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Policy Podcast: U.S. Efforts to Promote Freedom and Democracy Around the World

Department Spokesman Sean McCormack Interviews Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor David Kramer 
Washington, DC
April 10, 2008

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MR. MCCORMACK: Assistant Secretary of State David Kramer, welcome --


MR. MCCORMACK: -- to the Policy Podcast. First, let me ask you to talk a little bit about yourself. You’re new to the job in the Democracy, Rights and Labor Bureau. Talk a little bit about how you came to this job.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRAMER: I am in my third week in the job. I’ve been in the State Department since the start of the Bush Administration. I came in -- I’m a political appointee -- and started working for Paula Dobriansky, who is the Under Secretary for Global Affairs. I served as her senior advisor, then moved to the Policy Planning Office here at State, which works for the Secretary.

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me ask you where you -- where were you before you came into government?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRAMER: Before joining the government?


ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRAMER: I moved to Washington in ’93, started working in the think-tank world at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, at the Carnegie Endowment after that, and then for a year served at something called the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, which technically was my first government job. And that was doing analysis of, in particular, the merger of the U.S. Information Agency into the State Department. And then joined in 2001, and from Policy Planning went to be Deputy Assistant Secretary in the European-Eurasian Bureau working on Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova, four countries that kept me very busy. A lot of fun. Some headaches and frustration, but it was great working with folks in that bureau, in particular, Dan Fried, who is the Assistant Secretary, a great guy. And then I was offered this job that I’m currently in now, and it seemed like a terrific opportunity, and so I figured it’s an opportunity that doesn't come along very often; I had to seize it.

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, right. And certainly, with the countries in your portfolio -- Belarus, Russia and others -- there were human rights issues, so it’s not --


MR. MCCORMACK: So you were bringing that experience to your --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRAMER: There is some continuity between these jobs, absolutely.

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me ask you about the role of the Bureau of Democracy, Rights and Labor in the policymaking process. I think it would be helpful for people to understand how this fits into the policy process. And you know, give us your honest assessment about -- do you feel, as part of the discussions about policy with respect to, you know, any country, whether it’s China, Russia or any other country, you know, is your voice heard in the policymaking process?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRAMER: I think so. And as you know, DRL, as my bureau is called, is what falls into the functional bureau category. The regional bureaus which handle -- the one I used to be in, Europe-Eurasia, East Asia, all of those -- you know them -- are often viewed as where the action really rests. They deal with the day-to-day issues, with emergencies. But the functional bureaus, I think, serve an extremely important function. DRL is one. There are other bureaus that focus on other issues, too.

MR. MCCORMACK: My bureau, Public Affairs, is one of them.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRAMER: Your bureau. The International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Bureau; Oceans, Environment and Science. They serve very useful and important purposes to focus on specific areas that the regional bureaus do cover in their day-to-day management of issues, but sometimes in the larger scheme of things the regional bureaus aren’t able to keep a full focus on, say democracy, human rights and labor issues, in my case. I think over the years the bureau I’m in, DRL, has had an effective way of making sure we have a seat at the table, weight in on policy issues. I think there have been ebbs and flows with that. I’m coming in at the end of the current Bush Administration, so I realize that there are certain things already in train in place. But my goal is to promote what I think is one of the keystones of the President’s agenda, and that’s the promotion of democracy, freedom, human rights around the world. And I think given that not only the President feels very strongly about that agenda, the Secretary feels very strongly about that agenda, that DRL and my bureau have a real good place at the table. I’m in all these policy discussions. So I actually feel good about that.

We produce the Human Rights Report every year. It came out in February -- actually, in March this year. And that always gets a lot of attention. The bureau also has offices that deal with issues such as religious freedom. We’ve produced an anti-Semitism report recently and we also provide grants to organizations, to NGOS, to try to carry out the advancement of democracy and respect for human rights, labor rights, women’s issues, all of those things, rule of law, promoting free and fair elections. Those issues, I think, really get to the core of what we are about as a country, as Americans. And I think they also get to the core of what is in U.S. national interest. So I think based on all of that, we do have a seat at the table.

There is, of course -- there are other issues -- security issues, economic issues. And the way I look at it is we’re not looking to trade off democracy, human rights because of other issues. There are some issues that simply rise to the fore more. But in my view, we need to try to push on all these because they intersect. They go hand in hand. And you enhance the prospects for growth of democracy around the world if you’re also making sure that a democratic government has the economic means to provide for its population, that the standards of living are rising, that they’re secure from outside threats. So all of these issues, I think, go very closely together.

