"If you were someone who was involved with Iranian government I could ask you: what actions are you prepared to take?
Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski
The following is a Press TV interview with Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Polish-American statesman and former national security advisor under President Jimmy Carter.
Press TV: Dr. Zbigniew, thank you for joining us today on this special edition of Face to Face.
Brzezinski: It’s nice to be with you. It is nice to have the opportunity to talk to Iranian viewers.
Press TV: And our international viewers abroad as well?
Brzezinski: Of course, but the former are more important.
Press TV: Dr. Zbigniew, before the interview we were talking about the fact that how fascinated I was, personally, that you were at the forefront of American politics when two or three of the most major internal developments of our time took place; one was the Iranian revolution, two was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and as you mentioned the relations with China.
Looking at these issues one by one, how would you assess the current administration’s policy toward Afghanistan, and how has it changed throughout the years?
Brzezinski: Well, the current administration’s policy has not changed throughout the years, because it has been in office under several weeks.
But American policy is going to change, because the new administration has a more serious, more responsible, and more nuanced view of the problem. That is to say the problem is specifically al-Qaeda. Taliban may be an umbrella. It may be connected with it by historical circumstances, but Taliban is essentially a specific Afghan phenomenon focused on Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda is an extremist organization which has a variety of very hostile intentions towards a number of countries in the world. The United States very much so, and we know this very painfully because of what happened here in New York City.
And it also involves other countries. If I dare say so, it also probably involves Iran as an object of some hostility on the part of al-Qaeda. Our objective, as articulated by President Obama, is to separate al-Qaeda from Taliban and to find a way whereby Afghanistan can be governed, in part, through traditional arrangements, in part, through some improvements, modernization, better social services, better transportation and, in part, also perhaps by some limited regional accommodations with different groups within the Taliban that maybe satisfied with a local status-quo arrangement, who can’t see themselves as part of a larger global conspiracy.
Press TV: Now, we have good terrorist, bad terrorist. We have good Taliban, moderate Taliban and the bad Taliban which would become al-Qaeda. These definitions seem to change with administration. Do you think that the policy negotiating with the “moderate Taliban”, would be wise for America’s national security?
Brzezinski: There is an obvious deference between, not several administrations, but two administrations, the Bush administration and the Obama administration. The Bush administration had a sort of generalized, black/white view of the threat and sometimes used language that almost implied that the threat was in some fashion, in an un-generalized manner, an Islamic threat.
I think Obama recognizes the specificity of the threat: Al-Qaeda. Taliban happens to be a historically accidental association with al-Qaeda. And I think that if we can manage to negotiate with some second nuance of the Taliban, not the entire Taliban- the movement is not that centralized anyway- then perhaps arrange for a kind of modus vivendi in parts of Afghanistan.
Actual Taliban is not that influential through out Afghanistan. It is more influential in certain zones.
Press TV: It’s gaining momentum …
Brzezinski: Well, up to a point. It is certainly not a dominant force in terms of popular support. It is also very much a Pashtun phenomenon, and that spills the problem over into Pakistan.
I approve of what President Obama has been doing, in part because I have been advocating it myself for months now, in the press in the United States, in the European press, in the leading German, French, and British publications, on the radio and television. So, I am happy to see the administration doing what it does, and I think that is a better way towards finding an acceptable solution to the problem.
Press TV: To what extent do you think that the United States was responsible in creating the Mujahideen the Taliban and today, al-Qaeda? I think if anyone is responsible for the creation of the Mujahideen it was the Soviet Union. The Mujahideen was a reaction to the Soviet invasion. It was a spontaneous national reaction in Afghanistan. Supporting it made great sense. Because a Soviet victory at that time, with the Soviet Union actively sponsoring terrorist camps on the Soviet territory would have given the Soviet Union enormous momentum in the region.
And incidentally, since this program is originating in part from Tehran, it would have been a threat to Iran as well. And this is why the Iranian leadership was not enamored of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. I think this was the right decision.
The Taliban arose after the Soviet Union was driven out, and when the West basically ignored the ravaged destroyed Afghan society. The Taliban came and filled a void which should not have been permitted to develop, there should have been an earlier, more constructive, more positive Western reaction.
In some ways, there should have been a reaction then, of the kind that took place in early 2002.
Press TV: A military invasion?
