Ambassador Tefft: So my mission here is to try to understand what is going on in Irkutsk and in the region, to understand all different aspects of the society. I would tell you that your Ambassador to the United States, Ambassador Kislyak, recently went to Tennessee and had a visit very similar to this to call on government officials as well as business and culture figures. It’s what diplomats do all over the world. It’s pretty straightforward. It’s what I’ve been doing all throughout my career.
I know there’s been some negative articles in the press, which have I think have distorted what my real purpose here is. That’s why I say this to you right now, right from the very top, that the purpose of my visit is exactly as I’ve just told you, and with that, I’ll be happy to answer any of your questions.
Ambassador Tefft: We arrived yesterday night – I lost track because it’s that five hour time change – you guys are probably used to it. You fly Moscow here – back and forth. It was yesterday.
Ambassador Tefft: Well I’m not sure that I have formed a lot of conclusions, but I try, when I go on these visits, to try to talk to as many people as possible. Sometimes I see government officials, cultural officials, educational figures, lots of business people over time because I understand, because I not only have a responsibility to understand the business climate, but I also have a responsibility to help American businesses when they need it for investment or for doing business in various regions in Russia.
The one thing I think I could tell you is I’ve spent a lot of my career studying Russian history so one of the things I was very interested in doing here was to visit the Volkonsky home and the Trubetskoy home to understand a little better the whole history of the Decembrists and the role of Irkutsk in that history.
And I am very interested in environmental issues and I hope my visit to lake Baikal will help inform me some more. I think environmental issues are vitally important for every country. And I know there are very many people in this city who care deeply. And I’m not just talking about people in the environmental movement, I’m talking about people in business – whether it’s tourism or anything that relates to lake Baikal or the Angara river who want to maintain the high standards of environmental safety for the future, for the children of this region.
And the last thing is, a number of years ago my eldest daughter took the trans-Siberian express from Moscow to Beijing and she was here. Now I can go back and say I’ve been to Irkutsk too. I’ve been to see this wonderful place in Eastern Siberia.
Ambassador Tefft: Who is going to be the next American President? Listen, I have to be very careful on the issues on the record with regard to the election because we have a law, the Hatch Act, which requires all government employees especially career people like me to refrain from taking sides or, in any way, supporting one candidate or another.
That’s said. I’ll just make two points. One is that the American elections, like elections in most countries, really depend – the votes most of the time go based on domestic policy, on economics, on business, on what we call “pocketbook” issues.
With regard to Secretary Clinton, I think most of you followed her term of Secretary of State. And you know, she was here in Russia. She has a track record with regard to U.S.-Russian relations. And you can interpolate from that. Mr. Trump does not have the same history, although he’s been to Russia. I think a lot will depend on the circumstances when whoever it is, is elected what the situation will be. I will say to you that I hope the situation will improve, and I will make one point on that in particular.
Ambassador Tefft: One of the things that we’re trying very hard to do is to support the effort of the Normandy Four to find the implementation of the Minsk agreements to resolve differences in Donetsk – in the Donbass. We are not – the French and the Germans have the lead in terms of negotiation this but as I think you know Victoria Nuland, our Assistant Secretary for Europe, has had several meeting with Mr. Surkov, the president’s advisor on the issue. And we continue to be very active on that. I wouldn’t be surprised if you wouldn’t see Mrs. Nuland in Moscow again in the not-too-distant future. Because her instructions from President Obama are to do everything that the United States can do to help support the negotiating process and to find an implementation of the Minsk agreement.
And if we should find those possible solutions, and there is an agreement to implement the Minsk program before the next president takes over, obviously you have a very different situation before the next president takes power. That’s my point.
Ambassador Tefft: You know I didn’t read her full remarks, so I – I always want to read before I actually commit to supporting one thing or another. I will say to you that the United States, President Obama in particular, has worked very, very closely and is on the phone with Chancellor Merkel on issues – a variety of issues – but Ukraine, but finding a solution – finding a solution, finding the implementation for the Minsk agreement has certainly been one of them.
I’m not sure I would use the term “civil war” [in Ukraine]. I would say there is obviously a fight going on there, and I think we’ve made it very, very clear that we think that we should solve that situation by implementing the Minsk agreement.
Too many people have been killed, and I think the reason I’m not going to use the term civil war is because the United States has held from the very beginning that many of the people who came in to fight with the separatists actually came from Russia and were not endemic in the region themselves.
Ambassador Tefft: What’s so funny? What’s the issue? You disagree? I tried to give you a direct answer. You can go back, and you can read President Obama’s statements back at the beginning of the intervention and the people who came into Ukraine, to the Donbass from Russia. I don’t have those quotes with me right now, but it’s easy to go back and find those on the record on the White House website.