Subnational Diplomacy With Ambassador Nina Hachigian
Nina Hachigian, special representative for subnational diplomacy at the U.S. Department of State, and Alyssa Ayres, dean of the Elliot School of International Affairs at George Washington University and adjunct senior fellow at CFR, discuss the nexus of state and local agendas and U.S. foreign policy and how officials can become more engaged in international affairs.
FASKIANOS: Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations State and Local Officials Webinar Series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president for the National Program and Outreach here at CFR.
We are delighted to have participants from forty-seven states and U.S. territories with us today. Thank you for taking the time to join us for this discussion, which is on the record.
CFR is an independent and nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, publisher, and educational institution focusing on U.S. foreign policy. CFR is also the publisher of Foreign Affairs magazine. As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy.
Through our State and Local Officials Initiative CFR serves as a resource on international issues affecting the priorities and agendas of state and local governments by providing analysis on a wide range of policy topics.
We are pleased to have Nina Hachigian and Alyssa Ayres with us today to talk about subnational diplomacy. We’ve shared their bios with you so I will give you a few highlights.
Ambassador Nina Hachigian is the first special representative for city and state diplomacy in the Office of Global Partnerships at the U.S. Department of State. Previously, she served as the first deputy mayor for international affairs for the city of Los Angeles and prior to that she served as the second U.S. ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Alyssa Ayres is currently serving as dean of the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University. Dr. Ayres is also an adjunct senior fellow at CFR where her work primarily focuses on India and U.S. relations with South Asia, and in 2017 she authored a CFR policy innovation memorandum calling for a special office in the State Department to facilitate advisory support to international trade delegations, sister city linkages, and networks pursued by American cities and states, and we’ve shared that report with all of you in advance of this discussion. She also served in the State Department as deputy assistant secretary for South Asia.
So, Alyssa, with that, I’m going to turn it over to you to begin the conversation and then we will turn to our group for their questions and comments.
So, over to you.
AYRES: Thank you, Irina, and what a timely conversation and there’s been so much interest in hearing today from Ambassador Hachigian. So why don’t we just dive right into it?
Ambassador, I’d love if you could kick this off by sharing with the group here a little bit about the work that you’re currently doing to create this new office, this new office for city and state diplomacy.
HACHIGIAN: It is so great to be here with so many city, county, state, and other local leaders. You’re my kind of people, always getting the job done.
As you heard, you know, I spent five years until last fall working for a great mayor. So I know how terribly difficult your jobs are and the miracles you’re expected to perform and that they are often thankless.
So let me just start by saying thank you for all that you do to help the American people, and I’d like to add a personal thanks to—I owe my job to the tenacity of mayors and others who lobbied to create this position and folks like Alyssa who helped.
I want to thank CFR for this great platform and for Alyssa. She has the shared passion for this new area of diplomacy. We were together on a panel that she hosted a while back that I thought was really one of the best discussions I’ve ever had on the topic.
So Mayor Garcetti really took a chance on me when he created the first Office of International Affairs and appointed me a deputy mayor in 2017. But I think that we proved over time with a great but small team that we could really deliver benefits for Angelenos like starting a free travel program for community college students, creating jobs through welcoming and leading trade delegations, and creating a vehicle for foreign direct investment, hosting a big summit with all that business it brought, and lots of constituent and diaspora services as well.
Local leaders, you all on this call, bring better lives to your people and whether that’s fixing the roads or keeping them safe from extreme weather and violence, making sure they have good jobs, celebrating with them, and you know, because you’re on this call, that in 2023 much of this important work is connected to the rest of the globe. And part of the reason the State Department brought me on is because we work on the same transnational issues that you do, of climate change and cybersecurity, pandemics, but from another angle.
So it made sense to connect the dots. Everything the State Department does it does with the security and prosperity of Americans in mind and my small but mighty new team are committed both to helping you deliver to your constituents and encouraging you to lead on the global stage. So we want to be your front door to the State Department.
So we have three broad goals that we’re pursuing, and feel free to ask more on the specifics. I’ll just, you know, give you the big overview.
But the first goal is to try to help bring the tangible benefits of foreign policy closer to the local level. So we want to help you connect with trade and investment opportunities. We have economic officers in nearly every country around the world willing to assist your communities to expand export and investment opportunities. Tell us if you have a business delegation that’s coming to visit and we can be sure that they don’t have any delays in getting their visas.
Another benefit we can offer is to—is our opportunities for young people to get the global skills that they will need in a more competitive world. The State Department has a slew of programs that my team has already shared with mayors’ and governors’ offices to make these opportunities more accessible, and you can help us get the word out, especially to those in underserved communities who might not get to hear about them through regular channels.
