tv Natl Security Council Middle East Coordinator on Foreign Policy CSPAN January 27, 2022 11:58pm-12:47am EST
♪♪ ♪♪ buckeye broadband supports c-span as a public service along with these other television providers, giving you a front row seat to democracy. now red, deputy assistant to the president and the middle east coordinator for the national security council talks about the biden administration's foreign policy agenda for the region. topics include negotiations with iran and its return to the jcpoa. the carnegie endowment boosts this 50 minute event. >> good morning, good afternoon, good evening. where are for -- wherever you are i hope that you are healthy. david miller senior fellow the
carnegie endowment for international research, welcome [inaudible] the virtual discussion at least for now of issues of critical importance to america and to the world. i am pleased this morning and honored to host brett, deputy assistant to the president and coordinator for the middle east and north africa and the national security council. it's great to see you again and welcome to carnegie. >> it's great to be here. thank you for having me. we have a lot of ground to cover but before we get to the granular and the kind of to remove the region, i want to get some somatic altitude and talk about some big picture stuff. in an interview you gave last november i believe, you reflected on your tenure under three or four presidents and talked about the challenge of over committing and overpromising in the region, so i wonder if you look back now,
you've been in the job about a year, can you identify keeping that the cms challenge of over committing and overpromising with respect to american credibility and interest in the region? will identify the administrations successor in that period and as well i've worked for half the administrations. nobody's perfect. the greatest failing looking back before we go forward, how would you identify? >> we've been here a year. it's difficult to answer that question. [inaudible] 700 days of failure and one day of success. it's kind of the nature of diplomacy. i don't want to characterize it like that, but i think that it's important it's true. in the administration since 9/11
over two decades america has pursued objectives in the middle east that are probably unachievable to the democratization through the regime changes. these kind of policies that every administration has set and i think that is a danger because you risk overcommitment, unintended consequences, just overtaking the bandwidth of the president of the united states and so we have come in with ang focus driven by our guidance from president biden focused on very practical objectives so focusing on the situation that we inherited, every difficult situation that we inherited, consulting very quietly in this administration with every capital in the region and setting objectives and policies and coordination with our partners that we think outlines
so it's getting back to the basics, recognizing the global powers and priorities but at this region is interwoven with important interests. it's a volatile, too important to simply disengage. about rbd prioritizing the middle east region, that is the wrong question. you have to ask what are we trying to do. i was here in the bush administration in which we were engagedga obviously in the war n iraq with casualties every single day. there was a policy that i supported at the time and i think if you look at that time until now obviously it is quite different and i think that is important. we are not trying to pursue a transformation of this region. we are trying to pursue very important american interest in a way that aligns the needs and commitments into capabilities and so we can get into some of
this detail but it's important i think the point about how to approach this region. you will not see in the biden administration and announcement to the grandiose objectives without a basis of facts and the factual foundation. an example i don't want to go on tbut it's important if you look at the presidential history and an example of that is often jfk and going to the moon and if you study that decision, he had a study that was done and commissioned by the vice president the top scientist at the time that said we can go to the moon, here's how you do it, here's what we need for rockets, here's the costs into the resources. it's not without risk but it's very achievable and i think that is a charge i gave to my team and my students when i was teaching and also coming from the president on down. when we sit policies we want to make sure that they are undergirded by the foundation
enand doing things we can achie. >> i want to return to this between those who argue that the u.s. is doing too much into those that argue it isn't doing enough. the left lobby if i can call it that argues that domestic priorities, fixing america's broken house, weaning off of the hydrocarbon into the notion that most of the problems are beyond america's capacity to repair, which you essentially i think implicitlyan acknowledged. however the argument of critical interest, the humanitarian region to the other, unresolved conflicts that impinge and undermine american credibility
so where is the balance? between doing too much on one hand and not doing enough on the other. because governing is about choosing. i think that is a. noise and you have to look at our interests into the nature of this important region and the waterways of the region from the canal to the straits of hormuz. if you want to say the middle east doesn't matter, we had a couple of weeks with a tanker blocking theio swiss canal so i think these are kind of vital interests that are interwoven and of course trying to ensure as best we can we have no more failed states in this region. the failed states the last two decades opened up vacuums that are filled with proxy battlegrounds across the region which is extremely dangerous and ultimately comes back to bite
us. we sometimes give the example early in the trump administration when we couldn't bring laptops on airplanes. that was a threat that was coming out of syria, a very serious threat. want to try to make sure that those types cannot emerge in this region. i think that that is a very achievable goal. so it isn't less or more. it's the fact that again if we try to pursue the maximalist goals, we will be over invested. if we focus on what our interests are i think we can actually get it right and that is what we are going to do. >> you touchedf on the keys ems policy is just describing the searchoa or the pursuit on the t of objectives and ensuring that you have the means and the capacity so if you had to design, i had my favorite three i will identify them if we need to but i had my favorite three
core american interests in the region. if you had to identify and distinguish between vital and discretionary, what we must have as opposed to what it would be nice to have so if you had to identify american interests in the region, what would that be? >> while i don't want to categorize the kind of prioritization but number one is make sure that w iran never has nuclear weapons. that would be incredibly destabilizing to the national security interest in friends and allies in the region and alone iran could do around the world. we want to make sure the waterways i mentioned remain safe, secure andm that is something obviously we focus on every day and we want to focus on stability in the region. without a vacuums opening up the end of the threats can emerge against us, our allies and partners all around the world. those are basically the basic important and vital objectives we are pursuing.
