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Symposium on America, Europe, and the World: Session Three [Rush Transcript; Federal News Service]

Panelists: Neil Crompton, Counselor and Joint Intelligence Committee Representative, Embassy of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and Steven Simon, Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Author: Gary Samore, Vice President, Director of Studies and Maurice R. Greenberg Chair, Council on Foreign Relations
April 23, 2008
Council on Foreign Relations

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This symposium was made possible by the generosity of the European Commission and the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

NEIL CROMPTON:  (In progress.)  Thank you, Gary, for that kind introduction.  I think this is the second time I've been invited by -- to address the Council, so I'm very flattered to have been invited back.  There's always a certain novelty of being a British diplomat and asked to speak about a European perspective on issues because you gives me a certain -- (inaudible.)  So I shall try to reflect the views of my -- a very -- (audio break) -- perspective obviously. 

What I'd like to do -- I'll talk for a few minutes.  I'd just start with some general observations about the nature of European-U.S. interaction on Middle East issues on which I've been involved in different capacities throughout much of my career, not the least in my previous job where I was working on Iran and before that working on Iraq where the dynamics are slightly different.  And then I'll just touch briefly on some of the big foreign policy challenges, where we might be for the remainder of this year during the lifetime of the Bush administration -- sort of issues that a successor administration will pick up in working with the Europeans.

Reflecting what I should say about the differences in approach between E.U. and U.S. towards the broader Middle East so I sort of came to a number of conclusions. 

First, and it's perhaps an obvious point, is you're struck by the commonality of interests between Europe and the United States.  Both of us are bound in different ways by history, strategic interests to the region.  Both of us have major trading interests there -- the Middle East is a region of strategic importance for a number of reasons, not least is the major source of the world's energy -- sources. 

Conflicts there affect our insecurity.  In recent years we've been threatened by threats emanating from the region whether it be terrorism or the risks of proliferation.  And so there's a great deal of overlapping in the way we view the region -- the way we view the challenges.  Clearly, there are some differences in approach, differences in the tools we have.  For Europe, Middle East is very much our near neighbor rather than a far away part of the world.  There's just sort of much greater degree of culture interaction.  I have a wife from southern Spain.  I'm always struck by the extent to which if you go to North Africa, for example, there's a sort of degree of common culture.  It doesn't feel an awful lot different.  And of course the European Union has different tools for dealing with some of these questions, in particular sort of partnership arrangements which -- whereby sort of North African states or Mediterranean states can become sort of linked to the European Union in one way or other, and there's a slightly different set of tools from the United States.  But the overall impression is one that -- commonality of interests and is one of the reasons why Middle East issues have always been high on the EU-U.S. agenda. 

The second main observation is, and this is I think contrary to popular perception on both sides of the Atlantic, is the extent to which actually the European Union and the United States agree on how to tackle the Middle East issues.  And I think that has changed a little bit in recent years.  Last time I spoke at the Council was in December of '06 and I was able to wax lyrically and genuinely about the nature of European-U.S. cooperation but I think had I been asked to speak about the broader Middle East, I would have found it a slightly harder subject. 

But I think we've seen a real change in the last few years.  I think partly that reflects changes on the ground in the region.  I think partly it reflects political changes in Europe where in particular I think political changes in Germany and France have been important both in terms of the wider transatlantic relationship but also enabling us to put some of the differences we had over Iraq behind us.  And today, I see us on a variety of issues working very closely.  So on Iran, Europe and U.S. have been working hand in hand since 2005, and for someone like me who's been dealing with Iran for a long time I say that's the first time Europe and U.S. have been cooperating effectively on Iran policy since the revolution.

On Iraq, sometimes we talk about transatlantic differences.  It perhaps might be more accurate to say there were intra-European differences about Iraq policy and --  basically half the Europeans were involved in Iraq and half were opposed.  But I think we see Europeans becoming more involved on the ground.  On the Middle East peace process, where there's been a significant move forward both in terms of the parties' willingness to engage, the United States' strong support for that and of course Europe is a strong supporter of that process launched by the Bush administration at Annapolis by fellow members of the quartet, and both have major assets on the ground. 

And then just touching broadly on the wider Middle East, I don't have responsibility for Afghanistan, but I think there's lots of chatter particularly in this town about divisions in the run-up to the Bucharest summit, the need to do more on burden sharing, but I think we shouldn't overestimate the differences.  At Bucharest summit we agreed on a sort of new vision -- a refreshed strategy for Afghanistan of increased support, a political-led approach but with a substantial and smarter military approach.  There were new commitments of troops most significantly by the French.  There's a commitment by the Anglo -- by my own country and France to create a trust fund to pay for helicopters -- a new enabler -- so I think there's a high degree of cooperation there in the sort of issues which is linked to what happens in the Middle East.

The third general observation, again is an obvious one, is struck by the scale of the challenge we face in the Middle East.  The problems are immense and the situation is very fluid.  I took off -- a few days off for Christmas and I came back in the New Year feeling refreshed and I sort of naively thought I could return and I'd find the Bush administration sort of winding down, focusing on a few key issues.  I could sit back, read learned papers, talk to campaign teams, think great thoughts and sail through 2008.  But in fact I find myself busier than ever.  Parts of the administration may be winding down on parts of issues, but on the Middle East they're heavily engaged, whether it be Iraq, which obviously is a high priority for the administration, Afghanistan, Iran, the Middle East peace process. 

So 2008 could be a year in which we see advances, progress, breakthroughs on a number of different issues.  And so the situation is fluid and I think it's very difficult to predict where we'll be in 2009 but I think one prediction we will have is that the Europeans and the United States will be working very closely together on a whole range of issues this time next year.

So my main general conclusion is I think the plates on the ground in the Middle East are shifting.  There's reasons for optimism on some issues, reasons for concern on other.  But I think that the international community or more specifically the transatlantic community are rallying around a common agenda in a way that we haven't necessarily seen in recent years.  It's a little boring to say that because after all the excitement in -- of talking about transatlantic differences of recent years but I think, you know, as a diplomat and certainly as a representative of a country that believes strongly in the transatlantic relationship I think that's tremendous news.  It immensely strengthens our hand and increases our chances of solving some of the problems which arise in the Middle East.

