Saturday, February 05, 2011

Jon Kyl and Frank Wisner at the Munich New START Conference

National Security Advisor Tom Donilon won't be able to speak at the transfer of documents that marks the coming-into-force of the New START Treaty. So for some bizarre reason, the administration asked Jon Kyl, who managed to botch his opposition to the treaty, to represent the U.S. perspective, on a panel entitled, "Nonproliferation, Arms Control and Disarmament: What's next?"

Apparently Kyl was the choice of the German organizers.

The conference is being streamed on the web, so I'll liveblog Kyl's panel.(Ugh - looks like the time I was given is wrong, and the panel is in progress, so I've missed Kyl's opening statement.)

Like any liveblog, I'll be trying to capture the sense of what people say more than the exact words.

Ellen Tauscher, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, is also on the panel. She's looking good - has been under treatment for esophageal cancer.

Questions on North Korean and Iranian sanctions, primarily for Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Lavrov, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, and Tauscher all respond.

Kyl: Sanctions are next-to-last alternative. It's too bad they affect common people, but those people have an alternative: they can rise up and change the government. Slams North Korea for "bogus exports," including weapons and counterfeit money. North Korea has nuclear weapons and Iran does not - yet. [seems to be something wrong with his mike - no problem with others] North Korea also has missiles that could be effective against US. We don't have ground-based interceptors that would be effective against a mass attack, just single launches. Illustrates the importance of missile defense. Are sanctions less of a cost than possession of weapons by these countries?

[mic problems are spreading. Audio cuts in and out.]

[Multiple questions from the floor and written are taken at a time.]
Q: Spent nuclear fuel is a proliferation risk but also a potential business opportunity. Why don't we create international public-private corporations for managing spent fuel?
Q (Prince Turki bin Saud): Concerned about Israel's nukes, an existing threat and Iran, a potential nuclear threat. Security is an international responsibility. Any nuclear exchange will affect the entire area. How do we stop such a threat? Arab League proposes nuclear weapon free zone.

Davutoğlu: Turkey needs civilian nuclear power because it is the cheapest alternative. Security risks in region are due to lack of freedom.
Tauscher: Mentions 2012 conference on NWFZ. Have to recognize interrelationships among strategic, tactical, offensive, defensive weapons. [seems to be responding to Kyl] Have to be creative to find new solutions.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Chairman of the SPD Parlamentary Group, Berlin: There are proposals on the table for dealing with nuclear fuel in various ways; they are opportunities
Kyl: What is most likely threat? Russian tactical nuclear weapons, cyberattacks? [Doesn't mention spent nuclear fuel.]

Well, damn. They're winding up the session. They will have Frank Wisner and a number of other participants in the next segment, so maybe I'll tune in to that after I go to the Farmers' Market and do a bit of other shopping.

Kyl seems to be being Kyl, although he seems to have had enough sense to do it in a responsible way, rather than the extremes that he has gone to when he's back at home.

Panel on cybersecurity now. President Toomas Hendrik Ilves of Estonia asks a question. Cool that he's there. [Pardon my usual Estonian lean.] I won't liveblog this one unless something exciting happens.

Frank Wisner and a panel on events in the Arab world. I'll try to pass some of this along.

Wisner (in answer to a request to speak on what he did and saw): He spoke to Mubarak and Suleiman. The crisis is of extraordinary importance. Need to build a consensus, a national dialog, put aside emergency law, free and fair elections. Beginning to see a path forward in last day or so. Offer by Suleiman to engage in dialog, thoughtful Egyptians coming forward, Mubarak allowing steps to move forward, defense minister has gone on streets to assure people government will not turn on them. Aiming for an orderly (repeats) transition to democratic government. President, VP need to lead transition. Mubarak's role "utterly critical."

Q: Do you think those you met understand all that?
Wisner: I think they understand what is required. The conditions/flexibility/imagination are there. We are in the early stages, matters could slip off the rails, could still be violence and action by radical groups.

Q: Can they generate trust and confidence in those who want them out?
W: Will be difficult. Concrete steps are necessary - free and fair elections, constitutional changes. Agenda is clear, question is how to do it.

Uzi Arad, National Security Advisor, Jerusalem: Egyptian case is unique, but there are other instabilities in ME. Growing pressure of radical Islam in Egypt, Lebanon, Pakistan for example. Orderly process is nice, but need to look at outcomes. Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt could exploit the situation; other radical, anti-democratic, anti-Western groups. Of concern to Israelis are anti-peace groups which could destabilize the region. How to have free elections while avoiding an unfavorable outcome?

