tv Policy Toward Russia China Iran Turkey Panel CSPAN October 11, 2019 1:31pm-3:06pm EDT
and this time in lake charles, louisiana, live at 8:00 p.m. eastern and live on c-span, cspan.org or listen free on the radio app. campaign 2020. watch the live coverage of the candidates on the campaign trail and make up your own mind. c-span's campaign 2020, the unfiltered view of politics. four policy experts discuss china, russia, iran and syria, and this is part of a broader program of middle east strategy at the atlantic council in washington earlier in the week. this portion is just over 90 minutes.
>> russia, china, iran and turkey. and first of all at the outset we will say that we are very proud with the cooperation of the italian ministry of the foreign affairs and the atlantic council that is our partner into the med dialogue. i am happy to be here for the second time, the second year with all of the distinguished guests, and these distinguished speakers. as the italian ambassador already said, this meeting is a part of a series of meetings, and regional, and we called regional meeting around the world. we have already hosted two
regional immediatings in dohdoh brussels, rome, moscow, and abu dhabi and in new york tomorrow at the end of the month in riyadh. so coming to the panel, why old actor, because these international players have always been present and active in the region, but new policies, because the international context has changed and these actors have achieved a new rein on the rule in the region, so the order has come to question in recent years. such a phenomenon has been ongoing for several years and has recently accelerated. these wars are particularly evidenced after the uprising in the north african region in
2011. when the united states signaled a choice to rebalance the resources and commitments abroad and away from the region, this choice shifted the eurasianal balance of power, and created the challenging of the united states effectiveness as the external provider of security in the area, leading to a sort of power vacuum that other players have attempted to fill. on the one hand, the united states has allow in order the choice of the essence of the regional actors, the saudi arabia, and the gulf hierarchies and israel have each gained an increasingly and prominent position and role in the middle eastern stage and became determinant in the face of the international crisis from libya to syria.
as a result, the extent of the influence in the region is broader than used to be. the region between saudi arabia and iran for instance is having an impact on the main theaters where the two are fighting their proxy wars, especially in yemen, and similar in turkey for their inability to close the partnerships with the players in the regions to expand the network mobilized in arab, and nonarab world in increasing the reach and influence and allowing
anch ankara to scale down the involvement in the resurgence whether it is true or not, and we listen to professor katz, but it is going to produce new space for china, and with the help of the dwisistinguished guests, we will try to highlight the role of china and the other other actors in the middle east. so my pleasure to introduce the director for the center of turkish studies for the institute. we know a couple of days ago on october 6th the call between trump, and erdogan resulted in the announced of the partial withdrawal of the u.s. troops from the northern syria and trump endorsement of the turkish
plans to send their own military force in the region, but you have a floor for the broader view of the regional policy of the turks and for this news. >> thank you so much. thank you to the atlantic council and kareem for inviting me. et is a pleasure to be here. i originally wanted to talk about turkey's broader regional role, but given the recent developments, i would like to talk about the turkey/syria policy and give you an overview of the transformation of the turkey/syria policy. the first thing they want to say is that turkey's reaction or the policies that turkey has pursued in syria must be seen against the backdrop of president tayyip erdogan's mandate to have one
rule at home. so it is all about the domestic politics. so between 2000 and 2002 when the pk came to rule to 2011 of the beginning of the uprising, turkey pursued a pragmatic policy in the region, and engaging with the regimes, employing self-power instruments, pursuing closer ties with the west and playing a very constructive role. turkey mediated in regional conflicts with the syrian government. and erdogan had close ties with president assad, and turkey invested heavily in syria, and lifted the visa requirements, and the two countries even held joint cabinet meetings. so the relationship was quite
close. so between 2002 until late 2010, 2011, president erdogan's islamist ideology did not play a prominent role in the way that turkey saw itself or the region. so it didn't play a role in turkey's regional policy and turkey's syrian policy. and the reason for that was because president erdogan at the time was still quite vulnerable, and although he was taking steps to consolidate the power at home, he was vulnerable, and the secular opponents, and particularly the military and the judiciary which were seen as the bastion of secularism, and they still called the shots. so unable to consolidate the power at home, he had to be cautious. he could not be leaning forward to pursue any islamist policy. and instead, throughout the years, turkey stuck with the
traditional turkish foreign policy, and western oriented foreign policy, but of course, starting from 2011, that changed. the arab uprising started and by the time particularly the conflict in syria started in 2011, erdogan had already consolidated his power. he had already neutralized and silenced his secularist opponents and the media and the judiciary and the military had come under his control. and so he had a lot of room to maneuver. and the arab uprisings, and particularly the conflict in syria played a catalyst role in his project of islamization at home. so the uprisings provided an opening for erdogan, and the
relationship between turkey's islamization at home and turkey's regional policies and role that it played in the arab uprisings, the relationship was one affected the other and transformed the other. so, in a way, erdogan's islamization was a result of the conflict in syria, but the developments in syria are also transformed erdogan's struggle and islamization, and i hope that is clear enough. >> if you could -- >> okay. sure. so at home, starting from 2011, he took steps to islamize the country's education sector for instance, and he made sure that the institutions for example directed for religious affairs.