Brzezinski: When the United States and others, drove the Taliban and al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan, initially, with the support, incidentally of Iran, very active, very important support.
That should have been done much earlier. We should have gotten together in a constructive fashion to help Afghanistan recover immediately after the departure of the Soviet in the late 1980s.
Press TV: Basically, militarily attack Afghanistan?
Brzezinski: No, the contrary! Provide positive political, social, and economic support to Afghanistan. After the Soviets had been driven out by the Mujahideen there was a social void, there was a political vacuum, there was enormous suffering and the rest of the world simply ignored Afghanistan at that moment and that created the opportunity for the Taliban.
Press TV: It is interesting that today, or during the previous years, the Afghan war has been termed as the forgotten war. Are we seeing that again? Are we seeing Afghanistan being ignored again?
Brzezinski: No, I do not think so; quite the contrary. We are not seeing Afghanistan being ignored. There is a lot of involvement now in Afghanistan. There is the international community, not only directly on the ground forces, but social aid, economic assistance, but also international conferences.
The most recent one which is about to conclude as we speak, involves a large number of countries, including incidentally the United States and Iran.
Press TV: What do make of President Obama’s comments acknowledging Iran as the Islamic Republic after thirty years?
Brzezinski: I totally endorsed him. You know, I met with [head of Iran's interim government Mehdi] Bazargan and [leader of the Iran Freedom Movement Ebrahim] Yazdi after the [1979 Islamic] revolution.
And without going into enormous amount of historical detail, I am positive, without pointing accusatory fingers, there was even then a chance for some normalization. I am glad it may be now beginning to become reality. But normalization takes two, it can not be undertaken by one side alone.
I think President Obama made a historic effort. I think it was intellectually brave, politically courageous, and potentially and historically constructive. I think it is therefore very important to go forward. But it can only go forward if there is reciprocity.
Press TV: Iranian officials have asked for action, saying that actions speak louder than words. Do you think that these comments are basically enough on the part of the United States in reaching out to Iran?
Brzezinski: A relationship has to be built on mutual accommodation. A relationship between serious powers is not built on begging or pleading. If there is a genuine interest in mutual accommodation, actions as well as words, have to be reciprocal. Words are usually the beginning of a diplomatic dialogue. I think President Obama made a really historically significant gesture, and it can leads to things.
But, we sit down and start pointing fingers at each other, but and if we start to say: you have to take the first action … No, you have to take the first action, it is not going to be very productive.
Press TV: I do not think that either side is at that point right now. I think that acknowledging that Iran is the Islamic Republic was a positive gesture definitely. But, then there are analysts who say what America needs to do, is stop setting pre-conditions for negotiations with Iran. You cannot set preconditions for pre-negotiations and negotiations.
Do you think that on that front perhaps the United States stop its “carrot and stick” policy, as some analysts like to put it?
Brzezinski: Well, you confused the two. Preconditions is one aspect of the American policy, and the “carrot and stick” is a generalized description of some aspects of it. It so happens that in my testimony before Congress, in my writings, I have said that if there are to be negotiations, they can not be based on unilateral preconditions. The United States should not insist on unilateral preconditions. Or alternatively there can be reciprocal preconditions; one side does this, the other side does that-more or less simultaneously.
But that kind of process can only get on the way if there is a willingness, seriously to sit down, to in effect signal a willingness to discuss seriously, and not start by making demands that one side only has to undertake actions and the other side can simply sit back and wait on whether it approves of these actions.
That is a formula for a stalemate. So I am hopeful that mature leadership in both countries, sense of responsibility for the region in the future, and awareness of the fact that both countries play important roles in the world, will accumulate to create condition under which we sit down in the wake of the intuitive undertaken and talk with each other as people are prepared seriously to negotiate.
Press TV: And for the United States at this point in time, what is that concrete action? What is the bottom line for the United States to see for negotiations to resume?
Brzezinski: Willingness to negotiate. That is all.
Press TV: Will the United States change its policies, change its actions and not just its words?
Brzezinski: Well you know, I could ask you the same question, except that you are interviewing me and I am not interviewing you.
Press TV: I could give the answer that Iranian officials are saying …
Brzezinski:“If you were someone who was involved with Iranian government I could ask you: what actions are you prepared to take?
I am not authorized to negotiate. I am not negotiating. I speak for myself. But as someone who knows something about international affairs, I can say that you are not going to get negotiations going if one side insists that the other side undertake actions, that the side insisting then approves and then after that there are negotiations. Negotiations begin by serious discussions.
