SPIEGEL Interview with Strobe Talbott 'The Obama Administration Will Be Very Cautious'

Part 2: 'The Art of the Possible'

SPIEGEL: In Europe, the expectations for an Obama administration are probably even higher than in the United States. What will change for the Germans, the French and the British?

Talbott: The issue of finding the right policy for Afghanistan is going to be tough. Obama will try to persuade the Europeans that we have to fight the war in Afghanistan together. The Clinton name is also a global brand, and that will prove effective. Hillary Clinton comes off the Senate Armed Services Committee and understands the needs of NATO.

SPIEGEL: Which means that the pressure on the German government to deploy its troops in southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban insurgency is gaining ground, will increase?

Talbott: All parties are realistic and know about Germany's special historical sensitivities. They will speak respectfully with Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. The Obama administration will practice politics as the art of the possible.

SPIEGEL: Another crucial issue in trans-Atlantic relations are ties with Russia. In Germany, nobody in a position of authority wants another confrontation with Russia.

Talbott: I expect that the United States and Europe will come closer together in their Russia policy. Just take the question: Should Georgia become a member of NATO?

SPIEGEL: Which President Bush supported and Chancellor Merkel spoke out against.

Russian leadership duo Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev: "More than one person is in a position of authority."

Russian leadership duo Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev: "More than one person is in a position of authority."

Talbott: I expect that the United States will return to its original position, which says that any addition of a new member state must enhance the security of the alliance as a whole. That principle would argue against the inclusion of a state such as Georgia, which is, in one sense or another, divided against itself.

SPIEGEL: Are you pleading for an end to NATO's so-called "eastward expansion"?

Talbott: No. I will always remember a conversation I once had with Chancellor Helmut Kohl. He told me that it was in Germany's interest to no longer be on the eastern edge of the West. I believe he was right. Therefore, we should not close our doors to future member states. The point now, with regard to Georgia and also to Ukraine, is to find artful words that exclude no one. That could help us in our relations with Russia to lower the temperature a little below the boiling point.

SPIEGEL: Perhaps if America didn't have plans to install a missile shield. Bush considers it absolutely necessary, and Moscow considers it unacceptable. How will an Obama Administration deal with this?

Talbott: I think Obama should be taken by his word here. He says that if this technology works, it should be deployed. He has not yet elaborated on what the criteria will be. This gives him time and latitude to study his options. He does not want to, and will not, repeat the mistakes of the Bush administration. On coming into office, it adopted the slogan "ABC" -- anything but Clinton's way, meaning everything is permitted except Clinton's policies. This attitude was wrong, and our new slogan should not be ABB -- anything but Bush's way.

SPIEGEL: It sounds like you aren't expecting any kind of about-face in US foreign policy, but rather selective changes at best.

Talbott: The new Obama administration will be very cautious. It will listen. It won't break with the past out of principle.

SPIEGEL: So Poland and the Czech Republic, which for Bush always were front line states against Putin's Russia, do not have any reason to worry about being alienated?

Talbott: It would be a great mistake if the new administration were to tell Poland and the Czech Republic, "Well, thanks for all that, but forget about your agreements with the United States. Russia doesn't like them." That will not happen.

SPIEGEL: Do you view Russia and Putin as being synonymous?

Talbott: Today's Russia is no longer the Russia of the Cold War, which means that more than one person is in a position of authority. President Dmitry Medvedev understands better than others in Moscow that Russia is a strong state in terms of its size, its military capability and its natural resources. But he also knows that the Russian economy is much too dependent on what it can dig and pump out of the ground.

SPIEGEL: Do you focus more on him than on Putin, who, is considered to be Moscow's ruler by the West?

Talbott: I focus on the effects of the new reality. I clearly remember August of 1968 when Soviet tanks rolled into Prague. Nobody then would have been allowed to say: "This will have serious consequences for the Soviet stock market." Whereas two days after Russian tanks rolled into Georgia, it was quite different. Today, Russia is part of a global system.

SPIEGEL: And the government in Moscow also accepts that?

Talbott: This summer, President Medvedev made a remarkable speech at the Russian Foreign Ministry in which he stated that Russia has always said what it doesn't like about Western policy in general and American policy in particular. But the time had come to say what they want to see and what the alternatives are. I am confident that President Obama will take him at his word. Next year's Munich Security Conference will be more fascinating than ever because for the first time all parties will meet.

SPIEGEL: And what is your forecast?

Talbott: We will soon have a very high level dialogue on a new European security architecture.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Talbott, we thank you for this interview.

Interview conducted by Mathias Müller von Blumencron and Gabor Steingart in Washington.


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