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Assistant Secretary for European Affairs Gordon’s Remarks at a Media Roundtable at the U.S. Embassy in London, January 2013

Speaker: Philip H. Gordon, Senior Fellow
Published January 9, 2013

Assistant Secretary for European Affairs Philip Gordon made these remarks during a Media Roundtable at the U.S. Embassy in London, England, on January 9, 2013, and addressed the possibility of Britain leaving the EU.

Excerpt from the transcript:

"Question: There is serious discussion [inaudible] about leaving the European Union or scaling down very considerably the political [inaudible]. Can you tell us what your perspective is on that and what message you are delivering to British officials on that subject?

Assistant Secretary Gordon: Sure. We've obviously been following this very closely and have for a long time. Obviously this is a question for the British people and the British Government to define their relationship with the European Union. All we can say from an American perspective is what we've said before which is that we value a strong European Union. As I indicated in my opening remarks, Europe in general and the EU in particular is such a critical partner for the United States on all of these global issues, and therefore, we also value a strong U.K. voice in that European Union. Britain is such a special partner of the United States that shares our values, shares our interests, has significant resources to bring to the table, more than most others. Its voice within the European Union is essential and critical for the United States, so there are a lot of, inevitably, technical and detailed issues that have to be sorted out for every member of the European Union as it moves forward, but as a broad and general thing we value a strong U.K. voice in a strong European Union.

Question: Some of the Euro skeptics say we could have [inaudible] closer relationship with the United States as a separate entity. What would be your answer to that?

Assistant Secretary Gordon: I wouldn't underestimate the increasing weight of the EU in the world. Again, this is a long-evolving and gradual process, and nobody ever expects that national foreign policies will disappear or bilateral relationships, foreign policy relationships with the United States will disappear, but it is nonetheless the case that over time the European Union as an institution has gained an increasing voice -- you've seen the way that Secretary Clinton and High Representative Ashton work together, including most recently a joint trip they took together to the Balkans. But well beyond the Europe issues, they coordinate closely on all of the issues I mentioned -- Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Middle East, Israel, Egypt, and so on. And when Europeans put their resources together and have a collective decision-making function they end up playing a major role in the world. Again, it doesn't overshadow national perspectives and it doesn't make them disappear and there are still foreign policies and foreign ministers in all of these countries that also have an important voice and a particular voice with the United States and differentiated voices. But I think that is just a reality in the world in which we live, and for the U.K. to be a part of that stronger, more important voice in the world is something I know a lot of British people welcome, and from an American perspective we certainly welcome the British voice in that EU.

Question: Just following up from Lindsey's question, is the corollary of what you're saying, Mr. Gordon, is that if the U.K. does leave the EU, then its views will have less resonance in Washington and we'd actually perhaps lose what influence it has in Washington if it becomes just an off-shore island.

Can I ask a second question if I may? Does Syria come under you at all? You're liaising on Syria, I gather.

Assistant Secretary Gordon: We work very closely with Europeans on Syria --

Question: On Syria, I know the common stand is that Assad must go, but it's now been 22 months since the revolution began on the ground, and we've seen for ourselves in places like Aleppo, there hasn't really been much movement since last summer. So is this policy that Assad must go, going to become less tenable if the stalemate continues?

Assistant Secretary Gordon: Is what going to be less tenable? Sorry.

Question: The demand that Assad must go.

Assistant Secretary Gordon: Two very different things. On the first, again, I'll leave it to the British Government and the British people to conclude what sort of relationship they want with the EU and what that means for their relationship with Washington. Britain will, of course, always have a particular voice in the United States and a special relationship with the United States, irrespective of its other engagements throughout the world. That's not in doubt. Beyond that, I think I've already stated the general principle that the European Union itself has an increasing voice in the world and an increasing partnership with the United States.

On Syria, we do believe that Assad's fall is inevitable. I think the international community gave him ample time to reform, to listen to his people, and to find a way forward in which he could continue to play some role or remain in power. And it was not just the view of the United States, but pretty much the entirety, with a few notable exceptions, of the international community that he had squandered that opportunity, and the only way that Syria can have a peaceful, stable future now is for him to step down. That certainly looks like the will of the majority of the people of Syria. It is the view of the dozens and dozens if not more than 100 countries that have called on him to step down, most of whom have recognized the opposition as the legitimate authority in Syria, and it's definitely the view of the United States, Britain, and other Europeans.

The situation on the ground is evolving and we are confident that over time Assad will lose power and leave power. We share the view that sooner is better than later. There is a very serious humanitarian situation in Syria and with each passing day and week and month, more and more tragedies are taking place. The person most responsible for those tragedies is Mr. Assad himself.

But our approach has consisted of increasing the pressure on that regime -- diplomatic, political, and financial -- which is having a real impact; increasing support for the opposition and trying to coordinate it so that when that day does come that there's a political transition in Syria, there's something stable in its wake; and in the meantime, providing humanitarian assistance.

On the diplomatic track we continue to try to work with the UN under Joint Special Representative Brahimi and others, to try to bring about the sort of political transition that key members of the international community including the Permanent Five representatives of the United Nations Security Council agreed in Geneva which was to say there needs to be transitional authority that takes power on the way to a political transition. We have resumed work with Mr. Brahimi, who is in the lead on this. There will be another meeting between the United States, Russia, and the Joint Special Representative this coming week to try to advance that process. We will continue down that diplomatic road to try to bring about this necessary political transition."

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