Friday, May 30, 2014

Hagel: US Alliances in Asia

Excerpts from U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel's speech to a conference in Singapore sponsored by the International Institute of Strategic Studies, May 31, 2014:

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. . . Today, I return on my fifth trip to the region as Secretary of Defense in about a year, again reaffirming that America’s commitment to the Asia-Pacific is enduring.
In his remarks at West Point earlier this week, President Obama laid out the next phase of America’s foreign policy – particularly as we come out of 13 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. He made clear we will balance our diplomacy, our development assistance, and military capabilities, and that we will strengthen our global partnerships and alliances.

That is how America is implementing its strategy of rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific.
The rebalance is not a goal, not a promise, or a vision – it’s a reality. Over the last year, President Obama launched comprehensive partnerships with Vietnam and Malaysia, held a summit with Chinese President Xi, and last month visited three of our five regional treaty allies – Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines – as well as Malaysia. In the Philippines, he and President Aquino announced a new Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement on the rotational presence of U.S. forces – the most significant milestone for our alliance in over a decade.

Under President Obama’s leadership, the administration is also making progress in negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. Our State Department is increasing foreign assistance funding to the Asia-Pacific region and expanding assistance for maritime capacity-building in Southeast Asia.
Diplomatic, economic, and development initiatives are central to the rebalance, and to our commitment to help build and ensure a stable and prosperous region. But prosperity is inseparable from security, and the Department of Defense will continue to play a critical role in the rebalance – even as we navigate a challenging fiscal landscape at home.

A central premise of America’s strategy in the Asia-Pacific is our recognition that, in the 21st century, no region holds more potential for growth, development, and prosperity than this one.
But even while advances in human rights, freedom, democracy, technology, and education are all yielding better lives and futures for all people; and even as more nations are stepping forward to contribute to regional security, the Asia-Pacific is also confronting serious threats.

We see ongoing territorial and maritime disputes in the South and East China Seas; North Korea’s provocative behavior and its nuclear weapons and missile programs; the long-term challenge of climate change and natural disasters; and the destructive and destabilizing power of cyber attacks.
Continued progress throughout the Asia-Pacific is achievable, but hardly inevitable. The security and prosperity we have enjoyed for decades cannot be assured unless all nations – all our nations – have the wisdom, the vision, and will to work together to address these challenges.

As President Obama said earlier this week, “America must always lead on the world stage. If we don’t, no one else will.” He went on to say that, the “question is not whether America will lead, but how we will lead…to help ensure peace and prosperity around the globe.” Today, I want to highlight four broad security priorities that the United States, as a Pacific power, is advancing in partnership with friends and allies throughout the Asia-Pacific:
  • First, encouraging the peaceful resolution of disputes; upholding principles including the freedom of navigation; and standing firm against coercion, intimidation, and aggression;
  • Second, building a cooperative regional architecture based on international rules and norms;
  • Third, enhancing the capabilities of our allies and partners to provide security for themselves and the region; and,
  • Fourth, strengthening our own regional defense capabilities.
One of the most critical tests facing the region is whether nations will choose to resolve disputes through diplomacy and well-established international rules and norms…or through intimidation and coercion. Nowhere is this more evident than in the South China Sea, the beating heart of the Asia-Pacific and a crossroads for the global economy.

China has called the South China Sea “a sea of peace, friendship, and cooperation.” And that’s what it should be.
But in recent months, China has undertaken destabilizing, unilateral actions asserting its claims in the South China Sea. It has restricted access to Scarborough Reef, put pressure on the long-standing Philippine presence at the Second Thomas Shoal, begun land reclamation activities at multiple locations, and moved an oil rig into disputed waters near the Paracel Islands.

The United States has been clear and consistent. We take no position on competing territorial claims. But we firmly oppose any nation’s use of intimidation, coercion, or the threat of force to assert those claims.
We also oppose any effort – by any nation – to restrict overflight or freedom of navigation – whether from military or civilian vessels, from countries big or small. The United States will not look the other way when fundamental principles of the international order are being challenged.

We will uphold those principles. We made clear last November that the U.S. military would not abide by China’s unilateral declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone in the East China Sea, including over the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands. And as President Obama clearly stated in Japan last month, the Senkaku Islands are under the mutual defense treaty with Japan.
All nations of the region, including China, have a choice: to unite, and recommit to a stable regional order, or to walk away from that commitment and risk the peace and security that have benefitted millions of people throughout the Asia-Pacific, and billions around the world.

The United States will support efforts by any nation to lower tensions and peacefully resolve disputes in accordance with international law.
We all know that cooperation is possible. Last month, 21 nations signed the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea – an important naval safety protocol. ASEAN and China are negotiating a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea – and the United States encourages its early conclusion. Nations of the region have also agreed to joint energy exploration; this month, the Philippines and Indonesia resolved a longstanding maritime boundary dispute; and this week, Taiwan and the Philippines agreed to sign a new fisheries agreement.

China, too, has agreed to third-party dispute resolution in the World Trade Organization; peacefully resolved a maritime boundary dispute with Vietnam in 2000; and signed ASEAN’s Treaty of Amity and Cooperation.
For all our nations, the choices are clear, and the stakes are high. These stakes are not just about the sovereignty of rocky shoals and island reefs, or even the natural resources that surround them and lie beneath them. They are about sustaining the Asia-Pacific’s rules-based order, which has enabled the people of this region to strengthen their security, allowing for progress and prosperity. That is the order the United States – working with our partners and allies – that is the order that has helped underwrite since the end of World War II. And it is the order we will continue to support – around the world, and here in the Asia-Pacific.

This rules-based order requires a strong, cooperative regional security architecture.
Over the last year, the United States has worked with Asia-Pacific nations to strengthen regional institutions like ASEAN and the ADMM+, which I attended last year in Brunei.

This regional architecture is helping to develop shared solutions to shared challenges, building strong and enduring ASEAN security community, and ensuring that collective, multilateral operations are the norm, rather than the exception.
To make further progress, our militaries must train, plan, and operate side-by-side – as we did after Typhoon Haiyan, and in the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370.

Both these tragedies – different as they were – showed that all nations of the region can work together to provide rapid humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. They also demonstrated that the need for facilities and agreements that are ready and in-place when disaster strikes, so that relief can flow as soon as it is needed. For these missions, ASEAN members should consider Singapore’s offer to use Changi Naval Base as another regional command and control hub. Some 80% of the world’s large-scale natural disasters strike in the Pacific, and with climate change threatening even more severe weather, closer cooperation cannot wait.
This was one of the topics discussed at the recent U.S.-ASEAN Defense Forum I hosted a couple of months ago in Hawaii – an initiative that I suggested on this platform at this Dialogue last year.

