​Quinn: US policy and the Cambodian challenge | Phnom Penh Post

Quinn: US policy and the Cambodian challenge


Publication date
03 May 1996 | 07:00 ICT

Reporter : Post Staff

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PPP: When your observations about the Khmer Rouge in 1973 were ignored, did it

harm your career?

Kenneth Quinn: No. I think at the time whoever in the embassy here [in

Phnom Penh] sent a message saying 'We'll do the reporting on Cambodia thanks!' I'm

sure it was polite.

PPP: You're mentioned in William Shawcross' book [Sideshow].

Quinn: A footnote here and there.

PPP: Is it strange coming back as US Ambassador being mentioned 'favorably'

in a book so critical of Nixon and Kissinger?

Quinn: No. No, I give William Shawcross enormous credit. He showed great

courage when he wrote the article in the New York Review of Books that was the first

broadside from the left against the Khmer Rouge and I think opened the door for people

to consider about what had really gone on. He's always somebody I'm anxious to talk

to and he's got a lot to say. I'm sure he wouldn't agree with everything I've said,

as it should be. It's always worthwhile to talk to him.

PPP: How much progress have you seen in Cambodia since the election?

Quinn: I try to judge by having come every couple of years and looking

at the situation. I generally tend to evaluate things by when I came in. That might

not always be fair but it's human nature. If I start in 1990 I think there's been

enormous change, and change for the better. In terms of the number of parties available,

the fact that the war is so much less, it's more prosperous, and a more politically

free country than I began to deal with. I tend to think the period after a first

election when you have a revolutionary change is very difficult because a country

has to sort out a number of conflicting courses in an atmosphere which still reflects

what went before. So here we have a country that's been at civil war for 15 years,

traumatized, so I don't think anyone would be surprised at the significant bumps

along the way. I try to measure it in terms of do I still think it's going in the

right direction? And I think so from each trip. Arriving now, I see a lot of positive

forces. I still think there's a lot of things that need to be worked out, and things

obviously aren't perfect. Usually when I meet with the Ministers and Prime Ministers

they admit as much, and that they're working on it. So I'm still hopeful there will

be more change, that it'll go in the right direction, and that's what the United

States would like to help with given its limited resources.

PPP: Your [1990] Roadmap to Normalization is on the right track, but what about

the timing of its goals?

Quinn: The Roadmap dealt with Vietnam and Cambodia. In certain areas things

went faster than anyone expected, other areas not as fast. Generally speaking with

Cambodia, it went about as fast as we thought it might. We lifted the trade embargo

here very shortly after signing the agreement. The country opened itself to POW/MIA

accounting in a way that was just marvelous. Our people call it as the best cooperation

they get from anyplace in the world. In moving to have the parties come here that

had been at war with each other, people at first worried it was very slow. But I

first came here when members of Funcinpec and BLDP almost wouldn't go out in the

streets. I give credit to all political leaders who willingly took the risks; there

were risks perceived on all sides. I'm not sure they always get the credit they deserve

for doing that. Once the process started there were concerns about the election process.

The US spoke out and was publicly critical about the violence and intimidation we

saw taking place. Despite that, thank goodness, the election came out, and was recognized

as being free and fair and a turning point. Now the challenge for Cambodians is to

keep building on that.

PPP: The US does speak out on democratic and human rights issues. The

outgoing Japanese ambassador said they fund roads and bridges, the US funds [programs]

for democracy and human rights. And Hun Sen has publicly said give aid and shut up,

or don't give aid at all. Because you fund for human rights and democracy initiatives...

Quinn: And roads. When I was deputy assistant secretary we built 500 kilometers

of rural roads in '91 and '92 up in the northwest. We thought that would help return

refugees and lessen Khmer Rouge influence.

PPP: But the fact you're more heavily involved in human rights and democratic

initiatives, does that put more pressure on you to have to speak out when you perceive

those things being undermined, or not going as quickly as they could?

Quinn: I don't think so. During the whole process of the peace agreements

there couldn't have been more close cooperation between the US and Japan, Australia,

Thailand, France, all of them on these issues. There was a lot of coordination and

a lot of like-mindedness. We took strong positions. The human rights position in

the agreement itself was something that had a lot of support. In the end we tend

to reflect the same values and concerns. Maybe the tactics are different between

the US and other countries. People make different judgments about what you do and

how you do it.

PPP: One tactic is conditioning aid. Your interpretation of the State

Department position is that US aid is not conditioned.

Quinn: That's right, it's not. We have a very precise statement of that.

[Written statement]: "Such reports represent a misunderstanding of what was

said. During an April 17 symposium at the Heritage Foundation, Deputy Assistant Secretary

of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kent Weidemann reaffirmed US policy toward


"The US supports Cambodia's efforts at national reconstruction, reconciliation,

and the development of free and democratic institutions - having contributed more

than one billion dollars toward those ends. We have welcomed and encouraged Cambodia's

continued progress towards protection of human rights, democracy, a free market economy

and tolerance of opposition views.

