Uriel Reichmann, Alex Mintz, Tommy Steiner, Tali Lipkin-Shahak, I would like to thank the organizers of this timely and truly impressive conference. You have left no stone unturned in the range and depth of topics. I truly look forward to the results, and the valuable insights they will provide to all of us as we work through the challenges of developing and executing strategy in the face of rapid transformation.
I also appreciate the current panelists for offering their views with such clarity. Tony Cordesman and Ed Luttwak thanks for coming and bringing your American perspective; General Amidror and Ambassador Oren thank you as well for your service and for sharing your insights. Each of you is usually so shy and reserved about expressing your opinions, but I am pleased that you didn’t hold back today.
I would like to share some thoughts on the general contours of America’s global strategy, which were recently outlined by President Obama in the West Point Commencement and Warsaw speeches of May 28 and June 4th. And then I will attempt to apply the principles of our strategy to regional challenges. Boiled down the strategy does five things:
First, it embraces America’s critical leadership role in the world and does not accept isolationism as an option. As the President said: “Those who suggest that America is in decline or has seen its global leadership slip away — are either misreading history or [referring to his domestic critics] engaged in partisan politics . . . The question is not whether America will lead but how it will lead, not just to secure our peace and prosperity but also extend peace and prosperity. American isolationism is not an option.”
Second, it calls for the use of U.S. military force when core U.S. interests are directly threatened, and building alliances and coalitions for situations in which the threat is less immediate. “The United States, the President said, “will use military force, unilaterally if necessary, when our core interests demand it — when our people are threatened; when our livelihoods are at stake; when the security of our allies is in danger.” Tony Cordesman just reviewed the breadth and depth of the U.S. commitment to the Gulf and Eastern Mediterranean, which indicate our preparedness for any contingency that may arise. In crises that stir our conscience or push the world in a more dangerous direction generally, without being a direct threat to the United States, we will mobilize allies and partners to take collective action, using a variety of tools.
Third, it acknowledges that not every problem has a military solution and calls for the development of a full range of tools to manage a world with rapidly shifting challenges. “The military is, and always will be, the backbone of U.S. leadership,” the President said. “But U.S. military action cannot be the only — or even primary — component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.” The President will strengthen our full range of tools, including diplomacy and development, sanctions and isolation, appeals to international law, and multilateral military action. The recent multilateral sanctions against Russia in response to its actions in Ukraine are a good example of how effective this can be.
Fourth, terrorism remains the primary threat America faces and it will attack that threat through a full range of options, primarily through empowering other countries to better control their own territory. As the President bluntly stated: “after 9/11 we know all too well how technology and globalization has put power once reserved for states in the hands of individuals, raising the capacity of terrorists to do us harm.” The President called for a strategy to more effectively partner with countries where terrorist networks seek a foothold, which will expands our reach without stretching our military too thin or stirring up local resentments. He asked Congress to support a new counterterrorism partnership fund of $5 billion to this end. While direct action to kill and capture terrorists is still an option, this new fund will give the United States greater capacity to support a range of operations, including training of security forces in Yemen and the multinational force keeping the peace in Somalia, and collaboration with European allies developing a security and border force in Libya and Mali.
And finally, America’s values are not lost in the search for security. Our support for democracy and human rights will be maintained along the way. This is not a distraction from national security or starry eyed idealism but a key component of national security. As the President said, “respect for human rights is an antidote to instability and the grievances that fuel violence and terror.”
Now how do these principles play out in the region?
Peace Negotiations Update
Let me start by discussing the Israel-Palestinian Peace Negotiations.
The U.S. remains committed to the goal of a negotiated two-state solution – and believes there is no viable, sustainable alternative for the Palestinian or Israeli people to achieve their national aspirations than by doing the hard work leading to that eventuality. It is in all our interests to resolve this conflict, which has gone on too long. The two-states for two peoples solution represents the only way Israel can achieve its goal of a secure, recognized, Jewish and democratic state, and Palestinians can achieve their goal of self-determination in a state of their own. Our commitment to achieving this goal is part and parcel of our commitment to Israel’s long-term security and well-being.
We believe that both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas are committed to continuing the negotiations process, in spite of recent unhelpful actions on both sides.
The first few months of the negotiations initially mapped out each side’s positions, identifying areas of overlap, so they, and we, could focus on the gaps that needed bridging. This was one of the most extensive efforts to date and it served to create a baseline and productively address all the core issues — borders, security, refugees, Jerusalem, mutual recognition and an end of claims.
After that the focus turned to work on a framework to guide the final status negotiations.
Included in this effort was the work done by General John Allen and his team on the security parameters of an agreement, an unprecedented effort to help identify in great detail how best to meet Israel’s security requirements while respecting Palestinian sovereignty. This was the most extensive analysis to date of the security issues and broke new ground in developing solutions to these challenging issues.
The efforts to produce a framework eventually gave way to talks on an extension of negotiations, which broke down over several factors, which are widely known.
Where this leaves us now, is in a period of pause, reassessing our own efforts as well as discussing the situation with the parties, to see how we best move forward.
We still believe there is a way back to the negotiating table. But, without endorsing any specific proposal, I appreciate the creativity of the approach suggested by Ambassador Michael Oren, and I agree we should consider a range of options and alternatives for new ways to go forward if we are unable to resume negotiations.
