The United States and the World
With Philip Reeker
Deputy Spokesman of the Department of State
Friday, July 20, 2001; 2 p.m. EDT
Philip Reeker briefs washingtonpost.com readers on the latest news from the State Department just as he briefs reporters in Washington on a regular basis. He will present and explain the U.S. government's position on the conflict in Macedonia, the global warming conference in Bonn, events in the Middle East and other international issues of interest to readers.
Reeker, deputy spokesman since May 2000, oversees the Offices of Press Relations, Regional Media Outreach, and Foreign Press Centers in the State Department. He joined the Foreign Service with the U.S. Information Agency in March 1992, serving in Budapest, Hungary and then Skopje, Macedonia.
The transcript follows.
Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control
over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
washingtonpost.com: When the State Department approached washingtonpost.com with the idea of having Philip Reeker, deputy spokesman for the U.S. State Department, come online, our immediate response was positive. Government spokesman regularly talk to reporters; why not give the public that kind of access too?
That said, readers should understand the sort of restrictions that are built into the spokesman's job. The spokesman, of course, is articulating U.S. government policy, not his or her personal opinions. Their job is to explain, not to argue. With that in mind we will now start the questions.
Herndon, Va.: Since you're an "old USIA hand," what's your view on how well the State-USIA merger has worked?
Philip Reeker: In October it will be two years since the U.S. Information Agency functions were integrated into the State Department. Overall I think the process has gone very well. The new State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs has seamlessly continued the vast array of important exchanges (like Fulbright), and the International Information Programs Office continues to "tell America's story to the World." But the synergies are fantastic -- public diplomacy officers are now an integral part of policy planning within each State Department geographic and functional/thematic Bureau. Here in the Bureau of Public Affairs we have integrated the Office of Foreign Press Centers, so that our domestic and overseas messages are even better coordinated. This is absolutely crucial in this day of "instant communication" and "24 hour news," where the first reaction to world events often comes from our podium or the Secretary of State's press conference, and not from a direct contact at one of our Embassy's.
washingtonpost.com: Right now there seems to be some ambiguity about the U.S. government's position on European proposals to send observers to monitor efforts to get a ceasefire in Israel and the occupied territories. Does the U.S. government support such proposals? What does the State Department envision these observers doing?
Philip Reeker: There is no ambiguity here at all. We fully endorse the G-8 Foreign Ministers' Statement, issued July 19, which says "we believe that third-party monitoring accepted by both parties would serve their interests in implementing the Mitchell Report." Just this morning, Secretary Powell said monitoring must be "with the agreement of both sides -- because that is the only monitoring that will work...they need not be troops. They could be civilian observers, they could be representatives of the trilateral security committee that works there."
How often does the secretary go into the "heartland" to speak to local folks?
How tough is it to get time on his schedule to do this?
Philip Reeker: Today marks exactly six months since Secretary Powell (and the Bush administration) came into office. The Secretary is keenly interested in getting to the "heartland," as he did before he returned to public service as Secretary of State. These first months have, of course, been very busy -- the Secretary has met with well over a hundred foreign leaders here in Washington; he's spent a lot of time talking to Congress; he's visited the United Nations in New York twice (once to speak about HIV/AIDS); he's traveled to the Middle East (twice), Africa, Europe (a couple of times), and departs Sunday for Asia (Japan, Vietnam, South Korea, China, and Australia); he has assembled a top team here at the Department. So, it is tough to get time on his schedule. But the Secretary speaks to a lot of groups that visit the department from all over the country, particularly America's young people, and we have plans for domestic travel in the coming months. Stay tuned!
Silver Spring, Md.: You and Mr. Boucher were also the department's spokesmen during the last months of the Clinton administration. How has your job changed under the Bush team? Do you find it difficult to explain new policies that are often predicated on the assumption that the policies you used to defend were wrong?
Philip Reeker: American foreign policy tends to operate on a bipartisan basis -- based on what is best for America's security, prosperity, and long-standing values, working closely with our friends and allies. As career diplomats, Ambassador Boucher and I have worked under different Secretaries of State and different presidents. (Did you know that Ambassador Boucher had the job of spokesman before? -- he handled transition from Secretary Baker through Secretary Eagleberger and into the tenure of Secretary Christopher.) So our jobs remain much the same: trying (I hope successfully!) to explain to the American public (and indeed the world) American foreign policy, and why foreign policy impacts all of us.
