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tv   Middle East Institute Annual Conference  CSPAN  November 8, 2018 9:07am-10:51am EST

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good morning everyone. my name is paul salem. i'm president of the middle east institute. my it's my pleasure to welcome you today to the 72nd annual conference entitled "the middle east in 2019:." i thank you for joining us today. and i want to thank our panelists, moderators, and keynote speakers. this is the opportunity to bring together some of the leading policy makers, experts, and
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leaders in u.s. middle east relations to examine together the challenges and the opportunities lying ahead. this event is being covered by a number of tv networks, as well as being live streamed. so please silence your phones but you're encouraged to tweet, if you would like to do so at #meiconf. with today's conference, we're nearing the end of an exciting year at mei, we're engaging in rebuilding our headquarters. we'll move into them in june of next year. the new building will feature a contemporary arts gallery, large conference facility, state-of-the-art classrooms, and ample space. in the meantime, our temporary home on 18th street has been a busy hive of activity every week with panel discussions, conferences, and expert round
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tables. to keep up with the publications or to sign up for upcoming events or tune into our pod casts and other u multimedia output, please visit our new website at mei.edu. 2018 was indeed a turbulent year for the middle east and 2019 promises to be no less challenging. despite pockets of statistic and economic growth, the middle east is still in the throes of regional proxy confrontations, dire refugee, and humanitarian needs and down but not out terrorist organizations. and the u.s. itself is going through a period of transformation in the politics both domestic and foreign. how will states and leaders in the middle east address the challenges facing the region? how will the u.s. administration as well as the new congress
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shape policy in the year ahead? the four panels of today's conference will explore various aspects of these questions. the first panel looking at challenges facing u.s. policy, the second panel explores how to end the region's civil wars, third examines the role of new powers both regional powers and global. and the fourth highlights the horizons of economic development. we're lucky to have an excellent group of panelist and moderators to help us explore the issues. to anchor today's discussions and provide a keynote address to start off the day, we're honored to have with us the u.s. undersecretary of state for political affairs, ambassador david hale. ambassador hale is a career member of the senior foreign service class of career minister. he has served as ambassador to pakistan, jordan, and lebanon which is i think where we first met. in washington, d.c., served as
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special envoy for middle east peace and deputy assistant secretary of state in the bureau of near eastern affairs. he's the recipient of numerous state department awards including the distinguished service award. ambassador hale will deliver his keynote address and then has to leave us to attend to official business. david, thank you for taking the time to be with us today. we look forward to hearing your views. the floor is yours. >> thank you. [ applause ] >> thank you very much, paul. thank you for the introduction and allow me to offer my congratulations on your recent employment as mei president. your deep experience and understanding of the region will be an invaluable asset for mei. as paul mentioned, i served in lebanon. i serve there had three times, actually. it's been a big part of my life and, paul, you may not know this because we haven't discussed it this way, but in each of those three assignments, the salem
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family played an important part in my life. paul's mother was a pillar of the american lebanese community. and a leader in organization such as beirut, which by the end of the civil war was one of the few institutions still surviving linking america and lebanon together at that time. when i came back at dcm, paul was my primary interaction. the relationship was getting stronger. we had more interactions and it met more visitors. we took them to paul who is willing to spend their time in order to help educate american visitors on the realities of lebanon and the way to promote the interests. when i went back as ambassador i had the honor to interact with his father.
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but he had a special instinct and way to bring whoever the current and arriving american ambassador was up north, sit down, and tell them home truths about how best to conduct a relationship he cared deeply about. the salem family has played a big part in my life. it's great to reconnect with you. it's a pleasure to join you. i know you'll hear debate about what the united states should be doing in the middle east to address the region's many challenges. i would like to start you off with a look at what the united states is doing in the region. governments face tough decisions. my job is to help leaders use the influence to encourage regional leaders to make choices that advance our shared objectives.
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and consistent with the president's foreign policy agenda, we're protecting america's security at home and abroad and promoting u.s. leadership through balanced engagement across the middle east. we're working with our partners to counter the threat from terrorist groups in states that sponsor terrorism. as the president has made clear, we cannot and should not bear the sole responsibility for stabilizing and securing the region. we continue to urge our partners to do their part to promote regional stability. the challenge lies in how we balance our efforts. responding to breaking crisis and ongoing conflicts while addressing the long-term trends shaping the region's future. one of the current flash points is the killing of saudi journalist. many of whom i'm sure you knew. i was with secretary pompeo when he traveled to saudi arabia to hear from the crown prince how saudi arabia would handle the investigation. we asked the saudi leadership uncover the facts and hold accountable those responsible. to far we've seen some positive
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steps, more needs to be done. including identifying a number of individuals responsible. we are taking strong action and response including revoking visas and reviewing applicability of sanctions under the global act. at the same time our shared strategic interests in saudi arabia remain and remain strong. and secretary pompeo said, we continue to view as achievable the twin imperatives of protecting america and holding accountable those responsible for the killing. one of our most critical shared objectives is to improve maximum -- impose maximum pressure on the iranian regime until it changes its maligned behavior. iran remains the most significant threat to regional stability. several weeks ago in new york, secretary pompeo outlined iran's maligned behavior.
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we remain concerned that the human rights abuses against the iranian people it continues the arbitrary arrest of individuals solely exercising their freedom of rights. every single country on board and this is among the president's top diplomatic priorities. in the wake of the president's decision to seize u.s. participation in the jcpoa, countries now face a choice about doing business in iran. earlier this week, we completed the reimposition of the sanctions that had previously been lifted under dcpoa, most significantly, we reimposed sanctions on the purchase of iranian petroleum, petroleum products, and chemicals from
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iran. the sanctions of the trump administration placed on iran over the past nearly two years are the toughest sanctions ever on the iranian regime. these sanctions target the iranian regime and the enablers. our economic pressure is directed at the regime and the maligned proxies not the iranian people. the longest suffering victims are its own people and america supports them in their quest for a better life. iranian support for militias exacerbates human suffering. in both cases, we're pressing iran to end the rule and the conflicts while we increase our own efforts to reduce and resolve these conflicts that left unaddressed, can create openings iran can exploit. in syria, we have three critical priorities. enduring defeat of isis, which requires not just balgs field victory but stabilization. so isis cannot reemerge.
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we want to see a syrian political process progress, without it syria will not achieve stability and prosperity and prosperity. syria needs to end the support for terrorism and eliminate or surrender the stockpiles and programs. it's essential to create conditions for the safe, voluntary, and dignified return of refugees and internally displaced persons. in yemen we're pressing all parties we support the efforts and encourage all sides to work through the framework.