So just looking ahead at some specifics for this year, I don't mean to be -- exclude lots of issues but I'll just focus on a few.  I think in Iraq the challenge for 2008 and beyond will be to consolidate the progress, build on the success of the surge which is a fragile success but real success nonetheless.  I think in European-U.S. terms the divisions of a few years ago are gone.  I remember a French colleague saying to me history is history, your success is our success, your failure is our failure. 

We see this in the way that European Union chooses to engage in Iraq.  A number of European countries are still involved on the ground in troops including my own.  But there's a greater political willingness to support the Iraqi government.  Europeans, for example, have begun work on a trading cooperation agreement with Iraq.  There's greater political willingness to put a foot on the ground to help in specific projects.  This will remain a U.S. lead, I think, but the fact that the Europeans and U.S. are working together is a great help and it makes the atmosphere much better on other issues.

The Middle East peace process is perhaps the area where the situation is the most fluid.  I'd like to see 2008 as a year of promise.  We have a commitment by the two parties to try and reach an agreement of sorts before the end of the year.  There's strong international determination to make this process work.  But whatever sort of agreement we reach will require sustained commitment by the international community for many years, both in terms of supporting the political negotiations but in building up the economic and security capacity of the Palestinian institutions so that a peace agreement can be implemented and the Palestinians have a viable state. 

From a U.K. perspective we have a specific interest in the work of Tony Blair who's working closely with U.S. generals Jones and Dayton.  But the European Union as a member of the quartet remains heavily involved.  The commission spends vast sums of money supporting reconstruction projects in the West Bank and elsewhere and there's a large European contribution to development -- to policing in the West Bank. 

I don't want to underestimate the difficulties.  This is a 60-year-old conflict that we haven't cracked yet.  But there is I think a great value simply in working the process and we can't hope to win the battle of ideas with Islamic extremists.  We can't hope to build that sort of regional alliance to help contain Iran's maligned influence, or in the long term we can't hope to have an arrangement which guarantees Israel's security without sort of satisfactory progress on this particular front.

I'll spend a little bit more time on Iran because it's normally the subject of greatest interest in Washington.  I think Iran is really the hardest, most complex foreign policy problem we face.  From a European's perspective, Iran's ambitions to acquire a nuclear weapons capability pose a major strategic challenge.  It could trigger a sort of WMD arms race in our own backyard in a part of the world which is -- has enough instability.  It could cause irreparable damage to the multilateral system -- the idea of a rules-based nonproliferation system to which we as Europeans are naturally attracted. 

There are also other problems.  Regional muscle flexing by Iraq -- by Iranians, whether it be their support for militias in Iraq, support for militias in Lebanon where European troops are the major contributors to UNIFIL, their continued support for terrorism and groups opposed to violence to the Middle East peace process as well as the political challenges caused by Ahmadinejad's threats to Israel and the human rights problems there.  

I think the challenge is formidable.  We are up against what is an ideological regime and a very ideological Iranian administration compared with a few years ago.  It's an administration that feels self-confident and it senses the West or perhaps more accurately the United States is bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it's a regime that's flush with cash with oil at $110 a barrel.  So I think the current administration or at least the current center of gravity within the Iranian regime believes that it can withstand international pressure,  not the least because it's working -- it's picked a confrontation with the international community on an issue where it enjoys much national support. 

I don't think there's a magic solution to the Iran problem.  If there was I would have hoped we would've thought of it already.  I think our approach needs to be one of strategic patience.  Certainly, the U.K. assessment is that we still have some time.  The Iranians make many claims about the extent of progress on their enrichment program, the program of most concern because that would give them the capacity to develop fissile material for nuclear weapons.  But our assessment is that they are some way away from having mastered the enrichment process and they're certainly considerably further away than having any significant breakout capability.  So we still have some time to keep working this problem. 

We need to take a strategic and long-term view.  We need to keep our eye on the big picture, avoid the temptation to fall into a short-term fudge.  And over time I think we need to alter the strategic calculation for Iran.  Our -- the focus of our policy should be on the fault line within the regime between those who favor a policy of no compromise and those who worry about the price or the course of the countries, and there are people who worry about the price whether it be the economic price, the potential risk of conflict, the damage that it might do to Iran's relations with other parts of the world. 

And I think we also have some levers.  Iran is not like Iraq or North Korea.  It is a country that desires respectability.  It has a pluralistic system of government with different centers of power.  It has a relatively open society, a large young population which aspires to reintegrate with the international community, and it has high ambitions for itself.  It -- like every other country in the world it wants to be prosperous.  It wants to benefit from modern technology and to achieve that it needs both technology and investment, large parts of which you can only get from the West and actually in practice you can only really get from Europe or Japan because of the extent of United States sanctions.

So I think the fact that we have levers argues in favor of the approach we're on at the moment -- the twin track approach of sanctions, incentives, dialogue, increasing pressure.  I think an important lever is international unanimity.  We should stick with the E3 plus 3 process.  That's the process begun by the U.K., France, and Germany with the support of Javier Solana but joined by the United States and Russia and China.  It's a powerful point of pressure over the Iranians who like -- who would like to present this as a dispute between the West and Iran but cannot because we have the Russians and Chinese and India -- a large part of the international community behind us. 

We shouldn't, however, put all our eggs in that basket.  Negotiating a fix like that as I think the United States signed over DPRK is a complex process.  Russians and Chinese don't always go at the pace we like over sanctions, so we need to consider sort of complementary strands of activity.  European-U.S. cooperation will be critical in this.  I think at this point we're in the unusual situation that Europe has most of the sticks and the United States has most of the carrots, which offers potential for creative diplomacy over the next few years. 

Europe has gone further in implementing sanctions than the Security Council.  Last year it imposed I think some sanctions on 24 different individuals and companies.  It imposed an embargo on the export of -- (inaudible) -- goods and it interpreted other provisions of the Security Council resolutions in a maximalist way.  I think these have some political effect.  Europeans are currently discussing how to implement the last Security Council resolution.  I would expect them to do the same.  My own prime minister is committed to working to -- for a group of like-minded countries to impose a ban on investment in the liquid natural gas sector, which is crucial to Iran's future economic development.