There are newer opportunities like the Gilman Program, which sponsor students of limited means to study or intern abroad. If you want to get on our mailing list just email [email protected]. All the department’s exchange programs are also at exchanges.state.gov. We want your young people out in the world representing the United States.
The second goal of my team is to help encourage leaders like you to engage around the world. Some of you are already doing that. You’re meeting with diasporas about the problems in their countries of origin. You’re leading trade missions, signing declarations, meeting with heads of state, sharing ideas, and welcoming tourists and students and family from overseas.
Some of you might already be involved in programs to help cities in other countries by providing advice or technical assistance and you’re helping to solve these global problems that affect your communities like climate change. Your work and commitment to that cause, to a lower carbon footprint, not only helps your residents in the form of lower air pollution and green jobs but it also helps us because when we as a nation meet our own commitments, and a lot of that comes down to your work, then the State Department negotiators have an easier time getting other countries to commit to their fair share of greenhouse gas reduction and that, in turn, means your people will face less extreme weather in the long run. So it’s two sides of the same coin and my team is now here to sort of draw those connections out.
It’s similar with COVID, of course. We’re negotiating a global pandemic accord, which will help countries coordinate better to stop the spread of a future pandemic, and the team that’s doing that at the State Department really wants to hear from U.S. local leaders. So if you are willing to relive that horrible experience and want to share your knowledge that you’ve gained we would love for that to happen as well.
So the third goal, in addition to trying to collect the benefits and supporting your global work, is to encourage the State Department in general to think and act with local leaders when it’s useful.
We want our diplomats to consider how certain issues like climate change will always benefit from a local lens, and despite taking on these global challenges we know that compared to many of your foreign counterparts American localities don’t have the same capacity in terms of staff for global engagement and we are exploring various ways to help and we’ll keep you informed about that. We can talk more about that in the Q&A.
But there are a few programs. We have a summit upcoming in Denver, this first ever Cities Summit of the Americas, and we can talk more about that. But we are going to be rolling out a program that will match U.S. cities and cities in—with counterparts in Latin America to share knowledge on sustainability initiatives. So that, in turn, will give the city—the U.S. cities a little bit of capacity to do that international engagement.
And there are certain kinds of international engagement that don’t take very much time at all or resources but they can mean a lot. For example, signing the Mayors Declaration on Democracy is quite simple. It takes less than five minutes and—but hundreds of mayors have already joined it and as they do so they’re making a powerful statement on the strength of democracy and how it can start at the local level.
So we can put that link in the chat or we’ll send it out afterwards, and if you’re a mayor’s team please consider signing it because we hope to make a—we’ll hope to do an event about it around the Summit of Democracies that’s coming up at the end of March.
So we’re looking for more concrete support but what we can offer you now is advice and expertise and guidance if you want it. The State Department is full of amazing experts on every country and just about every issue.
So if you want to understand our relationship with a place that you plan to visit or which is sending a delegation just let us know, and, in general, knowing when you travel overseas is useful to us. We can tell the embassy to look out for you. They might want to ask for a little bit of your time to talk to a local group and they’re very good at giving briefings to visiting officials about the country.
So I understand well the capacity issue, having served in Mayor Garcetti’s office, but I want you to know that it’s very helpful to us when you do engage. When you’re carrying American values with you to other parts of the globe that’s all to the good. And I know it can come with some political risk because international endeavors are not yet seen as inherent responsibility of good local leaders. But, of course, I think that they are or should be and we’ll keep making that point wherever we can.
So why don’t I—I think that’s a good general overview, Alyssa, and then we can talk about whatever else you’d like to.
AYRES: No, that’s a terrific overview. Thank you for getting us started with that kind of broad sense of what you’re standing up.
I would love to just follow up a little bit on two elements that you mentioned. One, you described, for example, with the upcoming Cities Summit of the Americas almost a matching function that will connect American cities with other cities across the hemisphere to share knowledge, and then you also described the office as providing like a coordinating function for cities or states that have activities of their own that they’re planning to undertake, whether it’s a delegation or receiving a delegation from another country.
Are you finding that there is already more international activity than you could have ever imagined taking place or are you finding that there’s also a real scope to kind of help plus up and help our local levels do more?
HACHIGIAN: It’s a really interesting question. So there’s—it’s both, actually. So and it’s a bit of a paradox because, on the one hand, our mayors and governors teams and counties and towns are much less resourced than—as I was saying, than their counterparts overseas.
Just to give you an example, like, Warsaw that—in Poland has more people doing international—has twice as many as the largest American office in New York, more than twice as many staff that are focused on international relations and most places in the United States don’t have anyone.
So we’re a huge country, though, so and we have a lot of cities and a lot of states. So, overall, there is a lot going on because there’s—you know, there are folks who are doing it. But there’s much, much, much more opportunity to expand for sure and move into different issues and do more technical assistance.