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implement confidence building measures to address the underlying issues of the conflict, the demilitarization orders and the concentration of all large weapons under international observation. all sides of the conflict, including our partners in the saudi led coalition to avoid civil i know casualties. we're working to address yemen's humid tragedy more than 18 million don't know where their next meal will come from. this lack of food could become one of the world's worst instances of mass famine. our engagement with partners in iraq and the gulf is also helping to mitigate iran's
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influence. in iraq, the defeat of isis entails continuing along the path toward a stable, inclusionive, and democratic government free of maligned foreign influences and capable of providing stability, security, and stability for the iraqi people. following the elections, iraq is experiencing a peaceful transition of power. and i joined secretary pompeo with congratulating the prime minister and speaker as they assume their new offices. these leaders are supportive of coalition efforts and we look forward to working with them. iraq is not now or never should be another nation's vessel. a united iraq is the strongest iraq. we continue to urge disputing parties to forge peaceful
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solutions to their differences. continued arab gulf rift opens the door to meddling but efforts to address crisis. reduces the region's ability to do an emerging external challenges. we have a more positive vision with the regional collaboration in the gulf. it's called a middle east strategic alliance. in new york the president outlined it. the regional strategic allowance for us with the gcc, jordan, and egypt to advance prosperities, stability, and security in the region. it holds the potential to improve the way these states work together on the region's defenses against external threats, economic and trade linkages, and energy security. and the secretary brought the foreign ministers together with egypt and jordan for the first time since the rift began and to deepen the discussion on regional unity. our work to resolve the regional conflicts and build partnerships helps us stabilize the region,
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contain threats to america, and close the opportunities iran is using to expand its influence. beyond our strategic efforts to counter that influence, we're addressing some of the region's other regional conflicts. we've seen the conflicts radiate instability threatening american national security and the security of our closest allies. in libya we're working with the u.n. support mission to advance a political reconciliation process toward an inclusive constitutional process and credible peaceful and well prepared elections. we support elections as soon as possible but artificial deadlines and a rushed process would be counter productive. our support for the u.n. and libyan partners focuses onleying the necessary technical and security ground work for elections. international community will be the most effective when it speaks with one voice in support of special representatives and u.n. mediation and curb any attempts to impose a military
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solution which would only plunge libya into further chaos. the reason escalation of violation in tripoli highlights that the political track alone is insufficient. without stability, no effective political mediation much less a solution can happen. instability also opens the door if for isis and al qaeda. the administration is also stepped up its engagement on the western sahara conflict. i recently met with both officials and i'm encouraged by their agreement to participate in upcoming talk. direct negotiations can yield a
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just, lasting, and mutually accepting political solution for the people of the western sahara. in resolving this conflict will unlike greater region integration and cooperation. so as you've heard, we certainly have our hands full with the region's many conflicts and ongoing crisis. yet we cannot neglect the broader trends. there are two trends in particular to which i pay close attention. the first is the slow, methodical, and renewed effort of other external powers vying for influence in the region. the president's national security strategy identified a great power competition emerging in world politics. the middle east is one of the prime arenas for the competition just as it has been historically. russia seeks to undermine american influence and the institutions of international order worldwide and the middle east is no exception. russia's intervention in syria saved them from certain defeat. american russian objectives in
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syria are fully aligned. we seek common ground with russia to end the conflict and advance the goal of a syria free from the presence of iranian and proxy security forces. those forces detablize the entire region and serve only the interests of tehran and not those of the syrian people or its neighbors. despite our low level of trust, we must engage russia. china is seeking to -- and while china's belt and road initiative is focussed on east and south asia, it extends to the central
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part of the middle east. already china is the largest customer for saudi arabia oil. and this summer chinese companies pledged $1 billion in investments in the free trade zone. as we've seen elsewhere, chinese trade and investment comes with strings and can produce a death trap. a deliberate strategy to create long-term dependencies that benefit the interests of the chinese state and its economic institutions not the recipients of these. this type of chinese influence runs koushtd to our model in which we incentivize market based reforms, build local capacity and help nations grow economically. contrast we've encouraged commercial ties between the u.s. and private sector on the region. helping a u.s. company invest in iraq to make more efficient use or selling power generation equipment in libya, algeria, or
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iraq. they can only do so much. we offer assistance tour partners, those who are supportive of american goals. we ask our partners to make necessary reforms to spur economic growth and job creation. only the private sector can create the level of job growth needed by a population. attracting that level requires moving from an economic model that protects status quo through corruption to a sensibly regulated environment that encourages private sector growth and opportunity. we support reforms to unlock that opportunity, increase transparency, and improve the delivery of basic services. so we stand ready to work with our partners with the courage and leadership to do just that. and to address these challenges
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as we seek the stability, peace, and prosperity the people of the middle east want but their leaders and sometimes their neighbors have all too often failed to deliver. thank you very much for your time today. [ applause ] >> thank you very much. >> i want to thank the ambassador for joining us today. and for a pretty wide ranging expose of current u.s. policy, which is an excellent place for us to start the deliberations of our conference. so i thank ambassador hale again. i invite the panelists of the first panel and the moderator to join me here on the stage.
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we'll be introducing the moderator and i ask her to introduce the panelists. i'm delighted to welcome courtney. she's done key stories on russia, north korea, syria, and other national security matters. she worked as a producer for nbc news. we're thrilled she's agreed to moderate the first panel. thank you so much, paul. i appreciate this. i'm honored to be up here. i'm honored at the conference and then with such a distinguished panel right now. and i had a whole set of questions because i'm a chronic nerdy overpreparer and i changed
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a lot of them based on the speech we heard. we have the most up to date view from the administration from david hale just now. so i would like to start by introducing the panel here. you know them all, of course. i'll give a quick intro. ken pollock. he work on middle eastern political military affairs focussing on iran, iraq, and the gulf countries. he's held several positions at the saban center for middle east policy he served twice at the national security council. he did time as a persian gulf analyst at the cia. derek is the executive vice president and seniored a i have or so for security and defense policy at the german marshall
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fund of the united states. he was the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, advising secretaries of defense leon panetta. and he served as senior director for strategic planning on national security staff under president obama, and principle deputy director of secretary of state hillary clinton's policy planning staff. that's a long title. i've never had a title as long as these. and a member of the obama/biden presidential transition team. at the far end, then, we have retired ambassador jeffrey feldman. he joined the brookings institution in june of this year as a visiting fellow in foreign policy. he did over 26 years in the foreign service focussing largely on middle east and north africa including touring as secretary of state. he served as undersecretary general of political affairs at
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the united nations. robin wright, whom i'm pleased to not call a recovering journalist yet served for years at the diplomatic spobt for the "washington post" where she reported from over 140 countries. in the middle east, europe, africa, asia, and latin america. she's a senior fellow at the woodrow wilson center. she's been a fellow at brookings institution, carnegie for international peace, yale, and duke. she's currently a contributing writer for the new yorker. welcome all. i would like to start what we heard. this panel is supposed to focus on a couple of things. the u.s. position on these many proxy wars that are going on in the region now in the middle east. how the u.s. is maintaining releases with some key allies in the wake of any of these proxy