it became a huge bureaucracy and had a large budget and took on different social roles. so he took steps to raise generation, and the narratives also changed domestically, and starting from 2011, he paid more attention to turkey's islamic character when he is talking to foreign audiences and 2012 is a turning point in that regard. he delivered a talk at the ruling party's congress where he talked about turkey's historic role as a lead over the muslim world. while he was pursuing those islamist policies at home, he did the same in his regional policy, and in syria, too. from to get-go, he took a few months, but early on, even in
april of 2011, and that is i guess a month after the uprising in syria started, turkey hosted a meeting of syrian opposition in istanbul. and so turkey all of the sudden became, and so syria became from being turkey's foreign policy success story to all of the sudden president assad became enemy number one. so turkey was the organizational hub for the syrian opposition, and later on it became a jihadi highway. turkey started sending weapons and financial aid to the opposition groups and in particular the muslim brotherhood of turkey who had been in turkey after the 1980s and that is when father assad the brotherhood fled syria and
settled in turkey, so there is a number of large muslim brotherhood members in turkey. so that group behind the scenes played a very prominent role in turkey's efforts to topple the regime in syria. so when the conflict in syria started, turkey's number one priority was to topple the regime. turkey had an open border policy, and so there were tens of thousands of people fleeing the conflict in syria, and came to turkey, and started to live in turkey. so from 2011 to 2014 or 2015, turkey heavily supported the islamist groups, and turkey would turn a blind eye to the islamic state within its borders and so turkey played a key role in the islamization, and
jihadization in turkey and syria, and this is an indication of what erdogan was doing at home, and in his mind it made perfect sense, because the dpr uprisings, the islamist ideals were coming to fruition. he saw the arab uprisings as a opportunity for turkey to become the leader of the muslim world. but his islamization project hit a roadblock in 2015 and that is when he turned to nationalism. so in 2015, in june of 2015, elections for the first time in many years, through the akp lost the parliamentary majority, and that is thanks for the pro-turkish party which captured a historic 13% in national elections. and that denied the ruling party
the parliamentary majority. that is when president erdogan switched to nationalism. he decided to ally with the turkish nationalists, and the cease-fire that was in place for years broke down and turkey decided to pursue a heavy-handed military approach to the country's kurdish problem. and that shift in the calculations had a direct impact on the way that erdogan saw the conflict in syria. so from then on, and i also must mention that starting from 2014, you will see the rise of the kurds in syria as well. the united states started working very closely with the syrian kurdish militia which is the ypg in the fight against the islamist states.
the military aid provided by the americans to the syrian kurds boosted the kurds' image diplomatic and political image, and so that also peaked the turkey threat perceptions. so given that change in the domestic scene, and other calculations, erdogan's decisions started to change. so toppling the regime and kurdish nationalism became erdogan's national priority and toppling the regime came after that. so, starting from 2015, you will see for instance turkey working closely with the regime's allies and despite a brief period of tension between turkey and russia, turkey started to work with iran and russia in an effort to curve nationalism.
turkey then launched first military incursion into syria to prevent an autonomous region in northern syria, and that happened after a green light from russia. again in 2019, they launched a second turkish enclave and that again happened after another green light from russia. so turkey agreed to establish the de-escalation zones for instance. and those de-escalation zones ended up empowering the regime. so in a way, turkey through its actions in syria and cooperation with the assad regime in iran, turkey empowered the regime. ed and they played a key role in aleppo, because if they wanted to stop the opposition in the fight against the kurds so that we can have the rebellion in
aleppo, and aleppo eventually fell in late 2016. that is telling you the transformation and the shift of turkey's priorities in syria. and the final shift came recently. in 2019, turkey held local elections. president erdogan and his party lost almost all major cities in turkey including istanbul which is the financial capital of the country, and capital of ankara, and that is a huge blow to the 17-year rule. particularly, those two cities are very important. and this is going to make up 70% of the country's gdp. this is one of the biggest electoral losses to erdogan since he came to power. and the key reasons for his loss in the elections is that the
economic downturn and also the presence of $3.6 million syrian refugees. so he his priorities shifted again, and there is a growing domestic nationalist backlash against the syrian refugees bac against syrian refugees and now his number one priorities are creating a safe zone along turkey's southern border inside syria to send back millions of syrian refugees. he laid out that plan at the united nations general assembly meetings in new york in september. so he talked about a 30-kilometer deep, 480 kilometer-wide safe zone that is now controlled by the allies, and he wants to make sure he's going to build around 200,000 homes, schools, hospitals, football fields. that's his plan, and this is, in
his mind, this is the perfect solution to his problems because he will want trade off millions of syrian refugees and that will generate revenue for the country's troubled economy. it will cost $27 billion, and he's seeking for european international funding for that. so that's his plan now, and he's number one, his number two priority is still containing turkish nationalism, so by creating that zone which will be off limits to the kurdish militia and he will present an autonomous region, and toppling the regime seems to have been pushed off the list altogether. in that meeting between -- between iran, russia and turkey recently which was held in
ankara, president rouhani was telling the world that international efforts to topple the assad regime had failed and president erdogan just sat back and he ate the treats. so i think that was -- that picture was a very clear reminder of transformation of turkey's priorities in syria. so now the final question, the final thing that i want to mention, is that syria -- the conflict in syria played the most important role in the country's domestic and foreign policy section of the republic. turkey changed and transformed the conflict in syria, but it was also transformed by the conflict in syria, and i think moving forward, if you want to understand what his next step is going to be, you have to look at
his domestic power struggle, and he is at his most vulnerable electorally. that will mean that he'll do anything, no matter how risky, we're reading the news that turkish troops are on the border, turkish officials are talking about the military incursion, and analysts, american, partners and allies are all warning about the risks and it is a very risky operation. yes, president trump might have given the green light, but still you have a congress that's quite p pissed and ready to punish erdogan for various other reasons and president trump has been working very hard to convince the congressional leaders to hold off on the sanctions saying that turkey is an important nato ally, but if
turkey does that and if turkey intervenes militarily, it's really going to be very difficult for president trump to continue to stand by erdogan. so we might see a round of new sanctions, and also it's risky for, obviously, it will hurt american strategy in syria. turkey is not militarily capable of waging an effective fight against isis. it cannot hold thousands of, i believe around 60,000 detainees that are being held at isis camps that are now controlled by the ypg, so it's a risky move, but i think because of the tough situation that president erdogan has found himself domestically, he's willing to take that risk, and i think in the coming days i will see how it plays out. i just saw today that president
trump tweeted again about turkey, praising turkey and turkish efforts, we don't know. turkey has put all of its eggs in trump's basket and i think it's a risky move, but again, looking at the domestic situation, i think he can take the risk because he's desperate and needs to send back those refugee, and i'll stop there. >> so thank you. thank you. thank you very much. very interesting your overview of the turkey foreign policy, but also for your analysis of the relation between domestic pol s politics and the domestic crisis and the next speaker is anizai is a research fellow at the united services institute in london and the visiting fellow at king's college in london
again. so jan is also at the center of the discussion of the first panel, particularly as the subject of the u.s. policy -- politics, but you are an expert on iran also as active player in the region, so you have the floor. >> thank you, arturo and thank you to the atlantic council for organizationize this conference and also for having me here. i wanted to dispute the title of the panel in the case of iran. i would say that in the case of iran, we are talking about an old country with an old policy. i don't think we can really talk about the change in iranian foreign policy, and there are a number of reasons for sake of time, i'm not going to go over all of them, but i think it's important to understand, and i think it came out also briefly in the previous panel that
iran's foreign policy is characterized by a specific message from the structure, but also by very specific principles that characterize its definition since basically the revolution and even more since the 1989 one that we had the empowerment of the current supreme leader ayatollah khamanei and we have seen continuity in the iranian foreign policy, but also more specifically on the iranian foreign policy in the middle east. i think the main principles that align the non-alignment and the standing up of the hegemonic powers namely the united states and israel. the desire to build peaceful countries and the desire to defend the rights of the muslims and the intentional to defend independence and integrity with
neighboring countries and this is one of the principle and this is not me saying that. you can go into the constitutions and read this principle very clearly outlined by iran and they have been reinforced by the supreme leader as recently since 2004 and more recently with the specific dossier. when you look at the overall framing this is where iran stands and obviously with the specific dossier that will pick and choose which of the principle applies in that case and defined their policy basically accordingly and obviously, iran uses different tools in practice and the particular tools that we know are obviously the non-conventional ones and given the weak conventional tools and it is the support of the proxies is one of them and it came up very clearly before together with obviously the use of non-conventional weapons and more in general.
