Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger says there is little chance of any breakthrough in stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, as President Barack Obama visits Israel next week on his first trip there since taking office.
“I’m not optimistic” about reviving peace talks, in large part because of the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties in the region that aren’t inclined to support a “just outcome” with Israel, Kissinger said in an interview airing this weekend on Bloomberg TV’s “Conversations with Judy Woodruff.”
The former national security adviser to President Richard Nixon, Kissinger, 89, is an elder statesman of American foreign policy who, among other things, negotiated the U.S. opening with China in 1971 and an Israeli-Egyptian disengagement following the 1973 Yom Kippur War. He was secretary of state in the administrations of Nixon and President Gerald Ford.
Kissinger said he doesn’t have a rosy view of the so-called Arab Spring that has been widely portrayed as popular uprisings with democratic aspirations. Most revolutions, he said, consist of “many groups hostile to the existing government, but not necessarily for the same reason.”
He cited the Syrian civil war as one conflict that has been widely misunderstood. “It’s not a fight of democracy against a dictator,” he said. “It’s a fight of various ethnic groups for preeminence.”
The U.S. needs to be careful about aiding the Syrian opposition, which has elements that are affiliated with extremist groups, he said. The Obama administration would need to first identify groups “that are at least not hostile to us and preferably support our principles.”
If such groups exist, “we should give them support in order to strengthen them in the internal debate,” he said, adding that support shouldn’t involve U.S. ground forces in Syria.
The Obama administration has been funneling humanitarian aid and non-lethal supplies to groups it sees as supporting democracy in Syria, in part to bolster them against more radical rebel factions such as the al-Nusra Front, which is affiliated with al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Kissinger, who has known every U.S. president since John F. Kennedy, said he felt “sympathy” for some of the deposed or weakened Arab leaders “that for 30 years were American allies. We couldn’t keep them in office, but we should, we owed them more dignity” at the end, he said.
His skepticism about the Arab revolutions underpins his pessimism about Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects.
“To have a meaningful Palestinian-Israeli agreement, the Arab world has to be prepared to guarantee it and to accept it,” Kissinger said, adding that the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt doesn’t seem prepared to “accept genuine coexistence.”
Kissinger sees a contest in Egypt between the military and the Islamists. Those who have been sidelined include the “small group of Cairo-based intellectuals and professionals who know how to get people” to Tahrir Square, the site of mass demonstrations, “but don’t know what to do with them when they get them there.”
While Kissinger said he doesn’t share Secretary of State John Kerry’s view that there’s an opening for progress on Middle East peace, he does agree “that an effort should be made in order to see what is possible.”
Obama this week told Arab-American leaders that he will use his visit to Israel and Jordan to express U.S. support for an independent Palestinian state, for the moderate government of the Palestinian Authority, and for security and political reform in Jordan, while also underscoring the U.S. commitment to Israeli security, according to a White House official who asked to not be identified in discussing the president’s plans.
Obama’s visit to the region comes as the U.S. is seeking more time to pursue diplomacy rather than military action to curb Iran’s potential capability to make nuclear weapons. Iran’s advances in uranium enrichment and missiles mean that Obama may have a window of just 15 months before he faces a decision on whether to stop the Iranian program by military means, Kissinger said.
Asked about Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s accusation March 10 that the U.S. is fomenting violence in Afghanistan to justify keeping troops there, Kissinger said he “can understand why Karzai made the statements he did, though there’s no excuse for making them when the secretary of defense of the United States is in the country.”
Kissinger said Karzai may have spoken that way because, as the U.S. withdraws forces, his government is trying to “develop a legitimacy of its own, not dependent on the Americans.”
Kissinger said he disagrees with those who would speed the departure of U.S. troops from Afghanistan before the end of 2014, saying “it’s as fast as you can have without the whole thing disintegrating.”
On U.S. relations with China, Kissinger called Chinese cyber espionage a “very serious problem” that “dominates the discussion of many industries” affected by it.
“There is no question that cyber issues need to be addressed by both of our countries” to find a solution, he said.
Kissinger expressed concern about the growing tensions between China and Japan over the sovereignty of some uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, called Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan.
“It would be a tragedy if that dispute would escalate into a military conflict between two countries that the United States needs to have good relations with,” he said.