And we’re—like, every day we’re talking to mayors and governors and other local leaders’ teams and speaking to associations of, like, secretaries of state and counties and so we’re already pretty busy. And then on the other side we get a lot of inquiries from our colleagues who want to connect for one reason or another with—you know, with localities in the U.S.
On the Cities Summit that’s, you know, will be a way for local leaders—and it’s beyond mayors. It’s a cities summit but we’re inviting governors as well and others. To be able to do a lot of international business without leaving the United States because there’ll be hundreds of mayors there and some extremely high profile mayors from Latin America are coming and so it’s going to be a lot of fun.
The secretary of state is also coming so—we expect to he will, anyway. And so it’s going to be a, I think, a way that for those—you know, for the cities who are already engaged, great, and they’ll, you know, meet counterparts that they’re maybe already connecting to or networks that they’re already a part of. But for those who haven’t, it’s kind of—it will be a way to do that pretty easily.
And the program I just—that I described, you know, we’ll do some of that, but a lot of it was just going to happen organically the way it normally does with local leaders finding each other on the margins of, you know, different sessions on different issues that they’re passionate about.
AYRES: I’d love to follow up on something else that I know we’ve talked about in another context when you were at the Elliot School talking about the state and local diplomacy initiatives, and you mentioned in your opening comments here how it can sometimes cause some risk for state and local officials to have international activities if it’s perceived that this may not necessarily be beneficial to their citizens.
Can you talk more about how people can realize those benefits because it’s, obviously, an important part of making sure that—I mean, for those of us who are focused full time on international affairs it seems evident that international issues touch every part of our lives today. But I can see how the flip side it might be harder for somebody to see that if it’s not part of your daily life.
HACHIGIAN: Yeah. I do hope that we—just the existence of my team and my unit and the focus of the State Department on foreign policy for middle class will give local leaders some political cover. You know, if we’re involved and we’re asking then that might help in terms of constituents who might be grumpy about it.
And also mayors have described to me that, you know, if they’re out there on a trade mission, you know, bringing back jobs for the community or bringing companies to come invest in their community that, in turn, increases the tax base, which increases their ability to fill the potholes or, you know, get the best new fire truck or what have you.
So it’s kind of—it can be a virtuous circle and I just think there are a lot of great solutions that other cities have tried and that we can bring home. So, for example, and I just know the Los Angeles cases the best. So we have bus rapid transit because of a city in Brazil that did it first and that we went to see, and so that kind of thing improves the lives of your residents and jobs as well, as I mentioned, and, you know, all the climate change work that, you know, everyone—a lot of cities around the world are doing and sharing lessons on the best way to do that.
So a lot of that just requires that you’re engaging internationally and, you know, it takes a little time. It doesn’t happen overnight. But if you put a little time into it and it will, you know, very likely redound to concrete benefits in your community.
AYRES: Let me follow up right away. You mentioned climate change and I think one of the great examples of really active city networks is the C40 cities and we see from there there’s other kinds of parallel organizations that have emerged, like the Strong Cities Network or the U20, for example.
Can you talk a little bit about your new office and engagement with these other kinds of organizations and being a kind of contact point for our many local leaders who may want to plug in?
HACHIGIAN: Yeah. Absolutely.
Well, I can give you—anyway, they’re really important partners for us, all of them are, and we’re doing something a little experimental with the Cities Summit of the Americas where we’ve brought them all in to help co-create the actual, you know, sessions with us.
So we have C40 and Strong City and CHANGE, which is a gender equity network, and many others that are helping to create the panels and the sessions and the—you know, the discussions that will happen at the Cities Summit because they’re the ones who are engaging with mayors every day and they’re the ones who know where the conversation is on these, you know, many different topics.
So, yeah, on climate there’s C40. There’s ICLEI. There’s the Under2 Coalition that I recently was introduced to. They’ve worked at a state and regional level around the world and they’re critical. They’re absolutely critical networks that are doing some of this sharing back and forth and providing platforms for cities to share their solutions and learn from others about, you know, very specific technical stuff like, you know, where do you put your EV chargers, you know, how do you electrify your bus fleet, how do you get the purchasing power you need to show the transportation companies that you want electric buses, and sometimes cities have gathered together in coalitions to together make a purchase—that kind of a purchase. You know, how do you—like, how do you get green hydrogen? You know, where’s the technology going to come from? You know, how do you get to net zero on your grid?
Anyway, there’s many, many, many. I could go on and on. You know, sanitation and how you reduce methane. Anyway, these are all, like, technical, you know, challenges. At the end of the day—we talk about them very abstractly a lot of times but at the end of the day, like, you know, stuff has to go into the ground or onto, you know, streetlamps or whatever. It has to actually physically manifest and that’s why, you know, the subnational work in this area in particular is so important because if you’re not engaging, you know, with cities and counties and regions then you’re—you know, you can talk a good game but you actually have to then do it to actually reduce the carbon.
