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N°91 - Troisième trimestre 2010

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  S.E.M. / H.E. Charles RIVKIN

“A Fundamental Alliance with France”

Two years after President Barack Obama’s election, the United States is looking for a fresh economic boost and has announced a major shift in its strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq. Beyond the 2 November 2010 mid-term elections, H.E.  Charles Rivkin, the American ambassador to France, shared his views on President Obama’s reforming drive and the road ahead for American-French cooperation.


The Diplomatic Letter: Mister Ambassador, President Barack Obama was elected in 2008 on a program that promised change and hope for many Americans within a difficult economic and geopolitical context for your country. How would you assess his first two years in office?


H.E. Charles Rivkin: The President’s first two years in office yielded extraordinary achievements, most notably the Recovery Act (also known as the “Stimulus Package”), health care reform, and financial markets regulatory reform. The Recovery Act included historic investments in infrastructure, education, healthcare, research, and green technology, helping to prepare the United States economy for the 21st century. The President’s reform of the healthcare system, which for the first time ensures universal access to health insurance for the American people, is a feat that had eluded American presidents, beginning with Theodore Roosevelt, for over a century.
These achievements are all the more impressive because of the context in which the President took office.  The President entered the White House during the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, with the United States embroiled in two wars. He had to act aggressively to prevent the country’s slide into a second Great Depression. Some of the emergency actions the President took were controversial, but they were necessary and effective.  As a result of his actions, the American economy is growing again, and a foundation has been set for future growth.

T.D.L.: Two years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers bank, what is the situation of the American economy? With regard to the French presidency of the G8 and the G20, how would you describe Washington’s priorities? What can you say about France’s call to reform the international monetary system?

H.E.C.R.: The G20 has played a critical role in coordinating the actions of the world’s leading economies in response to the financial crisis, and as we have moved into a period of recovery. We are looking forward to working with France during its presidency of the G20, as well as of the G8.
Concerning the U.S. economy, the Obama Administration acted quickly to respond to the crisis, stabilizing our financial system and enacting the strongest financial reforms since the 1930s. We are making needed investments in education, research, infrastructure, and clean technologies. And the United States is committed to an ambitious path of fiscal consolidation, consistent with our G-20 commitment to stabilize our public sector debt, as the recovery strengthens. An encouraging signal was that job growth in October beat economists’ expectations – 159,000 new jobs were added.
Following the successful October G-20 Finance Ministers’ meeting, Treasury Secretary Geithner outlined some key U.S. priorities for the global economic system: to limit the overall level of external imbalances across the global economy; to cooperate more closely on exchange rate policy; and finally, to give the International Monetary Fund (IMF) a greater role in implementing these commitments.
The United States will do its part to restore strong global economic growth, reduce economic imbalances, and calm markets. A strong recovery that creates jobs, income and spending is the most important contribution the United States can make to the global recovery.

T.D.L.: The United States and China represent two major actors on the world economic scene. Where does the strategic economic dialogue with China stand today? Has it contributed to a smoother trade relationship? What evolutions would you like to see in Chinese-American cooperation?

H.E.C.R.: President Obama and our administration cooperate closely with China on a wide range of issues and continue to build a stronger partnership with the PRC, the world’s most populous nation with the world’s second largest economy.
During her May visit to China, Secretary Clinton said that the “U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue is the premier forum for one of the most important and complex relationships in the world.” She lauded the dialogue mechanism for helping overcome frictions, encouraging cooperation, and increasing the overall strength of our relationship with China and noted that we continue to work with China to increase peace and stability in Northeast Asia as well as throughout the world.
Adding to President Obama’s stated goal of sending 100,000 Americans to China to study Mandarin, China announced a plan to send 10,000 Chinese to the U.S. to deepen people-to-people ties between our countries.

T.D.L.: Considered as a mediating leading power in the Middle-East, your country is trying to relaunch peace negociations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in September 2010. What is the status of the Middle East Peace Process? What could be done to involve Hamas in the talks, namely with regard to the creation of a Palestinian state?
 
H.E.C.R.: President Obama has committed himself and his administration to actively pursuing the goal of a two-state solution.  On his second day in office, he appointed Senator George Mitchell as Special Envoy for Middle-East Peace.  The United States remains focused on advancing negotiations toward a final peace agreement and works closely with the parties to create the conditions for direct negotiations to continue.
Regarding Hamas, we believe, as stated in the UNSC Resolution 1850, that lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians can only be based on an enduring commitment to mutual recognition; freedom from violence, incitement, and terror; and the two-state solution, building upon previous agreements and obligations.  Violence will not advance, but will retard, the hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, which is currently being pursued by the legitimate Palestinian government of President Abbas.

T.D.L.: March 2011 will mark the eighth year of the United States’ intervention in Iraq. What is your view on the U.S. presence in Iraq? What are the principle steps of transferring responsibility to the Iraqis? Considering the difficulties involved in forming an Iraqi government following the March 2010 election, would you say that Iraq has the capacity to rise above its ethnic and religious divisions in the interest of establishing a genuine state that lives by the rule of law?

H.E.C.R.:
The Americans who have served in Iraq defeated a regime that had terrorized its people. Because of our troops and civilians—and because of the resilience of the Iraqi people—Iraq has the opportunity to embrace a new destiny, even though many challenges remain. U.S. troops pulled out of Iraq’s cities last summer, and Iraqi forces have moved into the lead with considerable skill and commitment to their fellow citizens.  
A caretaker administration is currently in place as Iraqis form a government based on the results of the March elections. Iraqis have shown increased seriousness in negotiations on the formation of a new government. We urge Iraqi leaders from all sides to continue these efforts to overcome remaining differences.
 
