Feb. 7 (Bloomberg) -- Retired General Jim Jones, a former national security adviser to President Barack Obama, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that the U.S. will continue to be challenged by terrorist groups operating in Pakistan even if the current standoff with Afghan President Hamid Karzai over the American troop presence in his country is resolved.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We begin the program with former White House National Security Adviser General Jim Jones. General, thank you so much for being with us.
JIM JONES: Thank you, Al.
HUNT: You are very familiar with how difficult it is to deal with Karzai in Afghanistan. There’s now talk that the U.S. and NATO may wait until after the April elections over there to sign or try to sign some kind of a security agreement. Is that smart?
JONES: Well, it may be the only thing we can do. I don’t think that the odds of NATO being fractured on this issue are very high. If the U.S. isn’t going to be a part of this, I doubt that many of our allies will be there, either.
So there’s every reason, in my view, for President Karzai to do what needs to be done, but -
HUNT: But you know him. And he -
JONES: - as we found out, there’s no guarantee that he will.
HUNT: So - but if we do postpone it until after the April election, if that’s the intent, isn’t there a chance that that election is not going to produce a clear-cut winner, that chaos, which is often the byword in that country, will ensue, and it just will make it even more complicated?
JONES: This is not an encouraging situation, either now or perhaps not even after the election, but you have to - you have to go through the process. What worries me equally is, even if we did get an agreement in Afghanistan with Karzai, we still have a lot of work to do on the other side of the border with Pakistan and their historical tendency to harbor terrorist organizations and the like. So the foreseeable - the future of that particular region is still very much up in the air.
HUNT: There’s a real chance that in the next year or so, the Taliban and particularly al-Qaeda could re-emerge in a stronger position?
JONES: The Taliban for sure. Al-Qaeda has been pretty well dealt with, when I left the White House and al-Qaeda was already moving toward other parts of the world, and down in Yemen, across the Red Sea and Somalia -
HUNT: What are the ramifications of Taliban emerging?
JONES: Well, I think it’s very serious, in the sense that all of the things that we hoped to achieve might be put at risk, particularly the role of women in the society, education, all of these things that were so promising. I go back to 2004, with my first trip to Afghanistan meeting President Karzai, and I had great hopes that he would lead his country in a new direction and that the reforms that needed - not just security reforms, but the whole societal reforms, how to govern, rule of law, battling corruption, you know, just changing the culture a little bit, because I felt throughout the country that this is really what the Afghans wanted. But he’s made it very difficult.
HUNT: Let me turn to Iran. You warned last week, as you have before, about the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran. What’s your assessment about the prospects that Secretary Kerry can negotiate an acceptable agreement with the Iranians?
JONES: Well, I think that what’s going on right now is something that has to go on. It’s a process. We tried in 2009 to reach out to the Iranian government, as the president said he would in the inaugural address, and to see if there’s any hope for constructive dialogue. And there was not at the time.
Now, four or five years later, with sanctions really biting into the fabric of Iran, for one reason or another, they’re now wanting to talk. I don’t think that you cannot take them up on that. But we cannot want this more than they do.
HUNT: Does it worry you, we are too eager for a deal?
JONES: No, but I just think it needs to be said. I mean, and I - Secretary Kerry is a very wise and seasoned politician and diplomat, and he knows that, and so does Secretary Hagel, so does everybody in the White House. But we should not - we should play a very constructive role. We should verify, for sure, and trust will be built over the years.
But we certainly need to be careful about how this transpires, because the rest of the world is watching. So - but the good news is, I think, is we have verification procedures. We should be clear about what it is that’s expected, if Iran wants to rejoin the family of nations.
HUNT: Do you think that there’s a better-than-even chance, less-than-even chance that we’ll get there?
JONES: To quote the secretary of defense in Munich last weekend, he would not use the word optimistic, but he said hopeful. And -
HUNT: That’s where you are?
JONES: And I think - you know, I think we should - we should have the dialogue, we should be clear about what we want to see happen, we should make sure that our allies are reassured, as well, and we have a lot of work to do on that score, and particularly in the Middle East. So if nothing is going to dramatically change in six months, in terms of their acquiring a nuclear weapon, but to me, that’s a fair amount of time to evaluate whether they’re serious or not.
HUNT: Several years ago, you had said the - that Syria’s Assad was a goner, like Qaddafi and like Hussein. And then a lot of people agreed with you. It hasn’t happened. Do you still think he’s likely to be a goner? And if not, is that because of a failed U.S. policy?
JONES: I personally hope that he leaves, because I don’t see how we can live with a pariah in charge of a country as big as and as geo-strategically important as Syria.
HUNT: It doesn’t look very likely now, though, does it?
JONES: It hasn’t happened. Again, in my personal private opinion, we should continue to work on it to make sure it does happen. But it hasn’t happened yet. And I think that’s unfortunate. We collectively, internationally seem to be much more tolerant of this tragedy on a humanitarian scale.
HUNT: Do you think U.S. policy has not been sufficiently -
JONES: No, I - I think that one of the - one of the points that, you know, had I still been in government that I would have pressed on, I think, would have been after the use of chemical weapons, that that was a red line that he did cross. And we still are not -
HUNT: And we should have acted?
JONES: We’re still not - not seeing him remove the - the chemical weapons as - as he’s supposed to. So I think there should have been a penalty for that. I don’t necessarily mean, you know, boots on the ground, but, you know, we had a model back in 1991 in Iraq, where we really partitioned the country, north and south, with no-fly zones. And in the northern region, where I was, we brought almost a million Kurds out of the mountains back into their homes without any threat from the Iraqi army.
I think that, if we had done something like that, and we had led an international coalition for humanitarian reasons, we wouldn’t have had the pressures on Jordan and some of our allies with refugee problems that we have now.
HUNT: General Jim Jones, thank you so much for being with us today.
JONES: My pleasure.
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