So some of these pressures are building.  I think if we're going to be successful on this we need to remain engaged at the highest levels for a number of years.  It needs to be at the top of our foreign policy agenda in Europe.  It needs to be at the top of our foreign policy agenda in the United States as it is and as I'm sure it will be under a new administration.  We need to keep working at weighing the problem.  We need to sharpen the choice for Iran.  We need to keep testing where there's flexibility.  That means keeping lines open.  That's easier for the Europeans than for the United States because we have diplomatic relations. 

We need to let the economic pressures build.  I think that's the weak link for the Iranians -- a combination of economic mismanagement but the impact of sanctions whether they be either sort of smart financial sanctions which U.S. Treasury is pioneering or the simple impact of political uncertainty such we're drying up the foreign investments, becoming harder for Iranian businessmen to get credit.  And that's causing some real pain and noise levels are rising inside Iran. 

We need to let those pressures build over time and we need to think carefully about our regional policies, regional -- we can change the regional dynamics to our advantage I think that will weaken Iran's hand.  Progress in Iraq will reduce Iranian leverage.  I think progress on the Middle East peace process deeply discomforts the Iranians and affects their -- it affects their interests.  It affects their standing amongst Arab streets and I think it gives greater political room for maneuver to moderate Arab governments to take action which might increase pressure on the Iranians. 

So we need to keep working on those -- all those lines of operation.  It's a major challenge, but it's one which I think we have had moderate success on.  But I do think the fact that the Europeans and the United States are actually working very close together immensely strengthens our hand in the long term.

Finally, just a couple of issues where I think -- which are probably not for this area, but I think Europe and the United States need to think a little more about next year.  One is this sort of -- the generic problem of terrorism originated from the Middle East.  Both of us have suffered from terrorism inspired by extremist movements.  Some of them originate in the Middle East.  We need to, as Secretary Gates has been saying, to develop a more sophisticated long-term strategy to deal with this.  Part of that is hard power, whether it be hard military operations or operations by our intelligence services.  Part of it is soft power.  I think Gates -- Secretary Gates is absolutely right to say it's a major failing of Western policy that al Qaeda is able to get its narrative out onto the Internet and engage in a very powerful public relations exercise, and Western governments are not very well equipped to knock that down. 

I think we need to give some thought to that.  I think we need to give some thought to some old Cold War techniques of public diplomacy information strategy and I think we also need to take a fresh look at the ideas that originated through the Middle East reform initiative, encouraging the development of civil society in the region.  I think we've learned a lot of lessons about ways in which we can advance that agenda and a lot of lessons about ways in which we can be unproductive. 

But I think as someone who occasionally dips into this agenda, I'm struck by the extent to which our traditional Arab friends in the region now regard NGOs for example as partners rather than as competitors and I think that's all very healthy.  So I think that the idea at the heart of the Middle East reform initiative that in the long term you would only weed out extremism by developing civil society and more accountable institutions was right, and I think that will be a good area for the cooperation and for a new administration.

And finally -- the final issue about which I confess I know absolutely nothing but which I think will be a growing theme in seminars like this is what we do about energy security, where a combination of issues -- how we deal with Russia, how we handle China, and how we handle the whole raft of Middle East issues -- come together.  But I shall leave Steve to wax eloquently on that subject.

GARY SAMORE:  Thank you very much, Neil.  It's nice to hear a moderately upbeat assessment from somebody who actually has responsibility in working these issues.  Steve?

STEVEN SIMON:  (Off mike) -- and I don't actually have much to add -- (off mike).  Thanks, Gary, and Neil, that was a great presentation.  I'm sure you'll all be relieved to know that I haven't got a whole lot to add except maybe a few -- I don't know, a bit of embroidery.  Look, it hasn't been a great eight years in U.S.-European relations.  Now --

SAMORE:  That's called British understatement.  (Scattered laughter.)

SIMON:  -- yes, and Neil will say, well, that's interesting.  It wasn't all that great the previous eight years, though -- it has to be added -- as anyone who worked on Iraq sanctions during that period will remember, especially the last debacle over smart sanctions and the effort to get smart sanctions adopted by the Security Council in the waning years of the Clinton administration and arguably a failure that contributed to the Gulf War that ultimately did take place.  So it wasn't good in the past eight years but in terms of what alliance relationships had to actually show for in the region it wasn't very good even before then. 

The more recent epic, however, is a bit worrisome because -- and I just throw this out as a notion just in contrast to the changed mood that Neil has pointed to and which I think there's some evidence for -- is, you know, Bob Chervis' (sp) argument.  He's a Columbia political scientist and he wrote a book on Bush foreign policy which was short and pungent but at the end there's -- he has kind of an elegiac treatment of the way in which the Bush foreign policy has affected the trust that had underlain to some degree U.S. and European relations prior to the Bush administration and which enabled the cooperation that did take place to take place, and he argued that, you know, from his grand international relations perspective that this sort of trust accumulates slowly and over decades and in an alluvial fashion but is easily destroyed, and once destroyed doesn't easily reemerge. 

It's also worth bearing in mind that during this period in as much as Chirac has gone away and Schroeder went away, so did Tony Blair, who was fatally weakened by his association with American policies and by his friendship with an American president and a Spanish government that went away because of that country's support for U.S. policy.  So that's kind of a mixed bag. 

On balance, I'd say that the U.S. and its European allies have had little to show in the Middle East period, at least in terms of results over the past eight years, and just look at the roster.  I don't see much, again, in terms of results.  Now, diplomats are always busy.  They're always busy.  Instructions -- cables -- demarches -- policy memos -- decision memos and all that.  But I think it's important not to confuse the energy, dynamism, and workload of diplomats with actual strategic progress, and it's easy -- I understand it's easy to confuse the two especially if you're a diplomat as we all were and, you know, so -- and Neil knows that I say this tongue in cheek. 

Anyway, on Iraq which is arguably the biggest problem I don't see anything doing really and it's kind of interesting.  You know, I just lived in Germany for a short while -- actually just three months -- but I, you know, spoke to a lot of European diplomats and Europeans who were just generally concerned with these large issues of war and peace and so forth, and interestingly especially among official Europeans I dealt with there was a real enthusiasm for the candidacy of Barack Obama and the reason tended to be that well, if he were elected he would demonstrate -- his very election would show a different side to the United States, one that would elevate the standing of the United States especially in the area of the world that we're concerned about today and that that in turn by a kind of transitive postulate would make it easier for European countries to be seen to be cooperating with the United States. 

