Burns IV Aleksey Venediktov of Ekho Moskviy Radio

Published: Wed 7 Dec 2005 12:29 AM
Interview With Aleksey Venediktov of Ekho Moskviy Radio
R. Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs
Moscow, Russia
December 2, 2005
MR. VENEDIKTOV: Good evening. Tonight Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs, a deputy of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, is our guest. You may send your questions for him to our pager, number 725-6633. We'll also have a telephone poll for our listeners, and the question is "What kind of Russia does the U.S. need: a weak Russia that is falling apart, or strong and prosperous Russia?" While our readers will vote in favor of the different answers to that question, Mr. Burns will be asked to comment on the results of the voting.
I would like to remind you that Mr. Burns has already visited our radio station in 2003, while he was U.S. Ambassador to NATO and after he visited Ekho Moskviy, he advanced his career. I would like to point out that, in general, our guests usually advance their careers after appearing on our show. Last year we had Angela Merkel as a guest, and she has recently become Chancellor of Germany. Maybe when you come back to our station in two years time, you might have a more senior position in the State Department or even in the United States.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you very much.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: Now, about the essence of your visit to Moscow. The topic of this evening's show is "Russia and the U.S: What Unites Us and What Divides Us." In recent times the main obstacle in U.S.-Russia relations, as Russian media and Russian politicians put it, is "The Iranian Dossier." Tell us, what part of the Russian position with regard to Iran are you unhappy with?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, first of all, thank you very much for having me on your show. I appreciate that very much. It's nice to be back, as I was on your show a couple of years ago. I actually think that relations between Russia and the United States are good, quite good. President Putin and President Bush get along very well, they talk frequently, they work well with each other. I've been here for the last two days meeting with my Russian diplomatic colleagues talking about terrorism, how can we work together to prevent it. And so I think things are obviously not perfect. We have some disagreements, but for the most part, a very good relationship.
You asked about Iran. Actually, I think our relationship is good between Moscow and Washington on Iran. Now, we have different positions on aspects of the issue, but neither of us wants to see Iran become a nuclear weapons country. Both of us want to see an improvement in Iran's behavior on terrorism. And President Bush said the other day he felt it was very important that Russia was now getting very much involved in the diplomacy on a nuclear issue and we appreciate Russia's position, so I had a very good discussion here with the Foreign Ministry last night about Iran. Actually, Iran is an issue about which we are coming together a little bit.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: You know that in Russia the word "diplomat" is a dirty word.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: No, I did not know that. I am shocked to hear it.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: We wanted to inform you. Now we are going to shock you further: Russia has given you a present just for coming here. Today the decision has been made, and confirmed by the Ministry of Defense, for Russia to sell anti-aircraft weaponry to Iran in a deal which is estimated to exceed 800 million U.S. dollars. Since this happened during your visit, this was a joint decision, right?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: No, it definitely wasn't a joint decision, and we saw a press report on it and we asked questions of the Russian Foreign Ministry and they said they would get back to us on it. You know, we have very different relations with Iran than you do. We've gone through a 25-year year period of no relations with Iran. Going back to -- I don't know if you remember in 1979 when they took our Embassy hostage and all the diplomats for over a year and held them in captivity. It was an extraordinary event in modern diplomatic history. And Iran, we think, has been supporting terrorist groups in the Middle East, they've been supporting terrorism against the United States for the last 25 years. So, we have a very poor relationship, and you can understand why we wouldn't favor any country selling arms to a country like that.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: You gave a speech two days ago at John Hopkins University in Washington and you literally said the following with regard to Iran: "It is quite possible that a different approach should be applied to the Iranian regime, more radical, less tolerant." What do mean?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, they had elections in Iran over the summer and the new President of Iran has taken a very different stand on many issues. For instance, he called for destruction of Israel openly in a public statement and then repeated it. He has said that Iran would continue its nuclear project when nearly all the countries of the world are saying it should not. He has appointed very conservative people to his cabinet. So there is a change in Tehran, and we have to acknowledge that change. We have to understand what it means for us. And our view is that Iran needs, in essence, to be isolated. And it needs to be convinced diplomatically -- diplomatically -- that it should turn away from nuclear weapons and turn away from support for terrorism. Those are our two major issues. I should also say the people of Iran don't have many democratic rights. The government is quite authoritarian and has denied journalists, for instance, the right to say and write what they think, which is not the case in other democratic countries. There are a lot of complaints about Iran.