Over the course of that three-day forum, my discussions with ASEAN defense ministers highlighted a clear and shared interest in building a common understanding of the regional security environment, including more information-sharing, greater maritime cooperation, and more joint and combined exercises.
A common picture of the region’s maritime space could help deter provocative conduct, and reduce the risk of accidents and miscalculation. So I am asking Admiral Sam Locklear, who leads the United States Pacific Command, to host his regional counterparts to discuss concrete ways to establish greater maritime security awareness and coordination.

The United States is also reaching out to China. We’re reaching out to China because we seek to expand prosperity and security for all nations of this region.
As I underscored in Beijing last month during my visit to China, the United States will continue to advance President Obama and President Xi’s shared commitment to develop a new model of relations – a model that builds cooperation, manages competition, and avoids rivalry. To help develop this model, we are increasing our military-to-military engagement with China through our joint exercises, exchanges, and other confidence-building measures that can help improve communication and build understanding between our forces. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Dempsey and I have led this effort, and we will continue to focus on building this new military-to-military model. And I am glad General Dempsey is here to help us today accomplish more progress in this area.

We must also work more closely together to guard against North Korea’s destabilizing provocations, and its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, which threaten regional stability and China’s own interests. The United States is looking to China to play a more active and constructive role in meeting this challenge and achieving complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
The U.S.-China military-to-military dialogue has a long way to go. But I think we’ve been encouraged by the progress we’ve made, and continue to make. Our dialogue is becoming more direct, more constructive…getting at the real issues and delivering more results.

As we expand this dialogue, the United States also supports a sustained and substantive exchange with China on cyber issues. Although China has announced a suspension of the U.S.-China Cyber Working Group, we will continue to raise cyber issues with our Chinese counterparts, because dialogue is essential for reducing the risk of miscalculation and escalation in cyberspace.
As America strengthens its ties across the Asia-Pacific, we also welcome the region’s democratic development. We welcome democratic development because democracies are America’s closest friends, and because democracies are much more likely to live with their neighbors in peace.

The United States will continue to strongly support our friends who are pursuing democratic development – in Myanmar and elsewhere around the region. We will also respond when nations retreat from democracy, as in Thailand. We urge the Royal Thai Armed Forces to release those who have been detained, end restrictions on free expression, and move immediately to restore power to the people of Thailand, through free and fair elections. Until that happens, as U.S. law requires, the Department of Defense is suspending and reconsidering U.S. military assistance and engagements with Bangkok.
The Asia-Pacific’s shifting security landscape makes America’s partnerships and alliances indispensable as anchors for regional stability. As we work to build a cooperative regional architecture, we are also modernizing our alliances, helping allies and partners develop new and advanced capabilities, and encouraging them to work more closely together.

In Southeast Asia, that means continuing to help nations build their humanitarian and disaster relief capabilities, and upgrade their militaries. One important example is our first-ever sale of Apache helicopters to Indonesia, which I announced during my visit to Jakarta last year. This sale will help the Indonesian Army defend its borders, conduct counter-piracy operations, and control the free flow of shipping through the Straits of Malacca. We are also providing robust assistance to the Philippines’ armed forces, to strengthen their maritime and aviation capabilities.
In Northeast Asia, our capacity-building efforts include strengthening Allies’ capabilities with sophisticated aircraft and ballistic missile defense – especially to deter and defend against provocation by Pyongyang.

Two months ago, we signed an agreement with the Republic of Korea. We signed that agreement for its purchase of Global Hawk, which will dramatically enhance its intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities. South Korea also intends to acquire the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter – which means that America and its most capable allies in this region, including Australia and Japan, will soon be operating the world’s most advanced, fifth-generation tactical aircraft.
We are also making significant progress in building a robust regional missile defense system. Last month in Tokyo, I announced that the United States will deploy two additional ballistic missile defense ships to Japan – a step that builds on the construction of a second missile defense radar site in Japan, and the expansion of America’s ground-based interceptors in the continental United States, which I reviewed this week in Alaska during my trip to Singapore.

Modernizing our alliances also means strengthening the ties between America’s allies, enhancing their joint capabilities – such as missile defense – and encouraging them to become security providers themselves. Yesterday, I held a trilateral meeting with my counterparts from Australia and Japan, and today I will host another trilateral meeting with my counterparts from Korea and Japan.
The enhanced cooperation America is pursuing with these close allies comes at a time when each of them is choosing to expand their roles in providing security around the Asia-Pacific region, including in Southeast Asia. Seven decades after World War II, the United States welcomes this development. We support South Korea’s more active participation in maritime security, peacekeeping, and stabilization operations. We also support Japan’s new efforts – as Prime Minister Abe described very well last night – to reorient its Collective Self Defense posture toward actively helping build a peaceful and resilient regional order.

To complement these efforts, the United States and Japan have begun revising our defense guidelines for our first time in more than two decades. We will ensure that our alliance evolves to reflect the shifting security environment, and the growing capabilities of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces.
America’s global partnerships also reach across the Asian continent and extend to India, one of the United States’ most important, democratic partners – and a country with historic influence across Asia.

The United States looks forward to working with India’s new government led by Prime Minister Modi. We welcome India’s increasingly active role in Asia’s regional institutions, which strengthens regional order. We also welcome India’s growing defense capabilities and its commitment to freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean. To further strengthen U.S.-India defense ties, I am directing the Pentagon’s Undersecretary for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics to lead the U.S.-India Defense Trade and Technology Initiative with India’s new government. I plan to play an active and very personal role in expanding this initiative because it is a centerpiece of America’s defense cooperation with India, and it should reflect the trust and confidence President Obama and I have in our nation’s relationship with India. To reinforce this effort – and to drive even more transformational cooperation – I hope to visit India later this year.
The United States also remains committed to building the capacity of allies and partners in the region through as many as 130 exercises and engagements, and approximately 700 port visits annually. And across the Asia-Pacific region, as part of the rebalance, the United States is planning to increase Foreign Military Financing by 35%, and military education and training by 40% by 2016.

Next month, the United States will host its annual Rim of the Pacific exercise, the world’s largest maritime exercise that will feature for the first time a port visit by a New Zealand naval ship to Pearl Harbor in more than 30 years, and it will include Chinese ships for the first time. All told, RIMPAC will include some 23 nations, 49 surface ships, 6 submarines, more than 200 aircraft, 25,000 personnel, and even, I understand, a few highly trained sea lions.
Beyond capacity-building efforts, a stable and peaceful regional order depends on a strong American military presence across the Asia-Pacific region… a presence that enables us to partner with our friends and allies, and help deter aggression. We are no strangers to this part of the world. America has been a Pacific power for many years. Our interests lie in these partnerships and this region.

