- The Washington Times - Friday, May 3, 2002

Mongolian Ambassador Jalbuu Choinhor spoke to Washington Times reporter Steve Park this week about the political and economic challenges facing his country.

Question: What is the current diplomatic relationship between Mongolia and the United States?

Answer: U.S.-Mongolian diplomatic relations was a late relationship in comparison to Mongolia's ties with its neighbors, Russia and China. But for the last 15 years, the relationship has been good and grown fast. In the last 10 to 12 years, [implementing] democracy and free-market system has improved the bilateral relations.

Q: What is the Mongolian government's position on the U.S. military campaign against terrorism?

A: We are on the side of the anti-terrorism coalition.

Our prime minister visited the U.S. shortly after September 11, and he pledged cooperation to President Bush.

Q: Has Mongolia's growing cooperation with the United States negatively affected its relations with Russia or China?

A: I can't speak for other countries, of course, but we haven't noted any resistance from Russia and China.

Q: Russia, China and the United States have different positions on certain security issues, one of them being the Bush administration's concern about the so called "axis of evil" countries: Iraq, Iran and North Korea. Have these differences caused any difficulty in maintaining good relations with Russia and China after Mongolia pledged its support to the U.S. campaign against terrorism?

A: Mongolia has no difficulties with surrounding countries. We have naturally good relations with Russia and China. The three big powers Russia, China and the United States still have good relations, so we have no problems diplomatically.

Q: What is the Mongolian government's position in dealing with North Korea, a country branded by President Bush as a member of the "axis of evil," but also a state that had close relations with Mongolia during the Cold War?

A: We had good relations with North Korea when we were under a communist regime. We stepped up relations with South Korea [after becoming democratic]. Maintaining a balance in the relationship is not easy. We would also like to have relations with North Korea after all, our important mission is to help the people of Korea.

Q: Do you see a role Mongolia can play in easing tensions between the two Koreas?

A: We maintain our embassy [in Pyongyang] despite our economic difficulty. Mediation by Mongolia could be useful. They know that Mongolia has changed greatly, but they trust us, based on past relationship.

Q: A possible U.S. invasion of Iraq, an eventuality often brought up by many American politicians, would likely increase oil prices if Persian Gulf oil supplies were disrupted. If oil prices did increase, how damaging would this be for the Mongolian economy?

A: In the past, energy crisis was a great concern to many countries, and also to Mongolia. We rely heavily on foreign oil from Russia and China. Almost all our oil is imported, so it would be of great concern to us.

Q: Is there any possibility that Mongolia will also try to mine domestic oil deposits?

A: We have a large deposit of oil in the southeastern part of Mongolia. We are trying to exploit it with American assistance.

Currently, two American oil companies are engaged in the project. But we are still dependent on [Russian and Chinese oil] for the time being.

Q: Could you evaluate Mongolia's political development and point out what can be improved?

A: We succeeded in developing democracy in the last 12 years. We have changed the whole economic system. The constitution changed, free elections were held for parliamentary and presidential offices. All were very successful.

But now we need growth economic development to eradicate poverty. People can come and go, but if the economy stays the same, then there is no reason for changing the government.

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