AYRES: Mmm hmm. Mmm hmm.
Just speaking of the idea that the action where it takes place is at the local level, I’d love to hear about how your new office is engaging with the Sustainable Development Goals and, you know, there’s one level of engagement through the totally organic, voluntary local review process. There are many other mechanisms.
Please share with us a little bit more about where this plays a role in the new special representative’s office.
HACHIGIAN: Yeah. Well, we’re having conversations with our colleagues in the International Organizations part of the State Department known as IO. They’re the ones who deal with the U.N. and all its processes and they’re, you know, in charge of the United States’ Sustainable Development Goals.
So we’ve been talking to them about the experiences we know at the local level where we have, you know, a bunch of cities and states that are—you know, are trying to measure their progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals, which, for those of you who don’t know, are these seventeen goals that the world agreed to, I think it was in 2015, that we wanted to reach by 2030.
So everything under the sun from, you know, no hunger to life under water to biodiversity on land to climate change, and then there’s one on cities, you know, specifically. So it’s a really interesting exercise that we went through when I was deputy mayor and it allowed us to really have conversations with other cities around the world in a different kind of language because we don’t hear about them a lot in the United States. But the rest of the world is pretty engaged on the SDGs.
So, anyway, it’s IO that will take the lead on that for the United States. But we are making sure that they, you know, have the resources that have already been created by subnational groups in the U.S.
AYRES: And can you share with us what’s on the diplomatic calendar for your office coming up ahead? You must have a series of—you mentioned the Cities Summit of the Americas. There are all kinds of other gatherings, I’m sure, that you’re planning to attend and engage in.
HACHIGIAN: Yeah. I can share the beginnings of it anyway.
So I’m going to go to the Munich Security Conference, which—tomorrow, which is kind of the—
AYRES: Oh, tomorrow. Yeah. (Laughter.)
HACHIGIAN: It’s kind of the lollapalooza of, you know, defense people—(laughs)—and I’ve never been before so I’m excited. But I’m going to be on this amazing panel discussion with the mayor of Kyiv, mayor of Tokyo, Koike—Governor Koike—the mayor of Munich, and a very well-known/regarded writer, Anne Applebaum, and it’s being moderated by Dávid Korányi, who was one of the founders of the—well, he was an instigator, I would say, and a shaper of the Pact of Free Cities when he was an adviser to the mayor of Budapest, and that’s a—it’s a(n) organization that works on democracy and they’re the ones—I mentioned that Global Declaration on Democracy, which is based on a text that they wrote—the Pact of Free Cities did.
So that’s Munich, and then I want to—anyway, there’s a whole bunch of engagement there. And then we have the Summit of Democracy at the end of March, which will be working on the—you know, the local leader element of that.
Then we have the Cities Summit of the Americas, and I’m basically not thinking too much far past that. There will be plenty more things that are starting to come my way. But those are the ones I’m focused on for now.
AYRES: It’s a pretty busy agenda for the next couple months at least.
Well, I know we have some questions already in the Q&A.
Irina, should we open it up now to the couple hundred people who are with us?
FASKIANOS: Absolutely. Let’s go to the group now for your questions.
As a reminder, we are on the record. To ask a question please click the raised hand icon on your screen. When you’re called upon accept the unmute prompt and please share your name, affiliation, followed by your question. You can also submit a written question in the Q&A feature in your Zoom window and I see that a few have done that. If you do choose to do that please share your affiliation as well.
So I’m going to call on the first raised hand, Heidi Hall.
Q: Thank you. Thank you for taking my question. My name is Heidi Hall. I’m a supervisor in the rural county of Nevada County in Northern California.
It’s fascinating to hear how many issues, how many activities, you’ve got going on trying to connect with local leaders, which I deeply appreciate. You’ve mentioned cities and governors, and you have to know that in the rural areas the counties take on a lot of those roles that the cities would normally do.
Will you include county commissioners and supervisors in these activities? Can we also be a part of these efforts and participate and is that, you know, something you can’t do because of the restrictions of the office or is it—was it just implied that county commissioners and supervisor(s) can be—and counties themselves could be included? Because it sounds wonderful.
HACHIGIAN: Of course. Absolutely, and we’re already well in touch with the National Association of Counties and we’ve spoken with them and we’re speaking to their annual event and we a hundred percent want counties on board.
The choice of the title was—is sort of a tricky one. We wanted it to be—so it began with subnational diplomacy and that title is maybe not as transparent as it could be. And so we are informally using city and state diplomacy just because it’s short and pithy but counties are a hundred percent invited to our activities, and rural counties as well and, you know, there are, I think, probably lots of opportunities for sharing information and practices between rural areas around the world and I consider them to be absolutely part of our mission as well.
