US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in charge of Central and Southern Europe Hoyt Yee welcomed the decision by President Gjorge Ivanov to give the mandate to SDS leader Zoran Zaev. Speaking at a House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee hearing on the Balkans, Yee also said that he has not spoken to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about the Balkans policy of the new administration, but assured the members of Congress that all his moves in the region were vetted by senior (Obama appointed) State Department officials.
“There was a coalition of members of Parliament that did represent a majority that were supposed to receive under normal European norms a mandate to form a Government. Up until today the President was withholding that mandate from the majority. And we have been advocating very strongly for the President to observe the Constitution and European democratic norms, along with our European partners”, Yee said during one of his exchanges with California Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher, who accused him and the US Embassy in Macedonia of meddling in domestic political affairs. Yee also said that the State Department has welcomed the disputed election of Talat Xhaferi for Speaker of the Macedonian Parliament and called that all participants in the unrest that was prompted by his elections are brought before justice.
Tillerson remains uninvolved, despite being head of State Department
Rhode Island Democratic Representative David Ciciline asked Yee whether he has had an opportunity to discuss the Balkans policy with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and whether the State Department is implementing the policies of the new, Trump administration.
“I have not discussed directly with Secretary Tillerson our strategy in the Balkans. However I can assure you that much of what I have described in my testimony has been thoroughly circulated, vetted and reviewed by the senior levels in the State Department. We have of course kept the Secretary informed of our activities. our plans, particularly as the Secretary has participated in meetings with NATO allies and he had to decide whether to sign or not to sign the protocols for Montenegro for NATO membership”, said Yee. “It would be helpful to know if the Secretary of State has actually discussed with you the administration’s strategy in the region. I take it the answer is no”, responded Cilicine. This issue was raised during Yee’s recent visit to Macedonia, when he was asked by the press at what level was the decision reached to recognize Xhaferi as Speaker of the Parliament.
Ciciline went on to ask Yee about the proposed budget that cut about a third of the funding that the State Department and USAID are using for “democracy promotion” and other programs in the Balkans. Yee responded that the State Department accepts the budget proposal and will try to do its best with the resources available.
Representative Rohrabacher demanded accountability for these programs, saying that many of them were being diverted toward far left organizations associated with the George Soros led Open Society Institute, and were imposing policies that the citizens in the Balkans do not approve of. According to Rohrabacher, this, and the actions of the US Embassy and the State Department in Macedonia’s political scene, amounted to interference in domestic affairs. Rohrabacher also referred to the pressure put on President Ivanov on how to act in the Government formation process.
“So we have been suggesting that the President send that letter and make that recognition. It’s a little country and we have a lot of influence there. Quite frankly I’d say we screwed it up”, the outspoken congressman said after a series of questions aimed at Yee such as: “What you are describing is that the US is deeply involved when you have a democratic election in countries like this. Does that mean we try to superimpose what we believe would be the best Government in a democratic process? Are we telling people that their democratic process is important, but here is what you should be doing? Isn’t this what these Soros operations are all about? If one party believes in one set of ideas and we are helping promote those ideas and concepts through whatever nonprofits that we have there, that is not considered helping the party that is advocating exactly those things and hurting the party that is advocating another direction. That seems to be interference. In Macedonia a majority was elected and the reports that we have are that our Ambassador actually encouraged a situation in which the rather than having he party that won the majority take over, we have been encouraging obstructionism and some kinds of coalitions to make sure the party that won didn’t actually take power”.
Yee acknowledged that the State Department is working with the Soros led foundation, but said that reports of Soros’ influence over US foreign policy are greatly overstated. He did acknowledge that, by applying to join NATO, Macedonia has opened itself to a specific American role.
“Just to make clear on interference, there is no question that the US is assertive in defending US interests and we believe they should be accepted by countries that want to be partners with us. It is important to mention that Macedonia wants to join NATO. Macedonia wants to join the European Union. The same is with Albania. We as partners are trying to help them meet the standards necessary to achieve that goal. So when we advocate for the rule of law, advocate for judicial independence, human rights, it is not always popular to the Government in power, but we believe as partners and potential allies it is important to make clear and help them implement reforms. But if the Government does not want to support the rule of law and human rights, it is their sovereign right to do so. It is still our obligation to make clear what our priorities are”, Yee responded. Rohrabacher was left unimpressed.
“The result I see in Macedonia is that they don’t have a Government because there has been people there from the outside who are convincing people not to respect the majority or not to make the compromises that are necessary to make the Government work. And if we are out there looking out for our own interests, and we decide theirs are tied with social goals who may or may not be what the people there believe in, we are interfering with their system to the point that it’s totally broken down” concluded Rohrabacher.