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: You've said "diplomatically", by diplomatic means. Does Washington consider other ways of convincing Iran to turn away from nuclear weapons or for compelling Iran to turn away from it?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: You know, Secretary of State Rice has said repeatedly over the last several months that it's important that we support the current diplomatic efforts aimed at preventing Iran from a nuclear future. So, for instance, there've been three European countries negotiating with Iran: Britain, France and Germany. And now Russia has sent a delegation to Tehran just a couple of weeks ago, led by Igor Ivanov. And we support all of these efforts. And we specifically have supported the Russian efforts, because we think that, obviously, Russia is a country with some influence in Iran, and Russia has put some interesting ideas to the Iranians. We would hope that Iranians would come back to the negotiating table, but they've walked away. As of August they've walked away from European negotiations and they haven't come back. So, it's really the time for them to start talking again to other countries about this.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: What is the "red line" for you in your relationship with Iran? Where is the line that cannot be crossed?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Oh, I think that all of us believe that Iran must not have an ability to enrich uranium or reprocess it. Because then that would give it the ability, if they went that far, to produce fissile material and, therefore, it would have the ability to manufacture a nuclear device. And that can't be. It's not in anyone's interest. There's not a single major country in the world, that I know, that has ever said they'd support that. In fact, the reverse. All the major governments have said Iran should not go that far. So, we are pursuing a diplomatic solution. We are supporting European efforts, Russian efforts. The Indian and Chinese governments have been involved in recent talks. All that is positive.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: Is it possible to say that the position of Russia and the position of the United States have come closer together on the Iranian dossier?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I think so. I think that there was a time when we didn't talk very much to the Russian government, at least not productively, about this. And again, I want to hasten to say that the Russian and American positions are not identical. Any Russian government official will tell you that. But I do think that there are much closer discussions -- we talk frequently at the leadership level as well as at the diplomatic level. And we are encouraged that Russia seems at least to have gotten the attention of the Iranians, and is trying very hard to get these negotiations back on track again.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: I want to remind our audience that our guest on today's live broadcast is Nicholas Burns, whose last name is the same as Ambassador William Burns, and they are not even brothers. He is Under Secretary for Political Affairs, a deputy to Condoleezza Rice, so our questions will touch upon many issues. In recent times, I have the distinct impression that a "black cat" has crossed the path of U.S. Russia bilateral relations, and the cat crosses back and forth in front of us unhindered. Perhaps it is a pack of black cats. This specific black cat, however, is the draft law on non-governmental organizations. This was not, of course, the subject of your discussions here in Moscow, but the State Department and the U.S. Helsinki Commission have objected in strong language to this draft law. What put you off? What has put the United States on alert? Why is this such a big, fat black cat?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We are certainly aware of the discussion in the Duma about this bill that will affect non-governmental organizations. And I think, first of all, we have to say we have to be respectful of this debate. This is a Russian debate. We are outsiders, and so we have tried to offer constructive views, and we've tried not to be overly not to create a problem in public because that wouldn't be right. So we've tended to have private discussions with the Russian government as I did yesterday and today. And, our view is that
MR. VENEDIKTOV: So, you did it in private?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Oh, we've been talking privately, not publicly. And you know, non-governmental organizations exist in my country, they exist all over the world. They are increasing in number all over the world -- it's a modern phenomenon. Most of them, the great majority of them, do a very good work all around world. They provide humanitarian services, they work on democratization, they work on human rights, they can work on development, economic development. So, we think their role in our country has been very positive. We don't always agree politically with all of the organizations in our own country. Many of them are very critical of us. But in a democracy, you take that for granted, you take that as part of political and governmental life.
