Ambassador Kurt Volker

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Former NATO Ambassador Kurt Volker makes his regular appearance on Arizona Horizon to discuss foreign affairs.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to Arizona Horizon, I'm Ted Simons. Governor Doug Ducey today signed a bill that allows microbreweries to expand production without losing their restaurant operations. The bill was signed at Four Peaks Brewery in Tempe. The new law allows companies to keep their licenses until they produce 6.2 million gallons of beer a year, six times what was previously allowed. They can operate up to seven bar or restaurant locations.

Ted Simons: Yemen is falling apart and a deadline is missed in nuclear talks with Iran. Joining us now as he does every month to talk about foreign affairs issues is Kurt Volker, former ambassador to NATO and from the McCain Institute for International Leadership.

Kurt Volker: Good to be here.

Ted Simons: Today was supposed to be a deadline in the Iran nuclear talks.

Kurt Volker: You could see it coming from a long way away, Iran wants to pursue a program that gives it the capacity to develop a nuclear weapon. They don't want to have too many restrictions that prevent them doing that. It's going to be unacceptable to the United States, France, other members of the P5. They have been talks, pushing this. There's no real common ground. What we have in place is an interim agreement that lasts until June. We have a deadline today to try to set some kind new framework. Clearly it wasn't going happen and they kicked it down the road.

Ted Simons: Was it something that we -- is it just a paper deadline? A little line in the sand?

Kurt Volker: It was a self-imposed deadline, an interim agreement that says here are the programs around Iran's nuclear program, how many centrifuges, water reactors, things like that. That lasts until the end of June. We need a framework agreement for the next phase that, deadline was April 1st. We did not reach a common framework on what should come after this interim agreement. We still have three months to go until that expires. The real question is did we get something that we have confidence in that is going take Iran further from the ability to produce a nuclear weapon? And if not, do we have any agreement at all? If there noise agreement at all, Iran races ahead, Saudi Arabia and others say we need a nuclear weapon. It's risky on both ends.

Ted Simons: Enriching nuclear stockpiles, are we true trying to get them to move them out or weaken them or what?

Kurt Volker: Two things: There's the amount and degree of enrichment of uranium itself. We're trying to get a minimum amount and the minimum level of enrichment. The Iranians are doing the opposite, they want to keep the level of enrichment as high as possible. When you turn back to a nuclear weapon program, someday the question is how much more work do you need to do to get the uranium up to weapons grade.

Ted Simons: Iran says it's not for military purposes.

Kurt Volker: It still says that.

Ted Simons: It's not so much get rid of the operation or the stockpiles or enriched uranium, it's push it out, delay it.

Kurt Volker: Let's be honest here, we, the United States, have moved a long way. We went from three unanimous U.N. security council resolutions that said no enrichment. Iran should not be doing its own enrichment. That also means no storage, and you don't need centrifuges because you're not going make your own uranium. That was where we were. Today we're talking about how much enrichment, how much stockpiles do you get to keep, how many centrifuges do you have. The Iranians still want more.

Ted Simons: And that's probably one of the reasons why things are as tight as they are. How firm is the U.S. -- after going all this way, it sounds like Iran is listening as they kind of pull us toward them but at some point that's got to stop.

Kurt Volker: The question is, what's the alternative?

Ted Simons: What is the alternative?

Kurt Volker: We have sanctions in place now. They have hurt Iran to some degree and that brought them to want to negotiate to get the sanctions lifted. But for the Iranians this is a matter of national pride, as well. They want to have control over their own nuclear program, not be subject to some kind of external control and verification. They are not going to back down on this. At the same time there's such a level of distrust coming from the western community and Israel also about Iran's nuclear program we need to see those kinds of guarantees. If we don't have either one of those, people start to talk about, would you bomb those facilities? That could lead to an escalation of war. It could mean Iran rebuilds them over time and you have no other agreement in place. Could we have interim agreements that push it down the road and see what develops from there. That's what we've been doing.

Ted Simons: Elections in Israel, Netanyahu wins. Analysis there, if you would, not only on the nuclear agreement but progress toward an agreement, and everything else happening in the Middle East.