So they were very kind of eager for that particular candidate.  But then when I would say, well, you know, it actually doesn't matter who's elected because within 10 minutes of the last vote being counted the president-elect whoever he or she would be is going to be on the phone to European capitals saying, about Iraq and the help we need there and well, what would happen if the president calling was Obama or anybody else and, you know, the answer was pretty much uniformly negative.  Well, actually nothing because European publics and parliaments are not going to support the kind of assistance that the United States would need to unscramble some of the problems it was facing in Iraq and elsewhere. 

And you can already see this at play in the one theater of operations in which we all, as Neil pointed out, have a common objective and that's Afghanistan.  And the French have been just along the lines of troop contributions which has been raised.  The French have been notably modest in their aspirations to contribute to the situation there -- to contribute to U.S. operations there.

So let me just wrap up by making a couple of specific points.  First, one bright spot that I saw -- I mean, a serious bright spot that I saw that attracted little discussion but I thought it would be worth more -- not that I'm going to indulge in it right now but was the European contribution to securing southern Lebanon in the wake of the summer war in 2006.  Nobody talks about that but that was, you know, a serious contribution carried out in a very cooperative mode at a crucial time and in crisis circumstances.  So, you know, Europeans were able to work quickly, decisively, and effectively on a breaking issue.  So that's a kind of a positive note, I think. 

But more broadly on Israel and Palestine, not much progress has been made in part because the E.U. approach has been kind of scattershot and right now Tony Blair, the quartet envoy in Palestine, is to my mind having a hard time getting his act together and there doesn't seem to be an overarching strategic framework for the provision of the kinds of assistance that Palestinians need at this point. 

Palestinian infrastructure and public health in both Gaza and the West Bank is deteriorating rapidly and population is increasing owing to momentum that got started in the great growth surge of the 1990s when things were going fairly well.  If we don't want to have a failed state on day one of Palestinian independence whenever that should take place there needs to be a much more serious and directed aid program and that's going to depend largely on U.S. and E.U. cooperation.

Now, along those lines I just want to note that one issue that the new American administration and its European allies will be likely to have to grapple with at the outset is how to deal with Hamas because in order to take any of the remedial steps that are necessary to ensure that there is some kind of functioning Palestinian society in existence in the next couple of years Hamas will likely be brought into the equation one way or another and the issue is will they be brought in via some kind of coordinated synchronized European-American diplomatic process or will it happen messily and with the resulting appearance or reality of the division of views between the U.S. and Europe on this important question. 

On Iraq, you know, the problems there are very serious as we know.  Even if one were to accept Neil's claim that there is a success surge on which to build the problems are still very serious.  They require, you know, human resources on a large scale as well as diplomatic and financial resources, and it remains to be seen whether the Europeans will be able to pony up on democratization in Europe and political reform -- I mean, in democratization in the Middle East and political reform there and so forth.  There needs to be more coordination, I think, between the U.S. and Europe and it would be well for both countries to get away from old think, again, from my perspective about the salience or the centrality of civil society to these things. 

I think Neil is right -- regional governments have adopted a more accommodationist posture towards civil society groupings in their countries but this accommodationist posture is due as much to the ability of these governments to co-opt civil society for its own purposes as anything else.  Much more dramatic steps need to be taken and they can only be taken by the U.S. and Europe in concert. 

These problems, by the way, are going to grow geometrically as the effects of climate change are felt within the region, which leads me lastly to the truly greater Middle East, which is now called Europe, and although there is a tendency to exaggerate the Muslim population in Europe and the rate at which it will grow Europe is the last stop on the Middle East urbanization train.  And this is something that we need to be concerned about because there are elements of this population that are clearly radicalized and that are vulnerable to radicalization in ways that will detract from broader European security as well as American security. 

Already the visa waiver program for Western Europeans is under threat and if we want -- you know, that's quite a serious thing because one of the processes, if I could put it that way, that keeps America and Europe bound together is the ease with which we can visit each other's countries -- the way we can travel.  And if that becomes a casualty to Europe's failure to get a grip on the radicalization of its Muslim population then it will in turn complicate other efforts we might have to make in the future to cooperate in the Middle East or elsewhere.  I'll stop there.

SAMORE:  Thank you, Steve.  Okay.  We've heard a relatively upbeat and a relatively skeptical presentation so I think that makes a good point counterpoint to our discussion and questions.  Who would like to -- please announce who you are and --

QUESTIONER:  I'm Mike Haltzel, Center for Transatlantic Relations, Johns Hopkins SAIS.  Two brief questions, one to Steven.  What criteria do you use for success of the European-run U.N. mission in southern Lebanon if published reports are correct that in fact Hezbollah has been able to more than replenish its pre-19 -- its pre-2006 arsenal?  And I'd like to ask Neil if Pierre Hassner is correct as a lot of other people believe that Iran is likely to eventually at some point down the road get a nuclear weapon then the question becomes what do we do about it and John McCain, for one, has said the only thing worse than a preventive war against or military action against Iran is a nuclear Iran. 

That seems to me, and I've said this elsewhere at the Council, to be based upon a theory that classical deterrence simply will not work against the millenary and apocalyptic thinking people who run Iran -- that they in fact would, you know, would love that -- have the world come to an end so the twelfth imam would come back.  Does this strike you as plausible as a bedrock for a theory of preventive war?

SAMORE:  Thank you, Mike.  Perhaps we'll take just take just one more and then turn -- Spurgeon?

QUESTIONER:  Spurgeon Keeny.  In this discussion Afghanistan was just barely touched upon and as far as I can see it's in worse shape now than seven years ago when we first went in.  I note that all of the candidates for president have said they put action on increasing the activity in Afghanistan as a high priority and Obama has suggested that he's prepared to move into the frontier provinces of Pakistan unilaterally.  Since Afghanistan is not only a U.S. problem but it's a NATO problem and a U.K. problem, which has its own experiences in Afghanistan, I wonder if the panelists would comment as to what NATO and the U.K. consider to be the strategy for Afghanistan and what they see the prospects are for a favorable outcome.

