Press Roundtable with Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Elisabeth I. Millard

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Elisabeth I. Millard (Press Office / U.S. Embassy Bucharest)
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Elisabeth I. Millard (Press Office / U.S. Embassy Bucharest)

PDAS Millard: Thank you all for taking the time.  It’s a great pleasure to be with you this afternoon.  This is my very first visit to Romania.  I arrived yesterday and I went directly to your very beautiful body of water, the Black Sea, which I was excited to see, and then to visit MK, to have a firsthand look at the really great cooperation we have there.  And then today we had a lot of meetings and I think you already maybe heard the details of those – with our good partners here.  And tonight I’m looking forward to a dinner with some members of civil society.  Over lunch we had some rule of law experts that we met with.  So I wanted to come here because I started this job in Washington back in September and as you may have heard I am the most senior career person working on Europe in the State Department.  I have a boss, Wess Mitchell who is very familiar with your country, he has come here many times in his previous capacity, running a think-tank, CEPA.  I wanted to come here because this is a country that is a really good friend of America’s.  We know we cooperate in a lot of areas.  Romania is a country that has made such great progress anchoring itself very firmly in the West by taking really enormous strides with reforms in many different areas, to joining NATO, to joining the EU and are in a very strategic position here. It has been really good to come.  We of course are preparing for the Strategic Partnership Dialogue. It is coming up next month in Washington and we are looking forward to having a very wide range of discussions in the many areas that cooperate in.  So we have a really good, strong relationship with Romania and I am happy I will take this back with me – my really good discussions today – to brief Wess Mitchell and that will also go up to our new leadership of course.  We have a new boss in the State Department, Secretary Pompeo.  With that, let me open it up for questions.

Question: I understand that tomorrow you are going to Bulgaria.  Is this a two countries only visit? Why did you choose Romania and Bulgaria?

PDAS Millard: It is not easy for me to get away from Washington because my boss travels a lot so pretty much when he travels I cannot travel, so we have to have a division of labor. But the other thing I did not mention was of course I also wanted to come meet with our Embassy team and that is the other thing I am going to do in Sofia – meet with our Embassy team there.  I am really only there for 24 hours.  I will be giving a speech at a conference they have; it’s a conference on democracy.  I forget the title of this conference but this is on Wednesday morning.  I will give a speech there and leave.  I have been wanting to come to Romania for a long time.  When I heard about the speech that gave me a good chance to also come here so I wanted to come here first.

Question: I understand you had several meetings today with Government officials and from the Presidency.  If I may ask you a question that is mainly focused on current local politics but also connected to foreign policy: the United States officially opened today the Embassy in Jerusalem and you probably heard that this is a quite controversial issue also here and it actually led to a political conflict between President Iohannis and the Government.  I was wondering if you are familiar with the developments here, in Bucharest on this issue and if you think that this will impact in any way the Strategic Partnership between the U.S. and Romania.

PDAS Millard: I think first of all that we have a really good Strategic Partnership and the good thing is that we can talk openly about issues. Among friends we can talk about the areas that are going well, we can talk about the areas that we need to make progress. That’s what friends do; friends have a great dialogue.  You are absolutely correct that today is the day that we opened this new Embassy and I want to say that the President has made very clear that this decision was taken really realizing that this was the situation on the ground and that we should do it not impacting any final status resolution and that my Government is hard at work on developing a peace plan for the Middle East.  So as far as what Romania and other countries want to do, it is really up to each country to decide how they want to handle their representation there.  We would welcome a move but at the same time that is absolutely up to each country to make that decision.

Question: You know that our President, the Romanian President told the Government that they broke the law declaring that they should move the Romanian Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  So you know probably that there is a big conflict now between the President and the Government so can you be a little bit more specific.  Would you like Romania to move its Embassy also?

PDAS Millard: First of all, I don’t think my friend Ambassador Klemm would be very happy because the bilateral relationship is really his expertise so, for me, again as I said, my discussions were really on the overall relationship and I really was very impressed with the many areas where we work closely; we have potential for new areas.  So I think this is an issue I am sure will be resolved in this country but I think that again, just to go back, if a country wants to decide to move, we would welcome that, but it’s really up to each country to decide.