Today, America has more peacetime military engagement in the Asia-Pacific than ever before. I want to repeat: today, America has more peacetime military engagement in the Asia-Pacific than ever before. And America’s strong military presence – and our role in underwriting the region’s security – will endure. Our friends and allies can judge us on nearly seven decades of commitment and history of commitment. That history makes clear, America keeps its word.
America’s treaty alliances remain the backbone of our presence in the Asia-Pacific, and our friends and allies have seen our significant steps in recent years to enhance our posture in Northeast Asia, to expand our partnerships in Southeast Asia, and to ensure our forces can operate effectively regardless of other nations’ capabilities.

Consider that just three years ago, the strength of our alliance with Japan was being overshadowed by disagreements over the future of the U.S. presence in Okinawa.
Today, we have a fully agreed force realignment roadmap, and we achieved a major breakthrough last December with the approval of the permit to build the Futenma Replacement Facility. We have also deployed our most advanced capabilities to Japan – including two Global Hawks at Misawa, F-22 fighter aircraft at Kadena, and MV-22 Ospreys on Okinawa.

Meanwhile, we are enhancing our posture on the Korean Peninsula and sustaining the readiness of our forces. To reflect a dynamic security environment, including the evolving North Korean nuclear and missile threat, the U.S. and South Korea decided we can reconsider the current timeline for the transition of wartime operational control to a Seoul-led defense in 2015. We have enhanced the U.S. Army’s force posture and deployed even more advanced intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities. And we recently reached a new Special Measures Agreement that codifies our shared resource commitment to defending the peninsula.
Further south, we have strengthened our partnership and alliance with Australia. Three years ago, we had no forces operating in Australia. Today, we have more than 1,000 Marines rotationally deployed in Darwin. With Australian troops, these Marines will conduct training and exercises throughout the region.

In the coming years, the United States will increase its advanced capabilities that are forward-stationed and forward-deployed in the entire region, particularly as we draw down our forces in Afghanistan. And we will ensure that we sustain our freedom of action in the face of disruptive new military technologies.
Next year, the Navy will introduce the Joint High Speed Vessel in the Pacific and an additional submarine forward-stationed in Guam. As many as four Littoral Combat Ships will be deployed here by 2017. By 2018, the Navy’s advanced, multi-mission Zumwalt-class destroyer will begin operating out of the Pacific. And by 2020, as we achieve our target of operating 60% of both our Navy and Air Force fleets out of the Pacific, we will also be flying the Hawkeye early warning and unmanned Triton ISR aircraft in the region.

Because U.S. force posture in Asia is a priority for DoD, I am directing our Deputy Secretary of Defense to oversee the implementation of our ongoing enhancements to America’s military presence in this region, and with particular emphasis on our posture in Japan, Korea, and Guam. The Deputy Secretary will also continuously review the posture of our forces, to ensure they remain prepared for all necessary contingencies.
Finally, to ensure that the rebalance is fully implemented, both President Obama and I remain committed to ensuring that any reductions in U.S. defense spending do not come – do not come – at the expense of America’s commitments in the Asia-Pacific.

Here, and around the world, a peaceful, prosperous, and durable order will not sustain itself. The nations of the Asia-Pacific must come together to accomplish this.
We must support the peaceful resolution of disputes…and oppose intimidation and coercion no matter where they are.

We must build a cooperative regional security architecture that builds trust and confidence.
And we must continue to develop, share, and maintain advanced military capabilities that can adapt to rapidly growing challenges.

From Europe to Asia, America has led this effort for nearly seven decades, and we are committed to maintaining our leadership in the 21st century.
Later this morning, I will meet with Vietnamese General Thanh. General Thanh joined the Vietnamese army in 1967, the same year I joined the United States Army and arrived in Vietnam. Today, General Thanh and I will meet as America’s Secretary of Defense and Vietnam’s Minister of Defense…working to strengthen our nations’ emerging defense ties. History is full of irony, which is why America must lead and will continue to lead with humility.

But America must lead, and our leadership must always reflect an enduring truth: As United States Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and General George Marshall once said, “the strength of a nation does not depend alone on its armies, ships, and planes…[but] is also measured by…the strength of its friends and [its] allies.” Very wise words from General Marshall. Those words ring more true today than ever before.
Today, perhaps more than ever, one of America’s greatest sources of strength is its network of partners and allies. As President Obama put it at his West Point speech, from Europe to Asia, America is “the hub of alliances unrivalled in … history of nations.”

Across this region, and across the globe, the United States has been – and always will be – committed to a peaceful and prosperous international order that rests not merely on America’s own might, but on our enduring unity and partnership with other nations.
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U.S. Department of Defense, IISS Shangri-La Dialogue, Singapore, May 31, 2014

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Obama at West Point

President Obama's remarks at Commencement at the United States Military Academy, West Point, May 28, 2014:

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Thank you so much.  Thank you.  And thank you, General Caslen, for that introduction.  To General Trainor, General Clarke, the faculty and staff at West Point -- you have been outstanding stewards of this proud institution and outstanding mentors for the newest officers in the United States Army.  I’d like to acknowledge the Army’s leadership -- General McHugh -- Secretary McHugh, General Odierno, as well as Senator Jack Reed, who is here, and a proud graduate of West Point himself.

To the class of 2014, I congratulate you on taking your place on the Long Gray Line.  Among you is the first all-female command team -- Erin Mauldin and Austen Boroff.  In Calla Glavin, you have a Rhodes Scholar.  And Josh Herbeck proves that West Point accuracy extends beyond the three-point line.  To the entire class, let me reassure you in these final hours at West Point:  As Commander-in-Chief, I hereby absolve all cadets who are on restriction for minor conduct offenses.  (Laughter and applause.)  Let me just say that nobody ever did that for me when I was in school.  (Laughter.)

I know you join me in extending a word of thanks to your families.  Joe DeMoss, whose son James is graduating, spoke for a whole lot of parents when he wrote me a letter about the sacrifices you’ve made.  “Deep inside,” he wrote, “we want to explode with pride at what they are committing to do in the service of our country.”  Like several graduates, James is a combat veteran.  And I would ask all of us here today to stand and pay tribute -- not only to the veterans among us, but to the more than 2.5 million Americans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as their families.  (Applause.)

