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McMaster: Iran Biggest Threat to Arab Security - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English
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Interviews

McMaster: Iran Biggest Threat to Arab Security

Trump announces Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster as his National Security Adviser at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida

The West Wing looked a bit in disarray with boxes all over …After the big renovation in August – there were unpacked packages, but – new paint …

In a way – it reflects what the White House has been going through …After the noisy exit of Steve Bannon and his protege Sebastian Gorka – the “Globalists” – as Bannon likes to call them – WON! That means – H.R McMaster, Gary Cohn and Jared Kushner.

But McMaster who had been a target for false rumors and well-planted leaks during these West Wing’s internal fights did not look victorious. After all – the veteran general came to the White House to lead our policy regarding Nuclear attempts by N. Korea, Iran ..To increase the fight against terror …These are more familiar territories to him, than dealing with Dc’s gossip.

So now – it is time to view with him, in depth, for the first time, the Trump administration in each key part of the world.

Naturally – we opened with the 2 Nuclear pending threats: Iran and N. Korea>

* IRAN

Q. We are 2 years (out of 10) into this controversial agreement ..WHERE do we stand?

A. “As President Trump has repeatedly said, the Iran nuclear deal was the worst deal of all time. There are many reasons for that. One is that nearly all the benefits for Iran were provided upfront.

“Also, the deal sunsets after ten years—now eight years, since two have already gone by. Iran can wait out the deal, and when it expires, have a threshold capability that will allow the regime to move toward nuclear weapons very quickly. All the while, Iran could develop missiles and delivery systems.

“President Trump will make the decision about our ongoing participation in the JCPOA according to his top priority, which is the safety of the American people. His administration’s job is to provide him with a full range of options with that directive in mind. As long as the United States and our partners remain parties to the deal, we have to hold Iran accountable to its terms. We know that Iran already violated the agreement—for instance- under the terms of the deal, when Iran violates it, they are given notice. And if they get back into compliance under a certain time, they are no longer considered in violation. That’s just another way that this deal is great for Iran and dangerous for everyone else.

“So, the first step is to rigorously enforce the deal. There are all sorts of inspections which could be made and are not made. There are many monitoring capabilities that have not been put in place. All parties should insist on rigorous enforcement.

“The President has already declared that the Iranian regime is not living up to its obligation. They are certainly not living up to the spirit of this agreement. Instead of contributing to regional peace and security, as the deal calls for, Iran is using proxy forces and a terrorist network to foment violence and victimize innocents across the greater Middle East. The Iranian regime is seeding these networks with increasingly destructive weapons as they try to establish a bridge from Iran to Lebanon and Syria.”

* N. KOREA

Q. Regarding North Korea ..I am sure, we are trying to learn everything about Kim John Un, and predict his next move …

A. “As to what will happen, it is impossible to predict. This is a regime that has committed egregious crimes against its own people—that has carried out an assassination in a public airport using a banned nerve agent, and repeatedly shows its disregard for its international obligations. How predictable is a regime like that, in terms of using the most destructive weapon on earth?

“A great achievement of President Trump—in addition to uniting many nations and building consensus—has been to work with China, and increase Beijing’s cooperation in pressuring North Korea, through imposing new sanctions, and by enforcing existing sanctions. There may be limits on what China is willing to do. We’ll see. But there’s no question that China has more leverage than any other country to convince North Korea that pursuing nuclear weapons is against Pyongyang’s own national security interests. We are not asking China to do us or anyone a favor. It is clear that a nuclear-armed North Korea is a grave threat to China.”

“The President’s has made clear to the world that North Korea is now a grave threat to all of us. Because it is a global problem, we see the international community joining us in sanctioning North Korea.

“What is different today than in the past is urgency. North Korea is rapidly advancing its missile and nuclear capabilities. We do not have time.

Q. And since we don’t have time, shall we try every possible avenue, like direct talks?
A. “The President has directed us not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Past efforts have resulted in long, drawn-out talks that delivered unsatisfactory, weak agreements that North Korea immediately broke. All the while, they locked in the achievements that they made—advances in their weapons program—as the new normal.”

Q. So even if the opportunity comes, you will reject a direct meeting?

A. “The President does not believe that now is the right time to enter into negotiations with North Korea, particularly given North Korea’s continued belligerent actions. We have stated repeatedly that the door to dialogue is open, but North Korea must, as a first step, stop its increasingly provocative and threatening actions and take initial steps towards denuclearization.”

* SOUTH ASIA: AFGHANISTAN< PAKISTAN

Q. Afghanistan:‎ What is the current policy? WHAT EXACTLY are we changing?

“For too long we focused on tactics—debating the precise numbers of troops to commit –when our focus should have been on strategy – how to achieve a sustainable outcome in Afghanistan and South Asia consistent with US and our allies’ vital interests. The President demanded a complete appraisal of the situation, challenged assumptions, and asked all of the tough questions. He directed the development of a strategy that prioritizes the security of American citizens and the US homeland; provides US, Afghan and coalition forces all of the tools and authorities necessary to defeat the enemy; is sustainable over time; and shares responsibilities and burdens with others.

The South Asia strategy the President unveiled on August 21st differs from the policies of the previous administration in many ways:

• No timelines for withdrawal. Conditions on the ground will drive the strategy. The Taliban, al Qaeda, and other terrorist groups cannot wait us out. And the US will no longer announce plans to our enemies.

