Interview with Ekho Moskvy RadioBarry F. Lowenkron, Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
Interview with Alexei Venediktov, Editor-in-Chief, Ekho Moskvy Radio
January 19, 2006
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: Good afternoon. Thank you very much. Iím delighted to be here.
QUESTION: I want to tell you that Barry knows twelve words in Russian, and with such baggage he arrived to Russia. I would like to learn how many new words he will bring after the negotiations in Russia to the U.S. Ė and two years from now and what these words will be.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: Well, the words I have are not in Russian because I do not know Russian that well, but the words are ďpartnership,Ē the words are ďcooperation,Ē and ďbeing able to speak frankly about issues that concern both countries.Ē
QUESTION: For exampleÖ
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: Well, for exampleÖ I would say two examples. The first is to see how we can advance cooperation with United Nations reform, we are at a stage, a delicate stage of negotiations over a new Human Rights Council and we would like the support of the Russian government on a number of proposals that could help us make a Human Rights Council smaller, more effective, and credible Ė something that the Secretary General Kofi Annan has set as one of his main goals in UN reform, and we can talk about it later if youíd like. But second also to talk about the NGO law that President Putin has now signed and to exchange views on some of the concerns raised by non-governmental organizations that are here and those in the United States as well.
QUESTION: Barry, but I have to say that in reading your article that you have written on the 10th of December and that Iíve studied it, you say strange things for Russians. I will quote your article. Please comment on it. You write: ďWe, the United States, have to call to response to those democracies that deviate from their promises, obligations.Ē What does it mean: ďWe have to call them to response.Ē
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: The issue of calling countries to response is the issue to sit down and to have a frank discussion with them to raise questions and to get at the source of what are the difficulties between our two countries. One thing that I need to say at the outset is that I come to Russia to see how we can better cooperate. This is Russia, this is not the Soviet Union, so I do not come here to lecture, I come here to discuss.
QUESTION: Well, look, the leadership of the United States, in particular, your boss, Ms. Condoleezza Rice, very toughly expressed herself on the changes of policy of the Russian authorities in terms of democracy. What has to be discussed in this context?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: Well, let me focus on the NGO issue because thatís the current issue in the news. We feel, and we are not alone, we and other countries feel that non-governmental organizations are here to stay; theyíve become a permanent feature throughout the globe. And what they do is they help to advance civil society, they help to raise issues when they think that their own governments are not doing well. Let me say that I get many e-mails and phone calls every day as the Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor from non-governmental organizations raising issues that happen in Russia, China, and the Middle East, but above of all - raising issues that are happening in the United States and about American policy. So we see this as a very important fabric in terms of developing civil society. And so, itís in that spirit that I wanted to come and talk. Not in terms of the law - the law is now passed, but in terms of implementing the law, because there are several questions about how itís going to be implemented, how non-governmental organizations will be registered, and how they will work.
QUESTION: Donít you consider this is interference into the internal affairs of a sovereign state, your partner the Russian Federation, don't you think so?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: I do not see supporting non-governmental organizations as interference in the internal affairs of Russia or of the United States for that matter.
QUESTION: Very simply you know of course why this law has been adopted and what events inspired it. It was inspired and instigated by the understanding of the Russian government that it is precisely non-governmental organizations and American taxpayers who helped to make the orange revolution in Ukraine happen.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: I think you, or those who believe that, subscribe to non-governmental organizations a kind of power that they donít have and donít want. The situation in Ukraine was one of open debate, one of people wanting to ensure that elections would be balanced, free, and fair, and non-governmental organizations, I think did play a role. But I want to be very straightforward on this point and straightforward that non-governmental organizations do not create these kinds of changes. What they do is they come in to help political forces in terms of monitoring, in terms of helping with media, in terms of what we call making a level playing field, in terms of a political competition. Thatís the yeast of democracy.
