An Interview with William H. Moser, U.S. Ambassador to Moldova
William H. Moser was confirmed on August 2, 2011 by the U.S. Senate to become the next U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Moldova. He was sworn in on September 6, 2011. Born and raised in North Carolina, Moser received a B.A. in Political Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is fluent in German, French, and Russian. Ambassador Moser began his diplomatic career as the General Services Officer at U.S. Embassy Bamako in Mali. Since joining the diplomatic corps in 1984, he has served in the Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Egypt, Suriname, and Mali. Most recently, Moser served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Logistics Management at the U.S. Department of State. He is married and has three children.
The Politic: Why did you join the Foreign Service?
That is a very good question. I was very fortunate after college to receive a Rotary International fellowship in West Germany at the University of Cologne, and because of that experience of living overseas for the first time, I realized that I was very suited to work and live in foreign cultures. I conducted my whole school life in German, my first real second language, and was able to adapt well and enjoy the environment. I realized that I was the kind of personality type that could make that bridge between cultures and be effective. So that’s how I started thinking about it. And then a couple years went by, and I realized that the Foreign Service was probably a good life for me.
The Politic: What is a career like in this profession? What are its challenges? You mentioned that your personality type was well suited for work in the Foreign Service. Could you talk a bit more about that?
One of the things that I always say about good Foreign Service officers, regardless of what they specialize in, is that they are adaptable in a variety of situations. In other words, they look at the challenges that the United States is confronted with — whether that is working in an embassy overseas, or working in the state department in Washington — and really think about how to adapt to those challenges. When you are in the overseas environment, part of that adaptation is learning to work through your local culture. In other words, not to work against it, and not to pretend as if you were in the United States, but to learn how to use the strengths in it in order to achieve the United States’ goals. And so this is part of the personal side of me in terms of the adaptation.
Regarding the challenges, I started my Foreign Service career in Bamako Mali, which had terrible infrastructure and employees that did not have really strong backgrounds. So I had to learn what the things were that would work well in that kind of environment and take advantage of the positive aspects and make the most of them.
The Politic: Working in a foreign country can sometimes be difficult due to dissimilar social norms and institutions. In your experience, what are the biggest challenges, as well as the biggest strengths in working in Moldova’s cultural and political climate?
The biggest challenges are really related to our policy agenda. We spend most of the Embassy’s time working on problems of corruption, because we know that the factor holding Moldova back from its further economic and political development is corruption within its society. This is particularly prevalent in the government, and because corruption eats at the fabric of political and economic life, it really prevents investors abroad and Moldovans from investing in the country and making a better future here. That is really the big negative.
The big positive is that the Moldovans are really willing to listen; they are willing to explore with you, they are very receptive to the messages we give them, and they are willing to talk about ways to overcome these problems. So it is truly a mixed picture: even though we have very serious challenges, we have a very hospitable working environment, and we can talk to the Moldovans. We can reason with them, we can get them to adopt reforms, and we hope these reforms will take hold and really create a better future for the country.
The Politic: What do you think of the new government established under Iurie Leanca, and what do you think it will mean for Moldova’s goal of EU integration?
I have a very great deal of respect for Iurie Leanca. I have worked with prime minister Leanca since I arrived two years ago, and we have very serious conversations about what actions the government should take, and how the U.S. can actually assist the government in trying to achieve its agenda. Now, what I have told Mr. Leanca very clearly is that delivering results for the Moldovan people has to be the first priority for the new government. Essentially, people are very frustrated with the government right now because they do not feel that they have seen the results of the current government coalition’s policies and they’re not feeling that things have actually improved, even though statistically you could argue that there has been some notable improvement. I think it is very important for the government to make clear what it can achieve and then achieve those results in the time that’s left until [regular elections].