but through diplomacy and working to make sure that we don't have the war breaking out in the middle east the best we can takes an awful lot of maintenance and work, the blocking and tackling of the diplomacy. there are three things we work on every day, determines first of all, diplomacy of the deterrence and we are very focused on determining the threats from extremist groups from iran around the region. integration. one of the positive trends in the region from the accord to the healing of the golf to the polarizationon between say turky and the uae, that integration, those dialogues are important and something that we are encouraging and even in the discussions between the states and iran is realistic about what this means. i think it gives you a tool to try to avoid miscalculations and
we want to de-escalate the tensions where we can through diplomacy with a combination of deterrence. i think we said it about right. we will not make everybody happy but it's interwoven with our vital interests and we are trying to pursue a straight course. >> the word vital pertains to the security and prosperity of the united states. what are the vital interests that we have? you mentioned water although you didn't mention oil. we may be weaning ourselves off of hydrocarbons but the rest of the world is going to be dependent on them for many years to come. you mentioned the notion of you didn't say that the emergence of thewe nuclear weapon the way tht i would phrase it, which is critically important to the conflict in the region. iran is the one issue and probably the only issue in the
region that could precipitate a conflict in which the united states could become involved and there's the issue of protecting the homeland. but those would be my three because each of them pertains to the security and prosperity of the united states. there is a lot in the region that's discretionary and it would be nice to have, but whether we are going to get there, i don't know. before we turn to the regional tour i want to take with you, a couple more big picture questions. values and interests. john mccain famously said our values our interests and our interestso are our values. previous administration more or less emptied the phrase of the american foreign policy, most of it is more land and ethical sensibilities. how would you describe the biden administration's conception of how v human rights figures in american values figures in the
policy? >> just to dovetail on the past conversation i think your summary is free close to what i laid down. the energy pressures organic essential component in the region there is no question. and it's something that obviously we deal with and particularly right now, given the global economic recovery as we begin to emerge from covid, it's ongoing through the coming year at least. that's a central component obviously of the policy. and it affects our domestic economy and the position of economic growth. so, that is i think interwoven in the discussions particularly and as our however the value i'm glad you asked this question. jacob put it this way, jake sullivan. the question of the values and the human rights is at the table when we are having discussions about the national security interest in the region. that alone isn't unique and that
is how american diplomats where our values on our sleeve together with our handshake and representing the american people. that's very important. does that mean that human rights and values overtake every other issue? no but it's a part of the conversation. an example of egypt, we are the first administration that has not issued a national security waiver for the allocation of military finance. if the conversation were ongoing right now, we just had a conversation in cairo yesterday. at the same time, egypt is critical to the security of israel. coming out of the war, they played a critical role not only helping to wind down that conflict in 11 days and also working to ensure we have some
stability in the wake of it that is central to the discussion. all these issues on the horn of africa, jeff was just in cairo working on these issues, so it's complex and multifaceted the issues are values and human rights central to the discussion as we have these conversations. i will say i saw the president in dc last fall and the first part of the meeting i was focused on human rights. it's central to our administration and approach and i think that's what makes us unique. >> we have a foreign policy of which human rights should play a significant role. we need to be consistent in the way we stand up for our values, which we are not. the u.s. foreign policy i know from my own experience is
littered with hypocrisies and contradictions and many inconsistencies. it would be nice to think that human rights and even the democracy figures centrally in american foreign policy, but no administration i worked for was that ever the case and it certainly isn't now. it's a balance. you mentioned egypt. we are going to get to saudi arabia and syria in a minute. one other big picture question i wanted to ask you and that is the notion of our partners, by byways and through the leaders with whom we cooperate and depend on in the region. do we have allies in the middle east, or do we have partners? if an ally is a country with which we share common interests
and values, how would you best describe countries like egypt, saudi arabia and even the israelis where there's a high coincidence of interests and values but certainly by no means is that across the board with rirespect to american interest. so how do we look at our partners because our partners are critically important in the achievements of the objectives and policies. >> you've done this work and you recognize trying to paint a broad categories. an ally is defined in the dictionary as a treaty ally that's one thing. an ally is defined as a state cooperating with another military of affairs. let me give you an example. when we had after the afghanistann crisis we had to