San Francisco, Calif.: Why alienate the government and people of Russia by expanding NATO to include Baltic nations? Doing this undermines Russia's government and makes it less likely to cooperate on other issues of greater interest to the USA, such as Iraq.
Philip Reeker: The door to NATO membership remains open to Euro-Atlantic countries willing and able to further the principles of the North Atlantic alliance and contribute to trans-Atlantic security. We welcome Russian President Putin's clear statement on July 18 that Russia does not see NATO as a hostile organization. President Bush has said that Russia is no longer our enemy and there is no reason to view each other with suspicion. NATO already has a productive dialogue with Russia and we would welcome greater Russian participation in NATO's Partnership for Peace. This certainly does not undermine the Russian government.
San Diego, Calif.: The Einhorn extradition brought to mind the situation with Samuel Sheinbein, who fled to Israel after alleged involvement in a murder. What is Mr. Sheinbein's current status?
Also, please comment on the State Department's current attitude toward extradition in general.
Philip Reeker: Samuel Sheinbein was convicted by an Israeli court for the murder of Alejandro Tello, and he was sentenced in August 1999 to 24 years in prison. He is currently serving this sentence in the Ayalon prison in Israel.
The State Department works closely with the Justice Department on matters relating to extradition, and each case is examined on its own merits.
Sanford, Fla.: Why isn't the State Department doing anything about the 3,500 criminal immigrants about to be released. The INS rules state you must have good character to become a U.S. citizen. [edited]
Philip Reeker: Citizenship is really a separate issue unrelated to the cases you refer to in your question (you might want to check with the INS on requirements for becoming a U.S. citizen). But in terms of the people who will soon be released under the recent Supreme Court ruling, the State Department is working closely with the Department of Justice (as Attorney General Ashcroft indicated yesterday) and the INS. This has been a decade-long cooperative effort to bring about return of criminal aliens to their countries of origin.
Washington D.C.: How many people have to die before you butchers at State decide that killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians isn't the best method of opposing Saddam Hussein? Your recent proposal for "smart" sanctions, which the Russians thankfully vetoed, was more of the same nonsense we've seen over and over again: It wouldn't do anything to address the massive poverty your sanctions have caused, so who could afford to buy all these products you were going to let in? And, the list of "dual-use" items that you were pushing contains -- in the words of a high-level UN official -- "every item a modern nation needs to survive." [edited]
Philip Reeker: Iraq is under the control of a brutal dictator -- he is responsible for the suffering of the Iraqi people. There is no indication that without UN sanctions he would be treating his people any differently. Saddam Hussein is well known for savage brutality against his own people, as well as threatening his neighbors, and trying to develop weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, chemical, and biological) which threaten all of us. The sanctions were put in place by the UN Security Council with good reason. Under the current UN "Oil for Food" program -- the largest humanitarian program in the history of the United Nations -- there is plenty of cash from Iraqi oil sales to provide for the Iraqi people. Saddam chooses not to make use of that money to benefit his people. The US-UK proposal for a new "smart sanctions" regime would allow even more goods to reach the Iraqi people, while maintain controls the will prevent Iraq from reconstituting its weapons programs. We will continue to work toward that goal.
Seattle, Wash.: The Bush administration has repeatedly said the ABM treaty is a "relic" of the Cold War that should be discarded. Arguable enough. This week, President Putin suggested NATO -- a military/political alliance aimed at thwarting Soviet westward expansion -- was also a relic and should be disbanded (unless, of course, Russia is allowed to join in the fun!) Your comments? Is NATO still relevant?
Philip Reeker: I talked a bit about that in a previous question. We obviously don't agree with anyone who suggests that NATO should be dissolved. We consider NATO to be the bedrock of the transatlantic relationship and the foundation for peace and prosperity in Europe. Contrary to some early predictions, NATO has adapted extremely well to the post-Cold War world. In 1999 NATO took in three new members -- Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic (who would have guessed that even a few years earlier?). NATO's central role is reflected in the continuing desire of partner countries to join the alliance to enhance their security and contribute to broader European stability.
Washington, D.C.: The AIDS epidemic in Africa and other far off lands seems to have more importance for George Bush and Colin Powell than the HIV/AIDS epidemic here in the U.S. Is this justified -- when black and brown communities here in the U.S. are now burdened with the disease at levels approaching those found in third world nations? Has Kofi Annan convinced your administration that it's more important to attend to HIV/AIDS in Africa than it is important to for example attend to the epidemic at home?