Question: What is the big problem in Romania?

PDAS Millard: The big problem in Romania?  I think that you all should tell me because you are more experts than me.  I would say for this country you are in a tough neighborhood, let me put it that way; you are surrounded by countries – when I was standing there yesterday and I was told that Crimea is only 200 miles away, and we all know what happened in Crimea; you also have Ukraine there nearby and you also know what is happening as we speak in Ukraine.  So, I think this is where this country; you know it yourselves, you made these important decisions to introduce reform, to anchor yourselves firmly with the West.  We will be your partner, we will stand with you as this continues, but there is no denying that we have Russia that sadly has been engaging in really unacceptable behavior, whether it is that what we already talked about – Crimea, Ukraine, but also more recently in the Skripal affair.  And by the way, there, if I can just say that we really noticed in Washington and we are appreciative seeing Romania step up and join in this unprecedented coalition of countries that signaled by expelling Russians that this kind of behavior is unacceptable.

Question: Has anything changed in the State Department vision about what is happening in Romania with say that is anticorruption campaign after those changes in State Department policy? I am talking about the fact that Secretary Tillerson left the Department and Mr. Pompeo came.  Has anything changed in that vision in the last few years? It is very important, you sent to us a very important message that we need to continue that campaign and do everything possible to stop corruption in our country.

PDAS Millard: I think you are really right in putting the focus on corruption and I think that our anticorruption efforts and the focus on that problem will absolutely continue.  I don’t see any indication that Secretary Pompeo will change that focus.  My experience serving around the world is that corruption can be such a deep seated problem and so corrosive that all of us should be working hard to combat it wherever it is. And I will say we know no country is free of it but we all have to really work hard.  So I imagine and I am sure of it actually that we will continue to focus on it and I hope we will continue to have a good partner in Romania.

b>Question: Ambassador Klemm recently expressed his concern over how the Romanian Parliament is trying to change some laws on justice and criminal investigations and he said that these changes might affect the very good cooperation between Romanian and American agencies on law enforcement and prosecutors.  I was wondering what are your thoughts on this matter and if you had the chance to discuss it with any of the officials that you have met today.

PDAS Miller: I will say broadly that I think we look to Romania as one of the countries that has a really positive record on anticorruption and judicial independence.  We have seen really important steps and in many ways you could say that Romania could be a model for other countries.  So that is why we are very attentive to any efforts that could weaken this really good effort.  That is how I think we’re coming at this issue. And it did come up in a number of the meetings, of course. Basically my message is that.  It is the same message and it is something where we work closely and we will be attentive to any efforts to weaken that.

Question: Do you have the tools needed to continue to work with our political majority that have put a lot of pressure to change the laws?

PDAS Miller: What friends do – and we are friends – we will have a dialogue.  And this is a dialogue where everyone can express their concerns and I am very optimistic about our relationship; it is a very strong and close relationship.

Question: What do you think would be the main challenge for this Strategic Partnership in the next 20 years let’s say, because we have recently marked 20 years of Partnership?

PDAS Miller: I think that a really good thing to focus on will be thinking about increasing foreign investment in this country.  I know you have had really good economic growth here but I know you would welcome more investment from U.S. companies that come here.  So I think that could be one area where we could think about how that could happen and make progress in that area.

Question: Could we talk about Russia and the pressure it is putting in the region? We have a lot of fight with that kind of fake news and hybrid war.  What is the view of the Department of State about what is happening in our region in connection to Russia’s political system?

PDAS Miller: This is an issue that is not just here in Romania.  It is something that we are very focused on and we think that we all need to work closely together on this difficult issue.  I know that the EU has set up a center of excellence that focuses on this and we support that effort very much.  In a way I would be interested in hearing from you all because journalists have a special responsibility in helping the readers understand how to read the news, how to understand the news, how to be more discerning, how to be more analytical.  So it is work that we need to do together but it is certainly a big problem.  It is a problem here, it is a problem in many places.  So we should be working together, we should be putting the spotlight on when we know that there is nefarious influence or bad news, we should be sharing best practices because those are out there; so we can do a lot of work together I think on this.