T.D.L.: Faced with Iran’s refusal to stop its uranium enrichment activities, the UN Security Council adopted a new round of sanctions in June 2010. How effective are the sanctions? What is the future of President Obama’s efforts for dialogue with Iran? Do you think that the agreement on the disarmament and the establishment of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle-East signed on May 28, 2010 can be implemented?

H.E.C.R.: Last year in Prague President Obama proposed measures to reduce existing nuclear arsenals and achieve ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, completion of a verified Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, and an end to nuclear weapons proliferation.
Iran can choose to take its rightful place in the community of nations and exercise its right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, or it can continue to refuse its international obligations and forgo the opportunity of a positive future. The United States and France are united on this issue. With our P5-plus-1 partners we have offered Iran good-faith proposals to resolve this matter through diplomacy, but Iran has rejected those offers.

T.D.L.: The United States has set a goal to progressively withdraw American troops from Afghanistan by July 2011. Do you believe this can be done? The international coalition is faced with a particularly tough insurgency movement. What is the way forward with regard to the insurgency? How would you describe Pakistan’s role?


H.E.C.R.: As the President has made clear, the U.S. is working in Afghanistan with international partners to reverse the Taliban’s momentum, provide security for the Afghan people, and partner with Afghan security forces so that the Afghans can assume responsibility for their own security as soon as possible. The President has said that we will begin a transition to Afghan responsibility for security in July 2011. The pace of that transition will depend upon how things evolve on the ground, of course.
U.S. civilian assistance – the diplomatic and development experts on the ground – will continue to work in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The President views the Afghan conflict in a regional context, and as such, we have engaged Afghanistan, Pakistan, their neighbors, and key international partners to coordinate assistance and encourage political and economic support for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

T.D.L.: Almost ten years after the September 11 attacks, the terrorist threat remains, namely in Europe. How would you evaluate the effectiveness of the war on terror? What do you have to say about the new terrorist groups, such as the group that is part of the al Qaeda network in the Sahel? Could you comment in the evolution of American anti-terrorist policies?


H.E.C.R.: Terrorist activity in Europe remains a serious concern, and the United States and European Union cooperate closely on counterterrorism. European nations participate actively in a variety of multilateral organizations that contribute to counterterrorist efforts, and they continue to enhance their abilities to combat terrorism by strengthening counterterrorism legislation, sharing intelligence, arresting members of terrorist cells, and interdicting terrorist financing and logistics.
Moreover, al Qaeda continues to try to expand its operational capabilities by partnering with other terrorist groups, some of the most active of which are in Africa. In the sparsely populated Sahel, operatives from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb work with local tribesmen and nomads to kidnap foreigners, as we saw most recently in September 2010.  

T.D.L.: The first meeting between President Obama and Medvedev in April 2009 « reset » the Russian-American relationship as witnessed when the new START Treaty was signed. How can the U.S. work to improve this relationship? What is the administration’s outlook on Russia’s participation in the NATO Summit?

H.E.C.R.: Relations between NATO and Russia have undergone a unique transformation in the recent past. We have engaged in concrete cooperation in several areas including Afghanistan, disarmament, terrorism and nuclear and ballistic missile proliferation. Secretary of State Clinton recently called for expanded cooperation in areas such as a missile defense, military strategy and doctrine, narcotics control, and conventional arms limits.
The United States is pleased that President Medvedev will attend the NATO summit in Lisbon. The summit will offer an opportunity for all the nations involved to take a fresh look at the security challenges we face, to reflect on what our cooperation has already achieved, and to begin to chart a common course of action for the coming decade.

T.D.L.: Within the context of the NATO Summit in Lisbon, the Atlantic Alliance will adopt a new strategic concept. How would you outline the major points of this concept? What would you say are the common or complementary aspects of EU Defense and NATO? Is the plan for NATO reform moving forward?

H.E.C.R.: Relying on the strategies of the past is obviously no longer sufficient, or wise. NATO and its member countries must focus on 21st-century threats such as terrorism, ballistic missiles, cyber-attacks, and the proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. They must also improve their military-civilian integration capacities, as today’s security challenges are usually political as well as military.
The Strategic Concept draft calls for a streamlining of the Alliance structure, linkage of U.S. and European missile defense systems, enhanced cooperation with Russia, and greater focus on combating cyber-attacks. It strikes the right balance between disarmament and deterrence, and it will also improve NATO’s relations with Russia and enhance the Alliance’s capacity to conduct civilian-military operations. It will greatly improve the Alliance’s capability to address the new threats of a new century.

T.D.L.: President Sarkozy’s visit to the U.S. in March 2010 highlights the importance of the U.S.-France relationship. Beyond our countries’ historical ties, how would you say the transatlantic relationship is evolving? What are some of the initiatives that you have implemented to strengthen the relationship?

H.E.C.R.:
Now more than ever, this special relationship between allies is crucial in a world where France and the United States can rely on their unfailing friendship to meet the challenges awaiting them. I am confident that no issue is too great for us to solve together.  
The fundamental alliance between France and the United States is the story of organizations as important as NATO and the United Nations.  But perhaps more importantly, it is the story of the ties of friendship woven between our two countries; two peoples united in adversity which, far from dividing them, has always brought them together around the same values.
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