Interview with Senator John Kerry

Interview with Senator John Kerry

By John King, USA - January 28, 2011

KING: Senior Obama administration officials tell us they were highly disappointed that President Mubarak did not reach out and promised to open a dialogue with the demonstrators in his speech. Others in the United States government are also disappointed. A short time ago I spoke to Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. He is the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And I began by asking him if the Egyptian government does not do more to accommodate the protesters, should the United States consider cutting off or suspending its generous aid to Egypt.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), FOREIGN RELATIONS CHAIRMAN: Well I think that look let's not put the cart ahead of the horse. There are a lot of things before we get to that. We obviously have a lot of tools. But the important thing here is to try to build on what happened in Tunisia in a way that restores a sense of future and possibilities of the region. And hopefully avoids the street clashes and confrontation and loss of life and violence as the way we're going to go forward here.

I think there could be a peaceful outcome. But as I said, it depends really on President Mubarak's response to this crisis. One of the things that I think he could do, which might be constructive, is to talk with his son and his son to talk with him and to sort of recognize the frustrations that have built up and what the needs are now. And perhaps defer his son's ambitions for the moment or ask him to in a way that sort of promises some kind of succession process that opens the process up. But still respects the leadership that he has given over these years. I think there is a way forward. And the key is in the response in the streets.

KING: One of the complaints of those people in the streets demonstrating, airing their grievances against President Mubarak is that the United States government has been too soft on him because of that strategic alliance, because of his role in the peace process that perhaps we have not been as persistent and as consistent in demanding openness, political reforms, the construction of other democratic institutions, so that it is not just the Mubarak family. Is that a fair criticism, sir?

KERRY: In terms of the sort of what has taken place in public, some people might find a legitimate argument there, but in private, no, it is not legitimate. In every conversation that I know high level officials have had, Vice President Biden, Secretary Clinton, conversations I've had through the years, we have always raised with him issues of democracy. I can remember talking with him very specifically about specific political prisoners, about the election process, about the control of the media, about opening up that process.

But always, there was the Muslim brotherhood that was there that was proffered as a rationale for why they had to be pretty tough. And I'm afraid that what has happened through the years is that legitimate democracy activists have been swept in to that umbrella. And I think that's part of the building frustration. That has run its course now. And so this is a moment where President Mubarak really has to be the statesman.

KING: Is it perhaps time to cast aside the old rules of diploma? You make an interesting point and an important point that in private you can be very tough with a president like Mr. Mubarak. Publicly you might not want to do that, but then what you get as a result, Senator Kerry, is that the people don't trust us, a lot of anti-American sentiment. Should we be more public in this new age of open communication of the Internet and social networking?

KERRY: Well I think the answer is yes and I think that the administration has been pretty clear today, but you also want to do it in a way that doesn't invite recklessness, doesn't invite more violence. That really helps, I think, the art here is to have effective diplomacy that makes it clear as the president did, I think, in his statements in the last few days. That the United States is first and foremost concerned about the rights of people and first and foremost concerned about the protection of people in the street and to try to avoid a violent confrontation between the military and the citizens of the country. And I think we are, as the president made clear in Cairo ironically where he gave his speech, we're on the side of democracy.

We're on the side of people being able to exercise those rights and I think that's squarely where we stand, but we also stand for doing it in a way, for making that point and for helping to create a transition that works for the people, works for the region and works for really the you know avoidance of the kind of chaos that could ensue if everybody simply throws fuel on the fire. I think everybody understands where we stand here. And you know there may have been mistakes in the past but I think the key here is an encouraging process that empowers people but does so in a very responsible way. I think that's possible.

KING: You made a bold point a bit earlier in the interview saying that in your best advice would be for President Mubarak to talk to his son and essentially set the family ambitions aside and clear a path for an open presidential election. I assume is your point without a Mubarak on the ballot next time. Do you have any fears that even if you got that wish, sir, what next? Because of the lack of democratic institutions, do you have a concern as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that what might happen next might not be "A", as stable and "B", as friendly to the United States?

KERRY: Look, we have to take those lumps as they come. And sometimes you literally have to just let the chips fall where they may. I'm confident that the people of Egypt want a future just like other people in the world want a future where people are not subject to bombs and violence and beheadings and extremism. It's a very sophisticated civil society with great contributions through all of history to all of us. I really feel strongly that under the right circumstances this could be a peaceful and positive transformation, notwithstanding the presence of extremists like the Muslim brotherhood and others.

The key to that is going to be how President Mubarak chooses to empower the people. It is my personal judgment -- I am not speaking for the administration -- I am not speaking for anybody else except myself. But it is my judgment from what I know of people there and of my own trips there that one of the things that has fostered a lack of credibility in the government and questions about the future is this sense that they were trying to engineer a less than transparent and accountable election process that would result in a dynastic leadership. I think that's a mistake personally. And I also think that the events that are unfolding in the streets of Egypt right now are in fact the predicate by the Egyptian people to making that clear.

KING: Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sir thanks for your time on this important day.

KERRY: Thank you.

KING: Thank you.


John King, USA

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