Philip Reeker: President Bush established a joint task force on HIV/AIDS: co-chaired by Secretary of State Powell and Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson. Obviously Secretary Powell and the State Department are focused on those aspects of HIV/AIDS abroad. But I totally disagree with your suggestion that this takes away from domestic efforts -- the U.S. has been a tremendous leader, beginning at home, in advances in research, education and treatment of HIV/AIDS. The president is requesting over $3.4 billion for AIDS research. Our efforts are coordinated and comprehensive. Around the world, the HIV/AIDS epidemic is truly an issue of national security. As Secretary Powell said at the UN Special Session on HIV/AIDS last month in New York: "AIDS respects no man, woman or child. It knows no race, religion, class, or creed...."
Washington, D.C.: What is the U.S. doing to prevent the peace talks in Macedonia from collapsing? How will the U.S. respond if the ceasefire collapses?
Philip Reeker: The U.S. has been working actively with our European Union allies to help Macedonia find a solution to the current crisis there. There can only be a political solution to the crisis -- there is certainly no military solution and we condemn violence and actions by armed extremist groups. Ambassador Jim Pardew, our Special Advisor for the Balkans, is in Skopje working with our Embassy (led by Ambassador Mike Einik) and the EU envoy Mr. Leotard. They are facilitating a negotiation among the legitimate political parties -- ethnic Macedonian and ethnic Albanian -- to help the Macedonian government lead all of the people of Macedonia to a peaceful solution.
I lived in Macedonia for two years, and I know in my heart that ethnic Albanians and ethnic Macedonians can find a solution. They have no tradition of fighting; they have lived together in a "tough neighborhood" for generations. Macedonia has succeeded for the decade of its independence by taking advantage of its natural strengths and building successful civic institutions. Using these democratic structures, Macedonia's leaders -- of all ethnicities -- need to continue at the negotiating table, consider compromises thinking of the future for their children and grandchildren. The United States supports a Europe whole and free, and we want to see a peaceful Macedonia be a part of Europe. We fully support the territorial integrity of Macedonia, its sovereignty and democratic institutions. Now is the time for all the political leaders to work together with President Trajkovski and reach an agreement that addresses the concerns of all sides and respects the rights of all the people of Macedonia.
Cumberland, Md.: As I read the news reports coming out of Macedonia, the impression I am receiving is that the EU and U.S. are not putting enough pressure on the NLA, but are leaning on the Macedonian government through threats of financial blackmail. Why doesn't the U.S. put more pressure on the NLA?
Philip Reeker: President Bush issued an Executive Order prohibiting financial support from anyone in the U.S. to armed Albanian extremists. We have made a number of people involved with armed extremism ineligible for travel to the U.S. There is absolutely no place for this type of violence. We have condemned in the strongest terms the NLA's actions. We have been strong supporters of Macedonia since its independence; President Bush met with Macedonian President Trajkovski at the White House, and we have worked closely with the Macedonian government to facilitate all-party talks to find a political solution to the problems in Macedonia. We have called on the NLA to give up weapons, stop the armed struggle, and reintegrate into civic society to repair the damage done; and for all citizens of Macedonia to work together for a more prosperous, peaceful future.
Washington, D.C.: I was pleased to see Secretary Powell travel to Africa so early in the new administration's term. Are more visits to Africa by high-level administration officials planned for the near future? Also, what are the Bush Administration's policies in terms of helping to resolve some of the continuing conflicts in Africa, such as those in Angola and in Congo?
Philip Reeker: President Bush made very clear that Africa would be a priority for the administration. Secretary Powell's recent travel reflected that; I know he looks forward to having another opportunity to visit Africa in the future. Our new Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Walter Kansteiner, has just wrapped up a "familiarization tour" of African capitals (he's been to Africa many times before coming to the State Department!). The Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Andrew Natsios, is -- as we speak (read/type!) -- in Sudan reviewing the humanitarian crisis there caused by draught and ongoing civil war.
In Angola, we continue to call upon the rebel leader, Jonas Savimbi, to respond to the Government of Angola's invitation to engage in a dialogue over how best to implement the Lusaka Accord and end the war. And we reiterate our call for the rebels to cease activities threatening the lives of civilians, humanitarian assistance workers, and children. Another Lusaka reference, the Lusaka Agreement, is the best way forward for the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In general, implementation of that agreement is proceeding well; the cease-fire is holding. We continue to believe that the Lusaka Agreement offers the best opportunity for achieving peace -- a just and stable peace -- in the region.
washingtonpost.com: That's all the time we have for today. Many thanks to Philip Reeker and everyone who sent in questions.
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