Ambassador Jess Baily’s interview with Sitel TV

Jess L. Baily, United States Ambassador to the Republic of Macedonia.

February 18, 2017

Sitel:  Ambassador Baily, senior U.S. Officials, including the Vice President, the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of Defense, are visiting Europe for the first time this week after the inauguration of the new U.S. administration to discuss with European leaders in Brussels and Munich about NATO, the European Union, the challenges for the European Union and trans-Atlantic cooperation.  What are the positions of the new U.S. administration on NATO and the EU?

Ambassador Baily:  As you say, you are seeing this week in Brussels, in Bonn, in Munich, President Trump’s administration coming in full force, if you will, to Europe to engage with many of our most important partners.  You have seen Secretary Mattis speak at NATO and he said yesterday that he was quite optimistic about his engagement with his defense minister colleagues.  He said that NATO is a bedrock for the United States and they talked about some of the well-known challenges that the Alliance faces; the challenges of Russia’s behavior in Ukrainian Crimea.  He said we are not going to compromise our values to anybody, in confronting terrorism and more generally, as an Alliance coming together to make sure we are making the contributions to our common defense that we need to make.  So you see him doing that.  You will see Secretary Tillerson, you will see the Vice President in Munich, and I think you will see them reinforcing our strong support for NATO and the trans-Atlantic relationship.   So what does that mean, here, that’s what people are looking at.  I think the story is that our position, which we have had in the Western Balkans, for Macedonia in particular, of seeking and working towards Macedonia’s integration into Europe, into Euro-Atlantic institutions is still intact.  I am not surprised by that.  It’s gone through 20, more than 20 years.  So, I think you are seeing a strong affirmation of our belief in the trans-Atlantic relationship and the need for that relationship to combat the challenges we face, whether it be from issues —as I said—with regard to Russia and its actions in Ukrainian Crimea but also the threat of terrorism and many other issues.

Sitel:  Rep. Chris Smith and five other members of Congress as well as Senator Mike Lee sent inquiries regarding allegations that you as an Ambassador in Macedonia and the U.S. Embassy were influencing the elections in Macedonia by supporting far-leftist organizations, media outlets, internet portals.  Have you responded to the inquiries?

Ambassador Baily:  Yes, we have responded to the inquiries, both of them.  Look, congressional oversight of the executive branch is a normal part of our democracy, and we welcome the opportunity to engage with Congress in telling them what we are doing and giving them the context of why we do it.  In the response we laid out our role, which people here know very well, in the Przino Agreement of working with the European Union to help bring the parties together to get to the elections you had in December, and now you are in the government formation process.   So we laid out all those things, we laid out how our assistance in the country works.  What we support is helping build the institutions of a healthy democracy.  That includes engagement by citizens in their affairs, and it includes media and other things.  So we laid out all of that in our response.  Now you are probably going to say, well why haven’t you released the response?

Sitel:  [Nods.]

Ambassador Baily:  Well, there is a very simple answer.  The Department of State does not publicly release its correspondence with Congress.  Sometimes Congress will release it.  Senator Lee, for example, has his letter on his website.  So maybe that will come out, but there’s nothing particularly new and surprising that you would find in that, and some details about our programs and grants.

Sitel:  After the elections here in Macedonia, VMRO-DPMNE said that they are starting this process of so-called de-Sorosization. The party assessed that Soros organizations, which have often been supported by USAID, have been working tendentiously to topple the rightist government and unfairly help SDSM.  How do you comment on this?

Ambassador Baily:  Well, that USAID is working to topple the government is simply not true.  Let me tell you what we do support through our grants, for example to the Open Society Foundation.  They administered a grant on civic engagement.  So what does civic engagement mean?   It means women in Tetovo working together to improve gender equality in their community, in their municipality.  Citizen engagement means youth in Veles or Delcevo working to improve their community, to beautify their city.  It means citizens in Bitola addressing the issue of environmental quality, air pollution, in bringing issues to the fore but also engaging in projects in their capacity.  So that’s what we mean by citizen engagement and that’s what our USAID grants are about.  They are not about supporting an ideology; they are not about supporting a political party or anything like that.  That’s not what that’s about.  It’s about creating the conditions for an active, healthy democracy.

Sitel:  Two months after the elections, it seems that the political situation in Macedonia is no less complicated than before the elections.  We see that it is very hard to form a new government in Macedonia.  You were directly involved in facilitating the process of adoption and implementation of the Przino 1 and 2 agreements.  How do you see the current situation?  Do you expect a new government to be formed any time soon?