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wars and the conflicts and the implementations of jcpoa and the implementation of the sanctions. and how it's having an impact on diplomatic relations with the u.s. so i would like to start what we heard from david hale where he was talking about the u.s. goals in syria. one of the ones we've been hearing more and more from the administration is this goal of pushing iran and the proxies out of syria. what do you see as the iran's goal in syria and then the u.s. ability to counter that goal? i guess we'll start in the hot seat first, ken. >> sure. thank you very much. thank you. it's great to be on the panel with some old friends. briefly, because we want to talk about this and a lot of issues i think iran's goals in syria are to maintain the assad regime in
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power, and maintain its own position in syria. i think that's a new goal. going into this they're more concerned about the assad regime. i think because of the position they've taken it, they see it itself as an asset to iran. i don't think they're going to easily relinquish it. is it possible the united states could accomplish the different goals undersecretary hale laid out? absolutely. they're reasonable goals. but, of course, it's the middle east. they're nothing but big butts. it's going to be difficult, in particular, what i see out there as the potential clash between what we've consistently heard from this president, which is that he's not interested in syria. he wants syria to be putin's problem, as he reportedly has said many times. with this desire to do thing like drive iran out of syria. you want to drive iran out of syria, that's a big deal that
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will require a bigger commitment from the united states than we've seen so far. and i don't yet see the trump administration being willing to make that kind of commitment. there was a tremendous amount more than i could say about this but i'm going to seed my time. >> financially, militarily, everything? >> yes. >> i agree whken said about iras goals. they're pretty clear and they're fairly transparent. and i also agree with the fundamental dissidence we see come ought of the current administration about how do approach addressing what iran's goals are because, you know, one hand we hear policies coming out and rhetoric coming out of the
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administration that sounds like bernie sanders. okay. get out of the middle east, you know. it's a huge mistake. it was a trillion dollar sink hole. but also a lot of rhetoric that sounds like dick cha knee. and how one can reconcile the two perspectives, i think, is the challenge. you were in syria in the last few weeks, so you saw it up close. but from where i sit, i see a u.s. military and a pentagon that is willing to stay in syria and wants to stay in syria. it's fighting actions within the bureaucracy for a president whose instinct is probably to get out of syria. they're also not willing or very enthusiastic about taking on the changes of the pentagon of pushing back against iran. they want to stay. they want to maintain a presence, but they're very concerned about escalation. they're concerned about managing risks. the kinds of policies that i think many in the region, many of our partners in the region, the israelis and the partners,
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in particular, were thinking they were going to be seeing coming out of the united states a year ago, a more aggressive effort to push back against iran militarily on the ground. we're just not seeing that. >> looking at what iran wants in syria, i think the big -- i've been to the golan heights. and one of the big questions is does iran want to lebanonize
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syria. i actually think that the iranians are preparing for are the next phase. they're gaming what is happening in syria. we're focussed on the current war and ending it. so i think that they're deemployeeing their personnel. i think the iranians will stay long-term. the idea we'll get them out is just illusion. the russians, i think, will pair down to the point they have
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bases and -- yes. this become costly for them. that's one front. on the other, and the issue of u.s. goals, i've covered iran now since 1973. and i covered the war. what i used to do all the time was to go to the supermarkets to figure out how separate ooiranis were. when meat was rationed, public transportation had fuel shortages and the shelves were bea bare. you would see a few bags of rice or tea. when i go back to iran now, they can't keep porsches in stock. you can get pampers diapers and oreos. the idea we're going to squeeze
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iran economically any time soon is an illusion. we'll get their oil sales denise brown to probably a million barrels a day. but there are all kinds of schemes. there's talk of the russians buying discounted iranian oil. there's a lot of discount offers. they'll be lucrative and the russians selling their oil to compensate for the shortage of iranian oil in the global market and use the discounted oil for the domestic uses and pocket the profits in the meantime. the iranians are gaming trump. whether it's two years or six years and, you know, they've been around for a,000 years and, you know, they know how to do this stuff. and so, you know, the idea we can make our policy work, the
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danger is that rouhani is a lame duck. there is the potential that he becomes another -- in the end ended up being emasculated. iran has no incentive to cheat on the jcpoa now. it needs the europeans, russians, and chinese. they don't want all of them to join in u.s. sanctions. this is a serious situation. i'm not trying to under state it at all. but there are a lot of alternatives.
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they still have the five of the six world major powers behind them. sew i think there's a real disconnect. we saw one last point we saw demonstrations in january and february. the u.s. talks as if they want regime change. when the question is do they want regime change? there's a difference. one is changing behavior potentially of the leaders and the other one is actually changing whole system. the idea they'll ever change the whole system is just hogwash. revolutions unravel. they have to adapt. they can't create utopias.
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it seems that the administration is serious about wanting to push back against the, you know, the iranian growing iranian influence in the region. the need to look how iran is able to exert the power. iran does a good job of playing in chaos. you look at the lebanese civil war, you look at what happened in iraq after 2003, you look at syria. iran has been able to exploit those opportunities to work in chaos in a way that countries like united states or european powers don't tend to be able to do. stop giving them those opportunities. i would say yemen is one of those opportunities. the saudi-led coalition hyped the iranian presence, the
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hezbollah-like behavior when the coalition military campaign started. this is ancient history you are by i'm struck by the impression i had when i accompanied ban ki-moon where we had a meeting with the supreme leader. it was ban ki-moon's meeting.
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i was his plus one. there was a great picture so you may have seen on the meeting that had me and the iranian aid, ban ki-moon. there was a caption contest at the state department. the caption the winning caption was "seated left to right. see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil, and evil." what struck me about the meeting was the monologue was entirely about the united states. he was hosting the movement. there were lots of international issues which iran was involved. the syrian war was already well underway. but he chose to use the three hour monologue to talk only about the united states. so i was struck, first of all, by the depth of the obsession with the united states. that's how he would use his meeting with ban ki-moon. but, second, i was struck by how
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wrong he was about the united states. there are a lot of very sophisticated iranians. people who studied europe. people who study us now. who would be able, if they had the access, the influence, the credibility to be able to try to correct his impression. but it was completely fictional. his analysis of the united states what was going to happen to the united states, what iran was going to do. at the time, i thought, you know, i have been in lots of meetings in washington where we talked about iran. i'm sure there were gaps in our knowledge about iran. gaps in our receptions about iran. but i was assured at the time that at least whatever our gaps were our leader, our president is not as ignorant about iran as the supreme court leader of iran was about the united states. i hope that's still the case.
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on syria the tools that the united states has for for pushi back against the iranian influence there would include reconstruction because i don't think that either the russians or the iranians want to be handed the full bill for the type of reconstruction that syria needs. there will be a move toward reconstruction, whether we like what's happened or not, this will happen. there will be pressure, there will be refugees going back european countries saying this is the best way to get the -- some of the migrants back into their homeland. to use reconstruction effectively as a lever, you have to have unity of donor countries and it worries me because i'm not sure the united states will be able to promote the type of
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unified approach on reconstruction, given the jcpoa, given the declarations that european union is an enemy. thank you. >> so i would like to stay on iran for just one more round of questions and ask you each to kind of go in on your areas of expertise. ken, you know, jeff was talking about gaps in intelligence that the u.s. might have with iran. can you speak to you that? where do you think the u.s. -- i know i realize you've been out of government for some time, but where do you think the u.s. intelligence position is right now with respect to iran? does the u.s. have a good picture? is the u.s. in a good position to, you know, be in this position with iran of adversarial position? derri derrick, if you could talk about the military sneepiece? how can the u.s. military and allies pressure iranian militarily, if at all?