again, like continuity defines the iranian foreign policy in the region, and i think this comes regardless of whoever is in power with regard to the presidency and regardless of the resources available. so i think going back to what was mentioned in the previous panel with regard to the impact of maximum pressure and what maximum pressure was intended to design allegedly because obviously, there is a lack of clarity about the u.s. strategy by iran and one of the argument is that the imposition of sanction and maximum pressure iran's behavior in the region would be contained and it would diminish. well, we have clearly seen the opposite and one of the reasons is obviously that iran continued its policy with regard to its support of the allies and proxies, but also its continuation of the interest. in syria, we have the same
continuation and iraq the same, and in yemen, we have not seen any change since 2018 in particular, and if anything, we have seen and more problems by iran to show case as was mentioned before the desire to test the red lines of the united states and the determination to clarify their interests in the region, and i think this is also something that came up very clearly before. for instance, in 2004, so the same we can apply to iran in 2012 when iran started pouring resources in syria. we are talking about the deployment of the iajc and also support to hezbollah financial and also military support to the syrian regime and we are talking about a time when iran was under
heavy sanctions and not unilateral san unilateral sanctions by the united states and you have the resolution in 1929, and a bunch of other countries and australia, canada and others are adopting also very strong sanctions against iran. despite, that iran not only continued its policy in syria and not only continued to support assad, but also poured more resources than before into syria, so it's not quite clear what was the assumption from the u.s. policy here that maximum pressure would change that behavior given that the situation did not seem to be the case even in the recent past and we are not talking about decades and we're talking about a few years ago. so the availability of resources does not seem to affect the iranian policy in the region, but also the governments, and the presidencies in power do not seem to change. the iranian policy in the
region. you can argue that obviously, a presidency of rouhani can be considered as different compared to ahmadinejad, but that is mainly in terms of tone and tactics. when we are talking about principle and red lines, they are exactly the same, and we can say the same even on the nuclear dossier. i know that this is not the topic here, but i'm happy to explain that as an example and i am happy to apply with every single dossiers and we can see the administration pushing for more and better relationship with the west and some administration pushing for better and improved relationship with the east. so we have the neither east or west policy and one of the framework of iran's foreign policy since the establishment of the islamic republic continued and with the different presidencies into the east or west policy, but the red lines
and the principle remaining exactly the same, and i think this really explains the iran's policy vis-a-vis the specific panel, china, russia and turkey. again, i'm not going into the details of every single relationship because we will be here forever, and i'll be happy to pick them up during the q and a, but if you take the principles that are enshrined in the iranian constitution, the non-alignment of the hegemonic powers very much defines iran's relationship with russia. i think this is one of the key elements with which iran establishes its marriage of convenience. how are you when i talk and definitely now the strategic partnership with russia. every time you ask the iranian officials and in some cases the iranian officials that they'll have that principle in common which is opposing the hegemonic powers, namely the united states and that has been characterizing
the collaboration and corporation on different dossiers to different extents and obviously, syria is one of the most complicated ones and i'm sure it will go into the details of the cooperation, and especially now that we're talking about reconstruction and post settlement, and in general, the nonhegemonic power and standing up to the hegemonic powers is the defining element that that puts russia into some sort of partnership and not a strategic one. with turkey, you say it very clearly that the 2015-2016 shift obviously, iran and turkey were on opposite sides in syria and yet, you were talking about the interests of opposing the nationalism of the kurds.
for iran, it is basically the fight against syria. the integrity is one of the principles since 2011 and continues to be one of the principles that they define as characterizing their involvement and their interest. the reason why turkey and iran got closer since 2016 to the point of the office and to broader corporation, and i think it's the kurdish issue seen from different lenses, but the ultimate goal with the same angle. with china, i am waiting to hear anxiously to hear from john what he has to say about that. but i think, you know, from the perspective of iran, china is really perceived as the non-belligerent actor here with which peaceful relationship can be built in, obviously, in a
complicated manner and china's role has changed over the past few years. so we'll hear about that, i'm sure, so from the economic investment we know that now is not all of that. so for now, we haven't seen an interference policy, and it is the noninterference in the affairs of states and that is what iran really values and that is what iran perceived as one of the reasons why some sort of partnership which is closer to a strategic one to all other countries can be built up with china compared to the other country, but i'm happy to expand on all of these issues later on, and i will stop here for the second part. ? thank you. thank you, aniseh, and also to allow the discussion to play as we are analyzing this panel. you are a good moderator, better than me, probably.