QUESTION: You specially evaded part of my question related to the money of American taxpayers for the orange revolution?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: Well, three points. Point number one: many non-governmental organizations never come to the U.S. Government for money. Point number two: the money that some of these non-governmental organizations get, they get openly, they get in the context of a debate in the Congress. A lot of times the money that goes through my bureau, for example, goes directly to these organizations. So, itís not like they come back and they say to me: ďBoss, what do you want?Ē
QUESTION: You know, as President Putin says: ďWho pays, he orders the music.Ē
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: No, the non-governmental organizations with their money do not dictate the political futures of countries; they simply do not. Unless you have an open debate, unless you have parties and movements that ask fundamental questions about their own political future, and they come to the West, not just to the United States, and they say: ďCan you give us technical assistance, for example, in terms of how we can monitor elections, or how we can organize ourselves as a party?Ē If you donít have that at the grassroots, the non-governmental organizations can play no role.
QUESTION: Barry, donít you agree with such an approach: Those who pay, dictate.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: No, because at the end of the day when you look at a country like Ukraine and the amount of money that non-governmental organizations put in, itís pitiful. Itís absolutely pitiful. In terms of what they did: they put people on the ground, dedicated individuals who had experience in helping, training and working with other local non-governmental organizations to develop democratic methods. So, if you take a look at the amount of money, it really is pitiful.
QUESTION: I want to ask you a clarifying question. I think you would support the decision the Russian parliament has already adopted: Russia will invest in non-governmental organizations abroad and in the CIS countries, is this correct? What do you think? You agree to that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: The issue comes down to this Ė we invest in non-governmental organizations, no, we provide funding to non-governmental organizations. For the Russian government and the Russian Duma to provide money to non-governmental organizations, thatís fine. What we donít do, is we donít insist that non-governmental organizations register with us, we donít insist that non-governmental organizations work only on our agenda, we donít insist that non-governmental organizations only can get money from the government. There are many, many other avenues for them. There is, I think, a critical difference, a critical distinction that we need to make.
QUESTION: Many prominent members of Congress, Senator McCain in particular, said that after passing the Bill on non-governmental organizations we have to consider the issue of the chairmanship of Russia of the G-8. What is the position of the State Department and your position, since the law is signed and in three months it will be enacted?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: The position of the State Department and the position of the Administration is that we go ahead with the G-8 and with the Russian government hosting the G-8. And I say this is for several reasons. I say first, the G-8 itself lays out a very, very solid agenda of cooperation among the Eight, and so the Russian government has come with their initiatives and their proposals. Issues dealing with energy, issues dealing with health, issues dealing with an aging population and the impact on our societies, and each one of these is worthy for full discussion. In terms of the G-8 beyond that, I do think that itís important that we speak frankly about where problems arise, and the issue for example of the non-governmental organizations. But the model that I take is the model that has worked for many, many years, which is you donít say that you have to have progress in this issue or else weíre not going to come to this conference, this issue is a linkage. What we want to do is see progress on the agenda that Russia has laid out for the other seven in the G-8 context, but we also need to frankly address these democratic issues. So our bottom line is: we support the G-8, we support the Russian government hosting the G-8, but we will also bring issues that concern us to the table, one of the reasons Iím here in Moscow.
QUESTION: I remind that we have Barry Lowenkron, Assistant Secretary of State for the United States. I want to quote once again your article and to ask for an explanation. You write: ďIn the United States and other democracies there is a certain obligation to protect human rights.Ē What are the instruments of the United States for protecting human rights in Liberia, in Iran, in Bolivia, and in Russia?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: The most basic instrument is the instrument of the voice. The instrument of the voice to say that we can stand with you. Because I have felt, and when I was sworn into this position by the Secretary, I said that in some of these countries the voices of freedom, the voices of human rights are very lonely, but they must never feel that that they are alone. So, it starts with that. Second, I think it all depends on which country you are talking about. We have a saying in the United States: cookie-cutter. There is no cookie-cutter approach; there is no one size fits all for every country. So, I do not put Russia, for example, in the same category as Iran, I never would do that. In Iran what you have as you well know, you have a president Ahmadinejad, who has said some outrageous statements about the Holocaust, about Israel, and who was also taking Iran in a very serious turn on its nuclear issue. And here again I would just say as an aside, an area where Russia and the United States are increasingly cooperating. So, it starts with voice, it starts with saying how we can use our diplomatic tools to try to help them in the context of human rights. And of course, the voice canít be just the voice of the United States, we want have the voice of organizations; we want to have the voice of key allies. One example is Burma. We found we have had a good conversation at the UN Security Council over the horrible state of affairs in Burma.
