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View All Transcripts: Ask the Ambassador | Ask the State Department

Welcome to "Ask the Ambassador" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to U.S. Ambassadors around the world.

U.S. Ambassador to Portugal Alfred Hoffman, Jr., discussed the Portugal's EU presidency, U.S.-Portugal bilateral relations, and other issues of interest to the transatlantic community.

Alfred Hoffman Jr., U.S. Ambassador to Portugal
Alfred Hoffman, Jr.,
U.S. Ambassador to Portugal

Event Date: 6/26/2007

Martin from Germany writes:

Would you agree that Portugal can be called a model state for democracies-to-be because of its successful and peaceful transformation from a dictatorship into a stable and vital democracy? Can it contribute to the freedom agenda which the United States is promoting in the world?

...and James from South Dakota writes:

Is Portugal still ruled by a monarchy?

Ambassador Hoffman:

Portugal has not been a monarchy since 1910.  Although there are many other examples, I would consider Portugal as one of the outstanding examples of a conversion to democracy. It was successful and peaceful because the revolution of 1974 was essentially peaceful.  Other countries helped pave the way, of course, setting examples for Portugal's peaceful transformation without the trials and tribulations that other countries experienced in Europe and America. I doubt that the process would have been quite as simple for Portugal if this had not been the case.

Now that we are working to establish peaceful transformations to stable and open democratic governments in other parts of the world, we are learning that at times there are social and ethnic differences which aren't always conducive to the establishment of democracy, but of course this does not mean that our efforts are in anyway diminished. Democracy is not a proprietary product of the United States, and the promotion of democracy is the obligation of a free country.  Portugal therefore should take -- and in many cases is taking -- an active role in promoting freedom and a positive environment for establishing human rights.  

Jonathon from Wisconsin writes:

Does Portugal believe that NATO should unilaterally launch humanitarian military interventions, in places like Darfur, to stop an ongoing genocide if it becomes clear that the United Nations is not going to take strong action?

Jonathon also writes:

What role does Portugal believe NATO should play in this post-Cold War world?

...and Kyle from North Carolina writes:

With Portugal seeing their role in NATO increase in the last few years,

politically and militarily, how are they coping with this increased role?

Ambassador Hoffman:

I can't speak for Portugal but Portugal has long demonstrated its strong commitment to NATO as the bedrock of its security policy.  NATO operates by consensus so certainly if NATO were to intervene militarily, I believe Portugal would be a willing participant. The UN and NATO are struggling with the fact that we haven't been asked to go in by the Government of Sudan, which I think is an excuse. No country which is imposing genocide upon its people is going to voluntarily ask outsiders to come in and stop them from doing that.

NATO countries, as well as UN member countries, have to decide how much genocide there has to be before it's enough. And that's a NATO decision and not specifically a Portuguese decision. Frankly, the problem with Darfur is that the country is not located in Europe, like Kosovo. Human misery in Africa is sometimes taken as a fact of life by Westerners, which unfortunately does not diminish the human suffering that's going on. The sooner NATO member countries recognize that, the sooner we will be able to come to a resolution.

Portugal is very forward-looking in its strategy.  Although a small country, because of its history of hundreds of years of exploring the world and understanding the world, it is involved in a responsible way in meeting the crises that are occurring around the world.  Examples include East Timor, Lebanon, and African countries like Angola and Mozambique. There is no doubt that NATO's new missions outside of its geographic borders are whole heartedly supported by Portugal.           

Michael from Washington, DC writes:

Mr. Ambassador,

How much of your time is spent in Portugal?  Of this time, how much is spent in Lisbon?  Do you have the opportunity to travel and see the rest of the country?  Lastly, what advice would give to people (like me) who are considering the Foreign Service as a career?

...and Tom from Colorado writes:

It's been my dream since I was young to be an Ambassador. How do I become one exactly? I am going to study International Relations & Diplomacy this fall upon entering college and plan on getting a Masters. I hope I can be fluent in Arabic, and I'm already fluent in Spanish. Is this a good start?

Ambassador Hoffman:

As Ambassador the majority of my time is spent in Lisbon, but I also spend a lot of time in other cities in Portugal. I travel in order to give speeches, and meet community, media and academic leaders.  I make a special effort to try to present the face of America to young people around Portugal.

For both Michael and Tom, I can say that serving ones' country -- whether being in the Foreign Service or the military -- is certainly a noble cause and a source of great satisfaction. You are doing something that very few people get a chance to do. You are experiencing the most important role that a government can play -- which is to provide for national security and to represent your country's interest in other countries.  

The U.S. Foreign Service has an examination process for candidate officers.  I recommend you check the "careers" section of the Department of State website, www.state.gov.  While it is not an absolute prerequisite, language skills are extremely valuable and I encourage you to keep up the study.  Skills in so-called "hard" languages like Arabic are in particular demand.  

