilities of the Internet more broadly than ever before, both to organise Obama supporters and to collect money. Since our election campaigns cost such a colossal amount of money – hundreds of millions of dollars – the process of collecting this money should be as transparent, predictable and lawful as possible. The fact that this process is transparent contributes to the increase in campaign donations via the Internet. I think this trend will continue and, in terms of using the Internet in the next campaign, the Republicans won’t lag behind the Democrats, who were better at this during the last elections.
Has there been any transformation in the approach of the American establishment to nuclear energy after what happened and continues to occur at the Fukushima plant in Japan?
The accidents at the Japanese nuclear power plants led to the double-checking of all nuclear power plants in the U.S. We believe that there simply is no alternative to nuclear energy and the main objective is to ensure maximum safety while using it. Every time there is a Three Mile Island, a Chernobyl or a Fukushima, we are obligated to double-check all these systems and take into consideration the lessons of these accidents when developing new generations of reactors. The United States and Russia have signed the 123 Agreement for Peaceful Civilian Nuclear Energy Cooperation, and it has already taken effect. This agreement has opened huge prospects for our cooperation, including the construction of new, safe nuclear reactors and increasing the degree of security in other spheres of nuclear energy.