"These are not conditions of aid, but goals of US policy. Clearly Cambodia's

embrace of these goals has helped build support for the administration's efforts,

particularly at a time when resources are scarce and there are many competing and

worthy potential recipients of Amreica's limited foreign assistance funds. This is

the point that Mr Weidemann was making in his remarks."

PPP: Regarding the to-ing and fro-ing between the General Accounting

Office (GAO) and the State Department [The GAO being much more pessimistic about

Cambodia than the State Department]. Does it put you in a difficult position when

you sit down with the Prime Ministers and they ask you "well, who do we listen


Quinn: I'd say listen to Secretary [Warren] Christopher. He was here. Listen

to Winston Lord. Listen to me. We'll try to speak clearly with one voice on behalf

of the President and the executive branches. The Cambodian Ambassador in Washington

will be reporting about everything, and it's well to be widely informed. But there

shouldn't be any question about our policy.

PPP: Do you see foreign aid as a development tool rather than a means to exert

influence, or a bit of both?

Quinn: You give aid sometimes that's humanitarian, life-saving aid, aimed

at ensuring people survive or recover from a devastating tragedy. Other aid is developmental,

but you're hoping to influence society in terms of how that society develops. You're

hoping it's going to mean a better, more prosperous life and a better functioning

economy. We believe that goes hand in hand with openness and democracy. They reinforce

each other. Our view is that the best hope for the best lives for Cambodia is in

an open, tolerant society, and one in which natural economic forces are able to grow.

People are beginning to see that in Cambodia in 1996. I think influence in a good

sense, but I want to be clear - only for as long as the Cambodians want it. In this

country or any other if they say 'we don't want your aid anymore' we're gone, the

next day, we'll start packing. We only want to help in ways that are appropriate

and in ways the Cambodians want us to help. They have to decide the future of their

country. Too many times in the past too many foreigners have been involved in deciding

what will happen in Cambodia. It's a democracy. It might not be perfect, but I don't

know too many democracies that are.

PPP: The KR genocide inquiry from Yale University, that would be something

especially close to your heart?

Quinn: Of course. Knowing and understanding fully what happened, it's something

I've always been interested in. My feeling again is that it's a Cambodian decision

about how they should proceed. It has to do with their future. They need to make

the basic decisions. I think this help has been welcomed and therefore we're pleased

to provide it. The people working on it are working very hard. I want to be supportive

and at the same time say how that material should be used is up to the Cambodians.

PPP: How do you see yourself working as the ambassador. Any goals?

Quinn: I don't know if I have specific goals. The goals of our policy is

that one, the Khmer Rouge must never be able to come back. Also, helping Khmer Rouge

defectors, demining, rural development, environment, education. We're hopeful that

this considerable political experiment which is still quite fragile could continue

and grow stronger, and if there are ways we can help appropriately then we'd like

to do things that will help the Cambodians make their political systems stronger.

Promoting American business is always an important issue. Narcotics and crime is

an area of growing concern. That's where Cambodians and ourselves should have a similar

interest. Right now Cambodia doesn't have a significant user problem, but it's clear

if you get into production or you're used as a trafficking route, eventually it'll

rub off. One south Asian country went from zero to a million heroin addicts in five

years. It's in Cambodia's interest as well as ours to deal with this problem.

PPP: Cambodia is on the major drug trafficking list, and President Clinton

has pointed the finger at unnamed government, military, police officials, which presumably

makes the job harder to make Cambodia understand to cooperate and prevent a drug

problem here.

Quinn: There is that understanding. If you look at the experience of other

countries in the region, it takes a while to organize and develop expertise, and

for countries to turn their emphasis toward it. Countries with thin human resource

infrastructures can't focus on every problem at once, and they have a lot of problems.

By working together, providing training and limited equipment, we've started that

process. It's going to take time, I don't see any quick fix. Nobody will ever be

satisfied that we're moving as fast as we should, but we're accomplishing something.

PPP: There are certain USAID-funded programs that have had problems, like the

Defenders and Court Training projects. Will you be spending a lot of time with [USAID

director] Joe Goodwin to see where money should best be spent?

Quinn: Of course. USAID does that regularly. It's very results oriented.

In an age of diminishing resources you have to focus on the places you see that it's

really working. Without reference to any particular program, that process goes on.

I spent most of my six years in Vietnam as an aid officer, so I have a lot of experience

and interest. I've already sat down for several hours with each of the aid sections

and had them tell me about their programs. I haven't heard yet of a program that

wasn't worthy of being done. There are so many needs, I just wish we had more money.

PPP: In a 'results-oriented' world, is it harder to justify or show the results

of democracy and human rights programs versus, say, building a bridge?

Quinn: Sure. The bridge you can go out and show everybody. So much of the

area of democracy and human rights is intangible. But there are ways to see what's

different as a result of a project. I would ask what would happen if we stopped doing

this? Then you can start to get some answers.

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