STA, 10 August 2020 - Ex-Ambassador to the US Božo Cerar believes Thursday's visit of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Slovenia brings normalisation in Slovenia-US relations after they have been neglected for a decade. He hopes Slovenia will know how to use the visit so it contributes to the implementation of Slovenian and European interests.
"This is an important visit. Visits by US foreign ministers here are very rare. The last one took place more than two decades ago, while such visits should be business as usual, regular. After all we're talking about relations between two allies, between countries which share the same values," he said in an interview with the STA.
The Slovenian diplomat attributes the rare contacts at the highest level to a great degree of passivity in foreign affairs on the part of Slovenia and on the country's focus on Russia.
"We've had a rather absurd situation with the US for ten years, there has been practically no dialogue at political level. On the other hand, this has been a period when our high-profile representatives have been constantly in Moscow, openly flirting with authoritarian systems, such as the Russian or the Iranian one."
A turn seemed to be on the horizon when then Foreign Minister Miro Cerar finally visited the US in December 2018 and when US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry was in Slovenia in June 2019, when the country hosted a Three Seas Initiative summit, but this was again followed by a period of passivity, said the ambassador.
"Instead of using it to develop new forms of cooperation, everything went silent again. I hope this time round we will better use this visit," said Cerar.
He believes relations with the US must be nurtured regardless of who is in the White House, a Democrat or a Republican, even someone like Donald Trump. And also regardless of who heads the government in Ljubljana, a rightist or leftist party.
Cerar said it was primarily up to small countries to nurture relations with big ones. "If there is no initiative on our side, then it's very hard."
Still, he sees Pompeo's visit as a normalisation of Slovenian-US relations and a unique opportunity to examine bilateral relations in a number of areas, such as business and commerce.
The visit is "also a unique opportunity to discuss with the US global issues, not only the Western Balkans, which is a traditional topic, also important for the Americans because the Russians and Chinese are strengthening their influence in the region".
The focus of the visit will be on the signing of a Joint Declaration on 5G Security, which is directed against Chinese tech giant Huawei.
Although some see it as Slovenia joining a kind of a new "coalition of the willing" and getting unnecessarily involved in US-Chinese disputes, Cerar said this was not the case in his view.
He highlighted China's conduct in international trade, foremost its disregard for intellectual property, its industrial espionage activities and currency speculation.
"This is not just the US's problem. It's also a European problem. It's also in the interest of the EU for these things to get solved," said the diplomat.
"Safe communications are of course in the interest of the US, but they are also in our interest," he said, adding that neither Slovenia nor the EU could be indifferent to China's human rights record, its ignorance of international law in the South China Sea, the issue of Hong Kong, the rights of Uyghurs.
Cerar also thinks it is irrelevant from the aspect of the joint declaration on 5G that the US is nearing the presidential election, which Trump might not win.
"Do you think that the Democrats' policy on China and Russia is any different? Perhaps there will be a different approach. Perhaps Joe Biden will be more diplomatic. They will be seeking ever greater support from their allies. But the policy on China and Russia will not change."
From this aspect, Cerar believes that NATO's future will also be discussed as Pompeo meets Slovenia officials on Thursday.
"It is in our interest for the alliance to be active for a long time to come, and for the trans-Atlantic dialogue to be improved where it's wanting, this has to be admitted."
As a Central European and Mediterranean country located at an important geostrategic area and as a member of the EU and NATO, Slovenia could significantly contribute to the dialogue, believes Cerar, who sees its EU presidency next year as another opportunity giving it leverage and certain responsibility for trans-Atlantic relations.
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