Question: Will there be any new decision announced in the next NATO Summit regarding U.S. presence in the East of NATO?

PDAS Miller: I do not know about that.  Of course right now we are preparing very much for the summit.  In fact my new boss, Secretary Pompeo, the day he was confirmed by the Senate he did not come directly to the State Department. He went to the airport and got on an airplane and he flew to the Ministerial.  So his very first day on the job was in Brussels talking to the NATO allies and I think that I know that in the past there have been questions about Article 5, but clearly our Secretary signaled through his focus and his determination to participate very actively in that ministerial that NATO is really a centerpiece and a pillar. As far as what the decisions will be regarding the Eastern flank we will have to see.  I do know I have visited in this job Latvia twice and I hope to go to Estonia.  And of course yesterday as I said, I went to see MK and I was really impressed with what is happening there. My team here briefed me that the operational tempo of exercises – both bilateral and multilateral exercises – is going to increase next year, so that is a really good thing because we want NATO to be a deterrent Alliance.  We don’t want war, we want NATO to deter war.  And how can NATO do that?  By being a credible alliance.  And credible means that you have to be ready, you have to have exercises together so that you know you can work, that you have interoperability.  So you have to show that and this is what we are doing right here at MK.

Question: Couldn’t NATO be weakened by that tension between the U.S. and the EU about a topic like Israel and the Iran antinuclear treaty that President Trump denounced last week? Doesn’t that kind of tension have an impact on NATO?

PDAS Millard: I have been very impressed with NATO.  Coming back to this job in September, I immediately started having a lot of meetings on NATO and what struck me is how amazing this Alliance is in the sense that it has adapted and adjusted.  You know this was created at the height of the Cold War, right? And then the Cold War ended and many people thought maybe NATO is going to go away, it is going to lose its relevance.  But the opposite has happened and then of course, so many countries wanted to join, like Romania, and we welcomed that.  Now we see that today we have a situation where warfare – you talked about hybrid warfare – we have a lot of different challenges and a lot of threats that are in a different way, like we have our partners down in the south, our NATO Allies are feeling the threat of migration, the terrorism coming from the Sahel through Libya, etcetera. And NATO is stepping up.  In all of these areas NATO is proving itself to be a very adaptable Alliance.  You talked about the EU and it is an issue to think about because the EU has decided to become more involved in its defense planning actually and we in the United Stated we think that is a good thing because as long as it is complementary – we don’t need duplication, right? We all have scarce resources, we need to spend money the right way.  But part of what we were talking about earlier, about NATO being a credible Alliance, one of the things that are important is the mobility piece, so that you can move so that if there is a threat the enemy will say: I am not going to do it because they can get there quickly to face me.  So what is that part? It is better infrastructure, it is regulatory also – can you actually have the permits in place to move the troops.

Question: You are talking about military Schengen?

PDAS Millard: Exactly, that is what I am talking about.  So these are all areas where we think that the EU can absolutely do excellent work and that will really strengthen, good for the EU, good for NATO.  And of course many members like you, are members of both.

Question: What is your opinion about that the fact that we are going to spend 2% of our GDP to buy weapons to improve our defense system and so on?

PDAS Millard: This is something we talk a lot about in America because burden sharing – the buzz word is burden sharing – and this is something all the NATO allies themselves pledged and said we need to do it; in today’s world, with Crimea and Ukraine and the challenges, we need to do it.  And a number of countries have stepped up. Romania is among them and it is noticed that you’re meeting that pledge that you made.  Many other countries have as well.  Some have not.  More countries have been doing it in the last year, so we are seeing it is definitely a trend in the right direction.  Many countries really need to step up, they need to modernize, they need to improve their preparedness, primarily serving themselves, because this is national security.

Question: Our politicians, the majority ruling the country now, are saying there is not enough American investment in Romania and they talk about changing that Strategic Partnership, that they need more economic investment in Romania. Do you think that kind of view is correct or what should we change to have a lot of American businesses in Romania?

