US state secretary Kerry visits Moldova to show support for EU drive
US secretary of state John Kerry visited Moldova on December 4 to re-affirm Washington’s support for Chisinau’s drive for closer ties with the European Union. Kerry met with president Nicolae Timofti and prime minister Iurie Leanca, as well as leaders of parties in Moldova’s ruling coalition.
Kerry was originally scheduled to visit Kyiv as part of his four-day trip to Europe and the Middle East, where he would have participated in the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
His itinerary was changed after Ukraine surprisingly announced that it was freezing plans to sign an association agreement with the EU at the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius last week. Most observers saw the change as a clear answer to Ukraine’s intentions of cultivating closer ties with Russia.
Moldova too has come under pressure from Moscow, including a ban on Moldovan wine imports and not-so-veiled threats about possible interruptions in gas supplies. In response, the EU has already moved to remove quotas on Moldovan wine imports, while Kerry visited the extensive underground wine cellars at Cricova, a big attraction to foreign tourists.
“This winery is a fitting reminder of how Moldova’s rich history is intimately tied to its now very promising future. And it’s also a reminder of how Moldova’s future and past are both rooted in Europe,” Kerry said.
“But this visit is much more than a celebration of wine-making, important as that is. I’m here today for a larger purpose. I’m here to congratulate the people of Moldova for initialling an association agreement and a deep and comprehensive free trade agreement with the European Union at the Vilnius summit last week and to pledge the support of the United States of America to you as you finalise this agreement over the course of this next year,” he said.
Kerry’s visit comes two years after US vice president Joe Biden visited Chisinau to offer a similar message. Since the current pro-Western government coalition took office in 2010, Chisinau has played host to senior European diplomats and European Commissioners, as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2012 – a far cry from previous years, when Russian president Vladimir Putin and other heads of state from the Commonwealth of Independent States were the only foreign dignitaries to visit the country.
Moldova is expected to sign the association agreement with the EU in 2014, but also hopes to finalise the visa-free travel agreement with the EU before the European Parliament elections in May next year – the EC made the formal proposal to lift the visa restrictions on Moldovan citizens on the eve of the Vilnius summit.
(US secretary of state John Kerry and Moldovan prime minister Iurie Leanca share a toast on December 4 2013. Photo: US state department via flickr.com)