We just hope that the American organizations that are present here in Russia will continue to be able to operate and that any law that is passed will help to facilitate their operation and not hinder their operation. But I must say the final point is this is really up to the Russian Duma to decide. It's a sovereign country and it has the right to have this debate and we hope that it will keep the way open for non-governmental organizations to be able to survive and prosper and play the role that they can play in a democratic society.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: Do you agree with President Putin's belief that political activity and the development of democratic institutions should not be financed from abroad, by other states and by other countries?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: You know, I think, to be respectful, all I can do is to tell you what we do in the United States. We have lots of non-governmental organizations in our country and we have one restriction that we place on them: the foreign organizations are not allowed to contribute to our political campaigns, and there's very good reason for that. But that's about it. For the most part, we don't monitor them. They don't have to register if they are not involved in financing. They can operate quite freely, and that's genuinely the way it is in most democratic countries.
Now obviously, we understand this is a sensitive issue here. And so, Russia has the right to debate in the Duma what kind of laws they want to have. And we would just hope that result of this would be a fair law that would allow the American NGOs and the other NGOs to do well here, to contribute to the Russian society, which is, of course is what you and we would want them to do.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: So how is it that this "unjust law" can stand in the way of lifting the Jackson-Vanik provision for Russia?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: You know you've asked me a hypothetical question. When I was State Department Spokesman 10 years ago, I learned never to answer a hypothetical question. We are going to maintain a positive view and hope that the actions of the Duma will obviously be good for Russia and also good for the organizations that want to contribute to Russia, especially those coming from outside that are guests in your country.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: You've been the State Department's Spokesman and worked with journalists for many years, and I've worked as a journalist in the Foreign Ministry press pool and in the pool of the Russian Presidential Administration. And I know how to talk to you. I'll paraphrase my question: how will the adoption of this legislation, if it curtails democracy in Russia, be linked by the American Administration, say, to Russia's accession to WTO?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: First of all, I should tell you I've never been a journalist. I've always been a diplomat. But I've great respect for journalists. I would say this, to try to answer your question and be candid: there is a great deal of concern around the world that a law can be passed that might be disadvantageous in some way or unfair to the organizations that work here. But again, we respect the right of the Russian government and the Duma, their sovereign right, to pass legislation. And so, we're not going to make any threats, we are not going to say that there will be negative consequences. We have to assume that this debate will turn out, we hope, in a positive direction. And it's not right it wouldn't be right for us to somehow warn of dire consequences and warn of specific acts. We have a good relationship with Russia and we want to keep that way and just hope that this debate will turn out in a constructive fashion.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: So, you do not link the adoption of the law with Russia's accession to WTO and the lifting of Jackson-Vanik?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We have made no such linkage; no, we've not linked it to anything. We've just given our advice privately and we hope for the best.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: I'm addressing our audience: now you understand why the word diplomat is a dirty word. Our guest today is Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs. I would like to remind you why this legislation is being considered and would like your comment the following story: this law is being considered after the actions of non-governmental organizations in Ukraine and in Georgia. Some politicians and media representatives in Russia, including some in the Kremlin Administration, are convinced that American money -- U.S. Government money and American taxpayer money -- was used to overthrow regimes, to cause "colored revolutions." What do you think of the accusation that American money was used to overthrow the Shevardnadze and Kuchma regimes?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: You know, I don't think that was the case. It certainly was not the case that the United States Government had that design. I'd remind you we had excellent relations with Mr. Shevardnadze for many, many years and respect him. These political transitions were produced by the people of both countries. The people who expressed sentiment for a change of power. And I think that is very clear for everyone to see. And it is not the policy of our government to try to use non-governmental organizations for any political purpose like that. Our hope is that these organizations are independent, they are not controlled by our government, just as Russian non-governmental organizations are independent in many ways, in terms of what their mission is, in what their beliefs are. And it's important it remain that way. That's what true democracy would demand.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: There's been much disappointment in Ukraine and in Georgia. You deal with Ukraine and Georgia. How can you explain this disappointment to the people who, with such enthusiasm and using, as you say, non-American money, overthrew their governments?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, I think that transitions like the ones that Georgia and Ukraine are making are difficult. I don't have to say that to a Russian -- you know that. You've gone through an extraordinary transition over the last 15 years. Russia's is doing very well in many respects now. You've made the economic reforms. You have wealth from your natural resources. And other countries aren't as fortunate in national resources. But these things take time. You just hope that a country like Georgia can make the democratic transition. We certainly support the efforts of the Georgian government to do that.