Q: Thank you.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next question from Ahmad Zahra, who is a council member in Fullerton, California.
I’m an immigrant from Syria currently serving my second term on Fullerton City Council. I appreciate this webinar. How do you envision working with local elected officials on relations in internationally troubled countries or regions?
HACHIGIAN: Yeah. Thank you for that. Thank you for that question and, you know, so sorry for what—about—with the earthquake in Turkey and Syria. It’s really tragic.
So I would say that at this point, you know, if there are—you know, we can do a variety of things. If there are cities or places that you want to, you know, connect with around the world that’s something that we can, potentially, facilitate.
If there are—if there’s, you know, aid missions—I know that there are, you know, various aid organizations that are based in the United States that are working in Turkey, at least. I’m not sure about Syria. And we can also arrange briefings for you about what is—you know, what is going on, what our policies are, what we’re trying to get accomplished and that, I think, can be, you know, something that is informative then for your diaspora community if they’re asking you questions about, you know, the state of play.
So those are a few ways off the top of my head that I can think about.
FASKIANOS: Fantastic. Let’s go next to Jorge Maldonado.
Q: Yes. Good afternoon. This is Jorge Maldonado from the city of Nogales, Arizona, down south of the border down here in—next to Mexico.
I’ve lived in Mexico for fourteen years and have worked in Mexico for thirty-five years and a lot of times I see the collaboration with the other countries. We are not taking advantage of the people that have any relationship with the other country.
Oh, by the way, I’m mayor of Nogales, Arizona, and I’d like to—you know, I’ve been mayor for a little bit over a month and I’d like to be acknowledged and be available for any support that—you know, that anybody would need with the relationships to Mexico. I know twenty-seven of the thirty states in Mexico and I think a lot of times talking and being part of the groups with people that know the country is helpful for everybody.
So whatever I can help you and whatever I can learn from you, you know, in the summits I’m looking forward to being there. I would really appreciate all the help we could do and I know together we could do a lot more things. I appreciate this time and thank you for this conference.
HACHIGIAN: Well, thank you and congratulations. I hope that you have a wonderful time as mayor. It’s a really tough job but a really great job from what I hear. And thank you for your offer of your expertise and for sure, like, this is—you know, part of the beauty of this office is we find out about folks like you who have, you know, deep connections and relationships. And, you know, I think—you know, I’ve talked to other, you know, border town mayors or near border town mayors who want to do more cooperation with their Mexican counterparts and I talked to one mayor who wasn’t sure what was allowed what’s not allowed. And, you know, that’s exactly the kind of thing that we are here to help—you know, to help, you know, talk through and figure out.
So thank you, and really look forward to seeing you at the Cities Summit. I think there’ll be a, you know, a good group of Mexican mayors and governors who will be there. So thanks.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Well, I’ll take the next written question from Wayne Domke, who’s a trustee at the Roselle Village in Illinois, and this is more of a—it’s a comment and a question.
And Roselle very active in the Sister Cities program. We have a Polish city, a German city of friendship, subpartnership. They’re close to a city in Sicily and have a very active group seeking a relationship with a city in India. All of this and they’re only a town of 23,000. What do you see is the value in the Sister Cities program that was begun by Dwight Eisenhower?
HACHIGIAN: That’s amazing. Congratulations. You’re very active. (Laughs.)
I think the Sister Cities program is great. I really do. I will admit that when I came into my job as deputy mayor I was a policy person and I wanted to do serious policy things. But, honestly, the Sister City relationships that we had provide that foundation, even if you want to do—you know, go beyond cultural activities and beyond exchanges to do—you know, in our case it was a clean port agreement with Nagoya, Japan.
So I think that those longstanding ties are terrific and I encourage you to keep them up. You can think about whether there’s more that you want to do than what you’re already doing with those particular places. But all of that I really think helps the United States as a country as well. All those ties that tie us to the rest of the world is good for us also.
So thank you, and I think it’s a terrific program.
FASKIANOS: Alyssa, since they are seeking a relationship with the city in India do you have anything to add, given your time there and your expertise?
AYRES: You know, one of the interesting things and one of the challenging things about forging local level relationships around the world is that not all cities or not all states have the same level of autonomy.
So Indian cities do not have the same kind of autonomy you might expect from a U.S. city so that will be something that, perhaps, emerges as you’re looking to carry out, I don’t know, certain kinds of exchanges or conversations.
But, for me, one of the most interesting things about seeing the rapid growth and interest in subnational or state and local diplomacy is the way that kind of broader organizations have formed to bring local levels of government together on an even platform as opposed to a point to point or a paired kind of relationship.