CROMPTON:  Going to the Iran question, I mean, I think -- and with Iran policy we may go through a number of different stages -- I don't think we're yet at the point of deterrence because I don't think we're at the point where we've conceded that Iran has acquired a nuclear weapons capability.  So -- I mean I speak for my own government now rather than for Europeans.  My -- you know, my own premise is all options are on the table.  At the moment, we're working towards a diplomatic solution.  We still believe a diplomatic solution is possible because we believe that there are some in Tehran who could be persuadable through the right combination of incentives and sticks to enter into a negotiation which gives us what we want, which is an extended moratorium on the production of enrichment. 

So that's the phase we're in at the moment.  I think it would be premature to talk about other strategies at this point.  Our determination is to make the current strategy work.  I mean, we haven't -- you know, it's self-evident that we haven't got there yet and I think we need to get much smarter.  And on the European side we need to think, you know, more about the sort of sticks we can bring to bear and as Americans have over the last two years and we know that we'll continue to think about actually some of the incentives that they can bring to the table.  But it's -- I just want to say, you know, it's a hard, hard problem and it's one that -- there's no quick solutions -- one that we're going to have to work and work.

On Afghanistan, forgive me because it's not directly my area of responsibility, but I think -- what I would say is I think that in the time I've been in Washington which is since last June, I've seen renewed levels of focus on Afghanistan.  You see that very much in Washington where the administration has focused on this.  You see that -- you see it is a feature of the debate in the election.  We've seen it in Europe.  We certainly see it in the United Kingdom. 

The United Kingdom took a fresh look at its whole approach last year.  We've put in -- significantly boosted our effort there both civilian and military.  We have 7,100 troops in Afghanistan now compared with 4,100 in Iraq, and something our government is very clear that we're in there for the long haul.  We see this both as important in its own right but also as an important test case for the credibility of NATO which is operating out of theater for the first time.  But I think we're starting to put in place a better international structure in Afghanistan for dealing with this.  There is a sort of the NATO new mission statement I think that international coordination needs to get much better.  We've got (Callete ?) on the ground representing United Nations, but he will have an important role in pulling together the political and reconstruction elements of the international effort. 

And we will need a political-edge approach which includes a hard security element forces taking on the Taliban and those terrorist elements that are in Afghanistan.  But it is -- it's a harpoon.  We're not making as much progress as we should have made over the last seven years, given the amount of investment European countries and United States has put into it but it's something where I think that the thinking is getting smarter.

SAMORE:  Steve?

SIMON:  Yes.  On what kind of a standard I applied to the European initiative in southern Lebanon, you know, given the replenishment of some of Hezbollah's arsenals. 

      The answer is low.  It's a low standard but I think it's the only kind one can apply when dealing with, you know, European initiatives of this sort and but, you know, one has to give credit where credit is due.  The problem, of course, is all on the Syrian border and it just proved to be a bridge too far for the Europeans to consider the kind of ground presence that they would need to have in Lebanon along that border.  So anyway I grant you that. 

On Afghanistan, I just want to point out, in defense of my British cousins, that they're stretched thin.  The United States has a very large army and it has never been able really to control the situation in Iraq.  Britain is a much smaller country with a vastly smaller army so given its force presence in Afghanistan and Iraq I'd say that as -- used to be said in American commercials they're about out of Schlitz and it's their -- for the Europeans here that was the name of that cheap beer.  In any case, other European countries, other NATO allies need to step up to the plate within their own limited capabilities, and as far as I could tell that's still exceedingly controversial. 

SAMORE:  Do you want to comment on the question about whether Iran would like to cause a nuclear Armageddon?

SIMON:  Not exactly -- (off mike).

SAMORE:  No, I understand.  I was paraphrasing.

SIMON:  I don't think that their national security policy is predicated on a kind of apocalyptic machtism (ph) -- I don't.

SAMORE:  Okay.  We'll take two more.  Yes, sir, I'm sorry.  No, the person in front of Craig.  Yeah.  Yes, sir?

QUESTIONER:  I'm Jerry Livingston from the German Historical Institute.  I have one short question for both panelists.  Would you agree that the -- a major difference between European countries and the United States is the presence in this country of a powerful Israeli lobby?  Europe has nothing like that unless you say Germany's Nazi past constitutes one.

SAMORE:  And then, Craig, as long as the microphone's right there.

QUESTIONER:  Hi.  Craig Dunkerley, Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies.  Thank both of the speakers for their comments.  If I could return to one issue that came up at the very end of the luncheon presentation, which is the question of the U.S.-European nonproliferation agenda in the region, looking beyond Iran.  In the last two years, you've had a wave of interest from any number of Middle Eastern governments seeking civilian nuclear energy industries, taking pains to emphasize the peaceful nature but nonetheless there's a clear sense of hedging vis-a-vis Iran.  At the same time, in the last year we've seen increased activity by a number of potential suppliers, not just U.S. and Europe but also Russia.  Is U.S.-E.U. policy in this area about to be outpaced by commercial interest?  What more should we be doing in a transatlantic sense in dealing with that larger phenomenon?

SAMORE:  Steve, why don't you --

SIMON:  Just briefly on that question, I think the incentives for regional countries to acquire -- I'm sorry, I think just on that question the incentives for regional countries to acquire nuclear technology are very powerful right now and I think that they're probably insurmountable from an outside policy perspective.  On the issue of the Israeli lobby, I'm not actually sure what the question was.  Is the question that the Israeli lobby determines American policy or that it's --

QUESTIONER:  Constrains American presence and probably will constrain a Democratic president even more than a Republican president whereas -- (off mike) -- in a domestic equivalent in European countries so the leadership of those countries reflects this constraint.

SIMON:  Yeah.  You know, I leave it to Neil to talk about the way in which domestic politics and foreign policy interact on the European scene.  In the -- on the American scene I think there is no question that in polling data, and this is longitudinal going back many years, somewhere between 40 and 55 percent of the American public expresses strong support for Israel and disapproval of Arabs in Arab states.  That's just how it is. 

There also is a lobby that you referred to which is highly mobilized and has mastered something absolutely essential to operate effectively which is to stay within the boundaries of acceptable discourse.  And this, to my mind, has been the secret of their success up to this point.  Moreover, it's hard to see how the U.S. has suffered strategically for this in part because Republican and Democratic administrations alike have gone to great pains to maintain at least the appearance of balance, and they've done this I think very adroitly and it's really only in the past administration that this posture of balance has been abandoned with negative effects for the United States. 