We hope that Mr. Yushenko in Ukraine and his government would be successful in trying to improve the daily life, the quality of life the average Ukrainian. And, certainly, in foreign policy, we are friends with both countries and work with them closely. But it's really their historical process to make the right kind of decisions that will end up with better lives for the people of those countries.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: Here the people believe that former Soviet republics have become a new front between the U.S. and Russia, and the U.S. has started to oust Russia from the former Soviet republics using economic means.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We are not doing that at all. That is not the policy of our government, and that is not the reality of what's happening on the ground. There are very few American military forces on the soil of any of the former Soviet republics, now independent states all of them
MR. VENEDIKTOV: Now, I have caught you: tomorrow your boss, Secretary Rice, is going to Bucharest, Romania to sign an agreement to establish a military base or bases in Romania, which is very close to us, where up to 70,000 men will be located. You contradict your boss; it is not correct.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: No, I am not contradicting my own boss and I try very hard not to do that. I'll let Secretary of State Rice make any announcements when she does visit Bucharest in a couple of days next week. But I can tell you the numbers you have cited is an extraordinary number with no correlation to fact. In fact, most of the American service people are either on airbases in Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan because they service the planes that flying supplies to Afghanistan because of the presence of the peacekeeping forces there. That's the reason. On the soil of a country that was formerly a republic of the Soviet Union, now independent Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan. That's the reason that they are there. And we've been very transparent about this. And we've said that these are not permanent installations, that they're there for the peacekeeping in Afghanistan, and they will leave at one point in future.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: I'd like to remind our audience that today's guest in the studio for this live broadcast is Nicholas Burns and now we'll ask our listeners to vote for the answer to our question: "What kind of Russia does the U.S. need for its own benefit: weak and falling apart or strong and prosperous? " The Under Secretary is observing the voting, so show him everything you are capable of. Again, our question is, "What kind of Russia does the U.S. need for its own benefit: weak and falling apart or strong and prosperous?" If you think "weak and falling apart," call 995-8121. And if you believe "strong and prosperous," please call 995-8122. Over a thousand people have already voted.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Am I allowed to vote?
