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Kerry to Al Hayat: Change in Iraq has worked counter to American interests
Published in AL HAYAT on 28 - 05 - 2009

Dead Sea, Jordan - The current Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the former presidential candidate Senator John Kerry assured that when President Barack Obama “referred to the Islamic Republic of Iran for a reason—to recognize publicly the legitimacy of the current governance, and to find a way to try to move forward to talk about the issues that are important between us.” He added that this is “the opening to a new security arrangement, and we want to work on it.”
Kerry considered that “the regime change that took place in Iraq has unleashed all kinds of forces, and it has really empowered Iran. So it has worked counter to American interests.” Hence he pledged not to seek to change the regime in Tehran, since “we won't be advantaged if we continue a policy similar to what we did in Iraq--which has wound up actually turning the balance of power in the region on its head and creating many more problems than it solved.”
The Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee assured that Obama is determined to open a “new chapter” in the Middle East peace process and that the “time frame” for this “has already begun”. He said: “over the next year it is critical for us to have a legitimate process, well understood and well underway”, that is “dual tracked: negotiations about the big final status issue: borders, Jerusalem, right of return, and the basic security definition of state at the same time as we are undertaking the confidence building steps based on reciprocity.” He denied that “reciprocity” implies tearing apart the Arab peace initiative or that “process” implies delays, bureaucracy, or endless talk.
Kerry revealed that he had agreed with Syrian President Bashar el Assad on the “need to have three party talks: Israel, Syria and the United States” within the framework of the Syrian track in the negotiations. He made it clear that “they want it, I want it”, but that President Obama has not reached that position yet. Kerry said that it's important for Syria to move forward “in agreeing to have three party talks with the Unites States and the Iraqis and Syria on the issue of Iraq” in order to put an end to the foreign fighters' transit into Iraq. He added: “If we can put that on the table now, then we can build the confidence to move towards the other discussions which I think should take place.”
However, Senator Kerry assured that Lebanon will “unequivocally, positively, absolutely, under no circumstances” be considered a chip to be traded with Syria, and that “this will never happen”. He added: “Lebanon is not a chip, it is an independent country, a democracy, and we value that. And in all my discussions with President Assad, we had discussions about how we need to have hands off Lebanon.”
Kerry declared that if an “unarmed Hezbollah renounces violence and indicates willingness to within the framework of governance and the right of Israel to exist, we will work with it as another entity within Lebanon” if it wins in the elections. He also said that these are “the same requirements Hamas has with respect to the quartet” after its victory in the Palestinian elections.
* (This interview was published in Al - Hayat Arabic on 05/18/2009)
RD: You came here with a message that you spoke with the president and with George Mitchell, and you are confident with the direction, you said. Were you asked by the president to come and explain this message?
JK: No, I was not asked specifically by the president I am expressing it as a leader of the foreign relations committee and a member of a separate branch of government that has an interest in this. But as a friend of the President, and as someone who is working with them on the policy, I am free to say with confidence that President Obama wants to open a new chapter and intends to try very hard to move this process forward. I know he intends to act in good faith to recognize the needs and the realities on the ground for both sides.
RD: You are the head of the foreign relations committee. Now, the difficulty of moving the peace process for the Middle East has really been greatly obstructed by Congress, by the Senate. What are you going to do with the Senate?
JK: I'm not sure I agree with that—the senate has obstructed the process of moving forward? You'll have to explain that to me.
RD: What I'm tying to say is every time the executive branch wants to move forward, the legislative was, lagging behind. They feel that their commitment to Israel comes first, therefore—anyways never mind what I think. How do you plan to move forward with the senate?
JK: Let me tell you point blank: neither the house nor the senate—the congress of the United States-- did not in any way prevent the Bush administration from trying to move forward. In fact many of us were openly and publicly advocating that the administration engage directly in the Middle East. And for over six years the administration remained completely arms distant from that engagement. I ran for president in 2004 and publicly made this an element of my platform that we needed to re-engage in the Middle East and be a leader in the peace process. So I don't agree with you. Unfortunately Dick Chaney, and Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush had a very different view about what the priorities were in the Middle East and the situation in Iraq is the consequence of that mistaken view.
RD: Still I will repeat my question. How do you make plans in being in charge of the foreign relations committee in the Senate. What steps do you plan to take?
JK: Well I've already taken steps. I've been traveling in the region extensively listening and talking with leaders. I personally went to Syria and engaged with President Assad and advocated that we open an engagement, which we have now done, with two visits by top administration officials in the state department. I went to Gaza to look at the situation there and try to send a message that this is a time to look at all sides of this issue and understand the humanitarian challenges and to open our eyes and be inquisitive. Thirdly I went to AIPAC last week and gave a speech in which I called for a freeze on settlements in Israel and a change in the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank-- that we have to respond.
RD: But you said that the contours for a solution are clear to all. The contours, I would take it to mean the closest possible to the ‘67 borders and the two-state solution. (JK shakes head). What do you mean then if that's not it?