And so that new formation is what’s really interesting about this moment and I would imagine that you’ll have contact with some other cities that may have similar partnerships that could offer kind of technical advice or perspective from things that they’ve experienced.
FASKIANOS: Great. I’m going go next to Mayor Seren, raised hand.
Q: Thank you. My name is Kahlil Seren, mayor of the city of Cleveland Heights just outside of Cleveland, Ohio.
I am—you know, I’ve seen over the last year of being mayor—I’ve watched other mayors be criticized for a variety of activities—leaving their jurisdictions to go to conferences, to visit other jurisdictions to get insight into the challenges they face even within the United States.
And so I’m wondering if you have heard this kind of criticism and how you advise mayors or other elected officials in dealing with that kind of criticism. You know, leaving your city, people think it’s a vacation. They don’t see the tangible results of the experience, and so I’m wondering how you justify that to people.
HACHIGIAN: Yeah. It’s a good question and I’ve definitely heard this kind of thing.
Well, I guess I have two reactions or two thoughts. One is usually it blows over fairly quickly because it’s not that interesting and also that, you know, I think constituents mostly know, you know, they’re the ones who elected you and elected their leaders and may, you know, have some bit of flexibility in their thinking about the mayor, you know, doing things for good reasons.
The other thing I would say is that you can—you know, when we did international trips back when I was deputy mayor we made sure that there were really clear deliverables, at the end of the day, that there were jobs and agreements and, you know, promises for them to come to visit us and et cetera.
So that’s another thing to do is just to—you know, just to be very clear about why and what you’re getting out of it. But I—you know, I hope over time that that changes because mayors’ work is international now. I mean, the COVID pandemic is—you know, there’s no better example than that. Climate change is another one and cybersecurity is another one and migration is another one.
These are all international challenges that you have to deal with and, therefore, you know, the solution is in part an international one.
FASKIANOS: Great. Thank you. I’m going to go next to Kathleen German, who is a community liaison to New York State Senator Harvey Epstein.
How can New York State legislators become more engaged in international affairs? What office can be our point of contact if we’d like to seek guidance with international affairs in our districts such as asylum-seeking individuals? And a few others have asked that question, too, about point of contact.
HACHIGIAN: Yeah. I mean, you’re welcome to contact us, [email protected], and if we’re not the right folks to handle it we can, you know, be the traffic cops to send your inquiries to the right place. So I think that’s the easiest answer.
FASKIANOS: Great. I’m going to go next to a raised hand from Alberto Jaramillo.
Q: Hello. My name is Alberto Jaramillo. I’m a council member for the city of Sunland Park. I represent District Number Four, and we are actually one of the border cities also here in the country.
I want to—first off, I want to see if—this is the first time I’ve been invited to this type of a meeting, and I would like to see if I can actually get the recording because I know it’s being recorded. There is a lot of important information that I missed out. I was trying to take notes and I want to see that information. Also, some of the things that you mentioned like the fifteen goals, things of that sort, if you can also send some of that information to me.
Also, the mayor from I think—I took a note here—the mayor from Nogales, I would like to see if I can get in touch with him so somehow if you can send me an email or can I send my number because I want to—since my first year, I wanted to go to Mexico, start this relationship between the two cities because it looks like we are—since we are so small—it’s only 17,000 people here according to our census so we are always, like, kind of, like, left out of this major cities for, like, you know, El Paso, Las Cruces, and Juarez. I wanted to start building a relationship between them, between the four cities. We are part of those—that circle. But I’d like to know how to start about having this relationship with our sister city, Juarez.
FASKIANOS: Great, and—that’s great. We can follow up with you and, yes, we will be sending out the link to the video and transcript after this.
HACHIGIAN: And if you have questions about Sister City stuff you can send those to us.
FASKIANOS: Great. All right. That’s terrific.
I’m going to go next to, let’s see, Mark Sharpton of Logan County, Oklahoma. Sorry, yes. Has a question. Can local officials negotiate and represent the U.S. and local government without the constitutional authority to do so—Article Two, Section Two?
HACHIGIAN: So when I say represent I mean in an informal way, not with a—you know, not with the U.S. flag and the, you know, thing that, you know, that you would see at a diplomatic gathering.
But the fact is students, you know, business people, and local leaders who are out, you know, in other countries are representing the U.S. in an informal way and it’s—you know, of course, the fact that the federal government has the authority to conduct foreign policy.
But there’s been—and Alyssa should answer this—but there’s been a growing understanding that there are a lot of other actors that affect foreign policy even if they are not charged with making it and that includes businesses and it includes labor leaders and it includes, you know, tourists and local leaders.
Alyssa will give you a better explanation than I just did. So but I did—but it’s a good question and I did—when I said represent I meant informally.
AYRES: Just to note, briefly, I think, as the ambassador said, the engagement of state and local actors in international questions is not a shift in asking other actors to negotiate on behalf of the United States.