Kurt Volker: The Netanyahu thing is interesting. Most of the play in the U.S. was about the U.S. domestic politics around Netanyahu's investment the Congress invited him, President Obama didn't want him to come, he wasn't seen by President Obama during his visit even though Israel is a close ally. This is the dynamic we heard on the news. If you look at it really from Israel's perspective, they see a threat from Iran. They want to wipe Israel off the map, they say. The whole point of the negotiations is to make sure they don't have a nuclear weapon. That is really serious to Israel. If they see a weak agreement, not sufficient to rise to that standard they are deeply concerned. That's why Netanyahu has been so outspoken and that's yes he came to the Congress and got reelected.

Ted Simons: He got reelected as well by ruling out the two-state solution. The impact of that just in general again, on situations in the Middle East, on the relationship with the White House. Will we start recognizing a Palestinian state in the U.N.?

Kurt Volker: I think we're a long way from that. People have talked about -- I take this more as piqued at Netanyahu than as serious policy. People have talked about taking the U.S. out of the position of always packing Israel when the resolutions come up in the city council. Going ahead and not exercising our veto. I'd be surprised if that's really what emerges. The stakes for Israel, the stakes for us, severing the U.S. Israeli relationship would be dramatic.

Ted Simons: The last point on this: The letter Republicans sent to Iran, don't trust the President. And the invitation to Netanyahu to speak to Congress without the President's backing, is this just back and forth parrying? What's going on? Is there a serious rift between America and Israel?

Kurt Volker: Here's how I would say this. There is a lot of distrust not only of Iran but distrust between the Congress and the White House. The con doesn't feel that the White House is going to cut a good enough deal. They wanted to send a shot across the bow with the open later to the Israel government. He can use that in the negotiations and say look what's behind me, we've got to get a good deal. I don't think you can play that into the U.S.' relationship with Israel for real. Yes, we have the worst relationship between President Obama and Netanyahu we've seen certainly in my lifetime. But I don't see that really breaking the U.S.-Israeli relationship anytime soon.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about what's happening in Yemen. I don't think we have enough time to figure out the players. Good gracious, the Iranian-backed rebels going again Sunni. What is happening there?

Kurt Volker: What you have playing out in many parts of the Middle East -- you can do this in Iraq or Syria or say 20 years ago in Lebanon, we're seeing it in Yemen today. You have Sunni Islamist extremists, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula fighting to get control of territory and to create destruction. Your Shia backed rebels in the case of ISIS -- or not ISIS, in the case of the huttis in Yemen. You're seeing a contest between Iran and Shia in the region versus Iranian-backed Saudi Arabia. And the most extreme Sunni groups who oppose both of them.

Ted Simons: And now the United States seems to be fighting everyone on this.

Kurt Volker: We are on every side of this now. In Syria we would like to see moderate Arabs take over and remove Assad from power but not let ISIS take over. It's held in great suspicion by the Sunnies in Iraq. In the Arabian Peninsula, we're with Saudi Arabia and fighting the rebels there. In Iran -- in Iraq we and Iran have the same goal. In Yemen we have the opposite goal. In Syria we have the opposite goal. On top of all this we have these nuclear talks. Even if we do get an agreement on the nuclear issue none of the rest of this goes away.

Ted Simons: Is this a Shia-Sunni war?

Kurt Volker: Multiple dimensions. There's ideology and extremism, Sunni-Shia, regional power and dominance. These are all factors in the way these things are playing out.

Ted Simons: How will they play out? We've talked before, I used the metaphor before of a low-grade fever. Is it a constant problem as opposed to something blowing up and being really bad, fall-out at least settling things down.

Kurt Volker: Without some kind of imposed order, that is a security alliance, a security presence, states that control territory, if that starts to break down, we've seen a breakdown in governments in many places whether it's Syria, Libya, Somalia, Yemen. Other groups rise to the fore, what that breaks down, and then it spreads and spreads and spreads. We are seeing a graver crisis in 2015 than we did 2014, than we did in 2012 or in 2008.