• The strategy integrates political, diplomatic, and military efforts. We will be realistic about what we are trying to achieve. The previous administration sought to strike a bargain with the Taliban, while US Forces withdrew. It was a rush to failure, similar to how the disengagement from Iraq led to the rapid growth of ISIS in 2014. Instead, the United States and our partners will better support the Afghan forces in their fight against the Taliban and pursue a political settlement under the right conditions.

• NATO allies and partners for the Afghan mission are pledging increased military efforts and financial support. And all of us will work more closely with other nations to ensure they are playing a constructive role in supporting a stable and peaceful Afghanistan.

• President Trump has lifted restrictions the previous administration placed on our warfighters in Afghanistan just as he did in the highly successful campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Our military now has what it needs to support courageous Afghan soldiers and relentlessly pursue the enemies of all civilized people.

Q. What about next door Pakistan? After all – this is where we found Osama Bin Ladin, living so close to the President (then Asif Ali Zardari)’s place …

A. “We are fundamentally changing how we approach the problem of terrorist safe havens in Pakistan. The President expects Pakistan to take decisive action against terrorist groups based on its territory and will condition US security aid to Pakistan, accordingly. Pakistan has paid a high price in its struggle against terrorist groups, but it has fought these groups selectively, while providing support to others, such as the Taliban and the Haqqanisas the President stated in his speech announcing the strategy. Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our efforts in the region. But it also has much to lose unless it stops its support of groups that are attacking US interests in Afghanistan.”

* IRAQ

Q. You fought in Iraq .. Looking at the current chaos there …Was it worthwhile?

A. “Most problems in Iraq today stem from our disengagement before military gains were consolidated politically. The complete withdrawal of US forces in 2011 led to the collapse of large portions of the Iraqi state and the rise of ISIS, which led for example to the fall of Mosul. Courageous Iraqi forces recently liberated that city, in part, because of President Trump’s decision to prioritize the fight against ISIS and to give his commanders the necessary authority to fight and support partner forces more effectively.

Q. Are we going to divide Iraq? There is a referendum later this month, refounding a new Kurdish state?

A. “Regarding the referendum the Kurdistan Regional Government announced for later this month, it remains to see what will happen. But our strong view is that it is in the interest of Kurds and of all Iraqis to have a unified Iraq. Now is not the time to divide the country. If Iraq fragments, the main beneficiaries will be the Iranian regime or groups like ISIS, both of whom seek to perpetuate ethnic and sectarian conflict among Iraqis. For years, the Iranian regime has been able to exploit the Iraqis’ factional infighting to infiltrate and subvert Iraq’s state institutions. At the same time, Salafi jihadi terrorists such as al Qaeda in Iraq and ISIS have used ethnic and sectarian competition for power, survival, and resources to portray themselves as protectors of the Sunni population. The best weapon against these dangerous forces is Iraqi political unity based on a common vision for a secure and prosperous Iraq.”

* U.S.-UK:

Q. Just before the vote about Brexit happened, I was in London. Former President Obama was there as well, almost threatening the British voters, that Brexit would hurt their special place and relationship with the US …

A. “Obviously, that was up to the British people to decide … The US view is that we want to do everything we can to preserve and strengthen the special relationship. We are bound together by common interests and values. The problems we face today are problems that demand international responses. That heightens the importance of our relationship with the UK and our relationship with Europe as well”

Q. In that case, what if other countries follow the UK, and leave the EU?

A. “That will be up to the European individual countries. Our priority is our relationships with the United Kingdom and the European Union. These relationships and our relationship with each European nation are essential to achieving our common goals and ensuring the security and prosperity of our citizens”

* TURKEY:

Q. US and Turkey have not enjoyed the best relationship in recent years…

A. “Turkey is a NATO ally. It is an ally who has fought with us, assisted us in many conflicts. As a young boy, I listened to my father’s experiences in Korea, and he had the great affinity for Turkish troops, alongside the US forces, who have been with us, especially in the Middle East, after 2003.

Turkey is on the front line of human catastrophe! As you know, they absorbed so many refugees ..Turkey, is increasingly, recognizing that the best way for Turkey to emerge stronger from this conflict, for security and stability in the Middle East. It is for us, to work together better than we have ever done in the past. ”

Q. We recently raised the issue of violation of human rights, regarding the aide to Egypt ..What about journalists and others, jailed in Turkey?

A. “It is really a question for the Turkish people to determine …It is important to raise ALL issues, that are involved, to strengthen our relationship ..Such conversations are happening, among friends, all the time ..President Trump prioritizes, how we can strengthen the relationship with Turkey.

* MIDDLE EAST:

Q. Why do you think, now – after so many failing attempts- is a better chance to achieve peace?

A. “What changed regionally can help change the problem …It can lead to new partnerships and relationships …
There is a greater alignment, among the Arabs against Iran!
If any Arab state would ask themselves: What is the biggest threat to our security today?” No one would say, it is Israel ..IT IS IRAN!
All the Arab states recognize the threat that Iran poses …
This recognition leads to tremendous possibilities which could lead not only to the (better) security of Israel but create some of the conditions necessary for lasting peace between Israel and Palestinians, but also improve the security of the Arab states in the region as well.

Q. So? Is anything moving??
A. “The President expects results …So the recent trip of Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt is a very important one. Time will tell ..”

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