|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and
Spanish Foreign Minister Abel Juan Matutes
Press Availability following their bilateral meeting
Washington, D.C., February 4, 2000
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I guess it's now afternoon, so good afternoon, everybody. I am delighted to welcome to the Department of State Abel Juan Matutes, the Foreign Minister of Spain and a very good friend of mine. The Foreign Minister and I have developed a close working relationship over the past several years reflecting the increasingly close relationship between our two governments and nations.
Spain and the United States are linked by at least 508 years of history and, for some time now, Spanish has been this country's unofficial second language. But what is more important are the values that we share. Our two nations are linked by a cherished commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law. So it's not surprising that, as we begin the 21st Century, Spain and the United States are global partners, and that Spain is playing a vital role on many international issues that are of the highest importance to the United States.
Javier Solana and other Spanish diplomats have taken a leading role in NATO and the European Union and have done a magnificent job of advancing the goals of a Europe whole and free and a stronger Euro-Atlantic alliance.
In Kosovo, Spanish pilots, police and soldiers have performed with bravery and skill. And in April, the Spanish Commander already in charge of EUROCORPS will take command of KFOR.
Today, Foreign Minister Matutes and I discussed the entry of the Freedom Party into the Austrian Government. We share serious concerns about that and about statements made by Freedom Party leaders concerning the Nazi era and other issues. The United States will react firmly and forcefully to any deviation by Austria from the democratic principles that underlie our partnership with Europe.
This morning, the Foreign Minister and I also discussed our common agenda in supporting democracy in Latin America, and I was pleased to hear President Aznar announce last week in Davos that Spain will sponsor a June meeting of contributors to Plan Colombia. The United States will of course attend.
In recent years, Spain has also demonstrated real leadership regarding human rights in Cuba. President Aznar's decision to meet with Cuban dissidents set the tone of November's Ibero-American summit in Havana. And I expect that starting this spring, Spain will play an equally important role as a member of the UN Commission on Human Rights.
In closing, let me say how much we are all looking forward to the visit of King Juan Carlos on February 23rd, and I will be honored to host a luncheon here in his honor.
Foreign Minister Matutes.
FOREIGN MINISTER MATUTES: Good afternoon. I would very briefly like to thank my good friend, Madeleine, for her very kind words regarding my country and myself.
I would like to confirm everything that she said, telling you that I share her analysis. Spain is a good friend, a great friend and a strong ally -- a strong NATO ally -- and shares the desires for increasingly rich and privileged relations.
We've reviewed the international issues of the day. We agree on our views on those issues. We've also reviewed details for the upcoming visit within two weeks time of His Majesty Juan Carlos, the King of Spain, and his wife, Her Majesty Queen Sophia, this visit being one more proof of the excellent state of relations between our two countries.
QUESTION: Mr. Minister, your own country had authoritarian rule for decades with great disapproval by much of the West, most of the democracies, and yet it didn't shake it for a moment. Franco went on forever and ever. With that experience, is there anything that the US can do, and for Spain and other democratic nations can do to effect change in Austria for -- change for democracy, I mean, of course.
FOREIGN MINISTER MATUTES: I would like to say that from the very outset I made it very clear to my colleague, Wolfgang Schuessel, our disfavor and opposition to the government that was about to be formed. Spain has a very clear and, indeed, a very active position on the subject.
Indeed, the President of the Spanish government, President Aznar, has gone along with the 14 other members of the European Union in signing the declaration by the president, the acting president for this period, Antonio Guterres of Portugal. And in connection with the European Committee of the Popular Party, President Aznar has proposed the suspension from the European Popular Party of the Austrian Popular Party until there is a rectification in this erroneous direction that that party has taken.
So you can see that Spain has taken a very determined position; not only will it not break the consensus of the 14, but has also pressed its own initiatives making clear its very clear position, hopefully facilitating a change in direction of the Popular Party of Austria.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you spoke about the United States responding firmly and forcefully. Could you expand on that? What possible measures do you envisage if the Austrian coalition does not behave itself properly?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, let me say that we are deeply concerned about the Freedom Party's entry into the Austrian Government. There is clearly no place inside the governments who make up the Euro-Atlantic community in a healthy democracy for a party that does not clearly distance itself from the atrocities of the Nazi era and the politics of hate.
We have had excellent relations with a democratic Austria and regret that this development will necessarily affect our relations. I have spoken with President Klestil as well as with Mr. Schuessel and made clear that Austria must continue its commitment to pluralism and tolerance. And I believe that these conversations are, in fact, reflected in the preamble to the coalition agreement which talks about tolerance, respect for human rights, and condemns discriminations.
But, frankly, in all of this their actions will speak louder than words and, as a general matter, we will hold the Austrians to the spirit and letter of the preamble and we will follow the actions of the new government closely and will react decisively to any statements or actions which deviate from this preamble.
We have decided on these three immediate measures: We instructed in Vienna that our defense attache not attend the ceremony with the new minister of defense; we have decided to limit our contact with the new government and will review whether further actions are necessary to advance our support for democratic values; I have asked our Ambassador, Kathryn Hall, to go and meet with Chancellor Schuessel, and she will convey directly to him our deep concerns. She will be coming back to Washington to report to me for further consultations and so that, upon her return to Austria, she can continue to convey our concerns about what their policies might be.