I think, what Mr. Obama did is to initiate the process in a constructive way, from the American side. It is a decision for Iran to make on its own, from the standpoint of its own sense of history and interests, whether it wants relations with the United States or whether it does not.
I hope that it does, because I think that it would be good for the world. I think it would be good for the United States. I think it would be good for Iran. But that is a judgment that each side has to make on its own.
Press TV: And on the part of Iranian officials, what I have been hearing – of course I do not have a government post – but what they say is that they are open to dialogue, if and when they see a change of policy and if and when the situation is right, hopefully the situation is right and to the benefit of both sides.
Brzezinski: I do not think that you are getting the point that I am making. If the Iranian position is that negotiations will only take place when they see evident changes in American policy, then I think they are failing to see something important that has already taken place; namely an overture that is constructive in spirit and in historic significance.
And the proper response to that is not to say that we are going to wait and see that you prove by some actions, that we either desire or specify or will then judge. That is not the way to begin serious negotiations.
Press TV: So what you are saying is that the United States’ change of tone has been a step forward.
Brzezinski: Well, in diplomacy and in international affairs, tones are very important. Abusing, accusing, insulting, are sometimes also negotiating methods. The intent then if it is conducted by intelligent people, who know what they are saying, is obviously to prevent negotiations.
You can operate that way either if you are very stupid, or if very, very Machiavellian. But if you do not want negotiations to succeed, you can start them by insulting, abusing, accusing.
Press TV: Let us talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You were an extremely influential figure during the Camp David negotiations. Do you think that a two-state solution is possible at this point in time?
Brzezinski: I think it is not only possible, but it is necessary. It seems to me that if there is not such a solution in the not too distant future, the opportunity for that solution may pass.
There is settlement activity, which makes a real accommodation difficult. There are incidents, events, tragic situations, like what happened in Gaza, which poisoned the atmosphere.
There is a tendency, in different degrees perhaps and not yet irrevocable, but there is a tendency on both sides towards more extremist views.
So I think, time is of the essence. But I do think that still, it is possible to have a settlement in part because, according to public opinion polls, both within Israel itself and within Palestine, the majorities are still for settlement. And very interestingly, public opinion polls show that the majority of American Jews, who are as Americans interested in American policy and try to influence it, the majority, 60%, favor a two-state solution.
Press TV: What about the coming to power of a figure like Benjamin Netanyahu. Do you think that this will affect negotiations between the two sides?
Brzezinski: You know, the obvious and the short-range answer is, it will complicate it. On the other hand, sometimes, the leaders of that type are the ones that in the end can deliver a settlement, which reduces the opposition of the most rigid dogmatic elements within their camps.
In a way, if Netanyahu has some, as his foreign minister who has been described in American newspapers as having racist views, he may have a match on the Palestinian side, with Hamas in the government, who is described in Israel and elsewhere as a terrorist group, and paradoxically such two governments can reach a more comprehensive solution than when both sides are divided among moderates and extremists, and thereby paralyzed.
So it depends, it depends a bit on their personalities. It depends also a great deal on how the United States conducts itself. Because the fact is we have a great deal of influence with both sides.
Press TV: Regarding the Palestinian issue and Hamas, do you think that it is wise to draw a parallel between a Hamas, which was democratically elected in 2006, and the Israeli government? Because Hamas still enjoys great support among the Palestinian people, so when we say these are extremist views, are we calling as the international community is calling it? Are we using that definition? Or do you really believe that this is the case.
Brzezinski: You know both groups have been elected by their constituencies, and both groups have support in their constituencies. But within both groups, there is also a spectrum of opinion; some leaders are very rigid, very extremist, very uncompromising; some less so. And the name of the game is to find some kid of formula in which both sides recognize that in the long run they are better by accommodating than by waging a conflict, which will exclude the two-state solution but also in the long run create an abyss, a division, between both sides that will make for permanent instability and conflict in the region.
And from the American point of view, I think, paradoxically, it may be even a moment of opportunity.
Press TV: Coming back to the United States, are there any elements in a certain lobby that have an extremist tendency, or a very influential sense of power in the Obama administration right now, at this point in time?