Regarding European Union integration, I think that one of the things that the government has done an exceptional job of is working on the requirements to achieve an association agreement and a deep comprehensive free trade agreement with the European Union, as well as [taking] the steps toward visa liberalization with the European Union. And these things over time will reap concrete results for Moldova, because if you look at previous low income states associated with the European Union, they have made great economic progress in a very short period of time. These are very tangible results, but I think that politically the government does have to address the immediate problems of what people perceive about jobs, about incomes, and about the relative poverty.
The Politic: You mentioned achieving concrete results and economic progress by addressing immediate problems. Are these results purely in terms of jobs and income? How might the Moldovan government work to achieve them?
The Moldovan government does have some ideas about how to create jobs, and it is talking about more public investments right now, but the biggest problem is actually corruption. We at the American embassy, along with our international partners, talk a great deal about how the problem limiting investment in the economy is the corruption. There is a perception that judicial processes are unfair, that the prosecutorial function is unfair, and that the police function is also against ordinary people.
We have made a lot of progress in the last year with the interior ministry about trying to reform the police function. We for example have given them video camera equipment for their cars so that we can have arrests for traffic violations [….] We have a variety of training programs where we try to enhance their technical skills, how they handle cases, and their forensic capability. In this next year, we are going to be working more and more in the judicial sector to try and get the judges to use a case-management system which we donated to the Moldovans several years ago, […] and we are also going to be working with prosecutors about more ethical behavior. The reason I go into such length about all of this is that we are doing these things because we are trying to provide the government the tools it needs in order to take first steps to really clean up the justice sector.
In June of 2012, the government passed an ambitious program of justice sector reform, […] and this was really at the urging of the European Union. And as a result of that reform, the EU has offered us a substantial sum of assistance bonds, and they will need to use this money in order to pursue reform intensely. So much of the cynicism that is among the Moldovan population is really based on the fact that people do not see the results of reform efforts, but if they pursue corruption, and if the people feel that the system is getting less corrupt, then people will see that the government really is on their side.
The Politic: From what you just mentioned, it sounds as though a lot of the assistance that the Foreign Service gives is in the forms of technology and training. Are there any other kinds of programs or outreach that you find especially benefit a developing country like Moldova?
One of the things I try to urge people to do is look at the [assistance] program over the long term. When I look back at our 21 years of engagement with Moldova, there are many things that I can be very proud of. We have sent over 4000 Moldovans to the United States on various exchange programs. We have sent farmers; we have sent parliamentarians; we have sent judges; we have sent prosecutors; we have sent students. We have all these exchange programs in order for us to show how great our country is and what it really means to see America and how America works and functions. And it is very interesting that right now I have a very good relationship with Moldova’s president, and one of the things that he always mentions to me is how he enjoyed being in the United States on an exchange program [many] years ago during the 4th of July. He said that he learned so much when he was a judge from that experience, and that spoke to him about the influence our program has had.
Another example of where large US assistance has really made a difference is that we have a 262 million dollar grant from the Millennium Challenge Corporation, one of the US government’s assistance agents. This project is divided into two parts. One is to build Moldova’s first modern highway since its independence, which will provide Moldova with some of the best modern infrastructure the country has ever seen. The second part of that project will provide irrigation systems. These projects actually promise to help Moldova make the transition to what we call ‘high value agriculture.’ [Meanwhile,] Moldova can be a successful agricultural exporter. But the irrigation program and then another technical assistance program that we have in the area is actually there to [help] Moldovan farmers find the right crop mix and find the right markets, so they can be successful in exports.
Another program I want to mention that I think is really important to show how the US government works overseas is our Peace Corps. We have just short of 120 Peace Corps volunteers in the country. They teach English; they work in local government, business development, and health programs. I go around and spend a great deal of time talking to local officials in Moldova and local individuals. And it really is a good idea in a country that is basically a rural country to get out and talk to people in the villages, and everywhere I go where the Peace Corps has been, I get nothing but positive feedback. Having that American presence on the ground and really working on that Peace Corps goal of friendship with the American people has made a difference in Moldova. Moldova is very receptive to our Peace Corps program, and we feel we have made great inroads with it.