QUESTION: Nevertheless, you said a very peculiar thing in your article where you mentioned the examples where human rights are advanced and triumphant. You called the elections held on Palestine territories free and honest. What did you imply?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: What did I imply?
QUESTION: What was on your mind?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: What was on my mind was the fact that for the first time you had the municipal elections in Palestine which were free and which were fair, and you have when you look at the Palestinian community you have a very robust and very active debate about their future and about the need for growing democracy. You have other elements, other Palestinian voices that also want to use the ballot box. But our view on that is that you cannot say the ballot on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and the bullet Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.
QUESTION: At the same time, I want to say that on this particular chair where you are sitting was the Ambassador of Iran: you have an honorary place. And he said, ďIran is a democratic country,Ē they also have fair and democratic elections, they also observe human rights, and there are countries in the Middle East where there is apartheid, where the human rights are not observed meaning Israel. So, everybody is bragging with democracy, everybody is calling their elections ďmost fairĒ even when they have 102% of votes. My question to you, Barry, how do you discriminate between honest and dishonest, true and not true, and who would be the arbiter? The United States? The United Nations?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: Let me say, I think there are two things that I have in common with the Iranian official that was here. One was that we sat at this chair, and two Ė maybe he had a cup of tea as well but Iím not sure. To say that the presidential election in Iran was fair and honest - after the Iranian regime banished over 100 reform candidates that wanted to run, after the Iranian regime said that women can not run, after they established a playing field that was so uneven, that was so biased, that led to the inevitable result and the triumph of Ahmadinejad, and to say this was free, fair, and honest is frankly an absurdity. I have to say that quite bluntly. In terms of who decides Ė we donít decide, the United States does not sit in some sort of a throne and look down at all countries and say; youíve been fair, youíve been unfair. One of the things that weíve done in elections is that we wait for the OSCE, we wait for the monitors, we wait to get reports from them and from other countries and from observers before we reach our conclusion. But itís important also to stress that itís not just about what happens on the election day, itís how governments structure an election. So going back to the issue of Iran, if you say half the population, women, canít run this is not going to be free and open election.
QUESTION: Letís come to another topic, Barry. I would ask all ladies to diminish the sound of the radio as the ladies are more and more playing a prominent role in winning the elections. This is the sign of what, in your opinion? Too many votes raised that there should be quotas for ladies in parliament, perhaps the quotas in Europe, quotas in Senate should be introduced. Since your boss is a lady you are in a difficult position. Is it a progress or is it not a progress?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: First, let me say that my current boss, the Secretary of State, at one point said: ďI canít remember the last time there was a white male as Secretary of State.Ē I think itís terrific, I think that the more the better. I think the First Lady Laura Bush put it, I think, quite nicely saying if you deny half the women of the world the right for full access to the political process and for full access to participate in society across the board itís like a bird trying to fly with only one wing. So, Iím saying this out of conviction not just because my boss happens to be a female.
QUESTION: I recollect that this is a subordinate of Condoleezza Rice, Barry Lowenkron. Another question. Our listeners on the same topic ask the same questions. Oleg, the civil servant from Moscow, Grigory from Moscow, Kantemirov from Yakutsk are asking a little bit tricky question, but I join them. Barry, tell us, the listeners ask, the United States is so much interested in the growth of democracy primarily in the countries that have big supplies of oil and gas?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: Oh, they are primarily interested in countries that have big supplies of oil and gas?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: Last time I checked there is no oil and gas on Cuba, there is no oil and gas in Burma. We do not divide the world between those who have energy and therefore we should press democracy, and those who do not have energy and therefore we do not have to press democracy. I can tell you now that my bureau, the bureau that I had for the Secretary of State, we literally cover the world, every single country. And the Congress has mandated that every year we do a human rights report on all 191 countries.