Brzezinski: I think it is really changing. As I just cited, 69% of American Jews favor a two-state solution, that is something that probably a few years ago was a kind of anathema to the majority. I think that there is a growing realization within the responsible leadership of the Jewish-American community that [not] to let the two-state solution pass, is to create in the long run, conditions increasingly inimical to Israel’s long-term survival in the region as an accepted part of the region.
Press TV: What about organizations like AIPAC?
Brzezinski: This would fit our previous discussion, and I am sure since AIPAC is a large-scale organization, there are probably differences of opinion in it now too.
Press TV: What did you make of the Charles Freeman saga recently?
Brzezinski: What do you mean what did I make of it?
Press TV: Well, he was chosen to head the National Intelligence Committee, and he resigned. President Obama did not back him. There was a wave of accusations against him, that he is too moderate and that he does not have Israeli interests at hand and that he might be perhaps a dangerous figure in the current administration, and in dealing with the future of the Middle East.
Brzezinski: Well you know some of these accusations were extreme and in my view unacceptable, and from a human point of view hurtful. So in that sense it was deplorable. On the other hand, I also have to acknowledge the fact that from a realistic point of view, that you want someone in that position who is not a priori, very controversial.
And the reason that he withdrew, he was not incidentally appointed by Obama himself, he was chosen by the head of National Intelligence, and the reason that he withdrew was that he realized that as a consequence of this very unfortunate, very unfair attacks on him, [he had become] so controversial that if he then makes a judgment or renders an opinion as the head of the Intelligence Council, that opinion will automatically be questioned, because he is viewed in some fashion as having been part of a very deep and wrenching debate.
So, probably, from a practical point of view, once that affair escalated to the level of ugliness that it did, the decision was a right one, I am sorry to say.
Press TV: And do you think that he became this controversial figure because he was swimming against the stream?
Brzezinski: We do not know. I mean, I do not think that he was swimming against the stream, if anything, if my final analysis turns up, he was swimming with the stream, but there were many rocks in that stream.
Press TV: What about the appointment of Denis Ross? How do you see him in the equation of American foreign policy?
Brzezinski: He is a very experienced foreign policy specialist who took an active role in the Camp David II discussions, and to the extent that one can judge from the sometimes conflicting accounts of the Camp David II, he played a constructive role in them and certainly, he could be quite important in trying to find a formula which would also be reassuring to both parties and especially to the Israeli side, because the Israeli side of course has to assess any settlement from the standpoint not only of its immediate effects but also of its long-range prospects.
Press TV: What about the Palestinians?
Brzezinski: Well, What about the Palestinians?
Press TV: Well do you think that he will be a fair broker?
Brzezinski: Well, first of all I do not think that he is going to be a broker. The broker is going to be the Secretary of State and even somebody more important than the Secretary of State, and that is the President and Vice-President of the United States. I think that is where the decisions are going to be made.
Press TV: And finally, you are a realist and do you see our world, the international community, as moving towards a more multi-polar world, as we speak or a uni-polar world?
Brzezinski: Neither, Neither. I think there are strong tendencies towards international chaos in the world today. That chaos could become very destructive, because chaos generally breeds intolerance, extremism, violence, and self-destructive behavior. But at the same time, I think there is also a growing realization in the world that we have to work together, that conflicts whether they are a hundred years old or thirty years old, have to be revised and reviewed.
That in such a world, everyone will have to participate but not everyone is equal. And whether one calls it multi-polar or uni-polar, the fact is that at this historical junction some countries are more important than others, and one country particularly is critical to economic recovery in the world and in many respects therefore to its political stability, and that is a reality. It will not endure forever. History has seen powers rise and decline and no one is immune to that historical process, but the process does require recognition of existing realities. Now this is why America’s role in the world is important.
But it is also important, and it should be important, that that role be defined intelligently and in a historically relevant way. And one of the reasons why I supported Obama from early on was that I felt he understood something about the 21st century that others did not, especially our previous president, and therefore his presidency would be very timely.
And since you said that this was the last question, let me add that it is particularly timely to what we were talking about earlier, namely the relationship between America and Iran.
Press TV: What is the biggest challenge that the United States is facing today?
Brzezinski: I think what I just said is part of it. I think there is a risk of the international framework disintegrating into something that will be collectively self-destructive.
Press TV: Dr. Brzezinski, thank you for you time and company on this edition of Face to Face.
Brzezinski: Thank you very much.