That isn’t what seems to be happening and, as you note, the constitutional authority for the conduct of foreign policy resides with the federal government.
What seems to be happening is more of a voluntary engagement and a sense of sharing best practices as ways to learn from and implement at the local level, and so that’s why you see the kinds of networks that have grown around topics and shared concerns.
As the ambassador mentioned, the C40, again, focused on climate and sharing best practices. You could almost call it, like, a technical transfer of knowledge whether it’s infrastructure development or transportation or other ways of thinking about meeting the challenges that are before all state and local level officials.
So, again, it isn’t that somebody is suddenly saying, please start negotiating this treaty. It isn’t that at all. It’s more of a voluntary engagement that brings people together to help learn from and bring best practices to their own locations.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next to Maria Tran, who has raised her hand.
Q: Hi. My name is Maria Tran. I am a city council member. This is my first term.
My question for you is regarding the Sister City program. Should we ignore the policy about woman rights, children’s rights, when we voting or consider for the applicant of a Sister City in the program?
HACHIGIAN: That’s really up to you, I think. I don’t—what city are you from or place are you from?
Q: Brooklyn Park. We have voting for that kind of program and other—you know, there is another different side opinion thing that we should skip that. I, myself, I think human right, children right, woman right, is in our policy—national policy and Constitution that we have to base on that in our decision-making. We cannot skip it. But other of my official colleague, somebody think that you can just skip it.
HACHIGIAN: Yeah. I mean, my personal opinion is that it is important and those issues are important. But, you know, we—and we can, certainly, you know, have a longer conversation about, you know, which place and, you know, the relationships of the United States to that place.
But that would be my—you know, when I was deputy mayor, like, that meant that was important to me, human rights and women’s rights, as you say, and individual rights, and I didn’t want to, you know, support another place that didn’t observe those things.
But it can be a complicated question and it can be the case that a city is, depending on what country you’re in, you know, there’s a city that’s really trying to do the right thing even if the whole, you know, country isn’t.
So it’s—it can be a tricky question. But, you know, you were elected to represent your people and if your people care about human rights and women’s rights then I think, you know, it makes sense to me to take that forward in your international engagements.
FASKIANOS: I’m going to take the next written question from Jackie Gomez-Tejeda, who is in the office of Florida State Representative Rita Harris.
What organizations can we work with to help survivors in Turkey/Syria? What would be a great next step for a local legislative office to take to offer some relief?
HACHIGIAN: That’s a great question, and I know that there are international organizations that are—or I should say there are organizations in the United States that are organizing to collect relief. And so let me find out the right answer for you and I’ll ask CFR to send it in the email that they send out afterwards.
FASKIANOS: Great. Thank you.
Next question we will take written or raised hand from Chodri Khokhar. If you can accept the unmute and state your affiliation that would be great.
OK. That’s not working. I want to—in the interest of time I’m going to go on to Darren Costa. There you go.
Q: Hello. This is Chodri Khokhar, mayor of Glendale Heights, Illinois.
Q: I have one question. I’m from Pakistan and I want to have a sister city in Pakistan, number one. Number two, I want to help, you know, those—flood came, you know. And I want to also have some trade, you know, with Glendale Heights and Pakistan. How you can facilitate, you know, these goals?
HACHIGIAN: Yeah. So on the sister cities question there’s an organization called Sister Cities International and they’re the ones who can, you know, advise you on how you establish a formal sister city agreement.
But we can also connect you to the folks in the State Department who work on Pakistan to maybe advise on the city and maybe advise on how to help the flood victims. That’s terrific, and we can do that.
So if you use that email I mentioned, [email protected] and write there what you would like to do then we can take it from there.
FASKIANOS: Great. There’s a question from David Kim. I don’t know the affiliation.
But will the Office of Subnational Diplomacy live past the Biden administration? Are you working with management to institutionalize the office as Secretary Clinton did with SGWI?
HACHIGIAN: Yeah. I hope so. That’s the plan and, you know, we’ll just see what the next administration decides to do.
But it’s definitely something that’s on our minds and, honestly, it’s local leaders that will be the ones to say, don’t take it away, and your voices will carry forward, I think, to keep it, you know, if we end up being useful to you. So, you know, I certainly hope so.
FASKIANOS: Fantastic. I’m going to go next to Darren Costa.
Q: Hi. Good afternoon. Thank you so much for presenting all this very useful information. I’m a councilor in a gateway city just outside of Boston, Massachusetts. So we have a large amount of immigration through the city.
We’re a majority-minority city, a majority non-English speaking city, where I’ve found, as a counselor, is with outreach. Could you recommend any bodies of people that could help the city better engage and that feedback received can better reflect—thank you—what the—you know, the representation of the people? Because it seems like it’s a small community of people that tend to get involved with city services or tend to actually give feedback to the city. So are there any recommendations on how to get feedback and community involvement that mirrors more closely the community around us?