This is a particularly useful time for America to reflect on those who have sacrificed so much for our freedom, a few days after Memorial Day.  You are the first class to graduate since 9/11 who may not be sent into combat in Iraq or Afghanistan.  (Applause.)  When I first spoke at West Point in 2009, we still had more than 100,000 troops in Iraq.  We were preparing to surge in Afghanistan.  Our counterterrorism efforts were focused on al Qaeda’s core leadership -- those who had carried out the 9/11 attacks.  And our nation was just beginning a long climb out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Four and a half years later, as you graduate, the landscape has changed.  We have removed our troops from Iraq.  We are winding down our war in Afghanistan.  Al Qaeda’s leadership on the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been decimated, and Osama bin Laden is no more.  (Applause.)  And through it all, we’ve refocused our investments in what has always been a key source of American strength:  a growing economy that can provide opportunity for everybody who’s willing to work hard and take responsibility here at home.

In fact, by most measures, America has rarely been stronger relative to the rest of the world.  Those who argue otherwise -- who suggest that America is in decline, or has seen its global leadership slip away -- are either misreading history or engaged in partisan politics.  Think about it.  Our military has no peer.  The odds of a direct threat against us by any nation are low and do not come close to the dangers we faced during the Cold War.

Meanwhile, our economy remains the most dynamic on Earth; our businesses the most innovative.  Each year, we grow more energy independent.  From Europe to Asia, we are the hub of alliances unrivaled in the history of nations.  America continues to attract striving immigrants.  The values of our founding inspire leaders in parliaments and new movements in public squares around the globe.  And when a typhoon hits the Philippines, or schoolgirls are kidnapped in Nigeria, or masked men occupy a building in Ukraine, it is America that the world looks to for help.  (Applause.)  So the United States is and remains the one indispensable nation.  That has been true for the century passed and it will be true for the century to come.

But the world is changing with accelerating speed.  This presents opportunity, but also new dangers.  We know all too well, after 9/11, just how technology and globalization has put power once reserved for states in the hands of individuals, raising the capacity of terrorists to do harm.  Russia’s aggression toward former Soviet states unnerves capitals in Europe, while China’s economic rise and military reach worries its neighbors.  From Brazil to India, rising middle classes compete with us, and governments seek a greater say in global forums.  And even as developing nations embrace democracy and market economies, 24-hour news and social media makes it impossible to ignore the continuation of sectarian conflicts and failing states and popular uprisings that might have received only passing notice a generation ago.

It will be your generation’s task to respond to this new world.  The question we face, the question each of you will face, is not whether America will lead, but how we will lead -- not just to secure our peace and prosperity, but also extend peace and prosperity around the globe.

Now, this question isn’t new.  At least since George Washington served as Commander-in-Chief, there have been those who warned against foreign entanglements that do not touch directly on our security or economic wellbeing.  Today, according to self-described realists, conflicts in Syria or Ukraine or the Central African Republic are not ours to solve.  And not surprisingly, after costly wars and continuing challenges here at home, that view is shared by many Americans.

A different view from interventionists from the left and right says that we ignore these conflicts at our own peril; that America’s willingness to apply force around the world is the ultimate safeguard against chaos, and America’s failure to act in the face of Syrian brutality or Russian provocations not only violates our conscience, but invites escalating aggression in the future.

And each side can point to history to support its claims. But I believe neither view fully speaks to the demands of this moment.  It is absolutely true that in the 21st century American isolationism is not an option.  We don’t have a choice to ignore what happens beyond our borders.  If nuclear materials are not secure, that poses a danger to American cities.  As the Syrian civil war spills across borders, the capacity of battle-hardened extremist groups to come after us only increases.  Regional aggression that goes unchecked -- whether in southern Ukraine or the South China Sea, or anywhere else in the world -- will ultimately impact our allies and could draw in our military.  We can’t ignore what happens beyond our boundaries.

And beyond these narrow rationales, I believe we have a real stake, an abiding self-interest, in making sure our children and our grandchildren grow up in a world where schoolgirls are not kidnapped and where individuals are not slaughtered because of tribe or faith or political belief.  I believe that a world of greater freedom and tolerance is not only a moral imperative, it also helps to keep us safe.

But to say that we have an interest in pursuing peace and freedom beyond our borders is not to say that every problem has a military solution.  Since World War II, some of our most costly mistakes came not from our restraint, but from our willingness to rush into military adventures without thinking through the consequences -- without building international support and legitimacy for our action; without leveling with the American people about the sacrifices required.  Tough talk often draws headlines, but war rarely conforms to slogans.  As General Eisenhower, someone with hard-earned knowledge on this subject, said at this ceremony in 1947:  “War is mankind’s most tragic and stupid folly; to seek or advise its deliberate provocation is a black crime against all men.”

Like Eisenhower, this generation of men and women in uniform know all too well the wages of war, and that includes those of you here at West Point.  Four of the servicemembers who stood in the audience when I announced the surge of our forces in Afghanistan gave their lives in that effort.  A lot more were wounded.  I believe America’s security demanded those deployments.  But I am haunted by those deaths.  I am haunted by those wounds.  And I would betray my duty to you and to the country we love if I ever sent you into harm’s way simply because I saw a problem somewhere in the world that needed to be fixed, or because I was worried about critics who think military intervention is the only way for America to avoid looking weak. 

Here’s my bottom line:  America must always lead on the world stage.  If we don’t, no one else will.  The military that you have joined is and always will be the backbone of that leadership.  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.  And because the costs associated with military action are so high, you should expect every civilian leader -- and especially your Commander-in-Chief -- to be clear about how that awesome power should be used.

So let me spend the rest of my time describing my vision for how the United States of America and our military should lead in the years to come, for you will be part of that leadership. 

First, let me repeat a principle I put forward at the outset of my presidency:  The United States 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.  In these circumstances, we still need to ask tough questions about whether our actions are proportional and effective and just.  International opinion matters, but America should never ask permission to protect our people, our homeland, or our way of life.  (Applause.) 

On the other hand, when issues of global concern do not pose a direct threat to the United States, when such issues are at stake -- when crises arise that stir our conscience or push the world in a more dangerous direction but do not directly threaten us -- then the threshold for military action must be higher.  In such circumstances, we should not go it alone.  Instead, we must mobilize allies and partners to take collective action.  We have to broaden our tools to include diplomacy and development; sanctions and isolation; appeals to international law; and, if just, necessary and effective, multilateral military action.  In such circumstances, we have to work with others because collective action in these circumstances is more likely to succeed, more likely to be sustained, less likely to lead to costly mistakes.

This leads to my second point:  For the foreseeable future, the most direct threat to America at home and abroad remains terrorism.  But a strategy that involves invading every country that harbors terrorist networks is naïve and unsustainable.  I believe we must shift our counterterrorism strategy -- drawing on the successes and shortcomings of our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan -- to more effectively partner with countries where terrorist networks seek a foothold.

