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tv   Natl Security Council Middle East Coordinator on Foreign Policy  CSPAN  January 28, 2022 7:31am-8:21am EST

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day he died. if minor not less i want to the list but if i can't go to the bathroom in my own building i won't go anywhere. i will stay behind these black gates. >> reporter: residential recordings on the c-span now mobile apps or wherever you get your podcast. >> brett mcgurk, deputy assistant to the president and 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 jc poa. >> good morning, good afternoon, good evening, truly hope you are safe, sound and healthy. i am mayor david miller, senior fellow, welcome to carnegie connects.
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issues of critical importance to america and to the world. brett mcgurk, deputy assistant to the president and coordinator in north africa international security council. great to see you again and welcome. >> thank you for having me here. >> a lot of ground to cover. i want to get some somatic altitude and get big picture stuff. in the interview you gave last november you reflected on maybe four presidents. it is overpromising in the region. if you look back about a year,
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if you identify keeping that theme of over committing and overpromising for credibility and interest in the region. you identify the administration's key success during that period. nobody is perfect, it's greatest failing, looking back before we go forward how would you identify that. >> we have been here a year. george mitchell famously said diplomacy, 700 days of failure and one day of success is the nature of it. i don't want to categorize it like that but it is an important question over the fourth administration, since 9/11 over two decades, america has pursued objectives in the
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middle east that are maximalist and probably unachievable, regional transformation, democratization of regime change, maximalist policies, that is a danger because of overcommitment, unintended consequences. overtaking the bandwidth of the president of the united states. we have really come in with a focus driven by guidance from president biden. focusing on the situation we inherited is a difficult situation we inherited, consulting quietly over the first hundred days of this administration with every capital in the region and objectives and policies and coordination the line. it is getting back to the
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basics of statecraft recognizing global power and global priorities, this region is interwoven with american interests. it is too volatile, too important to disengage. we are not disengaged. i sometimes ask are we de-prioritizing the middle east region? that is the wrong question. you have to ask what we are trying to do. in the bush administration, we were engaged in iraq, taking casualties every single day, lived through the surgical a policy i supported and if you look at that time until now it is quite different. we are not trying to pursue a transformation of this region. we are trying to pursue vital american interests in a way that align our needs and capabilities so we get into those details.
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it is important how to approach this region. you will not see from the biden administration announcements for setting grandiose objectives without basis of facts and factual foundation. i want to go on, it is important with president history, counterexample, we are going to the moon with jfk. he had a study that was done commissioned by the vice president, the top scientist at the time, that says mister president, we can go to the moon, here is how you do it, here's what we need for rockets, costs, resources. it is not without risks but very achievable. that is a charge i give to my team and my students when i was teaching but is a common problem from the president on down. they are undergirded by foundation of understanding
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facts and doing things we can achieve. >> i am all for that but i want to return to this issue, the most resonant debate among middle east watchers is between those who argue that the us is doing too much, and those who argue it is not doing enough. the left lobby if i could call it that argues domestic priorities, fixing america's broken house, weaning ourselves off of hydrocarbons, the rise of china and the notion that most of the problems in this region are beyond american capacity to repair, which you implicitly acknowledge. more lobby argues we have critical interest to their, humanitarian catastrophes from one end of the region to another. unresolved projects that impinge and undermine american credibility.
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where is the balance, doing too much on one hand, and not doing enough on the other. governing is about choosing. >> that is a false choice. you can look up water ways of the region from the suez canal to the straits of hormuz. if you want to say the middle east doesn't matter we had a couple weeks the tanker was blocking the suez canal and almost shutdown the economy. these are vital interests in this region. and of course trying to ensure the best we can we have no more failsafes in this region. failed states have open up vacuums filled by extremist actors in proxy battlegrounds from across the region which is extremely dangerous and destabilizing and ultimately comes back to bite us. sometimes i give the example in the trump administration when
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we couldn't bring laptops on airplanes, that was a threat coming out of syria. very serious. those threats cannot emerge in this important region. it is not less or more but if we try to pursue maximalist goals. if we focus on what the interests are we can actually get it right. >> you touched on the key thing. policy is describing the pursuit on the set of objectives in ensuring you have the means and capacity to achieve those things. if you had to define, if he need to. with core american interests in the region.
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vital and discretionary, what we must have, it would be nice to have. if you identify american interests what would they be? >> i don't want to categorize them, but it would be destabilizing to national security interests. let alone what we do around the world, and the water ways, for national commerce remain safe and secure is something to focus on every day. with partners all around the world. through diplomacy and working
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to make sure we don't have wars breaking out in the middle east, it takes an awful lot. and diplomacy of deterrence, integration. the polarization, that integration. something we were encouraging, to avoid miscalculations.