But if you think of what the U.S. has wanted within the region -- from the region -- namely oil and base access -- I mean, if you can strip it down to that -- its access to oil and bases has really never been curtailed, even when Israelis were perceived by others in the region to be acting in, you know, outrageous ways.  So that's my take on it anyway.

SAMORE:  I just wanted to add one point to Steve's first comment on the question of nuclear transfers.  All of the established nuclear vendors have an understanding that they will compete in the sale of nuclear power reactors to the Middle East but none of them are prepared to provide nuclear fuel cycle technologies which would have more direct applications for the use of nuclear -- for the production of nuclear weapons, and I don't think that will change.  That's been a over 30-year understanding among all the Western suppliers including Russia not to sell dangerous technology to Arabs.  So I don't think that's -- dangerous nuclear technology to Arabs.  I don't think that will change.

CROMPTON:  Yeah.  I mean, I agree with Gary.  I mean, I think -- (off mike) -- nuclear power in terms of the Middle East -- (off mike) -- I think we should -- (off mike).  There've been rather useful discussions going on with countries like Bahrain and the UAE about agreeing -- memorandas of understanding about the basis on which nuclear cooperation would take place.  It's quite clear that those countries want to make a point to the Iranians that you can have a civil nuclear power industry without the need for a fuel cycle program which would allow them to develop fissile material. 

So I think we should embrace that, work with it -- this is sort of the atoms to peace idea minus enrichment I suppose -- and continue through what is always a complicated multilateral process to take forward ideas for developing fuels -- you know, fuel banks or enrichment bonds which would allow all countries who want to develop nuclear power to benefit in this -- to have access to fuel but in a way that is not proliferation sensitive.  That's the concern about the uranium program.  And essentially isolate the Iranians and show that their policy is -- demonstrate to the Iranian people that actually the price -- the policy that the Iranian government is pursuing is not actually the one that's in Iran's best interest. 

But I think Steve's answer to your question about respective powers of lobbies on this side of the Atlantic -- I mean, I have to say as a sort of relative newcomer to Washington and someone who, you know, who sat many years in sort of European think tanks hearing about the power of the Israeli lobby here it's always difficult to distinguish between what the power of the Israeli lobby is and where American mainstream public opinion is.  My sense is it's sort of overestimated in Europe and actually Americans underestimate the extent of pro-Israeli influential circles in capitals like London and other places in Europe, which are actually more powerful anyone, but they're just not as organized or as vocal as perhaps than the organizations here.

SAMORE:  Neil, do you want to comment on whether there's a difference in public sympathy between the U.S., which tends to be more sympathetic to Israel, and Europe, which tends to be more sympathetic in some ways to the Arab or at least the Palestinian cause, and does that have any impact on our ability to coordinate on dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict?

CROMPTON:  Well, I'll talk about the sort of U.K. experience.  I think that there is more awareness of the -- sort of the Palestinian cause and the need to come up with a just solution for that and I think that's in the U.K.'s case because we feel a degree of historical responsibility for the problem in the first place.  And I think that's felt across Europe and it's not because people are anti-Israeli, but I think it's partly the nature of geography, partly the fact that we have more day-to-day interaction with Arab countries than you do in the United States. 

I mean, you obviously have large numbers of Arab immigrants but they're a low percentage of your population.  You know, you can go to parts of London in the summer.  It's -- you know, it feels like parts of the Gulf.  It is very colorful.  You know, we have -- two-thirds of the world's Arab media are published in London.  You know, we have -- there is a great awareness of this and I don't think it's a sort of Lawrence of Arabia type nostalgia or that the FCO is riddled with Arabists.  I think it's just sort of -- it's just a greater contact with this and so there's a slight difference in sentiment.  But, you know, there's a -- I think in Europe for a combination of historical reasons and political reasons and emotional reasons there's a strong commitment to the security of Israel too.

SAMORE:  Trudy, and then --

QUESTIONER:  Trudy Rubin, The Philadelphia Enquirer -- I'd like to ask what are -- the British outlook would be on a next administration that opened unconditional talks with Iran on a broad range of issues.  Do you think the EU-3 would see this as being helpful or harmful to the process?  And I'm also curious what the speakers would think of a policy that adopted what Hillary Clinton seems to have put forward, which is putting Israel and the Arab Gulf states under a U.S. nuclear umbrella.

SAMORE:  As Senator Clinton apparently did in the last debate.  Yes, sir?

QUESTIONER:  Gary Mitchell for the Mitchell Report.  I -- I'm going to do my best to turn this into a question but if I don't, think of it as a question. 

SAMORE:  (Laughter.)  I like that.

QUESTIONER:  It -- and it -- it's about Iraq and I want to present a -- sort of a -- an alternative point of view and I want to start by saying that we have been spun to death during the course of this presidential nomination routine.  A question that was asked earlier today reflected that.  The question stipulated that Obama has unconditionally agreed to meet with Ahmadinejad, which he has not.  He said something that you could spin to make that be the case.  Now, that was not -- that was not pointed at the person who asked the question.  It's to get at the question of spin and now come to Iraq, and I want to say three things about that. 

I think we have been spun on the, quote, "magnificent success", unquote, of the surge.  That isn't to say that it hasn't had its success but it has been -- as General Petraeus himself said, you know, nobody's breaking out the champagne.  We're going to get troop levels down at least to 140,000, putting a further strain on the capacity to control violence in Iraq, so I think we've been spun on the surge.  I think we've been spun on the question of just need a little more time to train those Iraqi troops when in fact it looks like the two most critical issues with Iraqi troops have to do with unit integration and, frankly, the will to fight. 

And the third place where I think we have been spun to death is around the al Qaeda question, which is that we're grinding them down and we've just got to stay in there until we grind them completely down and giving the Iraqis time to get political reconciliation when in fact one of the things that we do know is it is our presence that makes al Qaeda in Iraq interested in staying in Iraq.  We're the reason that we need to stay there and fight them. 

So my question is having listened to what the two panelists had to say about Iraq today I want to ask again whether you think we are being spun in such a significant way that we're not thinking clearly about what really needs to be done in Iraq -- whether we're stuck in that, you know, we just need six more months.  I'm concerned that even here at the Council on Foreign Relations that we're not really thinking clearly about this -- an issue of this complexity.

SAMORE:  Thank you, Gary.  I'll ask Steve to answer first since he just has a new piece out in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs that raises exactly some of those same issues.