Ted Simons: ISIS and al-Qaeda both, they are not going away, are they?

Kurt Volker: They are very strong. You have to look at ISIS like al-Qaeda 4.0. If you control territory you can gain wealth. If you create the ideology of a caliphate that everyone can sign on extremist groups from Africa all the way to east Asia, that is a powerful allure. You can call yourself affiliated with ISIS in some way, then it empowers them. We've seen this actually go further than al-Qaeda was ever able to do.

Ted Simons: Before you go, I wanted to mention that the Afghan President was in Washington for three days. A different kind of President than we're used to with Karzai.

Kurt Volker: He was very gracious and thanking the United States for the sacrifices we have made in trying to bring security to Afghanistan, both financially and in terms of lives lost. He's recognized he still needs U.S. assistance. He was taking responsibility for Afghans needing to govern Afghanistan. He was being very realistic and sending a lot of the right messages. That went along with the White House deciding to extend the deadline a little bit for withdrawing U.S. forces. That's going help him out a little bit.

Ted Simons: Are we still out thereof by the end of next year?

Kurt Volker: We're still out of there by the end of 2015 but when does that wave move. We were going to be out of there before the spring fighting season really takes off and moves into the summer. Still not a large number, but still substantial through the summer but then get them out by the end of the year.

Ted Simons: Is it likely we will have a permanent or really, really long-lasting presence in Afghanistan?

Kurt Volker: Likely is an interesting question. It depends on the decisions that we make. President Obama wants to end U.S. engagement in Afghanistan. Whether we should or not is a different question. I think there, if we see the risks that Afghanistan would fall apart after all the sacrifices that we made, and knowing the kind of instability that that can foster elsewhere as we see with ISIS in Iraq, maybe we don't want to see that happen. That's something that bears watching over time. We really ought to be conditions-based rather than just a timeline.

Ted Simons: And in Afghanistan, how corrupt that is situation?

Kurt Volker: It is hugely corrupt, this is a society that has learned to function off of corruption. With the western community there for the last 13, 14 years there's been a huge infusion of cash. It's very, very corrupt. The question is really can it be governed and how do you govern there. Here we have to have an alliance of several factions. They are working together, some kind of reconciliation with the Taliban who will accept the Afghan state. Those who oppose the existence of the state still have to be defeated but those who can be peeled off have to be brought in, they represent people in Afghanistan.

Ted Simons: The next time we talk, will the first thing we talk about be the latest offensive by Russia and pro-Russians?

Kurt Volker: If you look at what's happening on the ground in eastern Ukraine, Russia is bringing in heavy weapons. There's a city that separates Crimea from eastern Ukraine. The Russians would love to connect that territory and have it fully contiguous with Russia itself and so far all the signs are preparing for that operation.

Ted Simons: What about resistance? What's NATO doing? What's the U.S. doing?

Kurt Volker: First, what are the Ukrainians doing? They have the remnants of their military, which has taken a lot of hits, placed into that area between these two, knowing this is what's likely to happen. We are not arming Ukraine at this point, no others are arming Ukraine. NATO has not promised to defend Ukraine. They are on their own military terrible. What happened after the Minsk cease fire, was that there was one outpost where the Ukrainians still controlled he it and the Russians just ignored the cease-fire, surrounded the Ukrainians and forced them to pull out or they would have decimated all of the forces there. They take everything but the city, they hold it and say you've got 48 hours to get out or we will slaughter you.

Ted Simons: Is this similar to the Balkans?

Kurt Volker: People keep looking for endpoints. I have to say, Putin doesn't have an endpoint in mind. He has a strategy in mind. It is Russian speakers, part of Russia, dominate the space of the former Soviet Union and have Russia treated as a global great power. Within that is the dividing line here or in Odessa or does he take part of Muldova? That's negotioable.

Ted Simons: It's a busy word out there. It's good to have you here.

Kurt Volker: Thanks, Ted.

Kurt Volker:Former Ambassador and Executive Director, McCain Institute and United States;

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