VENEDIKTOV: You'll get the last vote, but it unlikely that it will outweigh the previous votes. But at the very end you'll also get to comment the voting. Voting will last only for five more minutes, and we are approaching the 2000-person mark. The voting is very active, and I am now turning on the propagandistic State Department machine and will ask you the same question, Nicholas: what kind of Russia does the U.S. need: weak or strong?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We want a strong Russia, a strong Russia as a partner of the United States. It's obvious that that has to be the answer because the defining nature of international politics today is that a lot of these problems out there cannot be resolved by one country alone. Whether it's terrorism or weapons of mass destruction or global climate change or international crime, or trafficking in women, you have to have lots of countries working together to defeat that problem. Russia is a strong country. It is a strong country, and, of course, we need a strong partner in Russia. That is definitely the policy of the United States to work with that kind of country.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: We have already received over 4000 calls, so call in and let us know your opinion. I will remind you once again the question: "Does the U.S. need, for its benefit: a weak and falling apart Russia or strong and prosperous Russia?" Vote for "weak and falling apart" at 995-8121, "strong and prosperous" at 995-8122. Please call us. There is a feeling, Nicholas, that the circle of American military bases may be turned against us. You're saying that the bases in the Central Asia are aimed to prevent terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq, but these military bases may be turned against us, and the planes can just as easily go down the runways in the other direction, and that'll be that. A lot of people think that.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, I'm sorry [they] think that, because it is not the intention. And you know, we are cooperating with Russia, working with Russia in most parts of Central Asia, in Afghanistan, for instance. We are trying to have counter-narcotics cooperation between Russia and the United States. Both of us are dedicated to defeat terrorism in this region, and so we see Russia as a partner, not as a competitor in this part of the world. And we would hope we would be able to convince Russian people of that, that we really do have friendly intentions. You know we have an extraordinary history, we were allies in the Second World War and we had a great victory together in the Second World War. Then we were, of course, we were competitors, adversaries during most of the Cold War.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: Are you calling us competitors?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: but for the last 15 years it's been peace and our relationship is in a new era. Our country and Russia are partners, partners.
MR. ENEDIKTOV: Partners in what?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Partners to help resolve the biggest problems that face both of our countries. I'm here in Moscow because I'm a Co-Chair, with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Kislyak, of a group that is dedicated to fighting terrorism. This is a group set up by President Putin and President Bush together, and that's why I'm here. Because we have this partnership relationship with Russia. I think the Russian people should know that.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: The voting is almost over. Over 6000 people have called in. I will once again repeat our question: "Does the U.S. need, for its benefit, a weak and falling apart Russia or strong and prosperous Russia?" "General terrorism" is such a general term. What is international terrorism? Where is this international terrorism? Who is Bin Laden, who is Basayev? Why is it international? There is no answer from you or from the Russian side. So where does the cooperation lie?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, there is certainly a threat from Al Qaida which is Bin Laden's organization. They have attacked us multiple times: they attacked us on September 11 in New York and Washington, they attacked our Embassies in East Africa in 1998. There is no question that he is a threat to us. Some of the other Middle East terrorist groups that are bombing Lebanon, bombing Israel, even making life difficult for the Palestinians, like Islamic Jihad -- Palestinian Islamic Jihad -- or Hamas or Hizbollah. These organizations are destructive. And we know how the average Russian feels very emotional about the incredible damage done by Basayev against the Russian people. We have not forgotten Beslan, and there is enormous sympathy in the United States to what happened to the children and men and women of Beslan. And so, you know, we have to be united to fight this kind of terrorism, and that is what this joint effort by the U.S. and Russian governments is intended to do, to oppose this kind of terrorism.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: You're accused of granting asylum to terrorists, meaning Chechen separatists, such as Iliyas Akhmadov, and quite a lot of our listeners talk about "the double standards." You assert that you are waging a war against terrorism, and yet you grant asylum to those who support terrorism. So, what can you say to that, Nicholas? What can you say to our listeners?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: The United States has denounced all of the criminal and terrorist acts against the Russian people over the last couple of years. We've denounced them in very clear terms. We haven't been standing in the shadows afraid to speak. We've been very vocal in support of the Russian people and the Russian government when they have been attacked. And we've received the same support from you. The very first leader to call President Bush after September 11 was President Putin, and that was a friendly gesture, and a strong gesture, and we haven't forgotten it.