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we set it about right. we won't make everybody happy. it is a volatile region with vital interests. we are trying to pursue a straight course. >> of the word vital pertains to security and prosperity of the united states. one of the vital interests we have, you didn't mention oil. we may be weaning ourselves off of hydrocarbons but the rest of the world is dependent on them for many years to come. and and is critically important. and there's the issue of
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protecting the homeland. each of them pertains to the security and prosperity of the united states. there's a lot in the region that is discretionary. and john mccain famously said our values or interests are our values. most of it is moral and ethical sensibilities. and human rights, >> to dovetail on that conversation, it is close to
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what i did now. it is a central component of policy in this region. and it is something that obviously we deal with and particularly right now given the global -- as we begin to emerge from covid which is ongoing through the coming year at least, that is a central component of the policy and affect our domestic economy. it is interwoven particularly in the gulf as our our values, glad you asked this question. the question of values and human rights, when we were having discussions about national security interests. that alone is how american
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diplomats, that is together with a handshake and representing the american people. that is very important. does that mean human rights and values overtake every other issue? know but it is part of the conversation. if i could give an example of egypt, the first administration has not issued any national security waiver with our location for military finance, with the egyptians right now, had a conversation in cairo yesterday. it is critical to the security of israel, played a critical job not only to temp down the conflict in 11 days. to ensure we have security in gaza in the wake of it, all of
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these on the horn of africa that they have been working on, just took over, it is complex and multifaceted but the issues of values and human rights is central to the discussion as we have this conversation. i said the president meet with jake last fall and the first part of the meeting was focused on human rights. it is central to the administration that makes us unique. >> we have a foreign policy for human rights, should play a significant role. we need to be consistent the way we stand up for our values, which we are not. anomalies and hypocrisies, us foreign-policy i know from my own experience is littered with hypocrisies and contradictions
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and many inconsistencies. it is nice to think human rights, it figures centrally in american foreign policy. it certainly isn't now. it is 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 is the notion of our partners. the leaders with whom we cooperate and depends on in the region. do we have allies in the middle east for do we have partners? if and now i is someone with which we share common interest and values how would you best
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describe countries like egypt, saudi arabia, and even israelis where there is high coincidence of interests in values but certainly by no means with respect to american interests. how do you look at our partners. our partners are critically important in the achievement of our objectives in our policies. >> i love talking to you because you've done this work and recognize, and i think trying to paint broad categories. if an ally is defined as a treaty ally. ally is defined as a state cooperating with another. let me give you an example with the afghanistan crisis, what
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became will over 100,000 afghans. myself and others called equity capital. to bring out we don't know how many and it will be in your country for an indefinite period of time. they all said yes. the reason we are able to execute that mission is because of our partners. i would call those allies. it was harder to get cooperation, the nation are of international affairs with every country whether a treaty ally or partner, you will have agreements and disagreements. facing a missile attack, the first phone call in the middle of the night, we are immediately coordinating the military level, the diplomatic level on down.
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i would call these countries allies in this respect and we have tremendous disagreements with our friends and partners. in israel, president biden has said it before. our first principle is this, the security of israel. something we focus on every day, we had a strategic consultation, a daily endeavor for us. >> i raised this issue because partners and allies, relationships work best when each country respects the interests of the other and that raises a question of american leverage. how do we use american leverage in situations where we need to cooperate because our interests
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are involved, our material, tactical, or strategic interests, and yet when our values are undermined by the very countries with which we are cooperating, it is a very difficult, impossible line i would argue to walk unless you want to break a lot of crockery. in the case of egypt or saudi arabia to see values is a more important proposition. let's take a regional tour, start with iran, middle east negotiations have only two speeds, slow, and slower, your friend and mine, your current colleague in vienna still. how would you describe the
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state of the negotiations? how would you describe the state of the iran negotiations in vienna on january 20 seventh. >> aaron robbins in vienna. it is important to back up. it is important to back up. i read it this morning, the former chief of the israeli defense forces, the last administration's decision to get out of the jcp oa is a strategic mistake and it led to an unshackled iranian nuclear program. go back and read where we were a couple months before and say december of 2020. we had 2000 rockets falling on our embassy in baghdad, flying
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two bombers with shows of force. iran enriching uranium, this is something we inherited and we are not placing blame. this is our responsibility. it is a problem. it is not one that we should be having. jcp oa put a cabinet on iran's nuclear program through 2031 but where we are right now given the advances of iran, it was predicted that iran would never dare restart its nuclear program. anyone who knows iran knows it is the opposite of what is going to happen. we are on the verge of a nuclear crisis. even as it has faced tremendous setbacks it continues to advance and it is getting to the point where the breakout
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time, the raw material to divergent material, we are starting to approach that window. this is an extremely serious situation. at the same time secretary blinken and others have said repeatedly these costs have a culmination and we are reaching the culmination and we will know very soon whether or not it is possible for the iranian's to return to compliance with the nuclear deal on terms the national community can expect. we have over the last year. iranian's have been surprised by the united front, we are in the negotiations at the end of last summer. it means there's a chance for a deal and a pretty good chance.