Ambassador Baily:  Well, it is going to be up to 61 Members of Parliament to decide whether there is a new government or not.  So, you’d have to ask them that.  But my analysis of the situation would be the following.  After this process: you had elections on December 11 that had wide participation, that produced very close results between the parties.  And so now what you have, this was the closest election I think that Macedonia has ever had, you have the task now of moving from election to governing.   So, the parties, the different political options, have been trying respectively to put together coalitions that can then take the country forward and govern.  I think what you will see from the international community, what we have stressed and what I think other ambassadors have stressed, what Commissioner Hahn has stressed, is that from our perspective what’s important is that the new government work towards fulfilling the reforms that are laid out in the Przino Agreement, the Urgent Reform Priorities discussed in the Priebe report.  That’s what we are looking for from a government.

So right now, the challenge is to put together that majority in Parliament.  This is not an unusual situation for a parliamentary democracy, but it is going to require in some cases not just a politics where one side pushes something over on the other, bullies, and then another side boycotts.  That kind of politics isn’t going to get you in this situation to the reform agenda that I think citizens of this country support.

Sitel:  Do you think the resolution to the crisis could be achieved by the option that VMRO-DPMNE has been advocating, that is, new elections, or maybe a broad government coalition of all political parties?

Ambassador Baily:  Look, it is not up to me to decide what option is the right one in this situation.  The parties are going to have to do that.  Any decision, whether it be to go to this form of government coalition, or elections, is going to require 61 votes in Parliament.  So that’s where the discussion is.  I would observe, as a friend, that new elections don’t necessarily produce different results.  On Telma the other night there was a poll saying that citizens weren’t that interested in new elections.  So I think that the challenge is to govern with the results you have and see where it leads.  I don’t know how that will be but, again, it is up to Parliament to decide.

Sitel:  During the post-election talks between the political parties, the ethnic Albanian political parties imposed a so-called platform as a condition for coalescing with VMRO-DPMNE or SDSM.  The issues that were in this platform were not the reasons for going to early parliamentary elections, but now it seems they are critical for resolving the political crisis.  What is your opinion on this platform?

Ambassador Baily:  In terms of the substance of the platform—of this platform or anybody else’s platform or anybody else’s conditions for going into a government coalition—I don’t have a position on that.  That’s not what the international community is focused on.  What we are focused on are the reforms in areas such as rule of law and other areas that have been laid out in the Urgent Reform Priorities, that will help bring Macedonia closer towards its goal of being a full member of NATO, being a full member of the European Union.  That’s what we are working on.  I am not going into the detailed negotiations between parties.  I assume they are talking about a lot of different things.  So it’s up to them to decide and to see if they can form a working coalition and government.

Sitel:  One of the conditions for coalescing is the extension of the mandate of the Special Prosecutor’s Office.  VMRO-DPMNE is against it; they are claiming that this institution is working tendentiously against the members of this political party and working only against them, which is biased—by them—work by the Special Prosecutor’s Office.  Are you taking into consideration their [DPMNE’s] arguments when you as an international community and an ambassador are giving support to the Special Prosecutor’s Office?  And why asking for extension of the mandate of the Special Prosecution Office when the Przino Agreement, which was supported by all political parties, said that the mandate will be 18 months?

Ambassador Baily:  Of course we listen to the views of all the parties, of course we listen to the views of VMRO-DPMNE.  There is no reason we wouldn’t do that.  But I think on the issue of the Special Prosecutor and the question of the 18-month mandate for filing indictments—that’s what it is about—it is important to take a step back and remember what the point of the Special Prosecutor’s Office is.  It is to establish accountability for the allegedly illegal interception of telephone communications and the content of those communications, what they may or may not reveal.  In September of 2015 when this office was being put together as part of the July agreement, I am not sure anybody really had a very good grasp of just how much material there was, what that meant in terms of the task of going through it and deciding what needed to be done.  Experts from the United States that we have discussed this with, who have sort of seen what the task is, don’t believe that you could reasonably get through that material in the time allowed for indictments.  So that’s one problem, it’s simply a matter of volume. The second question is, I do believe, that there has been a fair amount of difficulty and indeed some obstructions in terms of the institutions and cooperating with the investigations that are taking place.  And so I think it is important at the end to get to the goal of establishing what the facts are, what the facts are not, to not let this process end where everybody gets to go away with false information, rumors, speculations, and it just ends like that.  The point is to establish the facts and not let that air of uncertainty reign.  That’s not going to help the country.

Sitel:  Ambassador, thank you for this interview for Sitel.

Ambassador Baily:  Thank you very much.