Interview for CNN’s ‘Fareed Zakaria GPS’
ZAKARIA: Henry Kissinger is certainly the most famous, probably the most controversial, and possibly the most influential secretary of state in recent American history. He brought President Nixon to Beijing, opening up relations with what most people then called “Red China.”
The Nobel Prize winner talked with America’s adversaries overseas, even while he made some enemies at home over the war in Vietnam. Kissinger engineered detente, and that took a lot of the frost out of the Cold War with the Soviet Union.
Henry Kissinger joins me now in the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE.
Henry, you’ve watched administrations in high points and low points. You worked for a president who went through some very rough times.
What do you think is the most important skill that a president is going to need in 2009? What could throw them off course?
What do they have to — what advice would you give them, no matter whether it is Senator McCain or Senator Obama who were elected? What would you tell them in January, if you were called to the Oval Office?
HENRY KISSINGER, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: They should ask themselves what kind of a world they want — in detail — at the end of four years, and not in slogans or in general objectives, but what is it that they can hope for.
Because the art of statesmanship is to find a position between stagnation and over-extension — hopefully, at the outer limit of what is possible. But it cannot be done if you let yourself be driven by a series of tactical decisions without some perception of what you are trying to bring about.
ZAKARIA: I know that you’re going next week to Moscow. You’re going to see President Putin — or Prime Minister Putin — and the new president.
You see American interests as more aligned with Russia’s than a lot of people. Do you think that fundamentally the United States and Russia could have a significantly greater strategic cooperation than they do now?
KISSINGER: Well, I think Russia has gone through a tremendous upheaval in the last 20 years. It has lost 300 years of its history.
I believe that Russia and we have a number of common interests. Between us we have 95 percent of the world’s nuclear stockpiles. So, if the nuclear issue is going to brought under some negotiated control, Russia must be a part of it.
Thirdly, Russia has a long frontier with Islam and a long frontier with Iran. So, they have to be an integral component of any negotiation with Iran, or to lead to any settlement of the nuclear issue.
And when I look at the Russian frontiers, they have a long frontier with China, which is a big demographic problem for them, because there are 30 million Russians on one side, a billion Chinese on the other.
There’s a long frontier with Islam, which is an ideological nightmare for them, because you have the jihadist trend, and 25 million population of Russia is Muslim, and it’s living along the border.
And they have a frontier with Europe, with which they are historically uncomfortable, for the reasons I gave. Now, that is the one that creates tensions, and in which our views are not identical.
But I believe that, with some patience and some understanding on both sides, that Russia should be a component of the international system. And I do not think we should apply to Russia the principles of the Cold War unless they absolutely provoke us, which they haven’t done.
ZAKARIA: So, you are not in favor of kicking Russia out of the G8?
KISSINGER: You’re determined to get me into trouble with an old friend. But I disagree with Senator McCain on that point.
ZAKARIA: And if you were to extend the G8, you would include China.
KISSINGER: I would include China, India and probably Brazil. And I think it should be expanded.
ZAKARIA: But in a broader sense, what you are talking about is drawing these emerging powers into the global framework, rather than trying to create new lines.
KISSINGER: They are part of the global framework as a result of globalization.
Many of the global — there are many problems in the world today — climate, environment, even the supply of energy — that can only be dealt with on a global basis. And I don’t think it is wise to isolate certain countries on the basis of political ideology, unless they challenge fundamental American national interests.
ZAKARIA: Let’s talk about probably the most immediate and pressing challenge that a new president would have, which is Iraq.
About a year ago, you gave an interview in which you said, military victory of the traditional — by the traditional definition is probably not attainable in Iraq, by which you meant the complete control over all parts of Iraq or complete cessation of sectarian violence and such. And I think it’s fair to say that, even with the success of the surge, those conditions have not been met.
So, are we at a point where we can start thinking strategically about what we want to do in Iraq?
KISSINGER: I think the conditions are approaching — they may already begin to exist now — in which there exists a foreign ministers conference of all neighboring states that Iran and Syria have also joined, plus Egypt, plus the five permanent members of the Security Council. That could be activated at the right moment, or given a greater impetus. And my view is that this is the goal a new administration should work for.
of that policy, and if you announce a deadline for it at the beginning of the process, then you remove the incentives of several of the players — but particularly of Iran, and to a lesser extent Syria — to participate in this process in a productive manner.
And my view is that it has to be dealt with as a general Middle East problem, because …
ZAKARIA: Including talking to Syria?