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and no deal to prepare for that. >> is it viable, that we can't get return to compliance with sanctions. i will get to that in a minute. is it conceivable to preempt and constrain, to less compliance on the nuclear alliance for me will of sanctions. >> to save there's a way to put on nuclear advances. but we are very much focused on full compliance. with the comfort this program is going to take out.
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>> and and do you have any explanation. those who were arguing with a tougher approach by sanctions, shed any light on this. >> richard is an incredibly talented teammate and taking a new position. you have been a negotiating teams. it is a pretty intensive month, going to a new position. the intelligence community and department of energy, a very large multi-capacity team.
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and how this plays out, with talks in december, was everything done -- with the -- do we walk away from the table, and plus the russians. the iranian community collapsed to an all-time low and iranian's came back, simply with different proposals. we were in the ballpark of a possible deal and these talks collapsed very soon -- >> let's move on a long-term interest of viewers.
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the asset regime change, and consolidating the power. and what is the biden administration policy now. we are well beyond the goal of talking points i suspect. what is your thinking here and how the jordanians, just about everyone is to reconcile? >> we do not support, we are
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never going to normalize it. two or three years ago. this is a trend that has been ongoing on. the views on syria are pretty consistent. from capitals all around the region. they recognize the reality of the conflict as it exists now and are trying to protect and pursue their interests. we have focused on pretty comprehensive review of syria and at the top, number one area is the humanitarian situation. and the un security council resolution to authorize humanitarian aid, something that is ongoing.
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violence is at an all-time low even though is too high. we want to keep major military offensives are over. we hope the ear of major military consistency is over and the wars basically over. third, importantly, the isis al qaeda challenge remains real. .. that the major military offenses in syria is over. we want to keep that intact. third, importantly, the isis challenge in syria remains real. that is why we are there. we are also that something is going to continue. finally, looking for opportunities through the u.n.. media process to find a political arrangement for the overall situation. that's what we're doing. just doing that alone takes an awful lot of effort and i think
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we have just about right. but i agree you're not quite make everybody happy but i think that reflects not only the views of partners around the region, including veryar close partners, and the situation on the ground. in terms of discussions between capitals and the mask is, if jordan a neighbor have a discussion about border security with syria where not going to say no. that's very different and i think were trying to draw that distinction. >> i think your policy towards syria is following this transactional rather than transformational objectives that you identified, is as you described it. the political settlement in syria would require intense cooperation with russia and iran. i think that's not right now on anybody's bandwidth. the "new york times" reports we
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have around 900 troops deployed, several hundred new the jordanian syrian border and the bulk in -- the logic of that troop deployment is anti-isis. anti-isis. is any of it related to iran's present in syria or primarily a counterterrorism mission? >> thanks for that. we are in syria together with partners and are still a coalition of 83 countries focus on isis. that is why we are there. that's our legal basis. that's the basis for our coalition and having partners, and we are there for isis. if you look at the situation over the last week in the attempted prison break, our force is sending in the democratic forces to retake a prison from isis fighters, as a reminder, isis remains a very seriouss. threat. t week, the atd
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prison break, our forces have lent assistance to retake the british prison from isis fighters, it is a reminder isis remains a serious threat. that is why we are there. that is the only reason we are there. we will defend our forces from all threats. we have made that very clear to iranians and others. i should stay one more thing before leaving syria. syria activity remain a real threat to israel. we support israel's freedom of action to defending themselves. there are a lot of signs that a lot of these are tired of the
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regime. we support the action and we will defend our people,. -- people, period. that is the only mission, the only objective. miller: saudi arabia, the president candidate had some very tough words. a special meaning of characterization in the middle east. has that happened and if in fact it has happened, how would you differentiate the bidens administration towards policy in syria from the previous administration in syria? mcgurk: one thing with our approach in the region, our conversation in capitals have
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been very frank and direct. when it comes to saudi arabia, this is a historic partnership that is going to indoor. -- going to indoor -- endure. we have discussed the saudi's from the top down. it is something that is very dangerous for any country the
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defense of saudi arabia is a very important interest of ours sometimes when we have discussions with congress, the conflict is locked in a paradigm of 2015, 2016, 2017. over the last year, the saudi's have supported u.n. initiative. initiatives to wind down the war. they have answered these initiatives by launching against the town of --. -- mara. they do not want to live under putin. whose motto is death to america,
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death to christians, death to the jews. over last year, the who these have refused to give up these massive military to take mara. they have not succeeded. the -- have launched targeting, according to expert panels and u.s. security panels. this is the current situation and similar workings in the region, talking to others to try to find a way to get this conflict to cease fire. it takes two to get to a cease fire and end a war. miller: this prospect for a
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broader settlement in the almond, we are also dealing with a very problematic saudi partner. let's be clear, you have a would be king who is reckless and has proven his ruthlessness. over time. here is where the value proposition becomes important. i agree the saudi's are an important partner for the united states. -- deserve their fair share of responsibility, so unnecessary to the saudi's. the -- have gotten out of the war and appear to be re-engaging to some degree. i do not have the prospects and the mission he has got. let's move on.