And the need for a new strategy reflects the fact that today’s principal threat no longer comes from a centralized al Qaeda leadership.  Instead, it comes from decentralized al Qaeda affiliates and extremists, many with agendas focused in countries where they operate.  And this lessens the possibility of large-scale 9/11-style attacks against the homeland, but it heightens the danger of U.S. personnel overseas being attacked, as we saw in Benghazi.  It heightens the danger to less defensible targets, as we saw in a shopping mall in Nairobi.

So we have to develop a strategy that matches this diffuse threat -- one that expands our reach without sending forces that stretch our military too thin, or stir up local resentments.  We need partners to fight terrorists alongside us.  And empowering partners is a large part of what we have done and what we are currently doing in Afghanistan.

Together with our allies, America struck huge blows against al Qaeda core and pushed back against an insurgency that threatened to overrun the country.  But sustaining this progress depends on the ability of Afghans to do the job.  And that’s why we trained hundreds of thousands of Afghan soldiers and police.  Earlier this spring, those forces, those Afghan forces, secured an election in which Afghans voted for the first democratic transfer of power in their history.  And at the end of this year, a new Afghan President will be in office and America’s combat mission will be over.  (Applause.)

Now, that was an enormous achievement made because of America’s armed forces.  But as we move to a train-and-advise mission in Afghanistan, our reduced presence allows us to more effectively address emerging threats in the Middle East and North Africa.  So, earlier this year, I asked my national security team to develop a plan for a network of partnerships from South Asia to the Sahel.  Today, as part of this effort, I am calling on Congress to support a new Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund of up to $5 billion, which will allow us to train, build capacity, and facilitate partner countries on the front lines.  And these resources will give us flexibility to fulfill different missions, including training security forces in Yemen who have gone on the offensive against al Qaeda; supporting a multinational force to keep the peace in Somalia; working with European allies to train a functioning security force and border patrol in Libya; and facilitating French operations in Mali.

A critical focus of this effort will be the ongoing crisis in Syria.  As frustrating as it is, there are no easy answers, no military solution that can eliminate the terrible suffering anytime soon.  As President, I made a decision that we should not put American troops into the middle of this increasingly sectarian war, and I believe that is the right decision.  But that does not mean we shouldn’t help the Syrian people stand up against a dictator who bombs and starves his own people.  And in helping those who fight for the right of all Syrians to choose their own future, we are also pushing back against the growing number of extremists who find safe haven in the chaos. 

So with the additional resources I’m announcing today, 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.  I will work with Congress to ramp up support for those in the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists and brutal dictators.  And we will continue to coordinate with our friends and allies in Europe and the Arab World to push for a political resolution of this crisis, and to make sure that those countries and not just the United States are contributing their fair share to support the Syrian people.

Let me make one final point about our efforts against terrorism.  The partnerships I’ve described do not eliminate the need to take direct action when necessary to protect ourselves. When we have actionable intelligence, that’s what we do -- through capture operations like the one that brought a terrorist involved in the plot to bomb our embassies in 1998 to face justice; or drone strikes like those we’ve carried out in Yemen and Somalia.  There are times when those actions are necessary, and we cannot hesitate to protect our people.

But as I said last year, in taking direct action we must uphold standards that reflect our values.  That means taking strikes only when we face a continuing, imminent threat, and only where there is no certainty -- there is near certainty of no civilian casualties.  For our actions should meet a simple test:  We must not create more enemies than we take off the battlefield.

I also believe we must be more transparent about both the basis of our counterterrorism actions and the manner in which they are carried out.  We have to be able to explain them publicly, whether it is drone strikes or training partners.  I will increasingly turn to our military to take the lead and provide information to the public about our efforts.  Our intelligence community has done outstanding work, and we have to continue to protect sources and methods.  But when we cannot explain our efforts clearly and publicly, we face terrorist propaganda and international suspicion, we erode legitimacy with our partners and our people, and we reduce accountability in our own government.

And this issue of transparency is directly relevant to a third aspect of American leadership, and that is our effort to strengthen and enforce international order.

After World War II, America had the wisdom to shape institutions to keep the peace and support human progress -- from NATO and the United Nations, to the World Bank and IMF.  These institutions are not perfect, but they have been a force multiplier.  They reduce the need for unilateral American action and increase restraint among other nations.

Now, just as the world has changed, this architecture must change as well.  At the height of the Cold War, President Kennedy spoke about the need for a peace based upon, “a gradual evolution in human institutions.”  And evolving these international institutions to meet the demands of today must be a critical part of American leadership.

Now, there are a lot of folks, a lot of skeptics, who often downplay the effectiveness of multilateral action.  For them, working through international institutions like the U.N. or respecting international law is a sign of weakness.  I think they’re wrong.  Let me offer just two examples why.

In Ukraine, Russia’s recent actions recall the days when Soviet tanks rolled into Eastern Europe.   But this isn’t the Cold War.  Our ability to shape world opinion helped isolate Russia right away.  Because of American leadership, the world immediately condemned Russian actions; Europe and the G7 joined us to impose sanctions; NATO reinforced our commitment to Eastern European allies; the IMF is helping to stabilize Ukraine’s economy; OSCE monitors brought the eyes of the world to unstable parts of Ukraine.  And this mobilization of world opinion and international institutions served as a counterweight to Russian propaganda and Russian troops on the border and armed militias in ski masks.

This weekend, Ukrainians voted by the millions.  Yesterday, I spoke to their next President.  We don’t know how the situation will play out and there will remain grave challenges ahead, but standing with our allies on behalf of international order working with international institutions, has given a chance for the Ukrainian people to choose their future without us firing a shot.

Similarly, despite frequent warnings from the United States and Israel and others, the Iranian nuclear program steadily advanced for years.  But at the beginning of my presidency, we built a coalition that imposed sanctions on the Iranian economy, while extending the hand of diplomacy to the Iranian government.  And now we have an opportunity to resolve our differences peacefully.

The odds of success are still long, and we reserve all options to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  But 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.  And throughout these negotiations, it has been our willingness to work through multilateral channels that kept the world on our side.

The point is this is American leadership.  This is American strength.  In each case, we built coalitions to respond to a specific challenge.  Now we need to do more to strengthen the institutions that can anticipate and prevent problems from spreading.  For example, NATO is the strongest alliance the world has ever known.  But we’re now working with NATO allies to meet new missions, both within Europe where our Eastern allies must be reassured, but also beyond Europe’s borders where our NATO allies must pull their weight to counterterrorism and respond to failed states and train a network of partners.

Likewise, the U.N. provides a platform to keep the peace in states torn apart by conflict.  Now we need to make sure that those nations who provide peacekeepers have the training and equipment to actually keep the peace, so that we can prevent the type of killing we’ve seen in Congo and Sudan.  We are going to deepen our investment in countries that support these peacekeeping missions, because having other nations maintain order in their own neighborhoods lessens the need for us to put our own troops in harm’s way.  It’s a smart investment.  It’s the right way to lead.  (Applause.)

