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  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
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.
Contact PhnomPenh Post for full articlePost Media Co Ltd
The Elements Condominium, Level 7
Hun Sen Boulevard
Phum Tuol Roka III
Sangkat Chak Angre Krom, Khan Meanchey
12353 Phnom Penh
Tel: +855(0) 23 888 161 / 162
Fax: +855(0) 23 214 318