QUESTION: Barry, before that you were occupying such specific positions as being Senior Assistant at CIA, you worked in the National Security Council, you were Director of the National Intelligence Council's Analytic Staff. Some people call you an intelligence officer. Does your former work help you to protect the human rights or does it slightly prevent you from that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: I donít think it prevents me at all. People have asked me this question, American non-governmental organizations asked me that question when I was nominated by the President. I have had thirty years of government service, I actually started and I spent the first seven years doing public diplomacy at that time at the US Information Agency. I worked at the State Department for Secretary of State Schultz, I might add during the 1980s, the time of glasnost and perestroika.
QUESTION: Are you that old?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: Iím so old. And then I worked in the National Security Council, I was privileged to spend two years working for Colin Powell when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I worked in the National Security Council under President Clinton, and then in the summer of 1993 I was offered the position to help the CIA Director James Woolsey to help write his Congressional testimony and major speeches. Then I did analytic work, I spent my time at the CIA doing analysis, writing reports, and then I went back to the State Department. So, as we say, Iíve done the government circuit for thirty years.
QUESTION: Why then are you dealing with human rights? Was it a suggestion or was it one of your convictions that this becoming an important issue today? Or you could not deny this suggestion as a civil servant?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: No, I actually was not only honored to be nominated, but I was excited at the prospect. And it was not just because of the notion of something recent, some sort of conversion of my part. I think that if you take a look at the course of history, particularly in an inter-dependant world, a world in which globalization carries much good but also much evil, I think is important that all nations, not just the United States, all nations and all organizations speak up to defend human rights, speak up to explain what they mean by democracy and partnership in democracy. I think this has become the current core element of American foreign policy, but it goes back to the founding of the American Republic. For American foreign policy not to deal with these issues is unnatural.
QUESTION: Itís no secret that in the time of the Cold War the Soviet Union and the United States had friends and partners in countries where democracy and human rights were non-existent, and this was not spoken of either by the Russian nor American leadership. ďHe is a son of a bitch, but he is our son of a bitch,Ē is an American Presidentís phrase, not the Russian General Secretaryís phrase. Say, has anything changed since then or we still have these sons of bitches that are useful, still useful to the United States and to Russia, but better to the United States. Whatís your opinion?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: My opinion is that, I think what is changed, that we need to talk with Russia and with other countries and say: ďJoin us together and deal with all the other sons of bitches that are still around.Ē (laughter)
QUESTION: Is that a threat?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: No. (laughter)
QUESTION: For the sons of bitches?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: Well, let me tell you, if the G-8 gets together, if the Security Council gets together, if the United Nations reform its Human Rights Council, then I think it will be a very, very powerful voice for what you and I call the sons of bitches that are still around.
QUESTION: Who will define whose children they are, these sons of bitches? He is the son of a bitch, this is half-son of a bitch, and this is no son of a bitch at all and this one has become now a son of a bitch.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: Iíve never been good in terms of family trees and genealogy, but I think that sitting down and having conversations with our friends, our allies, and our partners, I think we get a pretty good sense for example now with the current government of Iran that we have a mutual problem, we in the West, in the region, globally, we have a mutual problem. I think we could say we all have a problem in terms of North Korea for example. So, itís not that hard. Itís not that hard identifying the son of the bitch, itís hard deciding what are the appropriate policies to deal with these countries, with these regimes.
