Panel chair asks city to reconsider WWII monument
By Jon Hawley
Wednesday, March 7, 2018
The U.S. chairman of the US-Russia Joint Commission is asking Elizabeth City City Council to reconsider its opposition to a Russian-funded World War II monument proposed for placement at a city park.
In an interview Wednesday, retired U.S. Air Force Gen. Robert Foglesong said he had written Mayor Bettie Parker to ask the city still accept the monument, a large bronze statue of Allied aviators, in Elizabeth City.
City Council voted in support of the monument almost a year ago, but rejected an agreement necessary for its construction and placement in its last meeting on Feb. 26. Notably, neither the decisions to accept the monument nor to reject the agreement were unanimous.
Foglesong said he was “surprised by what is a bit of inconsistency of the city council's position.” He also said he was unsure if the council had the full context of the Joint Commission's work, of which the monument is one small piece.
Foglesong said that U.S. and Russian officials have cooperated for 25 years in accounting for each other's missing veterans around the world. Russian officials have helped the U.S. by granting access to its archives and crash sites, he said. Even as relations between the U.S. and Russia have been strained, the countries have agreed on “not letting politics intrude on a humanitarian mission,” he said.
“That principle has endured for over the past two decades,” Foglesong said, adding the commission's work is strongly supported by veterans' families and organizations.
Foglesong also said Russian officials have worked in good faith with the commission and city officials, committing their time and resources to planning the monument. Based on his conversations with them, he said they're hoping the city will still accept the monument.
“They're awaiting to see if there's any reconsideration,” he said.
Foglesong also addressed some of city councilors' concerns about the monument project.
Asked about Councilor Johnnie Walton's speculation in a finance committee meeting last month that Russians could hide hacking devices in the monument, Foglesong said the U.S. government would not allow anyone to jeopardize national security. He also noted that anyone seeking to commit cyber-warfare or surveillance would rely on technology that would “far supersede” what could go into a statue.
Foglesong also said it would be a tremendous liability for Russia, were a listening or jamming device found in the monument.
Foglesong also acknowledged that many citizens are frustrated or angry with Russia over reports that it interfered in the 2016 presidential election – “count me as one of those citizens,” he added.
Still, he argued that rejecting the monument would do nothing to deter such behavior, though it could discourage cooperation on accounting for missing veterans.
Foglesong also said that, in a time when U.S. and Russian cooperation is limited, seemingly small matters like the monument take on added importance to both nations.
“The Russians are keenly aware of the few things we are cooperating on,” he said.
Foglesong also acknowledged councilors had concerns with specific provisions of the agreement for the monument. He said those questions are “legitimate,” but said he felt his Russian counterparts would work with him and the city to refine the agreement.
City staff also shared Parker's letter in response to Foglesong's request. Parker wrote she appreciated what he had shared, and was passing it along to city councilors for their consideration.
Reached for comment Wednesday, Walton said he had not yet seen Foglesong's letter, but had not changed his mind on the issue.
Councilor Anita Hummer said Wednesday that she's "amenable to further discussion" about the monument, but she declined to say whether she'd vote differently. She added, though, that it would have been more appropriate to have tabled the agreement, rather than reject it outright.
While Hummer's stated reason for opposing the agreement last month was constituent opposition, she said Wednesday she was also concerned then that the Russian Ministry of Defense had not approved the agreement before it came to council.
That said, the agreement is a result of negotiations between city staff and both sides of the Joint Commission, suggesting Russian officials already support it. Were they to make changes to the agreement after council approved it, the council would have to vote to accept those changes to make the revised agreement binding.