HACHIGIAN: Yeah. That’s a really interesting question.
My experience tells me that there tend to be organizations that are gathering those people and it could be—they could be religious. They could be, you know, other kinds—like other—like diaspora groups that are organizing to help folks back home or, you know, organizing for, you know, whatever in their own contexts.
So that would be—I guess, my thought would be to go to do some research into, you know, where are these constituents gathering and, you know, would they be, you know, open to, you know, a dialogue with you.
My guess is they’re probably organized in some way or another and it’s really just a matter of kind of figuring it out. It could be through schools as well. So we can—I don’t know what we can do to help in that case. But if you can think of something or—you know, we’re certainly open to it.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next to Kristen Edgreen Kaufman.
Q: Hi, Ambassador Hachigian. Thank you for doing this very informative talk. It’s been very, very helpful.
I have a couple of questions. First, I would love to get your thoughts on the trade memorandum of understandings that the U.K. is currently signing with many states and local municipalities—your thoughts on that.
And I guess the bigger question is: How can cities make sure that they are fully aligned and in step with the federal government so that we’re not used kind of as pawns for foreign governments that might be approaching cities to achieve an aim that the federal government has already said no to?
HACHIGIAN: Another great question.
So the U.K. memorandums of understanding, I know that, you know, a bunch of places have signed those and, you know, just make sure the terms make sense to you and that there’s something in there that says it’s nonbinding. At least that’s what I would recommend.
I don’t even—I’m not sure they can actually legally be binding anyway. But just to protect, you know, your own interests, that it’s more of a, you know, a guidepost than it is anything that you are committing to.
The U.K., obviously, is a great friend of the United States so not really worried about it. But I think that’s just sort of a best practice and you—feel free to send it to us and we can always comment on it as well.
And in—yeah, in terms of your other question, I would say just try to keep connected to us and let us know if there are approaches that don’t feel right to you or feel like they are masking something else and, you know, we can, you know, offer briefings that could be informative.
FASKIANOS: There are several questions about point of contact. Can you restate? And we’ll include this in our follow-up email, the email address that people should use to contact you.
HACHIGIAN: Yeah. So it’s subnational, S-U-B, and then the word national but one word, [email protected].
FASKIANOS: Wonderful. I’m going to take—try to sneak in one last question from Reed Holwegner. So if you could be brief that would be great, and my apologies for not getting to the rest of the wonderful questions in the chat and raised hands.
Q: Thank you very much. I’m the nonpartisan director of legislative research in the South Dakota legislature and I’ve been staffing legislatures for over a quarter-century and I’ve observed that oftentimes changes in our tax law or economic development programs or property laws may start to touch into the areas of foreign policy.
The resources, I think, at the state level that would be most beneficial for staff and legislators is a deeper understanding of how we can unintentionally affect foreign policy or make it more difficult for the United States to further negotiate with other countries.
HACHIGIAN: Thank you very much for that comment and context, and it’s not, to be frank, an issue we’ve tackled yet or figured out how to tackle yet.
But I think you’re right that it can happen. I know that it can happen, and I’m not exactly sure where the lines are yet. So but it’s something that I—you know, it’s on my mind and we will, you know, think through the right way to, you know, to, you know, think through that issue and connect with the states. But thank you for that. Appreciate it.
AYRES: We are—we have about one minute left so I think we’re close to the end here. But I just wanted to say how impressed I am with the level of engagement—some very specific questions for the new Office on the City and State Diplomacy.
Ambassador Hachigian, you’re going to have a whole slew of new emails for the team to answer and help connect people. It’s clear that there’s a desire to have a lot more international engagement and build those bridges. So great to have been part of this conversation today.
HACHIGIAN: Yeah, I agree. Thank you so much to you and the Council. And, yeah, I’ve created—we’re creating a lot more work for me, but that’s the idea. (Laughter.)
FASKIANOS: I echo all of that. And, again, as a reminder, we will send out the link to the webinar recording and transcript along with the links to the things that were mentioned. You can also follow Ambassador Hachigian’s work at the State Department on Twitter at @SubnationalDip, and, as always, we encourage you to visit CFR.org, ForeignAffairs.com, and ThinkGlobalHealth.org for more expertise and analysis.
For those of us who are first timers we hope you will return for subsequent webinars for State and Local Officials. We will be sending out our announcement for the next one shortly, and you can email us, [email protected], to let us know what else we can be doing to support the important work that you are doing.
So, again, thank you all for being with us, for your terrific questions and comments, and we look forward to continuing the conversation with you all.
AYRES: Great discussion. Thank you.
FASKIANOS: Have a good day.