22 December 2007, 01:20

Interview with David J.Kramer

David J.Kramer (Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs with responsibility for Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova) has answered the questions of the "Caucasian Knot" correspondent.

Georgia

1. Any comments on state of emergency, we are aware of C. Rice opinion on that topic, but how Georgia might be seen now, when in such a short notice elections are announced? Many observers are saying that opposition does not have enough time now to get their voters.

A: We are pleased the state of emergency was lifted by the President. We also welcome the return of Imedi TV on the air; we had been pushing the Government of Georgia to allow the station to re-open since it was shut down. We expect the Georgian Government to ensure that the election called for January 5 is free and fair. A major factor in our assessment of the electoral process will be the degree of media freedom, including the ability of Imedi to resume broadcasting, as well as the degree to which there is a level playing field for all candidates, free of intimidation. The meetings between the government and opposition, hosted by Nino Burjanadze in her capacity at the time as Parliamentary Speaker, were positive. The new amendments to the election code are the fruits of those discussions, electoral reforms which will contribute to an election that we hope will meet international standards. We haven't heard complaints from the opposition on the timing of the presidential election.

2. Local independent TV Imedi (managed recently by R. Merdock company) was damaged very much during events of 071108, how this would be seen, looks like a good lesson learned from the history of orange revolution.

А: Fortunately, we understand that the damage to Imedi's equipment has not prevented the station from quickly resuming broadcasts, though we obviously were very concerned by the situation.

Azerbaijan

3. Embassy was almost closed 29-30/10/07 because of the state of emergency. Was it a serious threat of just information from local sources?

A: The Embassy did conduct limited operations, based on information of a credible threat.

4. Now few people get caught and they are announced a vahhabits, would it be possible for Baku not to get into same trouble Russia got into in the Northern Caucasus, repressing religious radicals? How this processes (inappropriate force and not always fair investigation against religious minorities) might be described in the context of the fight with international terrorism?

А: We stress at every opportunity and at the highest levels, the need for strong democratic institutions, including rule of law and exercise of basic freedoms, including freedom of worship.

5. Situation of the free media was raised as a concern during the visit of Daniel Freed (sorry of surname is not correct), but after his words one more independent editor was arrested. Any cooperation in this field with Baku is going on?

А: The U.S. and the international community have spoken out strongly regarding the state of media freedom in Azerbaijan. We have several assistance projects in Azerbaijan, including regional television, journalist training and exchanges, to name a few.

6. Gabala, statements of C. Rice are known, but any political future such a cooperation might have? Ambassador of Iran in Baku shared with CKnot already, that they would like to see Gabala station closed.

А: During the G8 meeting in Heiligendamm, Germany, President Putin offered the possibility of sharing data from the Russian-leased, Azerbaijani-owned Qabala radar site for observing and evaluating potential threats from the Middle East. U.S. technical experts visited the site on September 18, a visit which the United States greatly appreciated. During the 2+2 talks in Moscow in October, Secretary of State Rice and Secretary of Defense Gates proposed the creation of a larger regional missile defense architecture. One aspect of a joint regional missile defense architecture would be exchange of radar information among participants. Radar data from Qabala along with other radars could be useful in this regard. The U.S. will of course keep the Government of Azerbaijan fully informed and consult with it regularly.

Northern Caucasus

7. Increased level of violence in Ingushetia is currently an issues of concern for international media and NGO, any cooperation on the field of the international terrorism is going on in the Northern Caucasus?

A: The United States and Russia continue to cooperate on a broad range of counterterrorism issues, including efforts to destroy, safeguard, and prevent the proliferation of WMD. The U.S.- Russian Counterterrorism Working Group (CTWG) met for its fifteenth session September 13-14, 2006, in Washington, fostering cooperative, operational links between numerous U.S. and Russian agencies. Law enforcement, intelligence, and policy cooperation have increased as a result of the work of the CTWG. At the St. Petersburg G8 Summit in July 2006, the United States and Russia jointly announced the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, and Russia and the United States invited other nations to join. The Initiative demonstrates Russia's effort to take a leadership role in establishing a partnership amongst nations to accelerate efforts to combat nuclear terrorism. Partner nations are committed to steps to combat nuclear terrorism in a variety of ways, to include safeguarding radioactive and nuclear materials, preventing nuclear smuggling, and sharing information. The first meeting of the Initiative took place in Morocco in October.

8. How religious extremism, terrorism in the Northern Caucasus might harm USA as a country and its citizens?

А: Much of the terrorist activity in Russia was homegrown and linked to both the Chechen separatist movement and in some ways, to separate, but overlapping, North Caucasus-wide extremism. However, there was also evidence of a foreign terrorist presence in the North Caucasus with financial and ideological ties to international terrorism. International terrorism threatens the United States, its allies and interests, and the world community. Defeating the terrorist enemy requires sound policies, targeted actions that avoid collateral damage, and international cooperation.

9. Pressure on the journalists in the South of Russia, lack of independent media, are internal questions of RF? If not, what might be done in the area of support? So far a lot is done by USA in providing asylum and fellowships for journalists, who are facing threat in the Caucasus.

А: The State Department documents press freedom worldwide in its annual Country Reports on Human Rights. For the first time, the 2006 reports include a section on Internet repression. These reports spotlight the threats facing a free press, and are a tool for governments, NGOs and citizens. The U.S. also speaks out when press freedoms are under siege, as we did when independent Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya was brutally murdered in 2006. The United States also has a strong record of supporting NGOs that promote a free press abroad. The U.S. provides professional development for journalists, editors and media managers from countries worldwide; supports professional exchanges and civic education programs such as the Edward R. Murrow Journalism Program for enterprising foreign journalists; and provides assistance for the production of radio and television programs that are independent of state-controlled media. The U.S. will continue to promote a free and active press, in partnership with other governments, multilateral institutions, NGOs and individuals around the world.

10. Elections in Russia, news about possible not coming of the OSCE observers, any comments?

А: The United Russia party led by President Putin secured a large majority of seats in the new Duma in the recent election. We have noted our concern with the numerous allegations and reports of election day violations and call on the Russian authorities to investigate these reports thoroughly. We concur with European parliamentary observers who declared that the elections "were not fair and failed to meet many OSCE and Council of Europe standards for democratic elections."  In the campaign leading up to voting day, we expressed our serious concern regarding: the use of state administrative resources in support of United Russia; the bias of the state-owned or influenced media in favor of United Russia; the intimidation of the political opposition; and the lack of equal opportunity encountered by opposition candidates and parties in both registration and the conduct of their campaigns. We also regret that limitations imposed by Russia on election monitors prevented OSCE's ODIHR from fielding an election monitoring mission.

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