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robin, we definitely see your position that it's -- that the idea that the u.s. could pressure iran economically is -- you don't think that's the case. how do you see the u.s.'s position? how can the u.s. pressure iran, if at all? what's the most effective way? jeff, if you could talk more, as one of the few, if only american officials who has met with the ayatollah since he became the supreme leader, what do you see the best way for the u.s. to pressure iran -- what is the best u.s. policy that would be effective in potentially successful against iran? >> thanks. sticking with the intel piece, there's no question that u.s. intelligence with regard to iran has improved over the years, but it hasn't improved greatly in the area where we need it because it's always the most difficult area of all, which is what is the leadership thinking at any given moment. we have much greater ability to
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track iranian military forces. we have a greater ability to have a general sense of what is going on in terms of the large-scale economic activity in iran. all of that has improved over the years. the problem is, jeff was alluding to this before with his story about khamenei, what is the mind of ali khamenei? what is he going to do? robin made a powerful argument that the new sanctions are unlikely to change iranian behavior. that would be a critical intelligence question for the u.s. intelligence community, is are the iranians moving and feeling the fracture the sanctions in such a way that is likely to cause them to change their behavior? that's question number one for them. that will be huge. that will be very difficult. of course that speaks to a whole variety of subquestions -- what information are they getting about the state of their people? how unhappy are the people actually? do they care if they're being
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told that people actually are impoverished and unhappy? by care, i mean -- at some level, of course, they care, but the issue is really do they care enough to change their policy or is their feeling that well, the people may be unhappy, but we don't want to change our policy for any number of reasons. these are absolutely critical intelligence questions, and they are exceptionally difficult to answer. there's also a set of questions that flow from, what if the iranians really are hurting? it may be that the administration is right in certain ways. we may do a lot of damage to the iranians through the sanctions. we may hurt their economy. their economy is in tough shape because of their own mismanagement over the years, added to that some of our own activities, but the sanctions may hurt them badly. if that's the case the intelligence community is going to have to be in a position to tell the administration the iranians are hurting, they're contemplating a change in their
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behavior, but then the question becomes what's that change? we know that president trump is hoping the change is going to be, i'll be glad to sit down with you and agree to a new nuclear deal that will be better than the obama administration got, with which i think is about all that really matters as far as he's concerned. that may not be right. it may be that they decide, you know what, we really are hurting, we don't like this pressure, we're not just going to sit here and try to take it, we're going to find a way to do something. that do something may not be negotiate, it may be push back. given the state of iranian internal politics, how they read what happened with the jcpoa, i actually suspect it's far more likely that if the iranians do decide to change their behavior as a result of the sanctions, their first move is not going to be sit down with donald trump. it's going to be to find ways to put pressure on us. the way that we've seen them try to put pressure on us in the past are ways that we don't
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like -- terrorist actions, support for various proxies and insurgent groups across the middle east, attacking our allies, cyber attacks. put it this way, i know that the intelligence community is going to have to be in a position to answer all of those questions, prepare the administration. what you never know from the intel side -- i'm still keeping my intel hat on and not my policy maker hat on -- when i was at the nsc i always listened to the intel community, whether the president, whether the administration is actually going to listen. if they come in and say mr. president, we think that the policy is working in the sense that it is forcing the iranians to think about change, but we don't think that they're going to sit at the table with you, we think they're going to turn up the heat on you, right, you have to get them to recognize that and to start moving to take action with enough time to actually do something about it. that may be the hardest thing of
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all for the intelligence community to convince this administration. >> so on the military perspective, one of the under appreciated components of previous administration's policies which led to the jcpoa, was the military pressure track, so it wasn't just economic pressure or a willingness to talk diplomatically, it was building up military pressure. that came in four components -- posture, procurement, partners, and planning. when i see what the u.s. military is currently doing in the region, despite all the talk of disruption and u.s. return to the region after withdraw during the obama years, there's actually a remarkable degree of continuity along all tracks, but actually each one has gotten harder. think about the u.s. military posture. it has not changed fundamentally in the last four or five years in the region. it's still around 50,000 troops.
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we still have our bases. if anything, that's gotten -- the posture has gone down a bit because we have a rotating capability out of the region and not had a carrier battle group in the gulf since march earlier this year and that's the longest it's been in 20 years that we haven't had a carrier presence in the gulf. during my time in government we spent a lot of time working with the joint staff to always make sure we had a carrier presence in the gulf as we were trying to meet other needs around the world, and also the pentagon is working hard on implementing the guidance of the national defense strategy which is focused on the return of great power competition, which is playing out in the middle east, as david mentioned, but fundamentally not about the middle east and a threat from russia and china rotating capability out of the region to address those threats. you've got presence which on the with one hand has been fairly, you know -- no major shifts, but it's trending downward.
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despite a perception and now the u.s. is there and really ready to go. on procurement, despite all the talk of, you know, big weapon sales, particularly to gulf countries, we haven't seen much of that in this administration. most of it is taking credit for things that happened before, and the prospect of large weapon sales in the future i think is really, really hard to see, particularly even harder after the events of the election year where i think when the congress comes back, there's going to be a lot of discussion about what to do about the pending arms sales and i don't see a big political appetite here in washington to push very hard on that. that was a big component of the obama administration strategy to build military pressure when you have some of the biggest arm sales in american history to saudi arabia and the uae and a big arms deal with israel. that was a lot about building pressure and building their capacity to deal with an iranian
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threat. partners, so i give the administration credit for trying to continue the effort to build a greater cohesion and muscle tissue between the united states and our jcc partners in political. there's a logical progression and it's a positive one, from the security cooperation forum to the -- which was in 2013, 2014, to the defense ministerial to the camp david process, to this misa idea, which was proposed in september i think prior to the murder in istanbul and so i think they were originally planning to have a meeting in january -- i'm not sure that's going to happen -- but i give them credit for trying to move in that direction. i think it's going to get -- it's really hard given the state of the u.s./saudi relationship and given the ongoing dispute with qatar. finally, planning. i'm not sure -- because we're
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not privy to classified planning -- but there's an effort that needs to go into military planning to make sure all options are on the table should they be necessary to deal with the iranian nuclear program. in the obama administration we called that theater, to ensure we had capability and plans in place to execute on any option should the president so order. that's not something that just happens naturally. that comes with a lot of hard decisions of resource decisions inside the pentagon. we have not heard about that recently. my guess would be, just given the overall trend of how we're moving some of our military forces globally, is that we are not as prepared today to execute on military options as we would have been three or four years ago. you could argue we've had the jcpoa so there's less of a need, but if we are in a post-jcpoa world, and i agree with robin and ken on their assessment of the iranians, if we're assuming we are not going to be engaged in a diplomatic negotiation with the iranians any time soon, if
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ever, under this administration, then the question of plans has to be back on the table and something that we're talking about. >> don't get me wrong, iran is suffering. the value of the currency is a third of what it was a year ago. it was sanctions at the end of the day that got the iranians to the table in 2013. that is clearly one way of squeezing them. it's just how -- it's the timetable. everything -- you have to game something. you had rowhani at the beginning of his administration having campaigned on something. obama interested in kind of changing in the aftermath of the arab spring and the chaos that spread across the region kind of taking that nuclear component off the table.
