Clinton Campaign Responds to JBANC Questionnaire

Karl Altau
February 4, 2008

[JBANC sent questionnaires to the leading Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, asking each for their position on key issues and concerns of the Baltic-American community. JBANC will disseminate the responses from the other candidates as soon as they are received.]

JBANC sent questionnaires to the leading Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, asking each for their positions on key issues and concerns of the Baltic-American community. JBANC will disseminate responses from the other candidates as soon as they are received.

JBANC represents the Estonian American National Council, Inc., the American Latvian Association, Inc. and the Lithuanian American Council, Inc.

JBANC Election 2008 Questionnaire:

1. What policy would you follow in U.S. relations with Russia given Russia’s increasing Soviet-style isolationism, anti-Western propaganda, and anti-democratic actions such as restrictions on a free media and return to a “one-party system”? How will you act to stem Russia’s intimidation of neighboring countries, such as the Baltics, through boycotts, oil supply manipulation, cyber attacks, disinformation, and other means?

The list of issues that divides the United States and Russia is growing longer. In the heart of Europe, where we have worked hard since the end of the Cold War to bury old rivalries and hostilities, we are witnessing renewed disputes between Russia and many of its European neighbors, especially – but, sadly, not only — the Baltic States.

Many of us had hoped that Baltic-Russian relations would improve after Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia joined NATO and the EU. Instead, Russia has stirred nationalist feelings against Estonia, used oil and natural gas as a political weapon in the Baltic Sea region (and more generally across Europe), attempted to block Western diplomatic efforts to keep peace in the Balkans, criticized nations that seek to join the NATO alliance, and made clear that it regards democratic breakthroughs and progress in other countries on its borders as a threat to itself.

President Putin seems intent on setting Russia on a path of zero-sum competition with the United States and many of its friends and allies around the world. In arranging to stay in power after his term expires in March, he has stifled independent media, harassed and jailed political opponents, and made elections a depressing formality.

Unfortunately, President Bush has failed to grasp what is happening. He began the process of tearing up treaties without finding other ways to preserve mutual confidence, all the while looking the other way while Russia challenged the interests of the United States and its allies. After September 11, President Bush focused U.S.-Russian relations on just one issue, fighting terrorism. The Russians detected a free pass to act as they liked at home and in their neighborhood. In the meantime, relations with our European allies, who are so critical to pursuing an effective Russia policy, frayed.

We can do better than this.

As President, I will be ready to work with Russia where our interests intersect – fighting terrorism and nuclear proliferation are just two examples – but I also want Russia to understand what America’s priorities are and that we will stand up for them. The Bush Administration, I believe, has neglected both problems and opportunities in our relations with Russia. A new approach will enable us to deal with both.

2. Given the increasingly bold use of energy supply manipulation by Russia as a coercive measure to divide Europe and weaken NATO, what do you think U.S. policy should be to address this problem?

Energy security is a big issue. We are going to have to take actions in many different areas to improve our situation. Unfortunately, there is no single silver bullet, and I am concerned that Russia is likely to remain a major source of energy for the Baltic states and most of Europe in coming years.

But what we can and must do is manage that dependency better. Part of the answer to this energy security problem is increased diversification of suppliers – that means building new pipelines to bring energy directly from Central Asia to Europe.

In the 1990s the Clinton Administration made the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline a priority, and thankfully, we helped make it a reality. I am deeply disappointed that President Bush has failed to make possible successor projects a priority.

As President, I will.

Another part of the answer lies in market liberalization.

We need a unified and liberalized common market in Europe that allows no breaks for monopolies and oligopolies, forcing Gazprom to play by market rules. Above all, we need a more unified position within Europe and between Europe and the United States to level the playing field with Russia. Under President Bush the United States has had no meaningful dialogue with the European Union on a key issue like energy security. This is unacceptable. Fostering more serious dialogue and creating a more unified position will increase Western leverage in future negotiations.

3. Do you support NATO enlargement?

Growing up in the Chicago suburbs, I was fortunate to learn first-hand about the occupation and illegal annexation of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia from people who had been forced to leave their beloved countries to seek refuge in the United States.

The United States never recognized that annexation, and I am deeply proud of that.

I am also proud of the leadership role that the Clinton Administration played in opening NATO’s door in the 1990s. There were many critics who said it couldn’t be done — and we proved all of them wrong.

Just imagine what Central and Eastern Europe might look like today if we had left them out in the cold.

Two weeks ago was the tenth anniversary of the U.S.-Baltic Charter, to which JBANC and Baltic-Americans contributed enormously.

The U.S.-Baltic Charter was an act of creative and innovative diplomacy that helped give Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania the kind of political embrace and encouragement they needed at a crucial moment in history.

I fondly remember being in the East Room of the White House when the Baltic Charter was signed. It was an extraordinary emotional and historic moment for all of us who felt that an historic injustice of Yalta was being undone and that the path for future NATO membership was being set.

You know as well as I do how many people doubted that the Baltic nations would ever be able to join NATO. But we succeeded in liberating the creative potential of these societies and transforming them into models of reform among Europe’s new democracies.

I am glad that we seized the window of opportunity to act when we did. Today these countries are free and safe, crucial partners in contributing to our common goal of building a Europe that is whole and free, peaceful and prosperous.

As President, I will insist on an open door policy for European democracies that want to join NATO. The enlargement of NATO is not directed against any state; NATO does not see any nation as its enemy.

When I am President, I will do everything possible to strengthen and revitalize this crucial alliance.

4. Do you support expanding trade with and increasing investment in the Baltics? If so, what measures would you propose?

For many years the Baltic states have been at the cutting edge of reform, and they have rapidly expanded trade with the West.

I know that Baltic-Americans in particular have played a key role in this success. I applaud and commend all of your efforts. You have built engines of growth from the ground up.

You have turned the Baltic states into high-tech tigers who set the standard for the Internet age. We can all benefit and learn from your example. In the first decade of the twenty-first century, the GDP of the Baltic states has skyrocketed, and the high-tech business sector is booming. You have become models of growth for other emerging democracies. That’s why I want to transfer this hard-won experience to other nations that share your ideals and aspirations.

The United States is an important trading partner for all three Baltic countries, and as
President, I will work to further expand trade and strengthen economic ties.

5. How would you improve U.S. public diplomacy in the Baltic countries? Would you favor more exchanges and people-to-people contacts? If so, how would you deal with the problems of obtaining visas and the implementation of visa-free travel from the Baltic countries to the United States?

I know from my own travel to the region how talented and gifted these societies are. I commit to working with you to create the conditions where visa-free travel becomes a reality as quickly as possible. I know that both sides could benefit from this kind of future.

I fondly remember the many talented young Baltic NGO leaders I had the privilege to meet during my visit to Estonia in 1996 and at a Vital Voices conference in Iceland in 1999.

These friendship and all of the people-to-people relationships between our countries remain very important to me.

When I am President, the United States will continue to send the same message to the people of the Baltic countries that I sent when I spoke in Estonia in 1996:

“We rejoice in the freedom you have restored here, we admire your courage and tenacity, and we will continue to stand with you as you regain your rightful place in the family of Western democratic nations.”

May the words that Estonian poet Kristjan Jaak Peterson wrote some two centuries ago continue to inspire and unite the United States and people of the United States!

Karl Altau
Managing Director
Joint Baltic American National Committee, Inc.
400 Hurley Avenue
Rockville, MD 20850
tel. 301-340-1954
fax 301-309-1406