Transatlantic Relations After President Trump’s First 100 Days

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Chargé d’Affaires Herro Mustafa’s Remarks to Amcham

Boa tarde a todos. Good afternoon to everyone.

It is wonderful to be here with all of you today.  The American Chamber is such an important institution in countries worldwide.  Throughout my Foreign Service career I have been a champion of the work our chambers do.  You are the opinion leaders within the American business community in Portugal and your work strengthens the Portugal-US economic relationship.

I’d like to thank Sofia Tenreiro for making it possible for me to be here today.  Your leadership at the American Chamber is very welcome, and I appreciate our collaboration on so many initiatives.  Your energy is contagious and I am confident the Chamber will flourish under your excellent leadership.

I want to also thank Graça Didier, who is behind so many initiatives at the Amcham, putting great ideas into action.

Thank you to AON, Millennium and EDP for your generous sponsorship of this event, and to the Marriott for hosting us here.

And, of course, thanks to all of you today for coming to hear what I have to share about Transatlantic Relations after President Trump’s First 100 Days.  I hope to turn this into a dialogue at the end of my remarks.

To put my remarks into context, I want to share with all of you a bit of my background with the U.S. government.  I have served for both Republican and Democratic administrations and have been through several transitions.  I worked at the White House on the National Security Council for President George W Bush for two years and in the Obama White House for over two years.  In both cases I worked on Middle East and South Asia policy.  The thoughts I will share with you today comes from the fact that I have been through other “first 100 days” so can give you that unique perspective.

Looking Back Before the Inauguration

The last time I spoke in a public forum such as this about the policies of the new Trump administration was immediately following the election and prior to the inauguration, at the Presidential Forum, a conference led by President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa on December 7.  At that time, I said a few things that are worth repeating:

  1. I said it would be important to wait and see exactly what a Trump presidency would look like in practice, that it would be important to watch for actions taken, versus trying to speculate what might happen based on media reports and campaign speeches. I noted that the reality is that even when a president sets a policy goal, and this goes for any president, that policy will 1) not be implemented overnight and 2) it will not be without challenges.
  2. It is important to have the full cabinet in place, including at the deputy and two levels below, as these are the negotiators and decision makers at both the tactical and strategic levels. In our system, deputies are powerful players.  We are getting close to a complete cabinet and now will be focused on other key positions.  I predicted in December that this would take time because we have a president with no previous government or public service experience.
  3. As the reality of the global order asserts itself, the Administration will likely respond in a pragmatic manner. These global realities shaped the policies and priorities of both the Bush and Obama administrations, and often forced them to shift away from campaign promises towards real world solutions.  Look at Syria policy under the Obama administration, for example, or how we tried to “reset” our relationship with Russia many times in the past.  These administrations were guided by their key advisors, yes, but also by the deeper structures of bureaucracy and politics in the U.S. that have shaped our foreign policy since the end of WWII.

That is what I said before the inauguration.

Policy Since Inauguration

What we have seen since the inauguration is greater clarity on many of our foreign policy issues.  I won’t be able to cover every topic during this presentation, but I do want to cover the ones that impact us most here in Portugal.  Specifically, I want to emphasize our policy towards NATO and the EU, especially since 100 days ago, so many people doubted our commitment to both.  As well as Russia and Ukraine, trade and energy, and counter terrorism.  If you had asked me 100 days ago where we are on these policies, I couldn’t give you a clear answer.  I can now.

NATO:  This is one issue that I hope all of you see as a pillar in our transatlantic relationship.  President Trump has been very clear that the United States remains 100 percent committed to NATO.  Our commitment to an Alliance forged through the bonds of World War II and the Cold War is unwavering.  As President Trump said when NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg visited the White House last month, the Alliance has been the bulwark of international peace and security for nearly 70 years.  And later this month as part of his first international trip, the President will participate in the NATO Summit in Brussels.

Each generation has worked to adapt NATO to face the challenges of its times, and we are working with our NATO Allies now to do just that.  And in order to meet those challenges, we will continue to call on our Allies to live up to the pledge made at the Wales Summit in 2014 and reaffirmed at Warsaw in 2016, to move towards spending two percent of their gross domestic product on defense by 2024.  The world needs NATO’s strength and leadership now more than ever before, which is why we seek immediate and steady progress on all of our NATO allies’ commitment to our common defense.  NATO, and its ability to address today’s security challenges in an effective and sustainable way, is clearly a top priority for the Trump administration.