and the resident senior fellow with the atlantic council middle east programs and the university and one of the main experts on russia. so please. >> all right. thank you. thank you very much i would like to thank both the atlantic council for the opportunity to participate in this program and the one in rome, as well. especially looking forward to that, thank you very much. i want to start by saying, moscow has pursued broadly similar aims toward the middle east both under the soviets during the cold war and under putin now and one of these has been to undermine the u.s. role in the region in order to promote the moscow zone.
a second is growing the support of the rise upon oft session in the former soviet union and those closely aligned with moscow including syria and third, to pursue moscow's economic interests in the region despite the fact that moscow often competes with the region in the petroleum sphere in particular, but putin, though, has for sued these goals in a very different way than the soviets did. while they pursue their middle east aims in opposition not just to the u.s., but to u.s. allies there. putin has pursued these goals largely in cooperation with u.s. allies. also in cooperation with u.s. adversaries and basically in corporation with everyone except for the u.s. the soviets, their strategy were to align themselves with the so-called forces of change in the middle east, a policy that took advantage of anti-western trends in the region and of
course, was there a lot of success, a lot of change that occurred in the '50s ande '60s with the anti-american per soviet direction, but what this resulted in was that this pushed other forces and conservative forces toward the united states, and there was a reaction to this. also the forces of change with iran in particular and they were antisoviet as well as anti-western and we saw what happened in afghanistan. putin, by contrast poses as a supporter of all status quo forces in the middle east. he has established good relations with all of the middle eastern govern ams as well as the main national opposition movements as well as hezbollah, hamas and not internationalist
jihadist movements and ones concerned with their own local area while some middle eastern governments with chechnya in the 2000s, and at present, no middle east government support such movements. putin has managed to get them to be supporters of people like kadira who has very good relations with whether americans analyze in the regions and putin serves as a defender of middle eastern governments despite the difference wes each other and they have two common goals and one is that they're all against islamic radicals and u.s. disruptive policies that are supporting democratic revolution or intervention leading to chaos and moscow portrays the u.s. as actually being allied with
islamic forces. i remember being in moscow for the 2018 conference and the little one with lavrov and not the big one with putin and with the iranian foreign minister is present and they said that iran is a partner in the war on terror in syria, and the united states supports the jihadists, basically, is really amazing. and so what you're seeing, though, is putin in many respects supports opposing sides simultaneously in the middle east with regard to good relations with iran, or good relations with saudi arabia and also with israel, and good relations with turkey, good relations with the syrian kurds and we can go on and on that they have -- that's this balancing act. they don't choose sides and they support everyone.
doing this can be a difficult balancing game and obviously people don't like it when they're supporting adversaries, but so far it's worked and nobody likes moscow supporting its adversary and all have an incentive to court moss dou so that it will not support adversaries even more and allies declaring an interest in the region, part of the reason why they court moscow is to incite the u.s. to compete with moscow. in other words, if the fear is that the u.s. is losing interest in the reamon, the u.s. knows that the u.s. is interested in russia and it is concerned about russia. therefore, flirting in russia and if that helps keep the u.s. interested in the region then that's a good reason to do so. and our adversary such as iran and syria, they might not like the fact that moscow is working
with israel and saudi arabia and they don't have much choice. where are they going to go? moscow is not so much worried about being liked. it's worried about -- it has leverage. now, what's interesting is that, you know, up until 2016 or so, essentially moscow competed with middle east oil producers in the oil market, and in other words, they wouldn't -- abide by opec production limits, et cetera, and what we've seen since 2016 in particular we've seen saudi arabia and russia working together in the opec-plus format in terms of trying to limit production to effect oil prices and this is really something that's unprecedented and there are some observers who feel that saudi-russian cooperation is far more important and saudi arabia and russia make the decisions
that opec basically ratifies them and this is just an amazing accomplishment that putin has achieved. moscow boasts that unlike the u.s., it has the ability to talk to all sides in the middle east's various conflicts and it won't talk to iran, assad and hezbollah and that russia can and therefore russia is in the best position to serve as a mediator in the middle east with many conflicts. moscow has wanot exactly resolv any of these conflicts and there's been no equivalent of a camp david and if moscow ever managed to achieve this it would be a real feather in its cap, but what we've seen is there has been so much activity, in other words, that people in the region
take it very, very seriously and that the u.s. in a certain sense has been marginalized in the diplomacy of conflict resolution and that diplomacy hasn't been successful so far. so this is also a tremendous success. and all these different things that he's managed to do and to me, what's especially amazing is when you think of the successes that putin has had in the middle east and russia is a country with an awful lot of problems so its own economy is having tremendous difficulties and not just because of the sanction, but also because of putin's own plan of using petroleum wealth to develop the non-petroleum sectors of the economy just hasn't gone very far. in other words, they haven't each done what china has done with the authoritarian modernization that russia remains a petrol state that they
have not achieved a level of what the chinese have done and there are complications. in the middle east they're doing really, really well, but it does seem to me that putin's ability continuing to be successful in the middle east does face certain limits. while the u.s. allies may have an incentive to court moscow, and they fear the u.s. is leaving and they want toen courage the u.s. to stay, certainly moscow's support for their adversaries in the regions does mean that they'll have a strong insensitive to cling to the u.s. despite their fears that they were leaving, they cannot trust moscow all that far. they cannot rely on moscow with them and their adversaries and moscow has demonstrated that it's plain, not going to do that.