The Politic: It sounds like the United States has been a positive influence in terms of economic development and infrastructure projects. Is there similar influence in regards to Social Issues? I read that you recently participated in last month’s LGBT march, Moldova’s first in years. How do you think this event, contrasted with the protest against the law ensuring equality by Orthodox priests and others will affect gay rights and other social liberties?
We spend a lot of time in the mission working on promoting human rights. We have a good outreach program to the LGBT community, but we also have a good outreach program with the Roma community and with the linguistic minorities. I spend a lot of time giving speeches in Russian to the various linguistic minorities, the Russian speaking community, to show that the United States cares about diversity in Moldova. And we care about diversity because we believe that diversity is one of the key strengths in the United States. We want to emphasize to the Moldovans that, because we live in a society where ethnic groups of different strides can really prosper and flourish, this is a good model for them too, because they should take advantage of the contributions from each of their citizens.
Specifically regarding the question about the Church and the LGBT community, we are a big believer that the Law for Equality was not just something Moldova needed to do because it’s required for the EU — it needed to do it because it was good for Moldova. As I was saying a minute ago, equality for its citizens and protecting minority rights is something this country needs in order to take advantage of the skills and abilities of all its citizenry. I know that certain elements within the Moldovan Orthodox church and other churches are critical of this. However, during the Soviet period 25 years ago, the Soviet government did not allow the church to have an opinion. Now the church has the right to have a voice, so I am trying to get the church and other people who are against the anti-discrimination legislation to understand that by giving rights to all citizens, the country becomes stronger, not weaker. By getting this message across based on the example of the United States and of other countries in the western world, we can help Moldova [find] a better future. Ultimately, these are decisions that Moldova has to make, but we want to act as a strong example of how there is strength in diversity, and there is strength in protecting minority rights.
The Politic: An Amnesty International representative recently said: “the authorities must publicly support Pride marches and enable this event to be the first of many of its kind,” and that the recent law must do more to clamp down on LGBT discrimination in other areas of life. Are you optimistic about progress in this area given Moldova’s current social climate and recent pressure from the church?
I do want to be optimistic in that they have formed the Anti-discrimination Council which was part of something called for by the law, and I can assure you that the United States and its international partners are very focused on this. I spend many hours with my fellow ambassadors and colleagues from other embassies and international organizations talking about how we can help Moldova move further down this path.
As I said before, one of the positive things about working here is that the Moldovan public and Moldovan government officials are interested in what we have to say, and they are concerned about our views, and I think that through this kind of dialogue, we can help encourage them to take the steps to make the anti-discrimination law effective.
The Politic: Moving more toward the political sphere, is there one experience, person, or event in your country that has greatly influenced one or more of your policies?
Before I came here to Moldova, I had been in Ukraine before, so let’s say I understood a little more about the neighborhood. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, it’s not one event that has been important (besides that event, the breakup of the Soviet Union), but it is what we wanted to do in the post-Soviet space. And what we want from Moldova is very clear. We want Moldova to be stable, democratic, prosperous, and at peace. And really for the last 21 years, these are the goals we have been working on.
If you want to talk about a specific event, it probably was the breakup of the Soviet Union. Since then, we have been going by a playbook to give Moldova its independence, a functioning democracy, strong democratic institutions, and a stronger economy. And we want to do all of these things because we think that by doing these things we can have a Europe that is whole and at peace. The United States has worked for a long time to achieve these goals in Europe, and we should be very glad that we are moving toward a better European future.
The Politic: Regarding achieving the goal of a peaceful Moldova, tensions with Transnistria (Moldova’s breakaway territory bordering Ukraine) seem to have recently flared with the actions they’ve taken along the border. How do you think this longstanding issue will impact Moldova’s role on the world stage and in achieving those goals you previously mentioned?
