First EU Foreign Minister Makes Plans For Haiti, Iran

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The new EU foreign minister, Baroness Catherine Ashton, met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday and discussed EU plans for Haiti and a joint strategy regarding Iran. Host Liane Hansen speaks with Ashton, the first person to fill this role, a new creation under the recently-implemented Lisbon Treaty.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

Joining us in the studio is the Baroness Catherine Ashton, the recently appointed European Union high representative for foreign affairs and security policy. Among her immediate responsibilities is coordinating the EU's aid efforts in Haiti. Welcome to the program, Lady Ashton.

Lady Baroness CATHERINE ASHTON (High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, European Union): Thank you.

HANSEN: What are the EU and its 27-member nations doing to help Haiti both immediately and in the long term?

Lady ASHTON: Well, the first thing to say is this is a big challenge for the European Union and for me, five weeks into the job to coordinate the efforts of the member states. Twenty-one member states have provided assistance on the ground from field hospitals, water sanitation, fire fighters - all of the things that have helped support the effort onto the United Nations to try and help these people. And it's a terrible, terrible set of circumstances.

Second thing is already between the European member states and the commission, we have about half a billion dollars available for aid to be able to start the process of rebuilding. Most importantly, the reason I'm in the United States is to talk with Secretary of State Clinton, which I've done, to begin the long process of recognizing we have to be there for the long haul to try and get this country into good shape and to try and support the people for the future.

HANSEN: Now, did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton invite you to go to Haiti with her and you decided not to because you didn't want the attention focused on you?

Lady ASHTON: No. Actually, what happened was when we first discussed it, we both agreed that it was wrong to go at the immediate point when aid had to get in. And you will know from the reports here that the airfield was in a bad state until it was taken over by the military who'd been able to get it moving again. We had planes in the air that couldn't land because planes were still on the ground. It was the wrong moment to go.

For Secretary of State Clinton, the position was different. She was asked to go by the president of Haiti. He asked, would she go, and of course she very deliberately did not leave the airport. She went there, met with him, met with others and left. I was not in that position. For me, the time to go is when I've got something to contribute and when I'm not in the way of the immediate aid. And I will go to Haiti at that point and make sure that, as we begin to build long-term, we're talking to the government of Haiti so that the ownership is with them.

HANSEN: Do you have a timeframe in mind?

Lady ASHTON: I don't yet. I will wait and see what the U.N. say in terms of where they feel they are at the moment. And as we begin to pull the donor conferences together, as we begin the conversations of foreign affairs council of the 27 member states talking to me on Monday will get a greater feel for what efforts we think we can do. And then we can go and talk about the contribution we want to make.

HANSEN: Now to that meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Both you and Secretary Clinton promised to keep increased pressure on Iran regarding its nuclear program. What is the EU's strategy at this point?

Lady ASHTON: Well, we agree with the United States that we have essentially a twin track approach. We need to recognize that the progress we wanted to make has not been achieved. We're disappointed, frankly, that Iran has not agreed to do what needs to be done. And that means we also have to then think that we have responsibilities to the international community to deal with that issue.

HANSEN: In conversations about putting pressure on Iran, have you discussed the idea of additional sanctions.

Ms. ASHTON: It is, of course, the most obvious thing that we have to contemplate. But in doing so, we've also got to be clear what we're trying to achieve if you like to be smart about what we do and to make sure that we don't affect ordinary people, but that we make the point and we make the point forcefully. This needs to be looked at so the Iranians have got to decide to, really, fulfill their own obligations to the (unintelligible) community.

HANSEN: This is essentially a new position because it's under the Lisbon Treaty that went into effect last month that allowed you to become the EU foreign minister. What do you consider to be the EU's most urgent foreign policy issues?

Lady ASHTON: Well, I think we'll be judged by what happens in our neighborhood. And that means if you look across the area, you very quickly get Western Balkans, what's happening in Bosnia and Kosovo and so on. And you go a little bit further and you see Ukraine and so on. And of course a key partner in all of that will be Russia. So, that for us I think is where we recognize we've got to add value and where we'll be judged.

HANSEN: Yeah. Europe was split over the war in Iraq and there are differing ideas about how Europe should relate to Russia. And since you brought up Russia, what are your ideas?

Lady ASHTON: Well, Russia's a key strategic partner and, of course, for the 27 member states, they have different histories as Russia. Therefore, they approach Russia from a different angle. What's really good, though, is when they come together we're able to formulate a policy. And one of the things my job entails is to allow the 27 countries to formulate policies together.

The United States has now developed a positive relationship with Russia, I think, of recent times that we're seeing the benefits of in the way that Russia is reacting to issues like Iran or the Middle East. We want to build on adding Europe as well.

HANSEN: What do you see as the future - look into your crystal ball - of the European Union?

Lady ASHTON: I hope what we'll see is the recognition that we've got a strong partnership of countries - however many it is in the future - who are able to engage across the world and provide value-added support by being Europe, whether that's economically, whether that's politically - certainly in foreign policy terms. And it is recognized and working closely with strategic allies like the U.S. to try and solve some of the world's problem.

You know, if you think going back to where we began on Haiti, we got to do this together because we're much better together. We can provide different things and we can provide much more for the people of Haiti if we're collaborating and that's what I want to see.

HANSEN: Baroness Catherine Ashton is the high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy and she joined us in our studio. Thank you so much for coming in. It's very nice to meet you.

Lady ASHTON: Thank you.

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