No, we don't always see eye to eye on every aspect of world events with the Russian Federation, you wouldn't expect that, we are very different countries -- Russia and the United States -- so we have our disagreements from time to time. But for the most part, on the big important issues, especially the terrorism issue, we tend to see the things the same way.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: I gave you an example.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: You did cite that example, and we've made it very clear what we think of Basayev and the Chechen terrorists who've used indiscriminate violence to kill Russian citizens. It's wrong, it's just plain wrong -- and we've said that. Now, there are certain Chechen political figures that are sometimes in the United States. It doesn't mean we support their cause, we are just an open country. But we've tried to be very helpful not only to Russia, but to other countries in the fight against terrorism.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: Nicholas Burns, deputy to Condoleezza Rice for political affairs is in our studio. The voting is over and I would like to show you the results. And I would like to point out how many questions we've received from our listeners by internet. There are some interesting questions and we won't be able to ask you even a tenth of them. However, several deal with the issue of double standards, your favorite song, the favorite songs of Russian and American politicians, and someone heard you sing in a choir. You accuse Russia of double standards and Russia accuses you in return. Abkhazia and Kosovo: what is the difference?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, listen, in Kosovo a war was fought six and a half years ago to prevent the ethnic cleansing of the Muslim population. And so now the United Nations is trying to determine what the future should be. The negotiations started last week over the future of Kosovo. We think that Russia and the United States should support the negotiations. It is not the right of America to determine the outcome of the negotiations -- the people have to decide along with the government, the Serb government in Belgrade. And that's the democratic way to resolve this: through peaceful negotiations.
You asked about Abkhazia. You know, our view is that the Georgian government that the territorial integrity of Georgia is important and it should be protected, and there should be efforts made to break down the barriers between Georgia and Abkhazia and Georgia and South Ossetia. Obviously, the Russian government is in a special position to be helpful here because of Russia's historic ties. And we are trying to be helpful, as well. We've had fairly good discussions with the Russian government. We may not agree on every aspect of this question, by the way -- I think that's clear. But countries need to be assured of their borders, they need to be assured of their territorial integrity. This is normal. Every country wants this including the Georgian people.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: Nicholas, does the U.S. government support the independence of Kosovo?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We've not said that. We've said the people should be given the a right to determine their own future, but there are different people in Kosovo, there are Albanians Muslims -- there are Christian Serbs, there are other ethnic groups. There are the rights of the Serb government that have to be listened to. It's very complicated. This will be one of the most complex negotiations anywhere in the world in a long time. And so, I don't think people need Americans saying: "We have a solution for you." We provide the room that they can negotiate in, we give them support for the negotiations, they figure out the answer.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: If I substitute Abkhazia for Kosovo, will I get the same kind of answer? There was war there, too. There were refugees there, too. And there are different people, too. Is the process similar?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: It may be a similar process, they are very different places. We've said in Kosovo we would not support any change of borders. Once you start supporting a change of borders in the Balkans -- of all regions -- it could lead to an infinite number of changes or demands for change. We think the borders should remain the same. The question is, will Kosovo become independent or will it remain part of Serbia as a province of Serbia, as it has been historically? And that's the question that only the people who live there should answer along with the Serb government. Now, they don't agree on the answer. That's why you have negotiations, and they are not being conducted by the United States -- they are being conducted by the United Nations. And Russia and the United States are two of the countries that have a special interest, given our own history. And both of us are supporting the process, but neither of us has said what the result should be. That would not be proper.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary, Deputy of Condoleezza Rice, is on the air. I'm thinking of how to formally ask you a question and yet obtain an informal answer. Because you've already answered formally the question I'm going to ask you about CIA prisons in Europe. Why have you said that at an appropriate time the State Department will give you an answer? You are the State Department, so give us the answer.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, let me just say, there are lots of different allegations from various parts of the media against the United States. And it's important that we have a chance to develop an answer and a response that we can give that will be easily understood by average people across Europe as well as by governments. And what the State Department's Spokesman said the other day is that, of course we will answer the letter sent to us by the European Union. And I think we ought to give our Secretary of State a chance to do that. You know, she has that right. So I think we should wait and see what decision she makes and then we will be in position to talk about these issues.