bring out what became over 100,000 afghans myself and otherss called every capital aa said we are going to have to ask for your permission to use your facilities. we don't know how many afghans that will be in the country for an indefinite period of time. we don't know. and they all said yes. and the reason we were able to execute that mission was because of our partners in the gulf. so, i would call those allies. that is something that was hard to get cooperation from some treaty allies. some of the international affairs with every country whether it is treaty allies and partners, you are going to have agreements and disagreements. when the uae that is facing a missile attack the first phone call to us in the middle of the night and we are immediately
coordinating the military level and diplomatic level on down. so you know, i would call these countries allies in that respect. we have also tremendous disagreements with our friends and partners in the gulf and in israel, joe biden has said it before the first principle is thee security of israel and something that we focus on every day with another meeting with the israelis yesterday with a daily endeavor for us. >> i raised this issue partners and allies the relationships work best when there's reciprocity. when each country respects the interest of the other and that raises the question of american leverage. how do we use american leverage in situations where we need to
cooperate because our interests are involved, our tactical or strategic interests and yet when our values are undermined by the very countries with which we are cooperating and it's a very difficult and in possible i would argue line to walk unless you want to break a lot of crockery. in the case of egypt or saudi arabia, to seey values as a more important proposition and interest. and no administration [inaudible] we will get back to the issue in a minute. let's take a little regional tour. let's start with iran. i know the middle east negotiations have two speeds, slower and slower about your friend and mine, former colleague of mine, how would you
describe the states into the fate of the negotiations? >> on this issue i do think it's important to back up and i know we have limited time, but it's important to back up. the administration was strategic and led to the nuclear program. i would go back and read where we were a couple of months before say december 2020. we had two dozen rockets
following and we were applying the b-52 bombers. we had enriched uranium to 20%. this is something that we inherited in that decision and we are not placing blame. this isn't a problem we should be having. whatever you want to say about it did put a cabinet on the program through 2031. where we are right now given the advances of the nuclear program. they would have said that is actually the opposite of what is going to happen so we are on the verge of a nuclear crisis. even with tremendous setbacks it
continues to advance and it's getting to the point where the breakout time would have enough material to be able to divert for the missiles program and we could not detect it we are starting to approach that window so this is an extremely serious situation and as others have said repeatedly these talks will have a culmination point and we are actually reaching that culmination point and whether or not it is possible for the return to compliance with a nuclear deal on terms that we can accept. so i would just to say we have over the last year the iranians have been surprised by the united front that they have hit especially init the regime, ande are basically now in the negotiations back to where we were at the end of last summer,
which means there is a chance there's not going to be ideal. we s are prepared for either scenario. >> is the approach viable in your view that they can't get the full return to compliance and lifting of sanctions which is a complicated issue that i will get to in a minute, is it to preempt the constraint, create some sort of bridge to accept less compliance on the nuclear side? >> if there's a way to put to limit time, perhaps but we are very much focused on the return with jcpoa and that is what
gives comfort. >> wall street journal and reuters reported in recent days the departure of richard who frankly will forget more about sanctions certainly then i'm ever going to know. do you have any explanation or reason for the departure? some have argued that there is a serious break between those arguing for the tougher approach and sanctions into those who ary not. can you shed any light on this? >> he is an incredibly talented teammate and it's taking new positions. we've been on the negotiating teams. it's a pretty intense 12 months going through the position at the state department. the negotiating team in the department of energy and treasury is a multifaceted team.
i want to give an example of how this plays out when they came back in december they walked in the doors backing everything that had been done over the course of the summer in the administration and we had a choice we walked away from the table. in fact what happened was they met a united front. the currency collapsed to an all-time low end of the iranians came back a weekn later with a completely different proposal. in my view that is pretty good at diplomacy. we are in the ballpark of a possible deal but again i'm [inaudible] then we will shift to something.
>> human rights activists are hammering the administration because they believe the policy towards the regime is fundamentally changed or in essence we have accepted reality and they've managed to consolidate the power and then we have not accepted but we've acquiesced others efforts to bring back from the coals so to speak. what is the biden administration policy on the regime? we are well beyond the talking points i suspect, but what is your thinkingn on how just about everyone is going to reconcile?