despite saudi and russian cooperation in the oil spiel, and the oil production combined with the possible increasing worldwide demand with petroleum due to the rise of petroleum may limit the value of this. i think the one thing that the saudis or the russians and other producers would like as higher prices, certainly u.s. shale has meant that there seems to be a ceiling on how far this can go, any this has, for an economy like saudi arabia or russia which is so highly dependent on oil revenues, this is a real limitation. in other words, that their cooperation in the sphere isn't out of being in a position of dominance. it's sort of that they're both in a weakened condition, and just as, you know, what we saw was that at the end of the cold war moscow's influence in the middle east retreated and that influence didn't retreat because
of any soviet failure in the middle east and it retreated because of moscow's problems elsewhere and obviously, the collapse of communism and changes in the soviet union itself and it strikes me that we haven't seen anything quite like that before and there are the possibilities of certain similar developments, in other words, that we are facing at a certain point a post-putin transition. we don't know if it will be 2024 or 2034 or god help u 2044 or something like this, but the thing is that the longer it takes the more difficult it may end up being that russia seems to have a long history going back to the soviets and to the czars of very strong rulers who stay in power for decades and decades and who are followed by periods of weakness because no one can do what that person did
and also because that person like putin is not exactly grooming a successor. he's not worried about the -- even the chinese before xi jinping, was there this periodic transition of power from one older generation to a slightly less, older generation. we have not seen this -- >> back here. >> the gray hair and the black hair. we haven't seen this in russia at all. eventually this will catch up with this, and also what we've seen is that in russian history that retreats from the middle east have occurred when problems develop in europe and in particular. europe always has a higher priority and you know, and who knows if that will happen again. we have to talk about the china factor, as well. the way i like to think about it is that in europe, russia is a revisionist power and in the middle east it's a status quo
power and in asia, it's not a power. it is essential and china is the great power and at a time when russia is becoming increasingly economically dependent on china and china will insert itself in the middle east and it strikes me that is china going to limit russia's behavior and we are already seeing that in europe and in ukraine, china is doing things that aren't exactly in russia's interest in terms of supporting the ukrainian government or outcompeting russia in what russia sees as its own sphere and it strikes me that there may be some, echo of this and the thing is this can happen whether or not u.s. influence in the middle east declines or not and it might happen if the u.s. is at least seen to have some interest in the middle east that that's when, you know, russia and china
may become more involved and is russia prepared to work against china and it's a question we don't know about and these are real questions. so it seems to me that, you know, just as we've seen putin reasserting the russian influence in the region that they have no real firm allies and the balance among adversaries indefinitely is that they resent it. they look for other supporters and if conflict explodes, what is russia going to do? wea we've seen that they've been very successful in russia compared with the u.s. and
afghanistan and the reason they've managed to be so successful is they've done the heavy lifting with the iranians and their allies and what happensing if, in fact, russia is in conflict with saudi arabia and you refer to the upcoming competition with rausch aussia n over the reconstriction in syria, for example. one of the things that strikes me is that russia -- it's not that russia wants iran out of syria, but they want the upper hand, it seems to me and that sort of allowing the israelis to do what they do serves that purpose that russia doesn't have to actually get involved. so it strikes me that the news isn't all good. >> there are a couple of points that i also just want to make. i don't know about you, but i was kind of sad that the assistant secretary didn't have
time to answer questions and you know, he talked about -- he talked about russia and china and that, you know, that indicated that they don't support human rights in the middle east that the u.s. hasn't done that either and the middle east governments are happy that russia doesn't support human rights and that china doesn't either, and here, i think, is one instance in which not so much human right, but that the soviets may actually have had an advantage over putin. at least the soviets were able to align themselves with the forces of change for a period of time in the middle east was now and putin has no such ability and putin is so linked in with the status quo that if it
changes it is not clear to me that -- i'm not sure that the united states will either, but that to me this is something that it may be europe. there you go and this is something that the soviets were more at tuned to than putin is. so that's something, i think, that needs to be kecht in mind. why don't i stop there. thank you. >> thank you very much. also to underline the long history of russia, soviet involvement in the middle east, so not really a new policy from that point of view. last, but not least, china and john halderman that is senior vice president and director of the middle east program and the center for strategic and international studies in
washington and we are joining the center, he served as a member of the planning staff at the u.s. department of state and as a special assistant to the secretary of state for the near eastern affairs. he recently worked on china's increasing engagement with countries in the region for many reasons. investments and oil import, et cetera, but as david shanker told us in the beginning of the event, china is increasingly probably also with its political rule. you have the floor. >> thank you to kareem and the atlantic council for having me. look, to start it's not -- china is not in the position mark was describing russia and describing iran. it's the old policy manifesting
itself. i want to make four points. the first of which is that china is in a whole new world when it comes to the middle east. there had been an explosion of ties starting at about 2000. in 1999, china imported less oil from the middle east than canada did and canada had 2.5 the population of china, right? china was not focused on middle eastern oil in 2000. china is focused on middle eastern oil now. the u.s. spent most of the 2000s preoccupied with the global war on terror and the war in iraq and afghanistan and china was busy deepening all kinds of ties throughout the middle east. the chinese economy kin it uppeled in size in the 2000s. its oil imports increased ten
times and it's worth pointing out that in 2000, china had $3 billion in bilateral trade with saudi arabia and in 2010 china had bilateral trade in saudi arabia. so we were paying attention to something else, and china was paying an awful lot of attention to the middle east that was building out a middle east strategy as we were engaged in the middle east and want payino attention to china in the middle east and when you tried to talk to middle east people that china's growing, they said don't you understand we're fighting wars in the middle east? we don't have time to think about china. china had an awful lot of time to build its ties and china's role is new and changing. second point. china has really limited goals in terms of its engagement in
the middle east. it is reluctant and defensive and china has gotten half its oil from the middle east for almost two decades and they have lost sleep over it for almost two decades. they have tried to find ways to reduce their dependence on middle eastern oil and they've made it both to the general instability to the middle east and they're cutting off access to the middle eastern oil and they can't figure out a way to reduce their dependence and it is a little bit defensive. they are not trying to subplant the united states in the region and this is not the russian experience. they don't see this as a zero-sum game and they're trying to supplement and win-win solutions they talk about and they have very little appetite for military ties and they've built it in djibouti partly to safeguard the red sea, but
they're not interested in having partner relationships the way we have partner relationships in the region when we've had to evacuate chinese citizens from libya in 2011 and it's a total game changer and they had no idea how to do this sort of thing. they evacuated 5,000 from yemen and this blew their minds. they're content to have the u.s. do security in the middle east. i still remember this conversation that we had in the chinese embassy and algiers, and the funny thing is as you meet chinese diplomats and i don't know how many of you had this experience, but certainly with each decade of youth you're meeting people from a different country. so, like, the 50-year-old guy struck me as a chinese diplomat with a $3 polyester sweater and bad english, right? and you sort of got down and down and then there's a 20-something guy with a bright