It is also important to note that Secretary Matthis understands the importance of diplomacy.  We have never seen a time when the relationship between the State Department and the Department of Defense was as close as it is now.

EU:  The European Union also continues to be an important partner to the United States under the Trump administration.  Following his meeting with Angela Merkel in Washington in March, President Trump stated that the EU had “done a good job” uniting in the wake of the Brexit movement.  Much has been said about the comment that he thought that there would be more countries to follow the UK, but he also said that he believes in alliances and partnerships.  “I do believe in alliances.  I believe in relationships.  And I believe in partnerships.”  The U.S.-EU relationship is too robust on so many fronts to envision large-scale changes.   We have massive trade and investment  flows between our countries, familial and social bonds, links that bind us together in more ways than so many other regional areas around the world.

Russia and Ukraine:  Here is another area where many people in Europe were asking whether the Administration would be so close to Russia that it would turn a blind eye to events in Ukraine and elsewhere around Russia’s periphery.  As Secretary Tillerson stated after his recent meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in Moscow, there is currently a low level of trust between our two countries. During their meeting, however, the Secretary and the Foreign Minister discussed approaches to improving our channels of communication, including setting up a working group to make progress on stabilizing the relationship.

Where we do not see eye to eye with Russia, the United States will continue to stand up for the interests and values of America, our allies, and our partners in Southern and Central Europe that have been subjected to a sophisticated campaign of subversion and disinformation. As the President, Secretary Tillerson, and Ambassador Haley at the UN have made clear, we expect Russia to fully implement the commitments it made in the Minsk agreements which include a real and durable ceasefire, the withdrawal of all heavy weapons, and disengagement of forces in eastern Ukraine. Even today, Russia continues to arm, train, lead, and fight alongside separatists in eastern Ukraine.

We have also said that Ukraine must also hold up its end of the bargain.  The United States strongly supports Ukraine’s anti-corruption efforts as well as the country’s reform efforts under the IMF program. Ukraine has already moved forward in implementing political aspects of the Minsk agreements, including passing amnesty and special status laws.

Trade and Investment:  President Trump has been focused on ensuring Americans have jobs and ensuring that American businesses are not subject to unfair trade practices.  He has been very clear that the United States would withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and ensure that any existing and any new trade deals are in the best interests of American workers and the American people.

On NAFTA, President Trump is committed to renegotiating the agreement.  However, in a statement on April 26, the White House said “the President ‘agreed not to terminate NAFTA at this time and the leaders [referring to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau] agreed to proceed swiftly, according to their required internal procedures, to enable the renegotiation of the NAFTA deal to the benefit of all three countries.’”

There has been much speculation about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or T-TIP.  Let me emphasize here that T-TIP has not been discarded. An agreement with the EU is in essence a bilateral trade deal, versus TPP which is a multilateral deal. The EU has competence on trade, and our negotiating partner is the European Commission.  We have to review the issues and concerns that both sides have raised and assess if there is a willingness and vision to move forward.  While not a top priority, there is openness on both sides to re-engaging on T-TIP when both sides are ready.  We are completing our administrative transition, and Europe is undergoing a series of key elections, so we may have a better sense of things in the Fall.  Still, the Administration has indicated that we will need to prioritize where we start with trade talks, whether with partners like the EU, Japan or China.  Whichever partners seem most willing to reach a quick agreement may well be the ones we start with first.  Renegotiating NAFTA will be a priority too.

Energy:  The U.S. is undergoing an energy revolution.  We will be one of the biggest gas exporters in the world in the coming years.  We are exploring and developing new opportunities for cooperation in Portugal and Europe.  In April 2016, the very first shipment of U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Europe sailed from the U.S. and landed at the Port of Sines.  While the shipment was not widely publicized, it marked a potential pivot point for European energy security and regional energy options.  We received a bipartisan congressional delegation last month focused on developing greater cooperation in this and other areas of energy. The Iberian Peninsula possesses over one third of Europe’s LNG import capacity, but there are limited options to transport that gas onward to other markets.