Q: End of peace treaty?
Arad: I don't think there would be a revocation; that would be absurd. But there could be an undercutting of security cooperation.

Javier Solana Madriaga, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (ret.), Alcobendas: There is no way back. Transition is a process; have seen this in recent times on Iberian Peninsula. Egypt is a fundamental country in the region. Outcome will determine the future of political Islam. The peace process must be maintained. Nobody in the streets has mentioned Israel; the demonstrations have nothing to do with Israel. We would like to see a secular regime that takes into consideration the aspirations of the people. Need to begin to see political structure, political parties. Unity of armed forces needs to be maintained.

Wisner: The debate in Egypt is about Egypt, the internal structure of the state. External considerations will come to the fore later. Our influence is limited, but we can help shape the future. Essential responsibility lies in the hands of the Egyptians. We have to control rhetoric. The more Egyptians hear from the outside world that the president has to go, the more things are likely to spin out of control. Practical support: Egyptian economy has been terribly disrupted, the outside world can help. Need to assure that armed forces will be maintained. At the right time, address institutional questions as responsible friends and guides. Very volatile and dangerous time.

Q: Egyptian business people met yesterday, wanted Mubarak to stay. Acceptable to Washington?
Wisner: Up to Egyptians. If president stepped down, an election would take place under current dispositions, which are unacceptable to people in streets. So the president must stay to guide the changes.

Volker Perthes, Director, German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), Berlin: I am more optimistic about the ME than I have been for a very long time. We are seeing a third force beyond the governments and Islamists. Young people, secular. Not Facebook, but generation using Facebook that is making the revolution. Not attracted by old nationalisms nor the Islamism of the Muslim Brotherhood. MB influence will decrease as other parties are established. An orderly transition needs time, which will allow European help. Less fear of Islamists.

Human Rights Watch rep (Ken Roth?): This is not over. Arrests in Tahrir Square, harassment of journalists indicate that. Need continued pressure from outside, monitors to report on rights violations. Wisner is right that an election should not take place under current strictures. Mubarak should transfer responsibility to another person who could immediately change things. More broadly, across the region, demonstrations have been taking place for four years. Approach of West has been to prefer short-term stability rather than principled approach. President of Yemen has gone back on his word before. Reforms throughout region should be pushed. The false dichotomy has been emphasized by Mubarak's allowing the MB while outlawing secular parties.

Q: Do you believe the government has flexibility?
HRW: They are testing the waters, trying to see what they can do. Haven't made up their mind yet.
Perthes: Military has this flexibility. They serve the state rather than the government. Important for them to say that the state must maintained, decide whether that is viable under Mubarak.

Wisner: Disagree respectfully with HRW. Essential to maintain a respectful tone toward government. They must make the concessions, of course pushing toward a democratic future. Must treat them with respect and care, not hostility. Latter would destroy the ability to work with them to make changes. Has to be done with respect and engagement, not an atmosphere of hostility and punishment.

Q: How can Arab governments convince this younger generation that they are moving toward more freedom, jobs?
Perthes: This is a critical generation that has been marginalized on all counts. Europe, Turkey need to help. Tunisia is particularly well situated for this.
Roth (HRW): Corruption has impeded economic growth. A freer society would have more intellectual vigor. Back to Wisner: West needs to make clear that attacks on demonstrators will end aid. Message of severe consequences if rights are not respected.
Arad: Absence of education, role of women are problems. Interplay of cultural and institutional factors prevent better economic performance. Which do you want to promote: freedom or security? Security is perhaps more urgent. No guarantee that a freer Egyptian government would have better economic policies. The real problem in the region is Iran. Huge overlap of perception between Arab and Israeli governments.

Wisner: This is a really critical issue. Not an easy answer to improving economic conditions. What is critical going forward is that there is hope in the people in the streets that their institutions give voice to what they feel and that their governments are responsive. Egyptian government didn't listen to the people, provided economic palliatives like subsidies rather than real economic improvements. A democratic future for Arab nations will provide a framework for managing tensions and economic growth as well.

That ends the session. I'm going to have lunch.

Update: State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley says that Wisner was speaking for himself at this conference. Wisner supported Mubarak far more strongly than Obama has been doing. H/T to Nadezhda (@nadezhda04) for seeing early that this would be necessary.

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