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one of the questions i think ken mentioned was the issue of the supreme leader's mind. i had breakfast with him once when he was president. he was the first iranian revolutionary figure to come to new york for the u.n. eight years after the revolution. it was 1987. he was sent -- he was -- the presidency then was not an executive presidency. the prime minister was the most powerful figure. he was dispatched basically in the context of the iran contra, you know, the escalating toward the end when the very deadly end of the iran/iraq war to try to repair relations with the outside world. iran was beginning its period of re-engagement with the world after eight years of saying neither east nor west and he came with a mission to say, you know, we want in the war, we want to engage with everybody.
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there were about a dozen of us invited to have breakfast with him in new york. it was very striking. we had been told all of us that this was the big deal announcement, this was, you know -- this was the reason he had come, the first time, since the ouster of the monarchy and about that time the u.s. sunk the iran ship in the gulf that had been offloading mines during the tanker war. we sank the ship, killed 22 iranian soldiers, and had to rescue the rest of them. of course the supreme leader looked at this and felt that this was deliberate to humiliate him. of course it isn't, but this is where conspiracy theories in the middle east, a vulnerable, paranoid revolution, that he really believed that this was the u.s. showing what it really intended. he has never recovered from that. you cannot trust the united
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states. it has influenced his thinking and his perspective on all negotiations ever since. i think that's really important to understand. things that we don't even remember or back then much less today, and -- so this is a -- and this was a man who assumed this supreme leadership as having been a weak president and he was put there at a time that the revolution was trying to evolve from the islamic republic of iran, first and foremost islamic, trying to become more of a republic, but khamenei didn't have his power base so a very dangerous lesson for -- in the future for when you try to put a weak man in power, where do they go? they go to the military security forces build up a power base and that's what he did. he is -- for a guy who has a mediocre mind, to put it mildly, very limited experience with the outside world, not western
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educated, that, you know, that -- he is now disproportionately powerful. he's been in that office now for almost 30 years, three times that ayatollah khamenei was. it's important in understanding how this process plays out. i was very struck after the announcement of sanctions this week that one of the things president rowhani said was, we don't rule out sanctions. that's what he also said to me in september when i saw him at the united nations. he said, in september, it's easier for us to go back six months than it is for us to go back six years. this week, little was covered, we don't rule out negotiations. you have to go back to the terms you already committed, that the united nations has endorsed unanimously, and then we'll
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talk. this has not been ruled out. the c-spairanians in some way h taken the higher ground saying they're willing to engage, but under certain conditions. one last point, that is when it comes to what else we can do to pressure, one of the little reported stories this week is the fact that iranians have announced there was another massive cyber attack, far more effective than the other was. this will be the third that we know of cyber attack, and it penetrated their information systems. information in iran is the synonym for intelligence. i think there are -- that the covert campaign in many ways may be far more interesting, dynamic and imaginative, than the kind of per funkry sanctions that we
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all spend a lot of time talking about. >> jim, you met with the ayatollah 25 years later. i'm curious your impressions on him? >> certainly i think that robin gave the back ground to the obsession that i witnessed in the meeting that i had -- in the meeting i attended when he met with ban ki-moon in tehran several years ago. it wasn't, as i said, only the obsession, it was just how wrong his analysis was about the united states. it was based on ideology, it was based on paranoia, you know, it was -- facts didn't penetrate what he thought. i was in europe a few months ago and met with the -- on mart begins of a conference with a high-level iranian official, not the foreign minister. this was after the singapore summit and the withdraw from the
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jcpoa and this iranian official asked me whether i thought they could pull off a kim jong-un, whether they could pull off a singapore like breakthrough with president trump. it was interesting he asked that. my response was probably wrong. what i said it would be far more difficult because in the case of north korea, you had seoul cheerleading. you had seoul preparing it. where in the case with iran, you would have the emirates of saudi arabia and israel and others pushing against it so you wouldn't have the reinforcement that you had in the case of north korea, but after that president trump indicated that he would be willing. i showed the limits to my own analysis. you and i were both in the same meeting that you thankfully asked president rowhani if we could talk more on the record
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about this. there was -- in addition to the meeting that robin had with president rowhani, there was a meeting in new york on the march of the general assembly with president rowhani and a few -- 24, two dozen americans of various back grounds, that was supposed to be off the record and robin pushed and said can't we put this on the record? david sanger covered a lot of it in "the new york times" article the following day because he agreed to robin's push for being on the record. rowhani -- at the beginning he talked about how there was what no roadblock that couldn't be superseded. there was -- when things get really bad is when the experts start talking. that i found intriguing. it was different from what he said about how he couldn't talk to trump or they couldn't talk to trump until they went back to where the u.s. had diverged from the path in which they were walking. he left the door open for
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expert-level discussions and i thought that was interesting. >> before we open it up for questions i want to bring up one more topic on the idea of proxy wars and that's yemen and i will ask it in a broad sense and start with you, jeff, since you've had the longest time to think about your answer so far. a very broad question here, you know, secretary mattis, secretary pompeo have just said that they think that hostilities need to end in yemen. do you believe that the u.s. has the ability to pressure saudi arabia and uae into ending the conflict in yemen and what is next? what happens next after the shooting stops? jeff? >> i think the u.s. does have the pressure and i think that i'll quote a brookings colleague who talks about how quickly the saudi air force would be grounded if u.s. technical support, spare parts, refueling would end. it could happen quickly.