With new technologies making floating LNG terminals cheaper and faster to build and driving shipping costs down, Portugal could become a gateway to Europe and Africa as U.S. exports increase exponentially over the next few years.  Even as renewables play a larger and larger role, natural gas is the bridge to that future.  We want to work with Portugal to bring cleaner and cheaper energy options to Europe and Africa that enhance our collective energy security.

The other area where this administration has been very clear is its commitment to counter terrorism, a goal that touches Europe and the entire world.

Bilateral Relations:  I am here on the eve of the 37th Meeting of the Standing Bilateral Commission (or SBC) that will take place in Washington on May 10-11, so I think it appropriate to also highlight our increasingly strong bilateral relationship.  While previous SBCs have focused heavily on the Lajes Air Base in the Azores, we are seeing that the agendas are becoming increasingly broader, inclusive of political, economic and security related issues that reflect our broad and deep cooperation on so many levels.  The focus of this particular SBC will be U.S.-Portugal cooperation in the Atlantic, and will include discussions on political and diplomatic cooperation, energy security, promoting the blue economy, oceans research, the AIR Center, defense and security cooperation, and of course Lajes and the Azores.

Many of the topics of our bilateral agenda have an economic focus, as our economic and commercial ties are growing.  The number of American companies active in Portugal is growing, American investment here is increasing, and our trade is expanding.  Such investments are important examples as they show the confidence by U.S. investors in Portugal.

Portugal is a leader in Europe on many of these issues.  Political stability, I love the fact that other European nations and Harvard are studying the “geringonca” concept.  Improving economy, natural resources – the most important being its neighbor to the West, the Atlantic.  Portugal will continue to be at the forefront on renewable energy, and innovation and entrepreneurship.  And a willingness to do more internationally.  I predict this will continue to be a good year for Portugal and I think the bilateral relationship will only continue to strengthen.

Transatlantic Relationship:  Let me end by circling back to the Transatlantic relations, where I hope all of you feel reassured 100 days into the new administration that we are committed to this relationship.

President Trump and his administration have engaged in efforts to establish and maintain strong relationships with key allies and partners, and to forge some new relationships that will allow the United States to identify new areas of cooperation and to address surging issues or those with potential of surging in the future.  He has hosted 17 bilateral meetings and made 70 calls to 38 different world leaders.

President Trump takes a fresh look at all existing relationships, constantly assessing how to improve upon those relationships, bilateral and multilateral, including in the security, political, economic sectors.  In all of the challenges and opportunities faced by President Trump’s administration, Europe and our European partners will remain our partners of first choice.  Let me repeat that.  Europe and our European partners will remain our partners of first choice.  Our transatlantic relationship is robust and spans a host of areas –international peace and security, shared social challenges, values and interests, and strong economic ties in energy, and trade and investment.

Our close political, economic and strategic alliance is grounded in centuries of common history and immigration, through wars and economic negotiations, educational exchanges and tourism, and simply friendship between our peoples.  The United States under the Trump administration remains committed to maintaining and expanding our transatlantic relationship and partnerships, keeping what is in the U.S. best interests while improving upon and leveraging our partnerships to do even more to address the top issues of today.

We at the U.S. Embassy in Lisbon are 200 people strong, local and American staff.  We at the Embassy will continue to build bridges of understanding and connection through arts and culture, business and science, education and technology.  And through new initiatives such as the Blue Economy, culinary diplomacy, and expanded military and security cooperation.  The U.S. and Portugal are connected in so many profound ways and we will continue to advance our important work here.

And so, again I’ll go back to a comment I made during the conference last December as well.  Now is the most ideal time to put Portugal on the map with the Trump administration.  The Trump administration is defining its agenda still in many ways, including on the commercial front bilaterally with numerous countries. Portugal’s priorities, and economic and commercial opportunities — all this should be communicated by all of you to Washington, by engaging with your counterparts some of you may have in your own companies, sharing priorities with your own government and Embassy in Washington, and of course, by speaking with us at the Embassy.  We have and will continue to communicate what we are pursuing here, and what we identify as opportunities.  But we want to hear from you.  I look forward to your questions and to a healthy dialogue, and hope to have even more to take with me to the SBC next week in Washington.

Thanks again for joining me today.  E obrigada novamente a Câmara Americana pela parceria, aos patricinadores pelo apoio, e a todos pela presença!