Kurt Volker on Foreign Affairs

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Former NATO Ambassador and executive director of Arizona State University’s McCain Institute Kurt Volker will update us and provide insight on the latest in foreign affairs.

TED SIMONS: Controversy continues over a proposed Iran nuclear deal and Europe struggles to handle a wave of migrants from war-torn Syria and Iraq. Here to talk about those issues and other foreign affairs is former NATO ambassador and current head of ASU's McCain institute, Kurt Volker. Good to see you again.

KURT VOLKER: Nice to be here. Thanks for having me.

TED SIMONS: I always enjoy these conversations. Let's get it going with the Iran nuclear deal. Your thoughts.

KURT VOLKER: We have seen two sets of generals now write letters to Congress. One saying it is a great deal. We need to do this and push off an Iranian nuclear weapon. Another one came out saying no, no, you have to reject this deal. I would say that I wish that we had negotiated harder and held out for more. We were in this to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, to not allow them to have an enrichment capacity. This agreement eventually gets them there. I wish we had held out. But now that we have this deal, everybody is going to lift sanctions, the U.N. is going to lift sanctions, all of the countries will start doing business again. Iran will follow the terms of this with other countries whether we reject it or not. It might be symbolic to say we couldn't condone Iran moving down this path but it is not going to stop it now.

TED SIMONS: Those in support say this does include inspections and restrictions of a sovereign nation, and they would compare it to someone coming over here and inspecting our facilities and regulating us. That is pretty important, isn't it? That's part of the --

KURT VOLKER: It is. There is a lot of fine print around this as well. First of all, if we are talking about Iran, not us. Iran is a country that -- it is not a democracy it's a theocracy that brutally executes people right and left. This is a rough country. That's one part. Second, if we were to agree internationally that we would have inspections and we did this, for example, during the cold war with the Soviet Union. We had nuclear agreements. We had inspections. You can do that sort of thing. What was agreed here, was that the IAEA would accept Iran's self-inspection of military facilities as Iranians conducting this rather than the IAEA. This is another step away from an intrusive regime. I don't think the alternative here is to bomb Iran, I don't think that would get us what we want either. But I think we should have held out for a tighter agreement.

TED SIMONS: For those who say it does leave military action as the only other option. Is that a vital statement?

KURT VOLKER: We have to see. Now that the agreement exists, the thing to focus on is vigorous implementation to see what happens. How the Congress votes, that's people voting their own conscience about whether they want to condone this. That's their call. In terms of this agreement actually existing in the world now and Iran trying to carry it out, we would like to see as much vigorous implementation as possible. If we become concerned that Iran is not following what it says in the agreement, it takes you back to the question, how do you change that?

TED SIMONS: If they don't -- I have understood that the deal has two separate roadways. One nuclear, and the other aspects. But if Iran follows the nuclear deal, the agreement, and doesn't have any problems there, and yet we're finding them sponsoring terrorism and just doing impossibly bad things and we want to sanction or punish them. There are those saying that under this deal we can't do that or they will say the whole thing is off the table.

KURT VOLKER: That I don't agree with. We have sanctions in place because of the nuclear issue and also because of terrorism. And it has been clear all along that even the administration is saying we're not lifting the terrorism-related sanctions, only those that were put in place because of the nuclear program.

TED SIMONS: As far as Congress now, what are you expecting?

KURT VOLKER: I'm expecting that you will have all of the republicans voting to reject the deal, and certainly Menendez and Schumer, two democrats coming out to say they will vote against. You will need two-thirds to override a presidential veto. I don't think it will get there.

TED SIMONS: As far as the region is concerned -- Saudi Arabia has to look at this and get very nervous.

KURT VOLKER: This is the biggest problem I think. These countries in the region, Saudi Arabia, turkey, UAE perhaps feel that Iran is indeed now empowered to have a nuclear program and possibly a nuclear weapon, they may decide to go down that path too, and then you see a nuclearizing middle east as opposed to one eliminating a nuclear program.