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me pick up on the democracy part of your title. And you talk a little bit about some of the programs that you have on the ground. Give us some examples of some of those programs and how those relate to your priorities for the remaining nine, ten months of this administration.


MR. MCCORMACK: So, you know, give people a little insight as to how the policy decisions that you take and the policy positions that we have manifest themselves on the ground, and how do we really effect change.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRAMER: Yeah, in several ways, and let me sort of break it down this way. There are long-term investments that we make for countries so that they develop independent institutions based on rule of law, and that’s very important. We also have more short-term programs that focus on, say, elections. But even there, we try not to focus simply on election day. Nepal, for example, is having an election today. We try to make sure that the campaign leading up to the elections is well-organized; gives candidates the opportunity to appear on TV, radio; to campaign freely; to organize their parties in a free way. And so we try to provide the groundwork so that countries, when they have elections, actually have a free and fair and competitive election that would pass the international standards and tests.

MR. MCCORMACK: So, now, how does that happen, though? For example, you know, allow -- getting a state to allow multiple candidates, opposition candidates to have access to the media -- how do you go about doing that? And I imagine in some places that is not an easy task.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRAMER: That is an understatement.


ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRAMER: In two ways. The first is the diplomatic, where the embassy and the respective capital weighs in with government officials. It also reaches out to people in the opposition. The regional bureaus do the same when they go there, or they call in the local ambassadors here. And our bureau does the same.

Then we also have in addition to the diplomatic the programmatic side, where our bureau works with NGOs -- for example the National Endowment for Democracy, the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems -- those kinds of NGOs, and there are many others that we work with that focus on working with host governments in trying to make sure that the infrastructure is in place so that a country can have a good, free and fair election. They work with political parties in training. We had an active program with Pakistan, for example, where, in Pakistan, in February, we saw what was actually a very decent election there. And we saw an outcome that I think gives us reason for hope where we can engage with Pakistan in helping it deepen its democratic development.

There have been places where we haven’t seen such good results, in Zimbabwe, for example, where we did provide funding for organizations to be there to try to monitor and observe the election; and still, after now, what, ten days after the election, the Central Election Commission still hasn’t released results there. There’s great concern about what Mugabe is going to do in Zimbabwe. There were, in fact, even people associated with some of the NGOs that we have worked with who were detained by Zimbabwe authorities. We made sure we did everything we could to secure their release and get them out of the country.

So those are maybe two examples where we actively engage in sometimes not the most hospitable environments, certainly in the case of Zimbabwe, and we try to make a difference and let people know even under difficult circumstances that they have a friend and an ally in the United States, that we support those who are fighting for democracy around the world. In my previous job, we certainly did that with people from Belarus, where we brought, in November of last year, a group of civil society and opposition leaders to Washington. They met with the Secretary, they met with the President, and they went back, I think, feeling with -- went back with a renewed feeling that the United States stands with the people of Belarus. We have real problems and tensions with the Government of Belarus, but they left knowing that the United States is not an enemy of Belarus. And I think that’s an extremely important message that we sent.

MR. MCCORMACK: Let me switch to a more personal note, a bit of a non sequitor.


MR. MCCORMACK: You are a member of Red Sox Nation, right?


MR. MCCORMACK: So talk to us a little bit about your predictions for the Red Sox in defending their title this year.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRAMER: Well, since you, too, are a member of Red Sox Nation --


ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRAMER: -- I think we’re probably getting a little cocky. A few World Series victories in a few short years after an 86-year drought.


ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRAMER: Of course, they’re going to win again. You know, I can’t believe you asked the question. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCORMACK: Right, right.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRAMER: The challenge now is that they start repeating, instead of having two years in between World Series wins. So I think that’s the challenge. (Inaudible) become like the Patriots.

MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, that’s true. But you know, I think Red Sox fans who have lived through both the good and the lean years need to remember that any year could once again be 1917.


MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, right. (Laughter.)


MR. MCCORMACK: Right, exactly. But that was a great moment. They had Bill Buckner back to Fenway.


MR. MCCORMACK: It was a great moment.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRAMER: Yes, exactly, exactly.

MR. MCCORMACK: All right. Well, David Kramer, thanks very much for joining us.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY KRAMER: A pleasure, Sean. Thanks for having me.

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