>> we do not support the normalization of the regime. we are neveroi going to. we have been very clear with that behind closed doors. they opened of the embassy two or three yearshe ago and this ia trend that has been ongoing. ifen you travel around the regin the views are pretty consistent from capitals all around the region and israel. they've recognized the conflict as it exists now. we have focused on three core issues at the top. number one is the humanitarian situation and we worked on the
first two reauthorize. numberhu two, to keep cease-firs in place. we want to keep the major military offenses over. the challenge remains real and also accountability for the regime, fully supportive the hold accountable. we have the sanctions on officials involved in the human rights abuses and that is something that is going to continue. finally, looking for opportunities in the process to find a political resolution for
the overall situation. just doing that alone takes an awful lot of effort but i agree you are not going to make everybody happy. that reflects not only the views of the partners around the region including very close partners. the discussions with a neighbor wants to have a discussion about the discussion we are not going to say no. it's different thing the normalization and we kind of draw that distinction when we have these conversations. >> as you described it the political settlement would require intense cooperation will pressure in iran, and i think
right now that is not on anybody's bandwidth. "the new york times" reports we have around 900 troops deployed. these jordanians border and balkan. it is anti-isis. is any of it related to iran's presence or is it primarily a counterterrorism issue? >> we are in syria with partners and there's a coalition of 83 countries and that is why we are there. that is the legal basis for the coalition, and we are there for isis and if you look at the situation over the last week end of the attempted prison break
and the forces to retake from the isis fighters is a reminder that isis remains a very serious threat. that is why we are there and if it is the only reason we are there and at the same time we will defend the forces from all threats. we've made that very clear to the iranians and congress. so, butt that is why we are there.re and i should say one more thing before leaving syria. the activities of the iranians into the irg see remain a threat in particular to israel yet we support the freedom of action to defending itself and frankly there are a lot of signs that they are kind of sick and tired of some of these activities but we support the stream of action and we will defend our people,
when it comes to saudi arabia, this is a historic partnership that is going to >> senior-level about our concerns saudi arabia and in particular in congress saudi arabia has lost that is dangerous for any country because you have to try to maintain a level of support. that said, we have made very clear we are committed fundamentally to help defend the sovereign territory of the defensive saudi arabia is a fundamental very important interest of ours.
and the human conflict sometimes i think when we had discussions with yemen in particular the conflict is lost in the paradigm. over the last year the saudi has supported the un initiatives to wind down the war but to answer those initiatives by launching a massive offensive. want to focus on this for a minute because it's important basically those who do not want to live under those whose motto is name is one.5 million
displaced people and over last year refusing to give up the masses unitary offensive there have been a number of cease-fire initiatives the houthis have refused to engage they have launched missiles repeatedly according to expert panelist from the un securityav council. so this is the current situation. and talking with the saudi's and others to try to find a way to get this to cease-fire as president biden has said, it takes two to get to a cease-fire. >> and that prospect ever broader settlement in yemen is beyond anyone's capacity to imagine but also dealing with
and very problematic saudi partner. let's be clear. you have a would be king who would be reckless and is proven his recklessness over time. i agree the saudi's are not an important partner that they deserve their fair share and the mri these as well and engaging to some degree. and the prospects and with that israeli-palestinian issue
flare up are not there but similarly and just before christmas to show that situational so. and with those extremist with the conflict. we supported two state solution there is a new dialogue ongoing to see what is there to create a foundation. but we will not set expectations. as you know better than anybody it was incredibly
complex with multiple interest we have to approach it was some humility and working from the bottom up and over time to establish that political horizon is a daily part of the work from the top-tier but from that process i don't think we're there yet. the then to try to get those foundations in place. >> with the three major breakthroughs jordan israel palestinian israel at least that process is functioning all of those breakthroughs occurred without the presence of the united states it was
instrumental and instructive and unless they are in negotiations it's extremely difficult for the united states to expect to play the world. that you create an environment in which those negotiations can take place that involves very difficult choices particular with the israelis like land confiscation and then with respect to corruption and the perennial problem what you do with that leadership i suspected two state solution is not available now but what you have is a three state solution. israel and hamas what remains the palestinian authority
another problem with my resolution the great powers with the wisdom in washington and elsewhere is that in the american vacuum has allowed china and russia to play and much more inconsequential role in the region someone argued simply eating our lunch but how do you process with chinese and russian involvement in the region. >> i have seen that quote i think it is quite overstated first of all we are the security of partner of choice across the region and when a country comes under missile attack, it's first colony are there immediately.
with thoseth inroads the chinese had made and we have had a very close dialogue with their friends across the region about certain activities and then to jeopardize the level of american cooperation. that is something that is ongoing that is something that is obviously ongoing but when it comes to certain activities with military cooperation those are very serious issues. i would say over the last year my fellow coordinator were pretty interwoven and having a dialogue with countries in the
middle east about what china's and what this project actual means. and to have a dead of an awakening in the middle east region. and that is ongoing. the russians are different story. and syria and the cold war and kissinger if that is new but that's also something that we deal with and find ways to work with the russians. but we have tremendous differences so that will not change tohi but i do not see any of the partners saying i think
the chinese will have our back. >> although there is some hedging going on that conventional wisdom in the region to the prioritize. that the single most important issue that keeps you up at night? it's hard not to keep others up at night and that is part of our job but i will say that obviously the safety and security. that the firsti read in the morning is to make sure people