Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz and Secretary-General Michael Linhart travelled to the United States for a short visit to Washington, D.C. packed with meetings before flying on to Moscow.
The issues discussed during the meetings with Senator John McCain and Secretary of State John Kerry included the Austrian chairmanship of the OSCE in 2017, the fight against radicalization and the challenges posed by the so-called “Islamic State” (IS), as well as the refugee crisis. Within the framework of the Austrian OSCE chairmanship, Austria wants to renew its role as a builder of bridges and create room for dialogue to find solutions for ongoing crises. The strengthening of the permanent dialogue of the OSCE with Mediterranean countries will be another important issue in order to jointly combat terrorism and the “IS”.
The refugees issue was also discussed at length. During 2015, Austria took in 90,000 refugees, while the United States took 1,862. Joint efforts to master the refugee crisis are needed. For Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, the implementation of the Five Point Plan is pivotal. Besides combating the causes of flight and joint efforts to guarantee safety on location, this will require not only the protection of the EU external borders, but also cooperation and surveillance on the Western Balkans route, as well as equal treatment of refugees within the EU in the framework of the Relocation Program.
The crisis in Ukraine, which was discussed as well, will remain a focus during Austria’s 2017 OSCE chairmanship. Foreign Ministers Kerry and Kurz agreed that a complete implementation of the Minsk Agreement, specifically the adherence to the cease-fire, is indispensable. The OSCE is the pivotal organization to make a contribution to a peaceful solution in Eastern Ukraine, specifically within the framework of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission.
During a dinner the evening before, Foreign Minister Kurz and Secretary-General Linhart also had the opportunity to exchange views with Austrian businesspeople. Besides rendering services to citizens abroad, the support of Austrian businesses worldwide is also a focal point of the Austrian Foreign Ministry. In that vein, the opening of an office in Silicon Valley is planned for 2016. The office, to be set up as an Austrian consulate in San Francisco for improved networking, will support Austrian businesses that want to make contacts or are planning to settle in the Bay Area.
The United States represent the second-largest export market for Austria: The export of Austrian goods into the United States during 2015 rose by 17% to a total of 9 billion Euro, while imports from the United States into Austria even rose by 19%, totaling 5.3 billion Euro. In the light of these trade figures, the Transatlantic Partnership (TTIP) was an important point of discussion with Foreign Minister Kerry. The goal of the treaty is to further expand possibilities for exports and to jointly define future international standards together with the United States. Future negotiation rounds will continue to deal i.a. with the protection of Geographical Indications (GI) for agrarian products as the protection of sensitive agraro-products and their producers are a core concern of Austria and the European Union.