I have also asked Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Stu Eizenstat, in his role as the President's Special Representative for Holocaust Issues, to be in touch with appropriate officials to discuss how the new Austrian Government plans to handle unresolved issues from World War II.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, doesn't that contrast with the strength of the measures that are being taken by the European Union of freezing or possibly even expulsion or temporary suspension from the European Union? And does this contrast possibly, in any way, undercut the actions of the European Union? Perhaps also the Minister would want to comment.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, let me say that I do not believe that in any way it contrasts with what the European Union is doing. I have been in very close touch with members, various members of the European Union, and obviously their situation is quite different -- and perhaps Mr. Matutes wants to comment. They will continue through European Union institutions to have a variety of contacts, and we do not have the same relationship, obviously, as non-members of the EU.
So what we are doing is taking the steps that I have discussed. And I have also, I think, made quite clear that we will be reviewing all this on an ongoing basis and that we will be watching very carefully what they do. These are our initial steps in watching what is happening, but I believe that our position in no way -- we have a different relationship with Austria than the members of the European Union.
FOREIGN MINISTER MATUTES: You explained it concerning the Europe Union in a super way. I don't have anything to add.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, there are voices in this country who ask -- who go further and ask for the recall of the American ambassador, similar to the steps that Israel has taken. Is that in any consideration within your administration?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: As I have said, we have asked Ambassador Hall to come back for consultations so that we can convey this policy even more clearly, and we are continuing to review this.
Let me say that we are very concerned about, in general, something -- and Foreign Minister Matutes and I discussed this. But across Europe we have seen the rise of groups who tap into racist and xenophobic and extreme right-wing sentiment, and in many ways I think that the Internet with its web hate sites makes it easier for these groups to feed upon each other and amplify their ideas beyond their small number of adherents.
And I think it is incumbent on all those who cherish democracy in this country, as well as in Europe, to do everything we can to speak out forcefully in terms of hateful language and xenophobic and extreme right-wing sentiments, and we will continue to do so.
Let me just say that I have been following this now for many hours and have been in touch with the Austrians and my fellow European colleagues on this, and we are very concerned. We are taking what I believe are appropriate initial steps. But let me just repeat: this is something that is under constant review, and we are going to be watching the actions of the Austrian Government and have, in fact, as I have said, decided to limit our contact.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, on a different subject, can you bring us up to date on the case of Andrei Babitskiy and whether or not there's any change in it since you left Russia and your discussions there?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, clearly when I was in Russia I raised this issue and expressed my concern to the Russian Government. We have been concerned about what we've heard this morning that is yet unconfirmed about some kind of a trade and are concerned about his welfare. Again, if such a trade has taken place, it's obviously not acceptable and we hold the Russians responsible for his well-being.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, in recent days Joerg Haider has tried to dispel some of the reports that he had made anti-immigration comments, pro-Nazi statements. Do you personally buy that his -- do you find his statements sincere? Do you believe it's possible for this leopard to change his spots? What kind of concerns do you have? Thank you.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I find his statements obviously unacceptable, and I think that whatever he is doing in terms of tapping into what I said was this kind of xenophobic and anti-immigration and anti-human rights policies is unacceptable. He is not a member of this government. And what Chancellor Schuessel told me is that they have looked very carefully at the members of the Freedom Party that they have taken into their government and, in fact, turned down some candidates as unacceptable.
But let me say, I am not going to make any excuses for Mr. Haider. I find what he has said repugnant, and I would hope that this would become increasingly clear that the Austrian Government itself, in terms of the way it deals with its policies and whether it lives up to this preamble and how it follows through on dealing with its past, I think that is what we're going to be looking for.
I have to say, and I will repeat, we have had excellent relations with a democratic Austria, and both Foreign Minister Matutes and I have worked with Wolfgang Schuessel as Foreign Minister on a whole host of issues that would show that his value system is one that we agree with. When Austria had the presidency of the EU, we worked very hard together on a whole host of issues on Kosovo. I've consulted with him on Bosnia, and I think that I have faith in Chancellor Schuessel. I am very concerned and disturbed by the formation of this coalition government, but we are watching it very closely and have taken the initial steps as I have described.
QUESTION: Speaking of democracy in Latin America, what are your thoughts about the recent events unfolding in Ecuador? And do you think these events can threaten the democracy in Latin America?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, let me say that we have been, obviously, very concerned about the events in Ecuador and we are in very close touch. We want constitutional methods to be followed and we hope very much that the new government is able to deal with some of the economic issues and are staying in close touch with them.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, could you define a little more clearly the US decision to limit diplomatic relations, as you said? Once Ambassador Hall comes back to Washington and has consultations with you, she will be heading back to Vienna, is that correct?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me repeat again that we have taken these initial steps. We are following this extremely closely. We are looking for actions, not just words, in terms of how they carry out their -- this preamble, as I said, is filled with the right kind of language.
We have to see whether they do follow through on some of their decisions to deal with their past, questions about the Holocaust and forced labor, which is why I asked Stu Eizenstat to become involved in this. And as I said, I'm taking this one step at a time and we have taken this decisive action. And Kathryn Hall will come here, we will consult, and the current plan is that she will return. But we will watch this very carefully.
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