But I can tell you this -- the United States is a law-abiding country. We are obeying our own laws. We, of course, make every effort to obey international law, and we are a democratic country. There were some abuses conducted at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq more than a year ago, and we have denounced those abuses and have actually put on trial some of the American military officials who were involved in the abuses against Iraqi prisoners. We saw the evidence, we put them on trial, they were convicted and they are going to be serving time in jail, sentences in jail. This is only right that this happens.
Every democratic country has a responsibility on situations like Abu Ghraib, and it has to face up to it as we have done in Abu Ghraib. Now, some of the allegations that you have mentioned are different, they are separate, and there are so many of them, it's hard to keep track of them. They mainly come from the media, and so we are taking our time to look through each one of them, and we will respond in due time.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: We'll be waiting for the response from Ms. Rice who will now visit Romania. The European Council has already threatened Romania with expulsion if Romania does not disclose the secrets of some prisons. So, let's wait several days.
I have another question: when the decision was taken by the U.S. to invade Iraq, the U.S. said that weapons of mass destruction were deployed there. This was neither accurate nor complete information. Why when there is an escalation in relations with Iran and Syria, you are sure that this information regarding the weapons is accurate, would not repeat the same mistake in terms of the motivation?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: You know, what's interesting about the Iranian question is that in all the diplomatic conversations that we've had there is not a single country that I've dealt with who doesn't have this concern. You know, we do not pretend to have chapter and verse, to have all the details of what may or may not be happening in Iran. The problem is Iran has lost the trust of a lot of countries around the world, because for 18 years it conducted nuclear research, but it did so in secret without telling the relevant United Nations body, the International Atomic Energy Agency. And so they withheld that information, and so they were caught. And then they said: "Well, yes." They admitted it. "Yes, we did conduct secret research for 18 years." It's a long time, by the way. So, based on that and based on the repeated statements of the Iranian government, we have to conclude that they are heading in the direction of giving themselves this capability in the future. And that worries us, because, frankly, the position of my country is Iran has not been responsible, has not been a friendly country. It has supported terrorist groups. But there is not a big international debate, about this issue unlike the situation in Iraq several years ago.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: Look, you are contradicting to yourself. It is common to a diplomat.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I try not to do that. No, no, no. Not at all.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: Ivan from the city of Izhevsk, where large-scale defense ministry enterprises are located, is asking: "Please comment on the reports that Russia has sold anti-aircraft missiles to Iran." On one hand you are saying that Iran supports terrorists, is a state sponsor of terrorism, as you put it in your interview to a newspaper. And on the other hand your friend and partner Russia sells missile weaponry to Iran and everybody understands against whom these weapons will be aimed, against Israel and the United States. These two things don't seem to go together.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, we just saw the press reports today claiming that there had been a sale. So, when I received the press report, I simply asked some Russian officials, "Could you let us know? Is this true or not?" and they said they would check into that. I have not heard back from them, so I'm going to be very respectful and wait to hear back from the Russian government.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: Okay. Belarus. Why do the U.S. and the State Department react so sharply and use such strong language when it comes to Belarus? These are internal problems they should be free to solve as they please. Belarus does not wage war against anyone. Why such a strong reaction?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, look, we have nothing against the people of Belarus, of course, but we think that the government of Belarus is autocratic, anti-democratic, and is not giving anywhere near the same rights to their people as for instance the Russian government has done, or the Ukrainian government, or the Latvian government. Belarus is a very different country, of all the states of the former Soviet Union it's one of the few states that is completely dictatorial. And we are a democratic country, as you are, and we think that people ought to be free. They ought to have their rights, they ought to be able to say what they think, and journalists ought to be able to report without fear from the government. And in Belarus these days that's just not the case. That's not the truth of how people live, and so we have great sympathy to the people of Belarus. We just do not have a good relationship with the government.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: And that is all?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, it's a lot. I think if you look around this part of the world, I think our most difficult relationship officially is with the government of Belarus.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: This is so amazing. A huge country, like the Unites States of America -- a leader in economics -- and little Belarus. And you have the most complicated relationship. Rivals should be equal to you -- China, India -- don't you think so?