white shirt and yellow tie and he looked at me, sarcastic diplomats are not so common and he looked at me and said how about you do security and we do business which is what in many ways china would love to see. the u.s. can do the expensive stuff and the stuff that annoys people and china can do business. it works really well. the other thing china offers is they support governments and governments really like that. the perception is during the arab spring the u.s. started wavering and i don't know anybody who has been to the middle east especially to the gulf and hasn't heard the phrase the united states threw mubarak under the bus, right? that's the universal view and china stood by, and china promises the development which means we'll do growth without
social and political change and they love social and political change because political change makes them grumpy. so especially after 2011 and they'll prevent another arab spring and the idea that china is reassuring and we'll do it without creating an arab spring and we're on your side is really attractive to government. the third point is they have a limited number of countries they actually care about and now i would argue there are just five. in many way, the most strategically rich is the relationship with iran and let me give you a few points about the iran relationship for china. first is it's a good hedge against the united states. the u.s. isn't going to be able to get iran to stop exporting
oil to china very well. so if you're interested in how you ensure your economy is in oil, iran is a good call. it's great green field investment, right? there are a lot of people that were willing to invest in china. chinese, business is business. great opportunities to invest. it's lovely for the chinese to come in because iran does 30% of its international trade with china, and china does less than 1% with the national trade with iran. china is iran's number one oil export market. iran is not. china's number one source for oil. so there is a real disparity with the sides and this lets the chinese drive a hard bargain and that's really cool if you're all about business. it also gets the gulf countries to give better terms to the chinese because they don't want
china to be in the iranian camp. so they get not only benefits from squeezing the iranians and they get the saudis and the emiratis so they don't totally turn from the iranian camp and we only have three aircraft carriers and if we have two in the gulf, that means there's only one in the western pacific. that's awesome. it helps create a wedge between the u.s. and its allies and that's really cool and it helps undermine the rules based international order and the u.s. has built over 70 years. so from a strategic and economic perspective, the chinese love having iran in play not because they want to be iran's ally, but because iran gives them all kinds of dials to play with to advance their strategic interesting. number two is saudi arabia.
saudi arabia is the number one source for oil and saudi arabia has decision makers and the chinese love doing investment with the saudis and it makes a lot of economic sense for them and if you're a country whose economy relies on energy, that's the relationship that makes good sense. the saudis see china as an important hedge against u.s. abandonment and that gets the chinese better deals because the saudis aren't sure the u.s. will be there for them. china is driving the oil demand growth and not the united states. they're also interested in the uae. partly is a source of energy and partly because there's a bunch of money and the uae has about a quarter of the uae and japan has become a pro, and not only for the middle east and also into
africa. there are about 200,000 chinese in dubai. that's a big number. there are now about twice as many chinese in dubai as iranians in dubai which had been following dubai is a shocker. i don't know how many of you have been to dubai and it's a mile plus long wall which is basically a front office, and if you're from africa or europe it's a way to meet chinese producers going all of the way. work is done in english and dubai has just become this incredible commercial hub for china. fourth is egypt. partly, china's really concerned with red sea and suez canal security to get to the european markets and partly they say egypt is 100 millionaire abs. it matters and they have an open
door with president sisi and make egypt nonaligned again and israel as a place for interesting investments for technology and other kinds of things and the chinese have been very interesting and the israelis have gotten very concerned about how they play the chinese relationship without antagonizing the united states. so i would say china has five countries they care about in any significant way as opposed to a u.s. strategy which you would be hard pressed to say exactly what country the u.s. cares about and how they fit into a strategy. the fourth thing i want to say is what china has been doing is a really different model from the u.s. understanding of how to engage in the world and the imperialism and 1.0 with
gunboats and all of that stuff and everything. imperials with 2.0 was the u.s.-led rules-based international order where we tried to push countries toward having open systems and open trade and sort of capitalism and the push toward liberalism and all these kinds of things and we basically wanted countries to follow the path that we followed. i would argue that china sees an opportunity for imperialism 3.0 which might be mercantilism 2.0 which is we'll just trade. we're not going to talk about the foreign practices act. sometimes, i've been told in north africa they're willing to pay at the front of the deal and at the end of the deal, right? they are working with governments and it's unfettered development and david shenker who i've known for a very long time talked about we do it better, but i would argue if
you're an egyptian and the u.s. has been doing economic development in egypt for 60 years, and for decades and decades and decades, and show me how it's better. i look at china and i see a society that's developed. i looked at the united states and the united states itself has developed and the u.s. development efforts haven't created the future we want and why don't we try something else? our way of doing it is expensive and it's slow and i think that the chinese have laid out an argument that the u.s. is doing things that you don't need to do. the u.s. is doing things which fulfill u.s. domestic needs and they make accountants happy, but they don't actually lead to development in the rest of the world and you can just have
trade relations and maybe that's okay, and i think what it prompts us to think about is not how do we convince everybody the chinese are wrong, that the chinese model won't work. i think what we have to persuade people again is that there are aspects of the u.s. model which really do work and are affordable for us and affordable for you and the partnership and the rules and the predictable expectations creates a much better world than the world we're going to. i grew up in poughkeepsie, new york, which was the home of ibm. wexler is also from poughkeepsie which means i just got here on a quota. the poughkeepsie quota. ibm in the 1980s decided to get
into the personal computer business. and they decided the most expensive part of personal computers is building personal computers and they let this microsoft called microsoft sell the operating system. the operating system you had to buy every time you bought a pc clone you had to buy the operating system and the operating system cost pennies to manufacture, and it sold for maybe $100, and ibm said we're selling a $2,000 computer. isn't that better? but it turned out ibm got out of the personal computer business because it's all a commodity business where they're just small fractions where microsoft and then companies like google and companies like ebay understood -- is the value isn't in the hardware. the value is managing to
persuade people to follow the software. i think we've done too much to try to invest in expensive, hardware-like solutions and not enough thinking of the perspective of countries and people to get them to operate in the ways that we think will not only make their lives better, but make our lives better, advance their security and our security and it requires us to the chinese challenge requires us to re-think what we have to offer that is genuinely attractive and how to make it acceptable. >> i'm not sure we've done a good enough job of that because we do what we know how to do. one of my favorite expressions is i think it may have been a country song and i'm not sure is there's a fine line between a groove and a rut. you've got to get out of the rut and we have to think about how the world, not how it worked in the 20th century, but how it
will work in the 21st. thank you. >> thank you. >> thank you. i think we need another session to -- to answer your question. now we are to a question and answer session very briefly, and so, please, feel free to intervene. we collect, three, four questions and -- >> thank you. embassy from iraq. my question is to miss altima, how do you see the recent visit of the prime minister to china. how do you look at it with china, as well and do you think it trades concerns to the administration? thank you. >> you want to take it? yes, sir.