Keep in mind, not all international norms relate directly to armed conflict.  We have a serious problem with cyber-attacks, which is why we’re working to shape and enforce rules of the road to secure our networks and our citizens.  In the Asia Pacific, we’re supporting Southeast Asian nations as they negotiate a code of conduct with China on maritime disputes in the South China Sea.  And we’re working to resolve these disputes through international law.  That spirit of cooperation needs to energize the global effort to combat climate change -- a creeping national security crisis that will help shape your time in uniform, as we are called on to respond to refugee flows and natural disasters and conflicts over water and food, which is why next year I intend to make sure America is out front in putting together a global framework to preserve our planet.

You see, American influence is always stronger when we lead by example.  We can’t exempt ourselves from the rules that apply to everybody else.  We can’t call on others to make commitments to combat climate change if a whole lot of our political leaders deny that it’s taking place.  We can’t try to resolve problems in the South China Sea when we have refused to make sure that the Law of the Sea Convention is ratified by our United States Senate, despite the fact that our top military leaders say the treaty advances our national security.  That’s not leadership; that’s retreat.  That’s not strength; that’s weakness.  It would be utterly foreign to leaders like Roosevelt and Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy.

I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being.  But what makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it is our willingness to affirm them through our actions.  (Applause.)  And that’s why I will continue to push to close Gitmo -- because American values and legal traditions do not permit the indefinite detention of people beyond our borders.  (Applause.)  That’s why we’re putting in place new restrictions on how America collects and uses intelligence -- because we will have fewer partners and be less effective if a perception takes hold that we’re conducting surveillance against ordinary citizens.  (Applause.)  America does not simply stand for stability or the absence of conflict, no matter what the cost.  We stand for the more lasting peace that can only come through opportunity and freedom for people everywhere.

Which brings me to the fourth and final element of American leadership:  Our willingness to act on behalf of human dignity.  America’s support for democracy and human rights goes beyond idealism -- it is a matter of national security.  Democracies are our closest friends and are far less likely to go to war.  Economies based on free and open markets perform better and become markets for our goods.  Respect for human rights is an antidote to instability and the grievances that fuel violence and terror.

A new century has brought no end to tyranny.  In capitals around the globe -- including, unfortunately, some of America’s partners -- there has been a crackdown on civil society.  The cancer of corruption has enriched too many governments and their cronies, and enraged citizens from remote villages to iconic squares.  And watching these trends, or the violent upheavals in parts of the Arab World, it’s easy to be cynical.

But remember that because of America’s efforts, because of American diplomacy and foreign assistance as well as the sacrifices of our military, more people live under elected governments today than at any time in human history.  Technology is empowering civil society in ways that no iron fist can control.  New breakthroughs are lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.  And even the upheaval of the Arab World reflects the rejection of an authoritarian order that was anything but stable, and now offers the long-term prospect of more responsive and effective governance.

In countries like Egypt, we acknowledge that our relationship is anchored in security interests -- from peace treaties with Israel, to shared efforts against violent extremism.  So we have not cut off cooperation with the new government, but we can and will persistently press for reforms that the Egyptian people have demanded.

And meanwhile, look at a country like Burma, which only a few years ago was an intractable dictatorship and hostile to the United States -- 40 million people.  Thanks to the enormous courage of the people in that country, and because we took the diplomatic initiative, American leadership, we have seen political reforms opening a once closed society; a movement by Burmese leadership away from partnership with North Korea in favor of engagement with America and our allies.  We’re now supporting reform and badly needed national reconciliation through assistance and investment, through coaxing and, at times, public criticism.  And progress there could be reversed, but if Burma succeeds we will have gained a new partner without having fired a shot.  American leadership.

In each of these cases, we should not expect change to happen overnight.  That’s why we form alliances not just with governments, but also with ordinary people.  For unlike other nations, America is not afraid of individual empowerment, we are strengthened by it.  We’re strengthened by civil society.  We’re strengthened by a free press.  We’re strengthened by striving entrepreneurs and small businesses.  We’re strengthened by educational exchange and opportunity for all people, and women and girls.  That’s who we are.  That’s what we represent.  (Applause.) 

I saw that through a trip to Africa last year, where American assistance has made possible the prospect of an AIDS-free generation, while helping Africans care themselves for their sick.  We’re helping farmers get their products to market, to feed populations once endangered by famine.  We aim to double access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa so people are connected to the promise of the global economy.  And all this creates new partners and shrinks the space for terrorism and conflict.

Now, tragically, no American security operation can eradicate the threat posed by an extremist group like Boko Haram, the group that kidnapped those girls.  And that’s why we have to focus not just on rescuing those girls right away, but also on supporting Nigerian efforts to educate its youth.  This should be one of the hard-earned lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, where our military became the strongest advocate for diplomacy and development.  They understood that foreign assistance is not an afterthought, something nice to do apart from our national defense, apart from our national security.  It is part of what makes us strong.

Ultimately, global leadership requires us to see the world as it is, with all its danger and uncertainty.  We have to be prepared for the worst, prepared for every contingency.  But American leadership also requires us to see the world as it should be -- a place where the aspirations of individual human beings really matters; where hopes and not just fears govern; where the truths written into our founding documents can steer the currents of history in a direction of justice.  And we cannot do that without you.

Class of 2014, you have taken this time to prepare on the quiet banks of the Hudson.  You leave this place to carry forward a legacy that no other military in human history can claim.  You do so as part of a team that extends beyond your units or even our Armed Forces, for in the course of your service you will work as a team with diplomats and development experts.  You’ll get to know allies and train partners.  And you will embody what it means for America to lead the world.

Next week, I will go to Normandy to honor the men who stormed the beaches there.  And while it’s hard for many Americans to comprehend the courage and sense of duty that guided those who boarded small ships, it’s familiar to you.  At West Point, you define what it means to be a patriot.

Three years ago, Gavin White graduated from this academy. He then served in Afghanistan.  Like the soldiers who came before him, Gavin was in a foreign land, helping people he’d never met, putting himself in harm’s way for the sake of his community and his family, of the folks back home.  Gavin lost one of his legs in an attack.  I met him last year at Walter Reed.  He was wounded, but just as determined as the day that he arrived here at West Point -- and he developed a simple goal.  Today, his sister Morgan will graduate.  And true to his promise, Gavin will be there to stand and exchange salutes with her.  (Applause.)