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: No, you know, because these countries are all different, but India is a full-fledged democracy, and China is a country in a major state of reform. But Belarus has made no attempt to reform, no attempt to give its people greater liberties, greater freedoms. It's a pity for the people of that country. It's very different from the countries you'd mentioned.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: I'm trying to understand what the interest is to the American taxpayer, who cannot find either Bobrusk or Minsk.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Oh, you'd be surprised. There are a lot of Americans who know their geography, who remember their lessons from school. This was a very important country, obviously the Soviet Union years ago. We knew a lot about it. A lot of Americans know where Minsk is, of course. But, you know, each government has to stand for a set of values. That's what really makes up a democratic society: you stand for something, you represent something. And my country represents a hope for democracy. So, when we see a country that is not free, where the government is exploiting the people, should we be silent? Should we say nothing and turn the other way? Or shouldn't we at least voice support for those people who do not have rights. We think the proper thing is to speak up.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: Our interview with Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs, is coming to an end. Let's get back to our on-air voting. 6818 people participated in our voting, and including you that makes 6819.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Was my vote registered?
MR. VENEDIKTOV: I will mark it on the screen with the pencil.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you, I appreciate it.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: So, 61% of our listeners believe that the U.S. needs a weak and falling apart Russia and 39% of listeners believe that the U.S. needs a strong and prosperous Russia. How can you comment on these results, six to four?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I agree with the 39% percent.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: Finally, America is among the minority.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: And I would hope that eventually, at some point, we can convince the 61% of the people who voted in a different way. It really is not in the interests of the United States to deal with a weak Russia. Russia is a strong country today. It has a very strong leader. It has a strong sense of its foreign policy. It has resources. It has money from those resources. It's a country that is very active around the world. We are never going to be identical. We are never going always to think the same way because you're very different, you have a very different history than we do. But I really, truly think that there is more that unites us. There are more issues where we agree: we stand for a peaceful world, we want people to have democratic rights, we want people to have economic development. We don't want to see terrorist groups shooting people in the streets, taking people hostage in a theater, or killing schoolchildren as they did here in Russia. And I think you'd be surprised at the sympathy that the average American has for Russia. Russia has a good reputation in the United States, people see Russia as a great country. We look at your literature, we look at your music. I was raised on it, on Rakhmaninov, Musorgskiy, and Chaikovskiy.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: What about our YUKOS?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: (laughs) The average American thinks well of Russia, and I would hope the average Russian could think well of us. And I understand that we are partners in this world, and we are ought to be working together.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: (inaudible) Despite your diplomatic optimism, I would still maintain that the word diplomat is a bad word.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: You don't like diplomats.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: I understand. So, I would say that despite your diplomatic optimism, we are drifting apart. And we were more partners, say three or four years ago, than we are now.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, it's true that there are differences between us, differences of opinion on major issues, but it doesn't mean that somehow the relationship is still not strong. It is strong, and we are working together. And I think we have to understand that we have a complicated relationship with two countries of our history over the last 60 years. But we prefer to be positive and to understand that those two countries will never agree on everything and to hope that we will narrow the differences and remain partners for the future. I think we can and we shall. I think in large scale if you measure it from 1989 and 1990 yes, it's not perfect. There are some problems, but it is generally a positive trend.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: So Russia will be chairing the G-8?
MR. VENEDIKTOV: Will we gain access to the WTO?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, we hope so. We hope those negotiations will be successful.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: And when will the U.S. abolish the Jackson-Vanik amendment?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: You know, there still is some baggage from the past. And we have to clear away the baggage as best as we can.
MR. VENEDIKTOV: Well, at least I've heard, in the end, the word "clear," which means there's still a lot of work to do, as you've said. This has been a live broadcast with Under Secretary for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns in our studio. Thank you.
Released on December 5, 2005

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