Robert from California writes:

What is your favorite thing about Portugal?

Ambassador Hoffman:

My favorite thing about Portugal is that the Portuguese genuinely love Americans and they think like Americans.

Hervé from Burundi writes:

Do you believe that even as the European Union governing bodies acquire more and more power of decision independent of individual states, that the transatlantic relationship will still have a lot at stake in its relationship with individual European nations?

... and Zack from Kansas writes:

As the EU becomes more deeply integrated and connected politically,

economically, and socially, do you think American foreign policy in Europe

will focus more on the EU as a whole or on individual member states?

Ambassador Hoffman:

Regarding both of your questions on the European Union, I think the individual nation-state will continue to be important in US-EU relations because most countries that belong to the EU are probably motivated by the fact that they will eventually go along with the EU consensus. Consensus is built one nation at a time. In order to influence consensus we will have to try to maintain that close relationships with each individual country so that a harmonic consensus will evolve. This makes bilateral relationships all the more important.    

Pino from Spain writes:

In your opinion, why doesn't Spain consider/respect Portugal ?

Ambassador Hoffman:

Probably because Portugal doesn't kill the bull. Seriously, though, I can't say that Spain does not consider or respect Portugal. Spain and Portugal are like a married couple, for better or for worse. They know their futures are intertwined. It's like a good marriage, or at least a marriage. 

Kevin from Kandahar, Afghanistan writes:

Will the U.S. focus more on relations with Portugal now, with the increase of their military presence in Afghanistan?

Ambassador Hoffman:

I have certainly been advocating that. The U.S. does appreciate the fact that Portugal has sent actual combat troops -- trained, efficient combat troops —to Afghanistan with no caveats. We would like all members of NATO to participate to the fullest extent required under their commitment to NATO and to do so without caveats. We hold Portugal up as a role model for all NATO members.

Dieter from Germany writes:

What would you like Portugal to enforce during its Presidency in the EU?

Do you think Portugal will be able to stimulate any aspects which do matter in the eyes of the U.S.?

...and Elfriede from Germany writes:

Now that the implementation of the European Constitution

seems to have failed, what do you think Portugal will be able to contribute

to the process of the European integration during its presidency?

Ambassador Hoffman:

Portugal, even though it's a small country, is willing to stand up and take a leadership role and be a quiet influence on the behavior of all the members of the EU. The only thing we would like Portugal to do is continue to stand up and be counted.   

Elfriede may have sent this question in before the recent agreement on the future of Europe, brokered by the German government, but certainly Portugal will continue its support for European integration.  There are great efforts underway regarding border controls, migration, and deepened relations with the Middle East, Maghreb states, and sub-Saharan Africa.  Portugal will lead on all of these issues.

George from Florida writes:

How do you feel about Portugal's legalization of small amounts of drugs for personal use?  It has been the law now for several years, and there has been a decrease in crime and overall drug use.  Why wouldn't that work for America?

Ambassador Hoffman:

While the use of so-called "soft drugs" in small amounts has been decriminalized, we've seen no evidence however that this has reduced crime or overall drug use. As a matter of fact, seizures of hard drugs in Portugal have increased dramatically over the last two years. I am not sure that decriminalization has worked in Portugal, and I don't think it would work in America.  

Lieselotte  from Germany writes:

How do you think the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Portugal has developed since the end of the Cold War? Has Portugal been able to contribute to the agenda of freedom in the former communist countries? Would you call Portugal a state which is essentially engaged in today's world?

Ambassador Hoffman:

In the same matter that it did before the Cold War. It has actually been getting continuously stronger since well before the Cold War. In fact, since we established relations in 1791 it has been getting stronger.  It is a unique relationship in that it is one of the longest running relationships we have with any country. 

As to Portugal's engagement in the world, it took the lead with peacekeeping and police forces going into Lebanon, East Timor, Congo, Kosovo, and many others. Following detailed negotiations, Portugal supported the accession of several East European states into the European Union and a number of Eastern European workers have also come to Portugal to work.

Martin from Germany writes:

How would you describe the efforts Portugal is making with regard to the war against terrorism? Are there any aspects which the United States and Portugal treat in a different way?

Ambassador Hoffman:

Portugal has been very active and participatory in the fight against terrorism and participates in a number of international cooperative efforts to ensure the safety and liberty of people around the world.   Most recently, Portugal just joined the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, which helps maintain control of nuclear materials and technology.

Barbara from California writes:

Are you conversant and fluent in Portuguese? Can you speak any other language in addition to English?

Ambassador Hoffman:

I can understand about 50% of what people are saying in Portuguese. I can read in Portuguese and understand most of what I'm reading. I have difficulty speaking in Portuguese when asked a question. I am fairly proficient in French.  

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