We have been through a long season of war.  We have faced trials that were not foreseen, and we’ve seen divisions about how to move forward.  But there is something in Gavin’s character, there is something in the American character that will always triumph.  Leaving here, you carry with you the respect of your fellow citizens.  You will represent a nation with history and hope on our side.  Your charge, now, is not only to protect our country, but to do what is right and just.   As your Commander-in-Chief, I know you will.

May God bless you.  May God bless our men and women in uniform.  And may God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)
* * *

The White House, May 28, 2014

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Netanyahu Interview

The following interview with Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, was conducted by Jeffrey Goldberg of Bloomberg View and was published on May 22, 2014: 

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JEFFREY GOLDBERG: The peace process is in a coma. When do you go to a Plan B? How do you extract Israel from a situation that many people say is unsustainable?

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: There are a couple of points of consensus in Israel that are beginning to emerge. The first point of consensus is that we don’t want a binational state. Another point of consensus is that we don’t want an Iranian proxy in territories we vacate. We want a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the nation-state of the Jews. Now how do we get that? The Palestinians don’t agree to recognizing Israel as the Jewish nation-state, and it’s not clear to me that they’ll agree to elements of demilitarization that are required in any conceivable plan that works.

GOLDBERG: A lot of people in Israel, from [former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S.] Michael Oren to [former head of Israeli military intelligence] Amos Yadlin, are looking at the idea of taking unilateral steps to disengage from the Palestinians.

NETANYAHU: We want a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state. How do you get that if you can’t get it through negotiations? It’s true that the idea of taking unilateral steps is gaining ground, from the center-left to the center-right. Many Israelis are asking themselves if there are certain unilateral steps that could theoretically make sense. But people also recognize that the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza didn't improve the situation or advance peace -- it created Hamastan, from which thousands of rockets have been fired at our cities.

GOLDBERG: So you’re still committed to negotiations?

NETANYAHU: Let me be clear -- negotiations are always preferable. But six prime ministers since Oslo have failed in their pursuit of a negotiated settlement. They’ve always thought we were on the verge of success, and then [Yasser] Arafat backed off, Mahmoud Abbas backed off, because they can’t conclude these negotiations. We don’t have a Palestinian leadership that is willing to do that. The minimal set of conditions that any Israeli government would need cannot be met by the Palestinians. No matter what the spin is about blaming Israel, do we actually expect Abbas, who seems to be embracing Hamas, to give a negotiated deal? In all likelihood, no. I hope he does, but I’m not sure he’s going to do it.

GOLDBERG: So go back to this question of what to do next.

NETANYAHU: We don’t want a binational state, and we don’t want a Palestinian-Iranian state next door. There is an emerging consensus that we don’t have a partner who can challenge constituencies, do something unpopular, do something that is difficult. Abbas has not done anything to challenge the prevailing Palestinian consensus. In fact, he’s doing the opposite: the Hamas reconciliation, internationalizing the conflict, not giving one iota on the right of return, not giving an iota on the Jewish state. He wouldn’t deal with Kerry’s framework.

GOLDBERG: Do you still think that the Palestinians embrace the idea of destroying Israel in stages -- by setting up a state and then using that state to continue to press their demand through violence and other means for all of Palestine?

NETANYAHU: What the Palestinians keep saying is, Look, we want the maximum. We will not make any adjustments in our demands. Nothing. Not tactical, not strategic. I said to them, You tell me that you want me to draw a map of a state, but you won’t tell me that the state on the map will recognize the Jewish state next to it. They want a map without an end of conflict.

I think Palestinian society is divided into two. The first half openly calls for Israel’s destruction. And the second half refuses to confront this and refuses to confront the demons inside their own camp.

In Israel, there is a vigorous debate about what compromise would entail. There is no such debate in the Palestinian Authority. I’m not talking about Hamas. I’m talking about the so-called moderates who will not talk about the minimal conditions that are necessary for peace from the point of view of any Israeli government and just about any Israeli. They expect us to just leave, shut our eyes, tear out the settlements. Well, been there, done that. We did it in Gaza. And what we got was not peace, but rocket fire.

GOLDBERG: What I don’t understand is why you don’t just leapfrog this negotiations morass and declare an indefinite settlement-building freeze -- not tearing them out, but freezing them? That way, the onus will be on the Palestinian side, not on you, to prove that they are interested in compromise.

NETANYAHU: I don’t think it would work. Having tried once, I saw that it doesn’t work. The Americans said the only way Abbas is going to come into negotiations is either you release prisoners or freeze settlements: Choose. We chose [to release prisoners]. We made it very clear to the U.S. and to the Palestinians exactly how much we would build, including in Jerusalem. We built exactly what we said we would build in every one of the tranches. It wasn’t that we surprised anyone with extra construction.

GOLDBERG: Why continue to grow settlements at all when you’re trying to negotiate? The American critique of your position is that you keep building in ways that set back the possibility of a Palestinian state.

NETANYAHU: The settlements are an important issue, but they are not the core of the problem. This conflict has been going on for almost a century. During the first half of that century, there wasn’t a single settlement. From 1920, when this conflict effectively began, until 1967, there wasn’t a single Israeli settlement or a single Israeli soldier in the territories, and yet this conflict raged. What was that conflict about? It was about the persistent refusal to recognize a Jewish state, before it was established and after it was established.

GOLDBERG: You’ve spoken about this before as an illusion.

NETANYAHU: Just a few years ago, we were told that the Palestinian issue was the core of the conflict in the Middle East. Now you see Syria imploding, Lebanon imploding Yemen imploding, Iraq imploding, Libya imploding. Until three years ago, people believed this, and I was laughed out of court when I mentioned this. This absurdity was widely believed. There was no challenging it.

Syria's Civil War

Then there was a second illusion: that if you solved the Palestinian problem, you’ll get the Arabs to agree with you on a tougher policy on Iran. Well, that’s out the window now because they oppose Iran regardless of the Palestinian issue.

Now the last illusion remains: The core of the problem in the Israel-Palestinian conflict is the settlements. That’s about as truthful as the previous illusions. The real issue was and remains opposition to the Jewish state. That’s the demon that they have to confront, just as we’ve confronted the demon of a greater Israel. Not easy, but we did it.

GOLDBERG: A lot of people would say you haven’t done this yet, because you haven’t risked the stability of your ruling political coalition in pursuit of territorial compromise with the Palestinians.

NETANYAHU: Look at what I’ve done. I gave the speech at Bar-Ilan University, a religious university, five years ago recognizing the two-state solution. Second, I tried a 10-month [settlement] freeze, and Abbas did nothing. Then I did something that was the toughest of all -- I released terrorist prisoners, killers of innocent people. That was the hardest decision.

That’s what I did to facilitate the negotiations. And what has Abbas done? Nothing. He’s refused to entertain Kerry’s efforts to try and lock horns on the core issues. He internationalized the conflict. He went to the UN organizations in express violation of Oslo and all the interim agreements. And now he’s embracing Hamas.

