USA: Interview with Harry Kamian, the new Chargé d’Affaires of the US to the OSCE

The US mission to the OSCE has a new Chargé d’Affaires – since August 2017, Harry Kamian is the leader of the US diplomatic mission to the OSCE. SOCIETY spoke with him about his impressions of Austria and his visions and challenges of this new position. 

Since August last year you are the Chargé d’Affaires of the U.S. Mission to the OSCE.  What are your impressions so far of Vienna and of Austria? In what way does it differ from your previous posts?

 After 24 years in the U.S. Foreign Service, this is my first assignment in Western Europe.  My family and I are really enjoying it!  What has impressed me the most about Vienna so far is the architecture.  It’s amazing – from the spires of St. Stephen’s and the Rathaus to cozy heuriges to the colorful Hundertwasserhaus – the city has such unique character.  And everything is so green – from the parks in the city to the wine hills around Vienna.

My family and I love to walk and hike, and we’ve enjoyed exploring the city and our neighborhood.  We live in Währing near Türkenschanzpark. The park is beautiful!  We take our labradoodle, Shoji, every weekend when we are in town and the park is very dog friendly.

To me, Vienna stands out as a diplomatic posting from my other assignments because of the breadth and richness of the international community here, the multilateral work, and the presence of so many nations coming together in one city to try to address common challenges.  That sense of community has made our transition to Vienna smooth, and I’m particularly grateful to my colleagues at the OSCE and the other members of the diplomatic community who have been so very gracious and welcoming.

 What are you looking forward to doing in Austria? Do you have any sights you always wanted to visit?

We’ve already had the opportunity to see quite a bit. In September, my family and I visited the beautiful Wachau wine hills, where we went on a mountain biking tour. Not long after our arrival in Vienna we also enjoyed wine-tasting at the Kirtag in Neustift – it was fantastic! We felt very much at home in this part of Austria — my wife Robin and I are both from California, we got married in Sonoma (the location of some of the best wine in the world) and we spent four years in Chile, where we traveled extensively in the wine-producing regions there. And while I spend a lot of time at the Hofburg for OSCE meetings, I would still like to visit the other wings of the palace. I enjoyed the annual OSCE Charity Ball which showcases how the Großer Redoutensaal comes to life during the ball season.

 Before accepting this post as Chargé d’Affaires you served as Deputy Executive Secretary in the Department of State’s Executive Secretariat. Which experiences did you gain in that position that will help you in your future tasks?

In many ways, my entire Foreign Service career has been preparation for this assignment. I’ve served in Washington and across three continents – but I think there are a few things in particular that have helped prepare me to lead our mission to the OSCE.

An important aspect of the OSCE’s work involves conflict prevention and response, and I believe there are a few lessons learned from my time leading the State Department’s Operations Center which will serve me well here.

You mentioned the Executive Secretariat. The opportunity to support the Secretary of State on overseas travel to advance American foreign policy goals was a rewarding professional experience. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to experience OSCE diplomacy first-hand in December 2016, when I accompanied the Secretary of State to the Ministerial Council meeting in Hamburg. This experience served me well for my current position, where I had the opportunity to support the U.S. delegation to the Ministerial Council meeting last December in Vienna.

In times like these, what is your vision for your task as Chargé d’Affaires?

The Organization faces considerable challenges, not least of which are deliberate efforts by some OSCE participating States to undermine rules-based international order. The United States continues to view the OSCE as an important regional platform for dialogue on the full range of issues – and you can expect that we will remain engaged across all dimensions of the OSCE’s work – political-military, economic and environment, and on human rights.

Today’s challenges cannot be solved by any one country. The OSCE brings a unique set of tools to bear in addressing regional, cross-cutting challenges in a consensus-based organization, and we’re going to seek our partners’ support to use them to build on the OSCE’s strong record of preventing conflict and supporting and strengthening democracy and security across Europe, Central Asia, and North America.

We will continue to work to ensure the OSCE has the resources and personnel needed to fulfill its mandate – with eyes wide open that in a difficult budget environment, we all have an obligation to ensure that the OSCE is efficient and effective, and that all participating States step up to meet the shared responsibility that comes with shared ownership of the Organization.

What is your stance on one of the main issues of the OSCE – the crisis in Ukraine?

The conflict in eastern Ukraine is the most important and vexing security challenge facing the OSCE region today. The United States remains steadfast in its support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and its aspirations to build a modern, democratic, European state – a path the Ukrainian people have chosen for themselves. Ukraine is and will remain at the top of our agenda here. We will continue to make our position known, and work with Ukraine, our European partners and other concerned participating States to advance our shared goals.

Has the strategy of the U.S. Mission changed under the President Donald Trump?

The OSCE remains an important pillar of our common security architecture that bolsters peace and stability in Europe and Eurasia.

In every democratic transition, whether in the United States, Europe, or elsewhere, there may be changes in policy. U.S. foreign policy has tended not to change dramatically from administration to administration. The OSCE remains an important pillar of the long-standing U.S. policy of promoting peace, security and prosperity in Europe and Eurasia. Whether it is ending the crisis in Ukraine, resolving long-standing conflicts, fighting terrorism, or promoting human rights, the OSCE remains an important platform and the United States will continue to play an active leadership role here.

Italy took over the chairmanship of the OSCE in 2018, what are the US’ expectations towards the chair? In an interview with SOCIETY, Alessandro Azzoni, Italian Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the OSCE in Vienna, said that “the Italian Chairmanship will focus on how to better address the security challenges posed by migratory flows coming from the Mediterranean (…).”  What is the view of the U.S. government concerning that topic?

We congratulate Italy on assuming the chairmanship at this important time and note that Italy’s priorities largely mirror our own, from seeking a solution to the Ukraine crisis to pushing for progress on the protracted conflicts. We share Italy’s view that the OSCE is an important platform to exchange views on security issues as well as global refugee and migration challenges.

Biography of Harry Kamian

A 24-year veteran of the U.S. diplomatic corps and member of the Senior Foreign Service, Harry Kamian has served as Chargé d’ Affaires, a.i., to the U.S. Mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe since August 2017.

Before joining the U.S. Mission to the OSCE, Mr. Kamian served as Deputy Executive Secretary in the Department of State’s Executive Secretariat, where from 2015-2017 he worked with the Secretary’s staff, Bureau leadership and Chiefs of Mission to shape and execute overseas visits by the Secretary to advance U.S. policy goals.  Prior to that, Harry served as the Director and Deputy Director of the Operations Center, the Department’s 24-hour crisis center.

Since joining the State Department in 1993, Mr. Kamian has also served overseas in Vietnam, Chile, Turkey, Cuba and El Salvador. In Washington, his assignments have included Deputy Director of the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, as well as positions in Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and on the staff of the Secretary of State in the Operations Center.

Harry received a Master of Science in Foreign Service from Georgetown University, and Bachelor of Arts degrees in International Relations and Spanish Language from the University of California, Davis.  He speaks Spanish, as well as some Turkish and Vietnamese.

Fotos: USOSCE/Colin Peters