Mr. President, you refer to the Russian President Putin as your friend. Hasn’t he disappointed you?
Friends can disagree. He is concerned about the missile defense system; he thinks it’s aimed at him. It’s not: it’s
aimed at rogue regimes that would use a missile to achieve political objective or to create unrest. We’re totally transparent in our designs. We want them to see our technologies. Angela Merkel was very instrumental in our reaching out to the Russians; she was deeply concerned about the ramifications of this decision. And so we’re working very carefully. We have nothing to hide. The Cold War is over. We’re now into the 21st century, where we need to deal with the true threats, which are threats of radical extremists who will kill to advance an ideology and the threats of proliferation.
Thank you, Mr. President. But certainly it’s fair to say the relationship between the West and Russia has become more complicated.
Yes, it has.
Is a reassertive Russia a friend, an ally, or a challenge?
I can’t speak for the EU-Russian relationship; that’s recently where there’s been some tension, as you noted—the US-Russian relationship is complex. We believe strongly in democracy. Vladimir Putin will tell me that Russia is a democracy and that he’s advancing democracy. We have some questions about that, of course. The actions taken in Estonia, for example, sent a confusing signal to us. We obviously have a difficult issue with Kosovo. But disagreement on issues doesn’t mean that the relations aren’t cordial. And we have common ground with Russia on matters like Iran and North Korea. How do you deal with the differences? Do you end up creating more opportunities for cooperation, or do you deal with them in such a way as it widens gulfs and creates more antagonisms? My relationship with Russia is firm. I tell people what I believe based upon certain principles, but it’s going to be in such a way that treats people with respect. I’ve noticed that Angela Merkel has also had to deal with Vladimir Putin, and has done so in a respectful but firm way. I admire the way she’s handled her diplomacy. She has proven herself to be a very strong leader. For that, I’m grateful and I hope the German people are, as well.
Many Poles do not believe in the uranium threat, but are anxious about the threats from Russia. What will Poland gain from participating in missile defense?
I would certainly hope that Poland won’t be threatened again by an outside force. I can understand why people in Poland could be nervous about that. After all, it’s been a terrible part of their history. As an ally in NATO, I can’t make a stronger statement than to say we stand with you, and so do NATO allies. I’m sure there’s probably some skepticism from some older folks, or those who study history, where Poland had been given assurances and those assurances didn’t come through. In this case, they will. The best way to compensate Poland is to have good, strong bilateral relations. There are jobs as a result of our airplane deal, capital investment, and more transparency. And we’ll keep it that way.
Russia uses its oil and gas resources as a political tool. Do you have any influence on the Kremlin’s energy policy?
You’ve got your worries about supplies of energy, and so do I. Our strategy is to diversify. If you’re interested in reducing dependence on crude oil, then what you do is develop different ways to power your automobiles. My goal is to make us nearly totally independent from foreign sources of oil. This ought to be the goal of any nation that worries about a sole-source supplier: how do you do it? You can do it through nuclear technology, for example.
Do you feel abandoned in the war on terror?
Quite the contrary. I feel that we’re in this long-term struggle with a lot of strong allies—a lot of people in Iraq who committed resources and manpower and effort. A lot of people in Afghanistan. All the NATO countries have manpower there, plus a lot of other countries.
Do you listen to the criticism that has been leveled at you all over the world?
I hear what people say, and I’m very comfortable with my decisions. Our country came under attack, and I vowed to the American people that I would do all in my power to protect it. I also knew that we had to deal with threats before they came to hurt us, whether it be in Afghanistan or Iraq. Now the fundamental question is, will the world help these young democracies develop? Make no mistake about it, the enemy wants to strike again. This enemy is dangerous. These are ideologues who have got ambitions, and it’s very important that we all take them seriously. And they’re moving. They’re dangerous, and I will remind our friends.
Originally published in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on June 2, 2007
Republished in English by permission of the author
Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger is the foreign affairs editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in Germany. He is also a member of the Atlantic Initiative Advisory Board. He has been a congressional fellow at the U.S. House of Representatives and as a Marshall fellow at Harvard University. Mr. Frankenberger is a member of the Trilateral Commission and serves on the advisory board of the German Institute for European Politics.
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