>> my question is to the ladies and to what extent the turkish and iranian foreign policy have the impact on the israeli-palestinian conflict and does this conflict has international affairs and beyond. in the last -- >> my name is dario, and i'm a fellow at the german marshall fund. my question is for dr. alterman. you mentioned five countries as the center, let's say, of the chinese interest in the region. do you think this definition is static or there is some element
of changing dynamics? i spent most of my time in the maghreb and especially in tunis and i can mention morocco and there is a significant increase of tune igsisian economic activs and do you think they will change or do you think they will remain the same? >> if you permit, i give the floor to ronald because she has to go. >> the question about turkey's impact on the palestinian issue, and president erdogan spent time at the u.n. talking about the palestinian issue and this is an important issue for him, but i think the israeli-palestinian
issues are difficult to fix due to where the trump administration stands and the regional dynamics so turkey doesn't really -- i don't believe turkey can play a constructive, important role there. even back in 2009 and even before that when turkey was a rising power in the region and where turkey had the soft power and developed close relations with israel and even then turkey could not do anything meaningful. so right now i doubt turkey can play a role because it's becoming marginalized country and from the israeli point of view, turkey is not really seen as a neutral power to play that role, and as i said, because of domestic dynamics, i think turkey will become a very much inward-looking country, so president erdogan doesn't have the political capital at the moment. >> yeah. and very briefly, i mean, the
iranian -- the israeli palestinian issue is one of the core of the iranian foreign policy has been the case. obviously, we have seen shifts in iran's support for the different parties and in particular the hamas group and also in particular after the syria conflict, we have seen more or less of support from the iranian part towards them, but the israeli-palestinian issue is something that has been always used in the domestic rhetoric, but it's not really affecting the domestic politics and this is your question. when you look at it again, one of the principles that i mentioned is the defense of the muslims' right and the palestinian issue is what has been always brought up by iran as the main example of what defending muslims means and why they cannot really drop the issue and why until there is no
resolution to the israeli-palestinian conflict, there is no real possibility for stabilization of the region. they mention it quite often, but in terms of their actual statement of an impact of this issue, domestically, we haven't really seen it and as he's mentioned we have seen somehow a dropping off of the issue in their agenda specifically for how the trump administration has managed to defile the whole instability with regard to the change of the embassy and so on and so forth that didn't help in terms of the prospect, but in terms of their policy that has been continuing to be the same. it doesn't really change depending on what the u.s. has been doing. >> in terms of the visit to
china, i don't think the u.s. government is concerned about allies visiting china and the prime minister is china hasn't diminished its ties to the white house and others and it's not a -- it's a sense that it's sort of natural that leaders will go to china and the issues, again, the issues of worlds-based order and there are a lot of issues related to iran policy where people of the administration think that china's interests and the u.s. interests, and if a country wants to strongly support the chinese view of undermining the solidarity of the u.s. position, then that's a problem, but merely going to
china is want an issue of great concern. it's an interesting question of the five-country static. what i think is sort of mixed the five country's important is they have something that's genuinely strategic to offer china. i certainly know that china had $18 billion of infrastructure contrac contract in the 2000s and built a highway all across the country and that doesn't make a strategic relationship. that's a purely commercial one. egypt has been a somewhat recent and israel was in the mid-2000s when they came in from u.s.
military technology from israel to china that israel would lose to china and they aggressively sought ways to be relevant to chinaa. i think one of them is in is on the other is on counterterrorism expertise. and israel fought itself into the top five. i think it's possible, but i think in some ways -- i mean iran just makes sense because of its relationship to the united states. i think for other countries who want to become strategically important to china they have to make a case for it. one of the things that i find breathtaking, traveling to the middle east is how many countries want to argue that they are strategically vital to china. the number of countries that argued we're a central hub in the belt road initiative and i look at them, no you're not.
right? but they want to be a central hub in the belt road initiative. you know, just as admiration of state craft. the way the chinese have aligned the world with this idea of a belt road initiative which has no definitive map, sort of vague contours, but there's a sense that it matters and there's a big idea and we can align ourselves with it has been tremendous force multiplier for the chinese. so i think it's possible for countries to get on that list. it's possible for countries to drop-off the list. but the important thing to me is not just your volume of trade because your involve trade within the chinese bucket is not a big deal. you have to fine something strategic, you have to understand what the chinese are trying to do strategically. it's possible do that without alienating the united states.
but i think that's something that countries have to consider carefully how one does it. >> i think we can take another couple of questions, and thank you -- thank you. one here and the other one. >> china recently cancelled the $5 billion oil deal with iran,s on -- trying to obey u.s. sanctions. but there's a significant aspect of relations in the middle east. i wonder if you have an opinion of any reason for the cancellation and what the zealation means to iran.
>> president trump just announced that he has invited president erdogan to the white house next month and he has accepted. what would you say be the optimum outcome for the u.s., in other words, what would any one of you advise should be our goal in,000 achieve that from that meeting? thank you. >> who wants to start? one last one. here.