TED SIMONS: It is bad enough over there as it is. Every story coming out of the middle east from ISIS is more impossible to believe than the next. And now -- destroying the temples, beheading some 82-year-old archaeologist studying these things and hanging his body -- what is going on over there?

KURT VOLKER: It is part of their ideology that the only thing that matters, history and culture in Arab world starts with Mohammed. Anything that predates that, culture that existed there, archaeologists are looking at, they view as blasphemy, invalid, and needing to be destroyed. In Afghanistan, Taliban did the same thing. Blew off the faces of the statues, and that mentality to destroy all of these things.

TED SIMONS: How do these kinds of actions actually help ISIS? Who is charmed by this behavior?

KURT VOLKER: It is shocking that some people are. If you look at ISIS today after a year of bombing, they control more territory, more volunteers streaming in that want to wage this religious war and believers in that cause and go to the most extreme violent acts and extreme violent beliefs in order to pursue that cause. It is working for them.

TED SIMONS: It's just very hard to believe.


TED SIMONS: You mentioned acquiring -- please.

KURT VOLKER: I was going to say one of the reasons why people are still streaming in is they have this perception that ISIS is succeeding. That ISIS has survived these air strikes. It is taking territory. And unlike al-Qaeda, which just wanted to be a terrorist network, ISIS now controls territory, fashions itself as a state and is authorizing, empowering people to say join us, recognize the caliphate and you can be with us, and that has expanded their power considerably.

TED SIMONS: Is ISIS succeeding, especially in Iraq? General Alan, he was saying Isis is losing, saying they're checked strategically and for the most part tactically. We found out later this is a little rose colored glasses going on.

KURT VOLKER: They are in a better position, militarily, economically and controlling territory today than they were a year ago. That doesn't mean that they are going to be the wave of the future. They may not take over all of Syria or Iraq. We had to take a snap shot of today and one year ago and they're stronger. We have to take this into account.

TED SIMONS: Why are they stronger?

KURT VOLKER: Partly the Sunni tribes in Iraq, and opposition to Syria. -- They have collaborated to say that we would rather collaborate with Isis and have Sunni control over this territory than be dominated by a Shia government in Baghdad or by Assad. As violent as it is, that local support has given them space and time and they have used it to get money through sales of oil or raiding some of the equivalent of federal reserve banks that they have captured. They have done very well on the internet and social media attracting people to the faith of this cause. This ultra-violent Islamist terrorist state.

TED SIMONS: With that in mind, we talked about this before, it is hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys over there. We talked about Iran and we are worried about their behavior. This is a Shia country, they would be natural enemies of ISIS.

KURT VOLKER: And they are. The paradox is that we are opposing Iran in Syria. They are supporting Assad and we would like to see an opposition to Assad successfully stabilize the country, because his killed so many of his own people. They are supporting the government in Baghdad and our allies are in Baghdad fighting against ISIS. We are on both sides of this and so are they.

TED SIMONS: Yeah, it becomes a quagmire. Sending troops to Iraq, American troops to Iraq. Is that an option?

KURT VOLKER: Depends who you talk to because President Obama clearly does not want to do that. And yet, look at how we have gradually increased our air strikes against ISIS. We have now doing -- also from a base in turkey and -- to go at them from the north into Syria. And there is discussion about what kind of spotters do you need? What kind of intelligence and spotting of targets? If that requires ground forces, who would do it? I don't think there is any desire on the part of the administration to do this right now but there is a sense of what we're doing right now is not enough.