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it's much different than longer term arm sales which wouldn't have the immediate impact of spare parts and technical assistance and so forth. the yemen war is incredibly frustrating. as jerry firestein, the u.s. ambassador to yemen knows well, with great reluctance the houthis participated in the dialog, they signed on to the agreements of the dialog process, it was a give and take compromise, 400 participants, all the major political region groups in yemen participated and then the houthis used a fuel subsidy demonstration a few months later to overthrow the results and take over the country. it's frustrating to look and say, well, i mean i understand politically why it's difficult for so many people to say the war should just stop because the reasons behind the war haven't been addressed. the houthis did violate an
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agreement that was codified in the security council resolution, blessed internationally, and they took over the country. the problem is that all of the stated goals of the military conflict or that you say the demands that were in the security council resolution 2216 that was adopted under chapter 7 authority, haven't been met and are harder to meet now than they were. at some point, if you're in a hole, stop digging. as i said, iranian's role is greater now. the houthi sophistication is higher. they have better weaponry. everything is worse than it was, and that's not talking about the humanitarian catastrophe that's shameful. this war needs top stop and the u.s. has the power and i would say that -- as awful as it is to contemplate doing some kind of
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transaction deal over the murder, still, it provides the leverage for the u.s. to say, we need to preserves the overall saudi relationship, which the u.s. does, we need to somehow get past this, we can't pick who the saudi crown prince is or isn't, but that yemen war has to stop. >> robin? >> i agree that jamal's death certainly created a dynamic that allows for a kind of unspoken arrangement that pressures the saudis by putting whether weapon sales or visibility of the issue and some of their human rights abuses on the table. my sense is in this twitter verse universe, that the -- there needed to be more momentum
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to make that happen, that we're already seeing the rehabilitation campaign for mohamed bin salman. the king yesterday went with his son across the country to effectively endorse him, say he's my boy, and not going to be any changes. the idea that he will pay a price -- now maybe a portfolio taken away from him or whatever, but the thing that is striking, over the past week since secretary mattis first ruled out the idea of having talks by the end of november with a sense of urgency, that the saudis have doubled their air strikes. this is an in your face reaction. i don't think it's just gaming for leverage or territory, but i think it's a statement, we make the decisions and it's playing tough so that even if they -- for some reasons do end up with a negotiating table, that we're
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not likely to see a process that leads some place. that's the sad part. i think there is a way to get negotiations going. i'm not sure there is the will to do it. i think there are -- one of the things -- this is a -- by the way, largely a pentagon initiative to push. this was -- it was mattis who ruled it out and then again gave the time frame in a speech at the u.s. institute of peace, and the statement that pompeo issued, i am told, was drafted at d.o.d., that -- so this is something he's pushing. i don't think it reflects the will, the new energy, within the administration to end the yemen war. i do think there's a recognition in the pentagon that look, we're the ones who are vulnerable because we're refueling saudi
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planes, providing the bombs that are killing civilians and providing the intelligence that tells them where they're going and the saudis are ignoring it, that the pentagon is not really happy about the way the saudis have implemented or have used and abused the equipment and information we have given them. i think the pentagon is very aware that the president of yemen is ill. he's spent much the last two months at the cleveland clinic. he has serious heart problems. even though he has been in exile since 2015 -- for a number of years in riyadh, that -- i think he's gone back and made brief trips, but the doesn't control its own capital, the problem is if he dies, his vice president is from the isla party. the president is the saudi man, the vice president isn't. what you could do is a
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complicated scenario where there's military chaos and the arrival of which government is saudi arabia trying to put back in control. you see a political process that unravels and makes diplomacy even harder. i think that's something that there's an awareness, this confluence of factors, and then throw in jamal's death and that has given more focus. again, i'm not convinced that it's going to lead any place. it needs -- the u.s. is talking about the u.n., martin griffith, the special envoy taking the lead on this, and we're actually deferring to him. unless the united states takes a lead and pounds the table and says we're using our leverage, to defer to the u.n. and another special envoy, it's not going to go any place. it will drag on for years and -- so again, it's a great idea, wonderful that we're seeing attention, but will it lead any place? i am yet to be convinced. >> do you agree that the saudi
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strikes, these recent ones, this bombardment, and the humanitarian crisis, do you see that as more of a strategic than tactical move by the saudis right now? >> do i see it as more strategic? >> than tackle? -- tactical? >> no. but i agree with everything that robin said. a, we have leverage. there's clearly debate playing out as robin has said within this administration about how to use the leverage. whatever is motivating the pentagon, they're clearly the ones leading this increasing volume of criticism. now, there's a question, again, about how widely shared is that within the administration? there's absolutely a rehabilitation of mbs campaign that is getting some traction, however, as i said earlier with congress coming back and the new configure of congress, that's going to be harder.
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the mbs, he was lucky our congress was out of session so there weren't hearings on capitol hill and a drumbeat of analysis and criticism. i think that's -- it seems to be we're going to use -- the u.s. will use leverage regarding yemen either the administration is going to get out ahead of it or the congress is going to force him to do it is my sense. what does the leverage mean? one thing i learned in dealing with the middle east and trying to use u.s. military tools to create leverage, i'm humbled by the limits of our leverage. we played around with the military assistance to egypt trying to influence the calculations in cairo and that had limited success. there is the kind of on one end of the spectrum there is the we'll credit bruce with this, the plan we just shut it down and cut everything off. i don't know if that's realistic. i don't think the pentagon will push for that. that's an option. but everything short of that, it gets harder.
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not helping them with resupply, cutting off the pgms, that's one thing, but what else we can put on the table -- this gets to the schizophrenia within the administration, at the same time they're trying to say they're going to have a robust approach to iran and create this -- how they can reconcile the increased leverage regarding yemen and how much they want to make the yemen war be privileged over the other goals they have, is going to be the one very difficult set of choices they will have in the coming months. finally, again, going back to robin, it does feel like there's a lack of -- despite all the military discussion, there's a lack of a diplomatic push here. it is unclear to me, other than just supporting the u.n. envoy and we should support the u.n. envoy, but making that your big play diplomatically to bring this to an end, it's not clear who in the administration would
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even play this role. pompeo is not -- i don't see him doing this. maybe david will step up and do it. we don't have an assistant secretary for nea right now. how they actually can -- if there even is a decision to use the leverage, how they execute it is an open question. >> could we force the saudis to end their conventional military intervention in yemen? we probably could. i think bruce is right about that. that's about it. let's be very clear -- that will not end the yemeni civil war. the civil war was burning before the saudis intervened and before the iranians intervened. i think jeff is right, i've always felt this way, that the saudis greatly exaggerated the iranian threat, but it has become a self-fulfilling prophecy as he said.
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they are there. that war will keep going because of its own internal dynamics. we've seen any number of civil wars before and we know how they end. right. withdrawi withdrawing, external intervention is never sufficient to end a civil war. oftentimes it's counterproductive. oftentimes you need foreign intervention to end a civil war. if we force the saudis to remove or end their conventional intervention, it will not remove the iranians from yemen, nor will it remove the now very real houthi military threat to riyadh. this is something you can blame the saudis and say it never would have happened if you hadn't intervened, that is a fair statement, but that is irrelevant. we cannot change the past. the saudis have a very real houthi threat to saudi arabia.