QUESTION: Aleksandr Lukashenko? On your classification, whose son is he?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: Well, I would like the opportunity to actually meet him and ask him if he truly is a son of a bitch as you would put it. But we have tried to, we have approached the Belarusian government, we have asked for appointments to see him, to enter into a dialogue, because it begins with a dialogue, and the answer weíve gotten is ďno.Ē And I don't think thatís to the benefit of the Belarussian people. We are going to try again. We are going to try to make our approach, we and other countries, sit down and have a conversation with him about the state of democracy or a lack of democracy and basic rights in Belarus.
QUESTION: And the last question to you, Barry. I recollect that Barry Lowenkron, Assistant Secretary of State of the United States for Democracy and Human Rights is with us. You two times specially mentioned the reforming of certain organizations of the United Nations. There are many people who consider that the United Nations has turned into an impotent organization, senseless and useless. Some people think that. In what sense, you think, and in what direction should change be done. In the Army they say ďdo it once.Ē The first step, what would be the first step to improve?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: Well, Iím not going to pick one, Iím sorry, but I will pick three. One is to get Human Rights Council correct, as I mentioned. Second is to implement the decision to develop a Peace Building Commission. This would be a commission that would, after the UN Security Council acts, that could bring together all the various parts of the United Nations departments in order to carry out peace keeping and peace building missions. And third itís a fundamental reform, a structural reform, of the United Nations; so we could act quicker, respond quicker to crisis. I know itís difficult, I know that people have said why go to the UN or when you go to the UN there is paralysis. If there were no UN today, the first thing, I would say, is we need to build one.
QUESTION: And still another question, as you today met with Mr. Grigoriy Karasin, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. What was the basic theme of your discussion if not to speak about human rights, you always speak about human rights, what specifically did you discuss with him?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: Actually, I have to say that I came late to that meeting because I went and met another Russian official, my counterpart.
QUESTION: I thought your car was not starting because of the frost.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: No, no, no. I met another Russian official because we have not had a human rights dialogue with Russia in a very, very long time. And then I joined Deputy Minister Karasinís meeting at the end, at the tail end.
QUESTION: And satisfy my personal curiosity, Barry. Back to ďsons of bitches.Ē Mr. Qadhafi, where is he passing, to what family is he transiting?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: Heís on a hopeful road, because of renouncing weapons of mass destruction, but there are still a number of issues that we all know, issues of opening up his political system, issues of allowing freedom to breathe in these countries. He has a way to go. But there was a very positive step when he gave up his weapons of mass destruction.
QUESTION: And the final question. Whatís your opinion in the last decade on the movement in Russia? Where is it drifting? We see the trend, we know where it is, what is the trend, in your opinion, moving to today?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: I see Russia as having a very dynamic society, a society, which Iím told, now has nearly 500,000 local non-governmental organizations. I see a spirit of public debate, but I still see Russian democracy evolving. And I appreciate that. Nothing happens overnight, nobody comes with a script and says you must do this and follow exactly this script; there is no specific American model. Yes, there are concerns and as friends we need to raise them. We raise them privately, we raise them here in Moscow and in Washington, and there is a lot of work that needs to be done. But we will not be the ultimate judges of how the work is done; that will be the Russian people that will make that final judgment.
QUESTION: What is your understanding of the human rights in Russia and in the United States. Do we have the same standards?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: Let me say at the outset that I marvel at the fact that Iím now answering your fifth last question. (laughter)
QUESTION: Condoleezza Rice had seven last questions, and you are only her deputy. (laughter)
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: Thatís right; because she is Secretary of State she can have seven. Now, our bottom line is Ė I think we do believe in representative government, we do believe in open press, we do believe in the right to express ourselves. The key thing is implementation. Itís not just to say these are our beliefs, but what are the structures that you develop to protect those beliefs. Thatís critical.
QUESTION: I would ask no more questions to Barry Lowenkron, otherwise he would equal his boss on the number of last questions and she might not like that. Thank you very much, Barry, for being our guest. Come again, I have many questions for you. I have filled many papers with questions to you. Bye.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY LOWENKRON: Thank you very much. Goodbye.