TED SIMONS: What's happening in the middle east is resulting in a flood of refugees moving into Europe. Talk to us about that and how that dynamic is --

KURT VOLKER: That is really shocking. The numbers of people who are either coming by land across turkey or across the Mediterranean into Europe is staggering. We have seen over 100,000 I believe, so far this year. Estimates may rise as much as 300,000. There have been a lot of deaths on the high seas as a result of this. A lot of them are being put up in camps as refugees and yet they are still coming because they believe the camps are better than the situation they are leaving behind. Whether it's in North Africa or Levant -- and Syria. The European Union has not figured out how to deal with this. They tried the idea of assigning quotas to each of the E.U. countries. You accept so many immigrants. Those countries that are not in the south or the east rejected and said , not us we aren't doing this. You guys have control this better and keep them out. But the E.U. also refused to have a deportation policy or a return them to where they came from policy, meaning that if they get on a boat or if they make it to Greece or Italy, they're being taken care and they will keep coming.

TED SIMONS: They seem to be heading towards Germany and to a lesser extent Sweden. Is this more of a challenge for the E.U., Europe in general, than the crisis in Greece?

KURT VOLKER: They're different challenges. Migrant thing is big and it affects publics, perceptions, and they are unwilling to repatriate, and yet they are now seeing this great influx of people and they don't know what to do about it. With Greece, they bought time at the beginning of the summer by having Greece agree to an austerity package which then freed up additional financing for Greece to be able to then get money and pay money back. Very little of this money flows into Greece. It's not going to actually change the economy in Greece. The Greek government split over this. They're going to have new elections and I fear we're going to be right back where we were by October.

TED SIMONS: My goodness. Things are happening obviously over there. We also before we get out of here, this attack on this high-speed French train. How did a guy loaded to the teeth get on a train in Belgium? How does that happen?

KURT VOLKER: They don't have the same security controls at the rail stations as you have at the airports. It easier for someone to get a weapon and get onto a train like that. They're obviously going to look at that and tighten up a lot. The other -- we don't know, I haven't seen the reports. How did he actually get the weapon on to the train? Was it planted there by someone who was a maintenance worker on the trains? It is quite possible. There is a large Muslim community in Belgium and Netherlands where he presumably boarded in Amsterdam and in Paris. There could be a network of support for that.

TED SIMONS: He was supposed to be on the radar of France and of Belgium and of Spain. They knew this guy. They knew of this guy. He gets on the train, and, again, we don't know where the arms were from, but without those Americans and the Briton, and a French guy --. Without the help of those people, this could have been a massacre.

KURT VOLKER: It could have been. He had the gun on him. It was loaded. He was prepared to shoot. They saw this and rushed him which is extraordinary bravery right there from the airmen that did this. They gained control and were able to knock him down and tie him up and prevent any more dangerous shooting. He had not only the gun but one of those box cutters as well, and that caused some severe cuts on the hands of one of these guys and on the neck of one of the other people.

TED SIMONS: Last question, everything we talked about -- I will skip the Korean peninsula because things are actually going well there comparatively speaking --.

KURT VOLKER: We were on the brink of war, it was dicey --

TED SIMONS: There was artillery fire on both sides was there not?

KURT VOLKER: Not artillery fire, but arms fire on both sides. And land mines that were going off that killed some South Korean soldiers is what precipitated this. The north was not backing down for a while, it was very dangerous.

TED SIMONS: Why did the north back down?

KURT VOLKER: I think South Korea was adept in the way they managed the negotiation. They used loudspeaker broadcasting to create an irritant and negotiating back down from doing that in order to let the north save face. I don't think that Kim Jong Un wanted a war, but he wanted to show that he is tough and ready.

TED SIMONS: As long as he can show he is in charge and a tough guy - and the south then held back on those broadcast. Correct? We didn't talk about the Korean peninsula --. Great to have you. Good conversation.

KURT VOLKER: Thank you.

TED SIMONS: Thank you. Thursday on "Arizona Horizon," Congressman Raul Grijalva will join us in studio. And we'll see how one local company made history with the first 3-D printed car. That's at 5:30 and 10:00 on the next "Arizona Horizon." That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Kurt Volker: executive director of Arizona State University's McCain Institute

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