>> you mentioned a point that many believe in no difference in term of the government in iran when it comes to foreign policy or religion policy. what would iran -- what would iran drive to change its policy in the middle east. is it the igc. it seems to me no difference, as you said between rouhani or the previous leader when it comes to foreign policy. >> go ahead. >> there's just one thing i wanted to mention. i'm afraid not an answer to any questions that were asked. but i think in terms of the news of the day and that is russian reaction to the trump administration withdrawing troops and then sort of talking about turkey.
i think that what we're going to see is that moscow is going to revive its long standing offer to the syrian kurds that the best deal possible for them is to make a deal with the assad regime. russia will help them do so and that they cannot rely on the u.s. and that while the turks might not like this, i think that they will find themselves in a position where it's very difficult for them to counter without hurting their relations with russia. i also would point out that russia has been supporting the kurds since the 19th century. supporting them and betraying them ultimately and yet they always come back, the kurds to russians. and i think that this is a long
standing relationship and i think that the current u.s. policy will lead to another sort of, you know, closer ties between russians and the kurds. >> all right. so i start with the no difference in iran's foreign policy which is not exactly what i meant to say and thank you for giving me the opportunity to clarify. what i said is that iran's principles that drive its foreign policy do not change, but i also say that depending on who is in power in term of the presidency and the government, iran's policy actually changes in terms of tone and tactics and that's why, for instance, we're seeing right after rouhani was elected in june 2013, we had two months after the first start of the negotiation that then led into 2015 to a new dale. a bunch of other reasons, obviously, you know, but i think the importance of who is in
power should not be undermined. and i think we have seen differences also in terms of how different presidencies have connected or interacted with the countries that we mentioned on this panel. so, china, for instance is one of them. obviously underlying element that defines iran's policy towards china as i said before is the fact that it's not perceived as a bellegerent country. but if you look at the difference between the previous administration and what it did entangle iran not just economically but politically closely with china is very difference with what rouhani wanted to do especially with the first administration we've seen a clear attempt to diversify from china's economic dependence, with, you know, case
of the south parts going to gas, disconnection from contracts that were had before and move iran's policy towards the west. what has happened with the nuclear deal and that's why we're seeing iran's policy shifting much more closely to russia but more specifically to china. at the same time, as one of the questioners mentioned, whereas there is this kind of relationship, there's a lot of also, i would say different messages coming from china. in one sense you're talking about a strategic partnership, a strategic role that iran plays in china. yeah in china's mindset. at the same time from an iranian point of view china has not really been doing what it was expected to do, especially after the withdrawal after the united states from the nuclear deal.
we know that there is concern, we've heard it this morning about how much oil china has been exporting to iran, and is continuing to export but, really, like what are we talking about? 200,000 barrels per day compared to the 700,000? the mention about the contracts after china was supposed to come in and step in. that's one of the examples. what we've seen really more broadly speaking with the iraq reactor and with regard to the chinese posture a continued attempt to stand by iran but without taking the risk of putting itself in a confrontational position towards the u.s. i think part of it is -- yeah it's very much in line of the strategic posture of iran. but it does not represent
someone that iran can rely on. >> iran doesn't have a choice. china is playing a bigger game. china is playing a much bigger game. iran doesn't have a choice. if china decides because they are doing the trade deal and other stuff with the united states that this isn't worth picking up a fight and not going stand up for iran there's nothing iran can do because china is the master of this relationship >> you're absolutely right. so, you know, there is a struggle for iran in that sense because in one sense they know that they could play the relationship with china in a different role if they had better relationship with the western countries, which is what rouhani wanted to do. but at the same time now they know that this is no longer an option and therefore all the cards are in the china basket. and that makes it very, very difficult to iran to, you know, disengage from what has been perceived as a dependency from
china which was on the economic side but with the chinese new vision but lead also to some sort of political dependency and we don't know what the consequences of that might thread. >> i think that's exactly right. china is luxu rirch ating in the fact that iran is dependent. and they know it. and iranians know it and they are not happy about it. nothing they can do about it because there's no country that can begin to provide for iran what china provides for iran. so china, you know, goes along with the jcpoa and doesn't help iranians get a better deal. okay. china decides the relationship with the united states is more important than the gas deal. okay. you can protest. won't do you any good. again, to me this highlights the
wisdom of the chinese approach to iran is iran for china is a gift that keeps on giving, and iran has to find ways to continue to make itself attractive to china which benefits china. i'm sorry nobody is answering your question about erdogan. let me say this and it's way out of my lane. i think u.s.-turkish relations have been going in a really bad direction for a long time. and the turks keep doing things which are perceived to be defiance of american ambitions, and i would hope that the president will be able to bring the turks closer in line with u.s. strategy in the region. and this is not a problem that is limited to the trump administration, and didn't start in the obama administration, it started before, but as a nato
ally our relationship with turkey has been increasingly frayed and i think there are a lot of things that are much easier to do if we're most closely aligned that would help the president be able to do that. >> well the time is over and we're ready for lunch, so thank you very much for all the panelists. thank you. [ applause ] >> sunday at 9:00 eastern on after words in her latest book "tough love" susan rice talks about her life and career in american diplomacy and foreign policy. she's interviewed by robin wright author and columnist for the new yorker.
>> what are you worried about russian intervention in the 2020 election? >> it's important for the american people town that it hasn't stopped. this has been constant. they were very actively involved in 2016, as we saw through stealing and hacking emails from the dnc from john podesta and others on the clinton campaign. they put out false information. and then they were very active on social media trying to pit americans against each other over domestic issues of contention, whether it's race or immigration or guns or what have you. their whole thing is to discredit our democracy, to cause people in this country to hate one another and to turn against one another and to try to weaken us from within. >> watch after words sunday night at 9:00 eastern on book tv on c-span 2. a new c-span poll shows just
over half of americans are confident that the 2020 presidential election will be open and fair. there's a significant partisan gap on the question. 72% of republicans are confident in the system. only 39% of democrats share that belief. 58% of americans think that foreign governments are among the threats to the system. while only 41% of republicans share in that concern, more than three quarters of democrats and over half of independents believe that foreign governments may interfere with u.s. elections. 31% of people believe the federal government has done enough to protect elections from foreign interference. 54% of republicans report having either a great deal or a fair amount of confidence in federal efforts. only 16% of democrats and just over a quarter of independents agree. you can find all of the results, including whether americans think presidential candidates should be required to release their tax returns and whether citizens should be required to show a government i.d. to vote