JK: The framework for a final settlement for Middle East Peace is well understood to everybody. The Arab peace initiative that Kind Abdullah put forward is based on the sixty seven borders that everyone knows because of the facts on the ground is going to be subject to some negotiation now since things have changed since '67 but it is a decent framework from which to begin a negotiation. At Annapolis, in the Oslo accords, in Taba, a series of further articulation was shed on what the parameters of that agreement might look like. For Jerusalem , for the borders, for the right of return, for water policy, for annexed land, for land for peace, for the Jordan river valley. All of those issues I think we understand pretty well.
RD: So it's ending occupation?
JK: Ultimately a two state solution mandates ending occupation. That is at the essence of two individual states.
RD: So, back to how you are going to plan. I am not underestimating your contribution through your visits and going to the region. I just want to push you on this a little further. What would you do when you get back home after all these visits? What are you going to do with the senate so that they can be a supportive element to the president's initiatives that everyone is waiting for?
JK: Well just before I came here two days ago we had a very important hearing with former Prime Minister Tony Blair in which we talked about how we have to proceed on the Middle East Peace Process. What we are already engaged in is a very public discussion for Americans and others who listen as to how we can proceed to advance the process. Next week we will meet separately from the President, we will meet with Prime Minister Natanyahu, we will meet with President Mubarack, we will meet with President Abu Mazen. And in all those discussions with will continue to lay out our sense of the priorities for how to proceed. We will keep pressure on the administration we will not work for them we will work with them.
RD: What sort of pressure will you put on the Israelis knowing that they are resistant to the two-state solution?
JK: Well, we are going to have those discussions with the PM. As I said yesterday, all sides need to take actions to build confidence. Israel, in my judgement, needs to freeze the settlements, and immediately take steps to improve the lives of Palestinians particularly by improving the movement within the West Bank. The Arab countries need to immediately takes steps to help the Palestinians build capacity, and secondly to warm the relationship with Israel with certain steps that begin to show their good faith efforts to move in the same direction.
RD: Well I mean the Arabs are saying-- we put forward the Arab initiative you are welcoming the Arab initiative and now you are going to cut it to pieces and say we are going to pick and choose on the basis of a new approach of yours which is reciprocity. Reciprocity, including tearing apart the Arab peace initiative. And they're saying--you want them to take normalization steps just in order just for Israel to freeze settlements.
JK: No no no, I did not say that.
RD: Yesterday, you did.
JK: No. I said both sides need to take steps. The first most important step is a freeze in the settlements.
RD: Yes and you said Arabs would need to reciprocate and give Israel the confidence.
JK: Reciprocate means come afterwards. A reciprocate move is a move you take after somebody has done something. That's how you reciprocate. So the first move is the freeze, the second move is a reciprocal move by the Arab countries to show—
RD: Visas, that's what you said.
JK: Yes all that, but the important thing here is to show good faith on both sides to move forward. Let me emphasize—I'm not talking about picking apart the Arab peace initiatives, I'm taking about building on it. I'm one of the first people to I think publicly acknowledge the importance of the Arab peace initiative. I laid out a speech at the Brookings Institute several months ago in which I put the Arab peace initiative out there and talked about the need to build a regional road map based on that peace initiative. That is the policy of this administration. And so that's not picking apart, that's building upon it.
RD: Time frame that you hope for, and that you're aiming at in order to make this new language, new push, new commitment. New fresh way—that you want to get this over with—what are we talking about?
JK: The time frame has already begun George Mitchell is deeply engaged. The president is engaged. And important meetings will take place next week. I think that over the next year it is critical for us to have a legitimate process, well understood and well underway. Over the next year it must get going in a very legitimate and tangible way.
RD: And you're talking about—I want to pick on you for one thing—You keep repeating “process,” and the Arab sort of speech these days is enough “process.”
JK: That's not… Let me define that very specifically.
RD: Exactly.
JK: Process has come to mean bad things. Process has meant delay and it means bureaucracy and endless talk. That's not what I want. When I talk about process I'm simply talking about a technical term for describing how you get to the serious stuff. We have to have final status talks dual tracked at the same time as we are undertaking the confidence building steps. But I don't believe you can take confidence building steps unless the Arab world and other so not believe that you are serious about the big final status issue: borders, Jerusalem, right of return, and the basic security definition of state. Those issues have got to be on the table now.
RD: You met with president Assad of Syria. What did you ask from the Syrians to do vis-a vis the Israelis in order to move on with the Syrian-Israeli track of the negotiations? And would you say that's simultaneous to the Palestinian track?
JK: My specific discussion with president Assad and the Syrians-- it would be inappropriate for me to suggest to them what they should do with the Israelis except to agree that we need to have three party talks: Israel, Syria and the United States, and we need to be at the table and help move that process forward.
RD: So you promised the Syrians you want to do that?
JK: I didn't promise. I told them I believe in that policy, and I believe we should engage in that. And I think they agree.