GOLDBERG: Why do you think that Kerry and [U.S. special envoy] Martin Indyk believe that the settlements are a great impediment to peace? Indyk in particular has denounced “rampant settlement activity" as a key factor undermining negotiations. 

NETANYAHU: Most of the settlement population, between 80 to 90 percent, is clustered in three urban blocs, in suburbs of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem that everyone knows will stay in a final peace settlement. Effectively, the territory that is involved has not increased. It’s marginal. It’s been marginal for the last 20 years. No new settlements have been built since the time I was first prime minister, which was 1996. 

What you are talking about is an increasing population within these urban blocs. It doesn’t materially affect the map. If you took an aerial photograph to see how much territory has been "consumed" by so-called "rampant" settlement activity, the answer is practically nothing. If you can make a deal, you can make a deal. The addition of a few hundred housing units a year in this territory doesn’t alter it. Successive Israeli governments have offered deals and couldn’t get them because the Palestinians would not lock horns with the primary obstacle to peace, which is the refusal to end the conflict with Israel once and for all. To recognize that the Jewish people have the right to self-determination, just as the Palestinian people do. My insistence on recognition of the Jewish state is not a tactical PR stunt. It goes to the core of the conflict. 

GOLDBERG: There are people in Washington who think that John Kerry is borderline delusional for pursuing negotiations so hard. 

NETANYAHU: Kerry made a big effort. We made a huge effort together. I think he tried very hard. It’s a tough go.

GOLDBERG: Come back to this point: If the settlements aren’t a big deal, then what’s a big deal?

NETANYAHU: In the Middle East today, there are two great threats. The threat is militant Islam in its Shia variety or Sunni variety. The threat is what happens when radicals get a state. Shia militants have taken over a state called Iran that is seeking nuclear weapons and which threatens everyone in the region. The Arabs see both threats as supreme. There is very broad agreement. Does the Palestinian issue play a role here? It hinders more open relations, but such relations are taking place anyway.

Iran's Uranium Enrichment

GOLDBERG: What will you say to the Americans if they come to you and say, "We’ve got a deal that keeps Iran perpetually a year or more from reaching the possibility of nuclear breakout"? That seems like a reasonable conclusion, no? 

NETANYAHU: I think this is a setup for the same mistake that was done with North Korea. You leave Iran with a breakout capability -- let’s say a year. During that year, you have two problems. Will you muster the political will and capability to deal with this in a year? What if there is another unfolding crisis somewhere? Second, on the matter of inspections that are promised -- they built their underground bunkers when they were under inspection! 

Intelligence isn’t perfect -- far from it. Intelligence did not prevent enrichment sites from being built without anyone knowing for years. 

Everybody in the region -- everybody -- shares my assessment that what you have to do is dismantle Iran’s enrichment capability. If you leave them with enrichment capability, then everybody will scramble to get their own capability. They might do two things simultaneously: They might actually kowtow to Iran and begin relations with Iran, and at the same time scramble for their [own] nuclear weapons. So this agreement that is meant to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons will be instead a tremendous force for proliferation. 

Look at what Iran does without nuclear weapons. They’re in Syria; they’re in Gaza, sending ships with weapons. They’re in Yemen, in Bahrain, Iraq, everywhere. So if [Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei’s Iran becomes a threshold nuclear power, what do you think will happen? Is this going to move Iran into greater moderation, when he has greater force, or is he going to be even less moderate?

GOLDBERG: There’s been a lot of criticism of President Obama on Syria, the "red line" controversy, and the deal he engineered with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin to bring about the removal of Assad’s chemical weapons. It’s now nine months or so after that particular crisis. What’s your assessment of the chemical weapons deal today?

NETANYAHU: I think this is the one ray of light in a very dark region. It’s not complete yet. We are concerned that they may not have declared all of their capacity. But what has been removed has been removed. We’re talking about 90 percent. We appreciate the effort that has been made and the results that have been achieved.

GOLDBERG: Chuck Hagel was just here. He was under fire during his confirmation process for being anti-Israel. How do you view him today?

NETANYAHU: The relationship has truly been fine. Our defense cooperation and intelligence sharing, which has been substantial in both directions, and our work on anti-missile and anti-rocket defense have been very good, and this work continues under Chuck Hagel and President Obama, and I’m pleased with that. That doesn’t mean we can’t have differences of opinion on Iran.

GOLDBERG: So how deep are those differences?

NETANYAHU: The Americans say, "We will not let Iran have nuclear weapons." We say we should not let Iran have the capability to produce nuclear weapons. There’s a difference. If Iran is allowed to maintain what is called a threshold capability, then in all likelihood, they will break out. We think they should be pushed back so that they don’t have that capability to produce nuclear weapons. We need to dismantle their capability, to take away their enriched uranium and, of course, to address the other components of their system. What is the justification for giving it [enrichment] to them? They are a systematic violator of every UN resolution, including a UN report that shows they’re still violating even today.

GOLDBERG: Recently, we’ve seen charges that Israel continues to aggressively spy on the United States. Does your government run spying operations against American targets?

NETANYAHU: This is an outright lie. Since [Jonathan] Pollard, almost 30 years ago, Israel has not conducted any espionage operations in the United States, period. Full stop. Not direct espionage, not indirect espionage, nothing, zero. We do not conduct in any way, shape or form espionage operations in the United States.

GOLDBERG: You just got off the phone with the newly elected prime minister of India. You’re increasingly isolated in parts of Europe. Are you looking east in ways that Israel hasn’t before?

NETANYAHU: We still have a ways to go to solve the Israel-Palestinian dispute. But there is a broader recognition that this issue shouldn’t hold us hostage. Israel is rapidly developing relations in Asia. I was recently in China, and I just came back from Japan. We have conversations with many Asian countries, Latin American countries, African countries. These countries want to seize the future, and they recognize that the only way they can win is to innovate, and Israel is one of the great centers of innovation in the world. These countries understand that they have to upgrade their products and services with technology in order to compete in a rapidly changing world. Israel is seen as an R&D lab by many governments and companies, and they’re interested in Israeli technology. These countries and companies are not being held back by the continuing conflict.

I hope we resolve it, for our sake. I hope we resolve it because I don’t want a binational state. I hope we resolve it because I’d like to have broader and more open relations with the Arab world, and I hope to resolve it in order to remove the unjustified attacks on Israel. But we are proceeding ahead despite this. We don’t mortgage our future to the maturation of Palestinian politics.

 * * *

Jeffrey Goldberg,  "Netanyahu Says Obama Got Syria Right," Bloomberg View, May 22, 2014