SIMON:  On the -- excuse me, on the issue of spin, look, the administration wants to get its story out and they're going to characterize things in a way that they think is going to generate the greatest public support at a time when overall support is waning for military operations in Iraq.  So, you know, that there's some spin going on I think has to be accepted as just a fact of nature.  Having said that, I've got a path-breaking article on this in the next -- in the next edition of Foreign Affairs which hits the stands pretty soon although I think it's available on the website.

SAMORE:  Yes, it's available.

SIMON:  It's called "The Price of the Surge" in which I argue looking at tribal politics on a comparative basis in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan that the surge is deepening divisions within Iraq in a way that will jeopardize the longer-term future of that country and create rather more severe problems for the United States, its allies, and Iraq's neighbors down the road.  So I think insofar as that's true or even plausible then the U.S. is running on Iraq's behalf long-run risks of a very serious nature for short-term advantage.  So that's my take on that. 

On the nuclear umbrella question, the United States doesn't have treaty relations with any of the countries involved -- Israel or the Gulf states.  So there isn't any mutual or unilateral defense commitment that's been made.  Having said that, for deterrence purposes it's not unuseful to imply that the U.S. will protect its friends against certain kinds of attacks. 

SAMORE:  Neil?

CROMPTON:  Sorry -- I'm trying to think of the order of the questions.  I mean, as a representative of the British government, clearly, I'm not going to tell you that the surge has been fun.  I mean, I can offer you -- I mean, I think that Petraeus -- my personal view is Petraeus and Crocker represent a fairly gritty, fairly realistic assessment of the situation on the ground.  And as someone who's sort of worked closely on Iraq policy from 2003 to 2005, and then returned to the -- to that issue last year, I do think that the surge has given some space for political reconciliation.

I think the sort of benchmarks exercise that was -- that became part of the political debate here was always a slightly artificial exercise.  But we have seen progress on some important political benchmarks, and I do think we see some interesting bottom-up processes going.

I take Steve's point that there are risks in -- short-term risks in engaging the tribes in sort of the al-Anbar awakening.  Things have been happening, and I think that Crocker and Petraeus have acknowledged that.

But it has created a slightly new political dynamic, and I think the trick will be to convert that into more sustainable progress.  I think provincial elections that take place this year, later this year, will be an important part of trying to absorb some of those new people who've chosen to engage with the system, give them a formal place in the political system and, indeed, create some alternative political leaderships and put some of those groups who came in at the beginning who were not necessarily wholly representative under a little more pressure.

So I think that there are some grounds for optimism.  I don't want to talk it up, I don't want to talk it down, I certainly don't want to spin it.  But the U.K. assessment would be very similar to Petraeus and Crocker's.

The question about Iran -- and is this on the record or off the record? 

SAMORE:  I'm afraid it's on the record.

CROMPTON:  Okay.  Well, I'm very young -- (inaudible).  (Laughter.)  But I'm old enough to know that I should never comment on an individual presidential candidate's policies, not least because it'll get me in great trouble with my ambassador.  But I think there's sort of a question of -- I suppose it's the generic question of would U.S. dialogue with Iran upset the Europeans.  I think no.  I mean, just -- for a number of reasons, the United States does talk to Iran and has talked to Iran on a number of issues over the year.  I think we just need to distinguish between dialogue and substantive negotiations. 

There are good reasons why intensive negotiations on the nuclear fire, where you've laid down conditions, and the conditions should be that for substantive negotiations which were to bring Iran many economic benefits, both in the nuclear field and other areas of economic activity, that if we go into those negotiations, that we should have confidence that Iran is not going to use the period of negotiations to develop its own enrichment technology.

That was the basis of the E-3 approach in 2003, and it was been -- the process has been endorsed by the United States, Russia, China, and it's a process that's actually been endorsed by the Security Council.

And I think it's right that we should stick to that condition.  If we were to drop that condition, the Iranians would conclude that we had abandoned our goal of a moratorium on enrichment activity, which is our clearly stated objective in a paper we've given to the Iranians.

But there are other issues on which the United States does talk to Iran and may choose to talk to Iran.  I think it does help create the conditions which get Iran into negotiations, and -- then that would be welcome to Europeans.  That doesn't mean we're abdicating it.  I think that's a very difficult decision for the United States, for reasons of both history and politics, and I think that the people who think about these things, both inside and outside the administration, are right to think about the terms under which Iran -- the United States would choose to engage in dialogue with Iran.

And, of course, you know, there's the very real risk that the Iranians don't respond as well, as we've seen on various occasions where there have been various U.S. moves to talk to the Iranians and the Iranians haven't responded.  It's not as if they turn out frequently to meetings in Baghdad.

But no, it's not a substantive problem for us, but it needs to be done under right conditions.

SAMORE:  Thank you, Neil.  We have about 10 more minutes, so just a few more questions.  Yes, sir -- first, and then you, sir.

QUESTIONER:  I'm the Ambassador of Portugal.  I don't know if it's a comment or a question too, but I heard Steven Simon putting a great emphasis on what Europe, in coordination with the United States should do in order to -- in terms of support -- in order to avoid the creation of a failed Palestinian state.

I believe that he just mentioned those two countries -- I mean, European Union and the United States -- because he was speaking about trans-Atlantic cooperation.  Because -- so I believe that that was the case or the reason why he did not mention Israel in this picture. 

Because, of course, the role of Israel will certainly be critical, and even more critical for the creation of an economically viable Palestine than whatever efforts the European Union might do in this on the ground.

Thank you, sir.

SAMORE:  Yes, sir.

QUESTIONER:  Bob Blake.  A follow-up to Steve's question.  The implications of that that I think are in your article -- the possible civil war, possible intervention by states if things should start falling apart.  What would be the attitude of the Europeans, for both of you, about what the United States should do at that time?  Let them fight it out, protect the borders, re-enter the fight?  Just what kind of thinking should the various candidates have about that contingency?

SAMORE:  Anyone else before I go back to the panel for the last time? 

I actually wanted to ask a question myself. 

Neither of you have spoken very much about Syria, which I think is actually another good example where there's been good cooperation in terms of the response to the assassination of former prime minister Hariri. 