PDAS Millard: It is a good question.  I have heard that you have AmCham, the American Chamber of Commerce here and it is an issue that I worked on in many of the countries where I have been posted trying to encourage U.S. investment.  The thing is U.S. investors look at a country and they say: is this a country where my money will be safe? Is this a country where I know there is transparency so I know what the rules are and if I have a dispute, some kind of disagreement do I know what the process is to resolve that dispute and will that that process be followed?  So is it predictable? Is it transparent? Is there a level playing field, will I be treated like other investors?  This is an area that I think we can work more on frankly and we talked earlier about this, maybe an area that could be more focused on in the Strategic Partnership.  I think it already is in the Dialogue but we could look more of that.  The other thing is to just to get Romania more known in America because investors may be sitting somewhere in the middle of America; they may not know anything about Romania and the opportunities that you have here.  So that is also something that we could work on.  And of course you have a Romanian Embassy in Washington and I am sure they are working on that as well.

Question: On this matter of predictability we’ve had some fiscal changes last year that were highly criticized by businessmen and part of the political class.  Do you have some signal about that? Did anyone complain?

PDAS Millard: I am not familiar with that yet but of course, again, what I said earlier is that a businessman will just look at the entire picture.  He will look at what I might be able to make there or buy there and yes, what is the regulatory framework, will take that into his calculation or her calculation and then the predictability.  The regulatory framework I do not know the details of this but I am sure the Embassy here does. And again, AmCham I heard is doing a good job looking into the various challenges and seeing how they can be resolved.

Question: Do you know if there will be any contracts signed in the next period?

PDAS Millard: I don’t know about that, sorry.

Question: You were yesterday to MK to meet with Romanian military. What was your impression, and what is your opinion of the cooperation between the Romanian military and the U.S. military? What do you know about our mission in Afghanistan and in other places in the world?

PDAS Millard: Thank you for bringing that up because I have been briefed that Romania is a big contributor in Afghanistan and sadly I know that some folks were killed there recently and we were sad to hear that.  I also know that you do important training in Iraq so it is good to know that Romania is using its expertise to pass that on and to help the development of those countries.  What I found yesterday was high-level professionalism, really good cooperation, so I was really impressed.  As I said, I had heard about it and I wanted to come.  Yesterday was Mother’s Day in America so my kids were not so happy that I traveled but I said: no, I want to go to MK.  I was impressed and I think it is in many ways a model and I was really happy to see it.

Question: Do you intend to double the surface of MK, to make new investment? The Minister of Defense told us a few weeks ago there will be new investment.

PDAS Millard: I don’t know anything about that, I do not know the details of that.  That could be but as I said, I think there is a lot going on as it is and it is great.

Question: Recently the Department of State published a report about human rights, freedom of expression.  In the chapter for Romania, the report mentions there have been some problems with democracy in Romania in the last years. Do our authorities, our government need to respond to that report? Because our Minister of Justice said today that they are writing an answer to that.

PDAS Millard: That is completely up to them of course, if they would like to answer. But it is not mandatory. Usually those reports focus on very factual, not a lot of opinion.

Question: Romania will host this year in September the Three Seas Initiative Summit.  I was last year in Warsaw and it is a European initiative but with U.S. as a very special partner, so special that in Warsaw President Trump was present. Are you also familiar with this? Do you have any updates on the American participation this year in Romania?

PDAS Millard: We are grateful to the Romanian people for hosting it this year.  We think it is a really good initiative.  It is an initiative that can focus on better connectivity North-South whether it is in the field of energy or infrastructure or others.  So we think it is a really positive thing and I know that Wess Mitchell was very focused on it.  He has discussed it with many of the folks that are already in it.  For us I think it is important to remind everyone that this is a very inclusive group; we are not, or you all are not trying to keep anyone out.  We don’t yet know exactly who might be coming from the United States, we will have to see.  But I heard today that you are going to have very senior representation from the European side so that is a positive thing.

Question: Are we waiting for James Mattis this year?

PDAS Millard: The Secretary of Defense is probably one of the busiest persons in our government and I am sure he would love to come because you know he is a Marine, so he would be so happy to see those Marines at MK.  In fact, if I have a chance, I will tell him about the visit but I don’t manage his schedule so I do not know when.  But I am sure he will come.  When, I do not know exactly. Thank you all so much. It was very nice meeting all of you and thank you for coming.