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lobbing missiles at riyadh is no small thing. we would not be terribly happy if someone were lobbing missiles at washington, d.c. even if they were missing, it would be a very big problem. let's also understand, none of this is likely to affect the humanitarian situation. my wife used to work for one of the big aid organizations with the mercy corps and we used to fight all the time in our kitchen over syria. she kept saying, how do we feed more syrianens? my response was always the same, end the syrian civil war. until you do that, you are not going to deal with the humanitarian problems there. the humanitarian problems and the civil war in yemen is much bigger than simply the saudi conventional military intervention. civil wars -- most of the civil wars in the world, certainly all
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the ones in the middle east today, are about state failure and security vacuums. until you fill the security vacuum, forge a new power-sharing arrangement that is workable and then allows the different parties to start building a state, you will not end the civil war. we have seen this over and over and over again. so it's all well and good for us to blame the saudis for the tragedy in yemen, it's all well and good for us to say well, maybe we should try to push the saudis to pull back, that is not a solution to the yemeni civil war. right. it's not even clear that's the start of a solution to the yemeni civil war. there's a good argument to be made out there, my friend mike makes it, which is the vast majority of civil wars that have ended and ended quickly, ended with the military viblctory of e side. you want to limit civilian
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casualty, the best way do it is have one side win and win fast. right now, the government the saudi backed coalition has the upper hand. the smart thing might be as my friend mike argues, back them to the hilt. that may be the fastest way to do it and may be entirely unpalatable. we need to recognize civil wars have dynamics of their own and just causing one group that we happened to be unhappy with at the moment to pull back, isn't going to end the civil war. when the full cost, the full humanitarian death count is taken of the yemeni civil war, my guess is, that we're going to look at it and say this is because how long the war burned, not because who was involved. that's typically what is -- what civil wars are about. that is typically how the death
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count is measured. >> i have to press you on that one minute. you agree the way to end the conflict in yemen right now is to double down on it militarily? do you think the world should -- a larger -- >> i have a slightly different position i think than i was articulating there. i believe that civil wars can be brought to negotiated conclusions but they require foreign intervention. the foreign intervepntion has t be with the right strategy and force level. i would like to back the saudis and emiratis to take an force them to sit down with the houthis and make a decent deal. let me very quickly -- what we know about how you bring a negotiated settlement to a civil war, you first need a stalemate in which neither side believes it can win a military victory,
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but every side can lay down its arms. you need a power-sharing agreement in which each party has political weight and economic benefits commensurate with its demographic, and finally you need some kind of an institution that will make sure that conditions one and two hold firm for 10 to 20 years. typically that's an external peacekeeping force, although it can sometimes be something else. if you a nelson mandela handy, he can do that job or she could do that job. i don't see that being yemen, but as a result, you probably would be looking for that external peacekeeping force. that's how we have brought -- the way the scholars measure it, 40% of all the civil wars since 1991 have been ended in exactly that fashion. right. but you got to be willing to do that. that would mean convincing the houthis they cannot win, right, which we can probably do if we
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back the saudis and emiratis more, but it will require us to pull them back and say you're not going to get to win the military victory. right. you're going to have to sit down and make a reasonable set of concessions with the houthis. >> i want to take a few minutes an open it up to questions from the audience. sir? >> i'm tom franklin. how do you think the election results on tuesday will affect u.s. middle east policy? >> anyone? >> i mean, i'll just -- look, the election was not about foreign policy, even those former colleagues of many of ours in the room who ran for office who were foreign policy experts weren't being asked about foreign policy. there's no mandate one way or the other. given the configuration of the new congress when it comes into
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session, particularly in the house with the democrats you're going to see much greater scrutiny of the administration's policies across the board in the middle east. certainly it will be interesting to see how this plays out. there will be an effort among democrats to keep the embers of the jcpoa alive in some way, in whatever way they can, and it will be an interesting dynamic one can see when european colleagues come to washington and do their customary meetings with folks in the administration but also go to capitol hill and now they will be sitting down with a democratic speaker of the house and democratic chairman of the house foreign affairs committee and talking about things like the jcpoa and iran and there's going to be a lot more agreement than there would have been six months ago and then how the administration handles that one could already write the tweet that will pop out once you see the picture of nancy pelosi with the german foreign minister talking about the jcpoa. as we were talking earlier on
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yemen, a much higher scrutiny on u.s. arms sales and therefore i don't see congress having much appetite for passing through any of those. just in general, there's a lot more questions being raised which i think suggests you're going to see an administration that's going to be more kind of besieged on, you know, its policies, lots of hard questions about how -- what plan is, how the policies are going to work, so for middle eastern partners looking in from the outside, it's going to probably seem more confusing than it's already been to this point. >> david hill's speech was really noteworthy because it left out one subject that was the constant theme of m.e.i. conferences for deck raid cades and that's the israeli/palestinian peace process. jared kushner's plan has been -- going to be unveiled, you know, any minute -- for a long, long
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time and, of course, now they say well, right up until, you know, jamal's death, it was all ready to be -- and the reality is, it's further away from reality, whether it's unveiled or not, because of what the president has done over the last year in jerusalem, cutting off aid to the palestinians, and shutting down the diplomatic mission here. somebody -- if they have a palestinian contact, they should tell them their mission, still as the flags waving, has not ended their "washington post" subscription and the "post" is piling up on the front steps of the embassy. you know, this is where i think that's the one initiative that they -- you know, they want m.b.s. for. when you think of the goals, that was the one they were going to do down and dirty and kind of say done. i think that's not going to
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happen during this first term or the term of the trump administration. >> my question is -- first i have to qualify saying i'm no fan of iran and iran has an abysmal human rights record, but why do we give the saudis such a pass? i mean, if we're talking about u.s.'s security, regionally the saudis are not keeping the region secure, if we're talking about them funding and giving resources to al qaeda and to isis, they're behind that, and it's interesting, mr. pollack, you referred to iran as, you know, a terrorist -- in terms of using the word terrorism, whereas the saudis that, you know, chopped up and possibly burned mr. khashoggi who is a u.s. and permanent resident, constantly we give saudi arabia
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this pass we don't give to iran. many people say iran are more natural allies to the united states if we worked it than saudi arabia would be. i don't understand why in terms of u.s. interests, why saudi arabia is deemed such a good friend and not iran? >> we heard that from david hale as well. that was something i wrote down from his speech, he talked about iran's human rights record, but didn't talk about other places in the region. even turkey. as long as we're talking about khashoggi. anyone? >> first, to be clear, what i said was that iran engages in acts of terrorism, which i think is a true statement. it's not to say that other countries don't. the iranians do. now i want to come to your question. first, about the iranians, as someone who has championed every single american effort with iran, the problem that we have goes back to the points that both jeff and robin made before. the problem that we've had and we've made sincere efforts to rebuild relations with the
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iranians, is the iranians don't want it. whether that's no one but ali khamenei, he is the person in charge. i actually do believe that has san rouhani and raheave would like rapport with the united states and they did so. i actually was very much in favor of the obama administration's effort to use the jcpoa -- let's understand the jcpoa was only supposed to be part of a wider effort to have a better relationship with iran. i felt that was exactly right. when i was in the nsc, president clinton tried the same thing. i was his persian gulf director at the time and i thought this was the right thing and i is it everything i could. what we found every time was that even though in every occasion there were iranians who wanted the exact same thing, the leadership didn't. the leadership kept defining us as their enemy and kept acting
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as if we were their enemy. deliberately trying to harm our interests. we can say in theory iran would be a great ally for the united states. it was -- i'll be careful here -- under the shah. the iranian leadership doesn't see it the same way. i am hopeful, going back to robin's point about the region regime change, my hope is some point in time we will have a new leadership in tehran, within this regime, a different regime, but we'll want a better relationship. with regard to the saudis, the difference there is, that the saudis do define us as their great ally and their great protector and have always done so, and while there is no question that that has been a problematic relationship for many years, the saudis have acted to advance our interests, just as we have acted to advance theirs. i can remember derrick was with