We hope both parties will take this time to reassess, and reflect on the benefits of peace – security, recognition, economic growth, global integration – and on the potential costs of failing to capitalize on this opportunity.
In the meantime, we call on both parties to avoid further provocation – for Israel this means restraint on settlements, and not taking punitive measures against the Palestinians. For the Palestinians, this means not trying to accede to additional international treaties or UN agencies, and ensuring that the recently formed interim government adheres to Quartet principles.
During this period of pause and reflection, the important work of those who promote the two-state vision through economic, business, and community ties will continue, and we will continue to support those efforts.
So, these nine months were not a waste of time. Important work was done to advance planning for Israel’s security and Palestinian economic growth, and to close the gaps on key issues. This valuable work can be applied in the future once negotiations begin again.
As for the Palestinian Interim Technocratic Government, we were clear with President Abbas at the time that we considered signing a reconciliation agreement with Hamas, a terrorist organization, to be an unhelpful step.
We have been clear about the principles that must guide a Palestinian government in order for it to play a constructive role in achieving peace and building an independent state.
We welcome the statements by President Abbas in which he committed the new government to the principles of nonviolence, negotiations, recognition of the State of Israel, acceptance of previous agreements and Quartet principles, and prior obligations between the parties, and to continue security coordination with Israel.
Based on what we know now, we intend to work with this government, but will be watching closely to ensure that it upholds the principles that President Abbas reiterated. This is not a question of “recognition” because we do not recognize a Palestinian state. Moving forward, we will continue to evaluate the composition and policies of the new government and calibrate our approach accordingly.
As for Hamas, it remains a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization that calls for Israel’s destruction and uses violence to kill and harm Israeli civilians. The United States does not and will not provide assistance to Hamas or to any government in which Hamas sits. Per longstanding U.S. policy, we do not have any contact with Hamas, and recent reports to the contrary are nonsense.
In the meantime we believe our assistance to the PA and the Palestinian people are important to maintain stability, security, and economic progress in the West Bank.
We are in close consultations with Congress, and we will be looking closely at these issues together.
We urge all parties to show restraint, and not to take unhelpful steps as this process unfolds during this period. The Palestinian interim government must fulfil its responsibilities to engage in security cooperation with Israel and fight terror. We think history demonstrates that Israel’s transfer of the Palestinians’ tax and customs revenues and other forms of cooperation have contributed to economic stability and effective security coordination, which have benefited Israelis and Palestinians. We hope these constructive joint activities will continue.
Now let me turn to several regional Issues.
On Syria, we are distraught by the humanitarian crisis and the cost the Syrian people are paying for the regime’s unyielding retention of power.
We are also concerned as the civil war spills across borders that the capacity of battle-hardened extremist groups to mount attacks globally will increase.
We need to remain focused on a long term solution, while stemming the humanitarian crisis the war is causing in Syria and the region.
We will step up our efforts to support Syria’s neighbors — Jordan and Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq — as they contend with refugees and confront terrorists working across Syria’s borders. We will continue to insist on the full removal of chemical weapons from Syria’s arsenal.
Further, we will work to increase support for those in the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists and brutal dictators.
We will coordinate with key allies to address the threat of jihadists coming out of Syria and conducting terrorist attacks against Western targets.
And finally, we will continue to coordinate with our friends and allies in Europe and the Arab World to push for a political resolution of the crisis. We support Israel’s right to defend itself as this conflict plays out.
As you well know, together with our P5+1 partners, we have been negotiating with Iran since February, applying multilateral diplomacy to counter the nuclear threat from Iran.
As President Obama put it “For the first time in a decade, we have a very real chance of achieving a breakthrough agreement, one that is more effective and durable than what we could have achieved through the use of force.”
We are hopeful that the recent change in rhetoric by Iran’s leaders is real, but this rhetoric must be backed up with action. Talk alone will not keep us safe. And an opportunity is not a guarantee.
The Joint Plan of Action which was agreed to last fall is a first step, a step which has prevented the situation from becoming more dangerous while we negotiate. It froze Iran’s nuclear program and rolled it back in important respects, and maintained the main sanctions architecture that has imposed real economic pressure on Iran.
Going into the recently concluded 5th round of talks in Vienna we had two non-negotiable objectives: 1) that Iran would not be able to develop a nuclear weapon; and 2) credible assurance that Iran’s nuclear program will be wholly peaceful.
These remain our objectives and we seek to achieve them through diplomatic means.
To this end, we are working on a package, not a checklist, one that can only succeed if everything is in place. Only a comprehensive agreement that addresses all aspects of the Iranian nuclear program will ultimately achieve our objectives.
Throughout the process we have conducted detailed discussions with Israel and ensured full coordination on all aspects of our Iran policy.
Iran needs to start making hard decisions sooner rather than later, because we will not agree to a bad deal.
We have said many times, “no deal is better than a bad deal.”
As the President stated, “the odds of success are still long, and we reserve all options to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
There are other challenges out there, but let me close there. Through all of these challenges we appreciate our partnership with Israel and the many ways this partnership benefits both countries on a daily basis. For me it is an incredible privilege to work to strengthen this partnership and continue to build the ties that will see us collectively through these challenges as we work to build a more peaceful and prosperous region.