RD: But I thought this was their request I thought that's what they wanted…
JK: We both agreed, they want it, I want it.
RD: Does President Obama want it? Has there been a commitment from President Obama yet?
JK: Not yet. The President has to reach that position, which he will, I hope, if things move forward in the discussions. Two things have to happen. One: the foreign fighters' transit into Iraq has to stop. And I think it's important for Syria to move forward in a agreeing to have three party talks with the Unites States and the Iraqis and Syria on the issue of Iraq. If we can put that on the table now, then we can build the confidence to move towards the other discussions which I think should take place.
RD: You're aware that there's a lot of talk that yes, United States and Senator Kerry are coming across with these ideas, but the chip to be given is Lebanon.
JK: Inequivocably, positively, absolutely, under no circumstances, not even a breath uttered by anybody, know that will never happen. Lebanon is not a chip, it is an independent country, a democracy, and we value that. And in all my discussions with President Assad, we had discussions about how we need to have hands off in Syria, Lebanon needs to have its independent elections freely. And in fact President Assad agreed while I was there that it was important for him to show the independence of Lebanon and they would be soon sending an ambassador to do that and he did send an ambassador. So I think the President acted in good faith on that and I hope they will going forward
RD: And if Hezbollah wins will the United State recognize the government of Lebanon lead by Hezbollah?
JK: I can't tell you what the president is going to decide as an outcome, lets let the election speak for itself.
RD: You mean it's possible?
JK: It's an election I think anything is possible.
RD: Will you urge the president to recognize Hezbollah?
JK; I think we have to see that we have fair and free and un-interfered with elections. Lets go step by step. We know Lebanon is volatile, I think the first thing to do is have the elections. The important thing is that I think the administration has already made clear we want democracy and we want a renunciation of terror. And you can't have something that's inconsistent with that.
RD: And what would your position be in terms of an armed Hezbollah in the state of Lebanon?
JK: If an unarmed Hezbollah renounces violence and indicates willingness to within the framework of governance and the right of Israel to exist. We will work with it as another entity within Lebanon. They have to do that, that's the same requirements Hamas has with respect to the quartet.
RD: You mean recognize Israel is that what you mean by renounce violence?
JK: They have to be prepared at some point to recognize Israel's right to exist.
RD: Last question, on Iran. You have been going around with this message to say, “listen we are different from the previous administration our goal is not to have a regime change in Iran,” you have been talking about what you call the new security arrangements in the middle east in which Iran will play a role. Please explain exactly what you have in mind by this because it's a very important issue. We want to understand you – why are you giving guarantees ahead of time before getting everything in your pocket whether its on the nuclear or the hegemonic charges against Iran.
JK: I've given no guarantee.
RD: Yes, regime change.
JK: That's a policy, its not a guarantee about a security arrangement its not a guarantee that gives up anything it simply recognize a reality that were not advantaged or, I think, well represented by continuing a policy most people perceive as similar to what we did in Iraq--which has wound up actually turning the balance of power in the region on its head and creating many more problems than it solved. The regime change that took place in Iraq has unleashed all kinds of forces, and it has really empowered Iran. So it has worked counter to American interests. And I think our ability—we've seen historically—you go back to 1953, I referred to it yesterday. The history of the United States involvement in countries where we get involved in regime change almost always turns out badly. That's just my judgement, I'm just expressing my view. And my view is that Iran has a greater history, a great people, smart people, educated people, great literature, great art. It's a country of extraordinary accomplishment, which is, in my judegemnt, not represented in the extremism that is currently the focal point of everyone's attention in terms of its leadership. I think there are many people in Iran who would like to have a different relationship with the world. So my hope is that a new security arrangement can be reached…
RD: What do you mean by that?
JK: I mean specifically the following. That Iran, which is a signatory to the NPT, Non-Proliferation Treaty, will honor its obligations under the NPT, will enter into an arrangement with Russia, China, the European community and the United States where there is a clear understanding about how we proceed forward in peaceful nuclear development, which then allows us to get to the larger issues of security against Talibanization, against drugs and narcotics coming out of Afghanistan. About regional stability and development issues, so that we can move forward in a less confrontational and more mutually economic and I think regionally constructive way.
RD: So you're giving them recognition for giving you hell?
JK: Well, when you say recognition—Iran helped us in 2001 in what we did in Afghanistan. If they helped us then, there's no reason we can't find a motus operandi with respect to mutual interests today. So you know in the 1970's, President Nixon sent Kissinger to China unheard of to work with Mount Sayteung and red China. Russia- we worked with Gorbachov unheard of to sit down with the “evil empire” and find a way to work. There is no reason that we can't take a country with the history of Iran, with all of its capacity and abilities, and find a common respect, which allows us to move forward. President Obama referred to it as the Islamic Republic of Iran for a reason—to recognize publicly the legitimacy of the current governance, and to find a way to try to move forward to talk about the issues that are important between us. That's the opening to a new security arrangement, and we want to work on it.


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