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me in government in the '90s when we would come to the saudis with all kinds of stuff that had nothing to do with the middle east. we would say to the saudis, we need your help and the saudis were there. the saudis funded the kyoto deal, the light water reactors for north korea. the saudis had no interest in that. it was simply that we asked them to do so. they had interests in doing so. there's no question about that. they had interests in our relationship. that's the first party. that is why we have a relationship with them because we have shared interests and they do things for us. the truth in your question is that administration after administration after administration has consistently looked the other way at the misteedss of the saudis and any number of our allies in the middle east and frankly beyond it. what i hoped we had learned in 2011 was that doesn't pay off in
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the long run. that in the long run, these government, especially many of our allies in the middle east, they desperately need to change. if they don't, they are going to be swept away by revolutions. when they are, we are going to pay the price for having looked the other way at all of their misdeeds towards their own people. >> can i add something quickly. among those countries that we are giving a total pass is egypt, and its human rights violations, what it's doing and being held to account by nobody. on the point of hoping for a leadership change in iran, let me point out the supreme leader is only a year older than nancy pelosi. >> sir? >> you know, i like mr. pollack's assessment regarding the civil wars. as we see in syria, one side
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won. coming back to syria, the u.s. looking for leverage, we have a carrot there. it could be some cards we could play. another card you didn't address is the arab minority in iran. thank you. >> i'll take the arab minority in iran. the striking thing about iran, i meant to make this point earlier, is that we're looking for -- whether it's regime change, in a country where there's no visible opposition. the mek is based in europe. it is able to pay a lot of prominent american and european, canadian officials, to come to its conferences in paris, but in terms of having an impact inside the country it's almost zero. there are arab protests in the arab part of iran. i mean, this is a place that if
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you go down to parliament any given day, there is some protest, whether it's 50, 100, 350 people over -- they haven't been paid in three months or there's been a price hike in electricity or they're not getting electricity or something, that this is a very engaged population. even when there's a crackdown, people continue to get out. iran is 51% persian, but there are a lot of ethnic minorities. the southeast have been the most active when it comes to challenging physically the regi regime within a geographic part of iran. the place bubbles. but the terms of a viable opposition to challenge the regime itself, it's not there yet. yes, over economic issues in part of the country, over gender issues, the women have gotten out with their jobs, and things have changed, there is a
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certain -- i hate to say the word flexible, but there's a kind of organic dimension to this revolution. the women drive their cars now and their high jab has fallen off. they walk the dogs and the hijab has fallen off. there's a parkour area that the government put in, and girls at night there, long hair flowing or they don't have anything on or baseball cap. it's a different environment. there are a few outlets. in terms of capitalizing on the arabs or any of the different components, there is not something inside the country. iranians are good at griping. they gripe during the monarchy, they gripe whoever is in power over economic conditions. so the big challenge for the u.s. intelligence community is actually deciphering is this something that's really going to produce changes or force the
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regime to change, or is this something part of the persian society. >> i will pick up the syria piece. it is a great question. is it possible that we've got -- that the carrots alone will work? it's possible. i think this what is jeff was alluding to earlier. i'm a little bit skeptical, right. the issue that we have in syria right now is that we're kind of in between two models of how civil wars end. as you rightly pointed out, the model that seems to be working is the victory, right. the syrians, the assad regime, the iranians and russians have the upper hand and looking to culminate their victory and we're trying very hard to stave that off and force them into some kind of power-sharing arrangement by holding on to a certain amount of territory and holding out the prospect of reconstruction aid. could that work? maybe. maybe if we had jeff in there to actually handle the diplomacy. that's going to be really
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tricky. it means shifting from one model, the victory of one side, to that more negotiated solution. historically, you don't get to that negotiated solution unless you've got much more military pressure which is what i was refer to when courtney asked the original question. unless we're going to threaten the assad regime and threaten its control over the vast majority of syria's population they don't have much of an incentive. while it's possible, what i fear is that we get ourselves into a lebanon situation which jeff had to live through as ambassador there, where we and many other countries are providing assistance and we're trying as hard as we can to condition it, but because one side is in control, they more or less kind of take the money and only pay lip service to the conditions that we impose. that to me would be the real risk of going down that path. >> one more minute so i'm going to ask maybe if each of you want
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to ask your questions and then we can try to take them both at the same time. >> sorry. thank you. i'm with voice of america. my question will be on turkey. so many questions, but i'll stick to iran and saudi arabia. turkey is one of the countries able to get a waiver from the recent iranian sanctions but president erdogan vows to devie those sanctions -- defy those sanctions. there's the case of the turkish bank and the u.s. treasury might be imposing a fine on the turkish bank. bearing in mind the recent fallout from the saudi journalist khashoggi's murder on turkish soil, how do you think this whole thing will play out for turkey? thanks. >> fortunately i also want to talk about turkey. >> that works. >> and -- because we haven't talked about turkey so far. there's a serious potential conflict between the united states and turkey on the kurds
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and syria. we've been trying to cooperate with them on the one hand, but there's all kinds of signs of conflict east of the euphrates that we're headed for conflict if we're going to defend our arab and kurdish allies there. what is your assessment, any of you, on where we're going in our policy towards turkey in dealing with what's going to happen east of the euphrates? >> it's confusing now, of course, because we have the u.s. -- the u.s. has begun joint patrols with the turks, but then at the same time the turks have now struck after the sdf and halted their fight against isis. i would be curious on the issue if any of you have feelings about it seems like there might be momentum for the deputy general manager who is in jail for 32 or 36 months and seems like there might be a deal to send him back to turkey despite
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his being -- convicted of sanctions evasion with iran. anyone? >> that's a lot of things we just laid out there on turkey right now. >> derrick. >> look, i think the question of where we -- look, where are we going with turkey? it's going to be muddled through, right. erdogan has been having a good few weeks the way he's been using the khashoggi affair to, you know, kind of -- he's been in the driver's seat on a lot of this. he's been at least if we believe what's in the news in the last few days, he has some other cards yet to play on that he's been holding and so we'll have to see how that plays out. it's just hard for me to imagine, given the confluence of issues where the u.s. and turkey have fundamental disagreements, whether it's related to iran,
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whether it's related to europe, whether it's related to what's happening inside of turkey, related to syria, that there's going -- there's a prospect for anything much better than muddle through. i think that the tensions between the turks and kurds is something we've been dealing with for years now. we see flare-ups of this now and again and at times -- i think it was in the last year or so, it looked very dire in terms of the tension between the two sides, and we've seen to sort of make our way through it. i don't have great optimism it's going to get much better any time soon because i don't think the prospects of the situation inside turkey under erdogan will improve much. given the other interests we have in play we don't want it to get much worse, but we have to be prepared for the fact that it will. >> the u.s. and turkey are engaged in this back and forth of negotiations which has been fascinating with the release of pastor brunson and now with the
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talk about attila. i think we're about out of time. i'm sorry we couldn't get to all the questions. i just want to thank this panel. i know you guys are probably accustomed to hearing from experts and geniuses all the time at these kinds of events, but i just -- i'm really honored to have been part of something where there are literally decades of experience and expertise on the middle east, on the region, and we were able to get so much insight from them today. thank you to all of our panelists. [ applause ] thank you. >> thank you for moderating and the panelist. we have a coffee break. if you want coffee proceed rapidly to where we were at the beginning. we will be back at 11:05.
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discussions on the 2018 midterm elections and what to expect in 2019, live at noon eastern on our companion network, c-span, the american enterprise institute holds. at 12:30 eastern live on c-span 2, academics and journalists discuss the midterm election results at american university here in washington, d.c. new congress, new leaders, watch the process unfold on c-span. >> join us sunday, veterans day, at 11:00 a.m. eastern live on c-span. the wreath laying ceremony at the tomb of the unknown at arlington national cemetery.
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at 5:00 p.m. eastern live coverage from the national constitution center in philadelphia. the presentation of the annual liberty medal to president george w. bush and laura bush a, all day coverage commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of world war i. sunda sunday, veterans day on c-span and on c-span3. up next on c-span3, some of the recent national council on u.s.-arab relations policymakers conference here in washington. we'll hear about u.s. relations with saudi arabia, syria and iran and russia's influence in the region. this is an hour and 45 minutes. >> okay, everyone's attention, please. we're going to begin our last session so we'll turn it over to the chair of the session titled

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