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we are running out of time. the point on the israeli issue, if you had to rank dealing with the israeli, palestinian issue, on a list of priority of the administration, where would you put this issue? mcgurk: they are trying to ensure the embers of a potential conflict -- so we don't have the risk of a breakout of another conflict. it is a top-tier priority. we had the conflict i mentioned earlier. president biden was hands on. and wound down in the coming days.
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with the israelis and others to try to make sure the situation in gaza, a flareup was not there. similarly in the west bank, -- and i were just in israel before christmas, trying to ensure that situation also that congruent -- that can give extremist --. we are trying to create a political rising. trying to see if there is a foundation. get us listed back to the first principle. if we are not going to set
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expectations that are unlikely to be met. you know better than anybody, as americans we have to approach this with some humility. over time, we begin to establish an important political rising that has to be said. and trying to reduce of a conflict. in times of a natural peace process i do not think we are there yet. miller: with respect to the three major breakthroughs, all
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of those breakthroughs occurred without the presence of the united states. unless these palestinians own their operations, it is difficult for the united states to pay a broker in. what do we do about playing an environment. that allows potential conflict with the israelis over the issues about land settlement, confiscation. i suspect a two state solution is available now.
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what remains. an american vacuum is much more important than consequential role in the region. how do you process chinese and russian involvement in the region? mcgurk: we are the security partner of choice across the region. when a country comes under missile attack, we are the first
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call and we are there. this has been something we inherited. i was not surprised by too many things walking through the door. but i was surprised by a few of the inroads that china made. we have had a very close dialogue with our friends across the region about certain activities of jeopardizing the american quality. number one trading partner, that is obviously something ongoing. when it comes to certain activities, technology, military cooperation, that is when there are very serious issues at stake. i would say over the last year, my fellow coordinator here at the nsc, are pretty interwoven.
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having a dialogue with countries in the middle east about what china's actual enrichments are. what this project really means. it might be under the guise of a commercial project that it is actually quite different. that is something we have had a very good dialogue and a bit of an awakening with some of our partners in the middle east region about this. it is something that is ongoing. the russians is kind of a different story. russian intervention in syria was significant. they were in syria in the cold war. -- martin spoke about henry kissinger so it is not something particularly new. it is also something we deal with. if we find ways to work with russia, which we can, we have
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tremendous differences. that is something that is not going to change. i do not see interview our -- i do not see any of our partners saying "the chinese will have our backs." miller: on a security issue, i think you are right. it will be conventional in the region if we weren't deep priority. last question, we are actually out of time. looking out at 2022, brett, what is the single most important issue that keeps you up at night? is there one more than any other? mcgurk: i am inclined to give jim madison's answer, it is our job to keep others up at night. i will say the safety of security of our armed personnel. i have stayed a lot of time. diplo cap -- diplomatic
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personnel. our first read in the morning is to make sure people have what they need to defend themselves and protect themselves. that is really fundamental to live by. in the prospect of a nuclear armed we are committed to that. i will leave it there. >> greg mcgurk, i want to thank you for sharing your time and your thoughts and your views. views. may will be the most dysfunctional region in the world today, but i'm glad you're working on it. so again thanks so much for coming.. and thanks to everybody for tuning in. stay positive and test negative. >> thank you so much. >> take care, brett. >> this morning nato secretary-general jens stoltenberg host the conversation about the ongoing tension between russia and ukraine with the atlantic council.
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