And the question I would have is what do you think the Americans and the Europeans should do if, as I understand is very likely, the U.N. prosecutor comes back in a couple of months with an indictment that implicates some of the senior figures at the core of the regime?  How should we respond to that, assuming that President Bashir is not prepared to commit political suicide by handing them over?

So let's have Steve first and then we'll end with Neil.

SIMON:  On the first question, there's no doubt that contiguity, territorial contiguity, is more or less essential for Palestinian economic development, simply because barriers to movement increase transaction costs hugely, and that's not something that a Palestinian economy, especially one as fragile as it is now, can afford.  So that would have to be a feature of any diplomatic process that the U.S. alone or the U.S. in concert with European allies would undertake as part of this broader effort. 

But here again,   I think the other big question is what to do about Hamas, and that's where the U.S. and its European partners need to be thinking carefully and systemically about what to do next.

On Iraq, what happens if things fall apart?  That's how I understood the question.  Well, things fell apart in a very -- kind of small way just recently in the south, and the U.S. was really unable to do anything meaningful to bring that to a halt, because there was an internal Iraqi process playing out, albeit local and confined to one of Iraq's communities.

So I don't imagine that if things fall apart in a dramatic way along the lines that you postulated that there'd be much that the U.S. would be able to do at that point to reverse the dissolution of the country or the serious deterioration in conditions.

By the same token, I think that's a point at which European incentives to become involved will reach their nadir.  (Scattered laughter.)  Right -- now, if there was ever a time for Europeans to take a more meaningful position on the ground -- which, bear in mind, they have not done because the United States had given them a free pass, essentially, by insisting on control over events in Iraq these many years. 

But anyway, if the door were opened, now is the time, since the Europeans believe -- or the British, in any case, believe, if  -- to take Neil at his word -- that there is actually a situation now, kind of a good situation that can be built upon.  So now is really the test moment.

If the Europeans step up now, well, that would kind of flow rather logically from the description of conditions that Neil laid out.  If they don't now, then they certainly won't in the dire situation that you've hypothesized.

SAMORE:  Syria?  Any thoughts?

SIMON:  Syria, yeah.  You know, it's kind of interesting.  I was at a meeting -- I think the meeting was under Chatham House rules, which means I can say something about what was said without attribution.  But there was some disagreement among the American officials who were present about what to do in that situation.

SAMORE:  All right. 

(Laughter.)

SIMON:  I'll leave it at that.

SAMORE:  Neil, last word.

CROMPTON:  I should respond to Steve's comments.  He's had lots of fun poking fun at me. 

I think a key priority for this year on the Middle East peace process is to really make some substantive progress on the -- is to make substantive progress on economic and security capacity building of the Palestinian Authority. 

Not much visible has happened so far, but I think we will start to see some progress soon.  I think Blair has not got a good team on the ground.  Blair's focus is on the economic reconstruction side.  General Dayton has responsibility for coordinating efforts on the security side, and General Jones is becoming more involved.  And those groups, working together with other European partners, are working closely in drawing up some quite detailed plans of the sort we haven't seen before.

These are the sort of plans for economic development but also, along with that, sort of a series of questions that they need to put to the Israelis, a series of requests they need to make of the Israelis to make sure that the project's going to happen, so that where permits need to be issued for workers or where obstructions to -- or where checkpoints need to be removed in order to allow construction workers to get to projects, Blair, Jones, others on the ground can have discussions with the Israelis.

And Barak has recently announced the lifting of a number of restrictions, and I think that's the sort of practical, hands-on approach that we need to adopt to this.  And I suspect that -- this month there's a number of important events coming up, including various trips by Americans to the region.

But there's a meeting in London on the second of May of the AHLC; this is the donors committee.  But I expect that we'll start to see some visible evidence of projects being unveiled before then by both Blair and Jones in-country, and I think that's very good news.

On Iraq, of course, our objective is to stop the situation falling apart.  I mean, the bridge for adopting it is essentially a conditions-based one.  We're trying to develop the Iraqi security capacity to manage these affairs themselves.  I sort of dispute Steven's description of what happened in Basra recently -- what we had there was a situation in which the Iraqi security forces, for the first time, on the instruction of the Iraqi government, chose to take action against the Sadr militias, something that they've been -- been reluctant to do for now.

They initially did quite well.  They didn't have the -- they couldn't follow through, so they did what the MNF is supposed to do, which is call in the MNF to help them in reserve -- in support, as the British troops did, American troops did.  And those operations continued and, indeed, they were rather successful over the weekend, as you may have seen from the news here.

There's not going to be any linear progress in this, but I do think that we are seeing real developments in Iraqi security capacity.  I think -- someone asked before about the problems of ensuring that the units were properly integrated from different communities.  That will need to be dealt with.

We're going to face a very difficult challenge disarming militias over time.  There remain questions about what we do with the Peshmerga.  But we're seeing progress, both in the fighting capability and also in logistical capability there. 

I mean, the sort of events in Basra caught everyone slightly on the hop because the Iraqis were able to move two battalions of  troops and a battalion of -- (inaudible) -- down there on their own, which they wouldn't probably have been able to six months ago Firstly, they didn't have the logistical assets at that time.

Syria, I agree -- I think actually Syria's been another area of E.U.-U.S. cooperation.  It's been an area where, over the last eight years, we've occasionally disagreed, but since the assassination of Hariri, and both Lebanon policy and Syrian policy, there's been very close coordination, I think, driven by a very close working relationship between Paris and Washington, which we welcome.

We'll have to -- clearly we have to wait and see what the special tribunal decides, but if he does indict people, then we'll need to increase the pressure on Syria to hand them over.  We can't live in a situation where the Syrian government is effectively trying to determine politics in Lebanon by assassinating anybody who's opposed to it, and we'll need to increase that squeeze on them. 

Whether or not that policy will be immediately effective is still to be seen, but it will be a coordinated approach, and I think one where there'll be intensive discussions between European capitals and America.

SAMORE:  Thank you, Neil.

Well, on behalf of Jim Goldgeier, I'd like to thank all of you again for coming to this seminar.  The Council is committed to having a strong program on transatlantic relations under the direction of Jim and his colleague, Charlie Kupchan, who, unfortunately, is on jury duty today, so he wasn't able to join us.

But I hope you found this session interesting and helpful.  And until we get together again, let's thank our speakers for a very intelligent and sober assessment.  (Applause.)  Thank you all very much.

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