We realize that the conflict with Transnistria is a very serious issue. But at the same time, if you look at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s statement in December 2012, all the OSCE membership states’ foreign ministers agreed that Transnistria should have a special status within the territorial integrity of Moldova. I think that we have agreement for what the future should look like, and that was agreed upon by the United States, by all of the member states of the EU who are in the OSCE, by the [official agent?] states, and by Russia and the Ukraine.
We have agreement from all of Moldova’s neighbors that this is what the future of Transnistria is going to be. Now the two sides can be very difficult about resolving differences between them. And this is where the issue is, but the encouraging thing is that we have begun, once again, the 5+2 process, a formal negotiation process where we talk about these issues, and the two sides are talking. Yes, we have had a flare-up of tensions recently. However, we still are talking, we are still having open lines of communication, and I feel that in the long term, we can work out these problems. These negotiations can be very difficult, and they can be very slow, but at the same time, we must not lose hope that this conflict can be resolved through peaceful means. [As was said] in a statement that the OSCE issued two weeks ago and that was echoed by my embassy and recently by the European Union, we want both sides to refrain from unilateral action, because unilateral action is unhelpful in finding a resolution to this conflict.
The Politic: Do you think a solution must be achieved before Moldova can join the EU?
Well I always say there is a wonderful phrase we use in English that that I think is very applicable to that question: I think Moldova can walk and chew gum at the same time. In other words, they need to work on both, and I really do think that they need to continue to hold an open dialogue with Transnistria, and I encourage Transnistrians to do the same thing. They need to keep the dialogue going with the Moldovans and keep talking about problems that affect people’s lives. At the same time, I applaud Moldova in its dedication to its European Union goals, and it needs to continue to do that as well.
The Politic: Regarding Moldova’s political system, you mentioned the need to correct corruption and establish democratic government. In 2010, the referendum to have a directly elected president failed. Do you believe that constitutional reform in this direction would be on the horizon, and is this something that the embassy is pushing for?
I will be honest with you; it is not something the embassy actively pushes for, because at this point pursuing that kind of constitutional initiative has its own difficulties. I have said very openly to Moldovan officials that the United States has a directly elected president, and this is something Moldova should think about too, because if you look at opinion polls, it is what the people really want, even though when given the opportunity to vote for a constitutional change, people did not vote for it. So this is one of those issues that is definitely not at the top of the priority list, but is something Moldova should think about in order to find the best system it can find in order to establish a stable democratic government.
The Politic: How do you feel that America is represented abroad in general, and are there any elements of American foreign policy that you would want to change?
I think that the United States is fortunate to have a talented group of professionals in the American Foreign Service. Of course, they are complemented and supplemented by other agencies, which are not Foreign Service agencies, stationed in our embassies overseas. And when we look at the broad picture of how active the United States’ diplomatic agenda is, I feel the needs of the American people are very well served. This my opinion and admittedly my opinion is going to be somewhat parochial because I am part of the system, but if you talk to people that have really had extensive contact with the Foreign Service over the years, I think you will find most of them really say the same thing: that we are very lucky to have a core of professional diplomats that really do serve the country well.
I will say this, that what the Foreign Service is dedicated to is really serving both the administration and even more broadly, serving the American people, and we think every day about what the people of the United States want us to do. And we really do take seriously this knowledge of democratic government in that we are delegated by the American people in order to fulfill the goals that our country wants to achieve. The president, whoever he is, is just an extension of that democratic form of government. One of the things I do, almost every time I talk about assistance programs here in Moldova, where I am either announcing a new assistance program or a milestone we have achieved, is I always remind the Moldovans that this is a gift from the American people to them. And this is really to remind people that at the end of the day, diplomacy at its core is a people-to-people function, and it’s outreach from the people of one country to the people of another, and the diplomats have the good fortune of being the ones who get to represent their people overseas.
Embassy of the United States to Moldova: http://moldova.usembassy.gov/