KISSINGER: Yes. I’m in favor of — look. I don’t consider talk — well, first of all, let me say, I do not agree that talking with the heads of government is the right way to start these negotiations.
So, I believe in negotiations that are carefully prepared, based on a strategic assessment and that are willing — and that we are willing to face the consequences of failure, rather than turning negotiations into a psychiatric exercise, in which you are trying to ease the mind of your adversary. You have to assume your adversary has a clear perception, or should develop a clear perception, but within that framework.
I think that Syria should be talked to.
ZAKARIA: And we will be back with Henry Kissinger.
ZAKARIA: We’re back with Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of state, who is still widely influential today.
You’ve called for comprehensive negotiations with Iran. It’s always struck me, that this debate about whether to negotiate, it sort of defies the point. The question is: How would you negotiate? What would be the — what would be the goals?
How would you set up a negotiating process with Iran?
KISSINGER: Well, the problem Americans often have in negotiations is they treat diplomacy as a separate aspect, as totally separate from strategy. And it is said, let’s negotiate rather than do something else. They all have to be a part of it.
In order to negotiate, one has to understand the perception of the other side of the world. And they have to understand our perception. And there has to be a decision on both sides that they’re going to try to reconcile these differences.
Our fundamental concern is not to have an additional proliferating country in the region, because that will set off a whole set of other proliferating decisions. And that when the number of nuclear countries that are in conflict with each other multiplies — I would really say beyond the current point — some use of nuclear weapons will become highly probable. And once nuclear weapons are used, militarily or — once nuclear weapons are used, I don’t think the world will ever be the same again. ZAKARIA: You know, if one looks at Iran and places oneself in the shoes of the Iranians, even if you’re not a crazy mullah, you have as your neighbors India that has nuclear weapons, Pakistan that has nuclear weapons, China that has nuclear weapons, Russia that has nuclear weapons, and of course, Israel that has nuclear weapons.
You have the United States, which as 150,000 troops in Iraq, NATO with 50,000 troops in Afghanistan and an American president who says, you know, “I want regime change in Tehran.”
Even if you are not a crazy mullah, this would make one nervous. And so, is it …
KISSINGER: They started their nuclear program …
ZAKARIA: They started their nuclear program…
KISSINGER: … before we had 150,000 troops in…
ZAKARIA: They started it under the shah of Iran, when you and he — when they were allies.
KISSINGER: No, that program was a civilian nuclear program.
ZAKARIA: They claim it’s a civilian nuclear program even now.
KISSINGER: No, at that time, it wasn’t understood and it wasn’t possible to switch from civilian to military uses, and there were some requirements for inspection.
But anyway, they have no …
ZAKARIA: My point is that they have some security concerns.
KISSINGER: That’s correct.
ZAKARIA: In the process of dealing with them, should we be — should we be trying to recognize that they have — there are some security concerns they have that are real.
KISSINGER: They’re not a strong state. They have relations out of line with their capabilities. Their security concerns are a legitimate thing to put on the table.
But they have to understand that they have to stop their ideological threat and their support of terrorist movements around them.
ZAKARIA: How would you set up a negotiating process with Iran?
KISSINGER: When I call for negotiations with Iran, I differ from some of the advocates of this in the sense that I would come internally to a clear decision of what is unacceptable to us, and to a clear decision of the point beyond which we cannot go, and to a clear decision of undertaking major penalties, if this point is crossed.
So, I look at the diplomacy as an aspect of an overall strategy, and not as something that is done by its own internal debating rules.
ZAKARIA: Henry, when you negotiated with the Chinese, this was a very difficult period, because Communist China was at the time in the midst of a Cultural Revolution. It had been supporting and was supporting North Vietnam, and the world was in the Vietnam War. It had been funding revolutions all over the world, insurgencies — and you were criticized a great deal.
How do you approach it then?
KISSINGER: I wasn’t criticized then, because people didn’t know we were negotiating with the Chinese. So …
ZAKARIA: Once they discover — once the secret negotiations became not so secret…
KISSINGER: Well, the problem was to find a way to begin negotiations, because the Chinese didn’t have ambassadors around the world. They only had an ambassador in one country.
And as it turned out, both sides were at the beginning to make overtures to each other. And both sides chose the wrong method. We approached the Romanians, thinking that communists would be more credible in Beijing. But it turned out that they trusted communists even less than they trusted capitalists, so that channel didn’t work too well.
The Chinese picked a journalist, Edgar Snow, who received an interview by Mao in which he made some hint at openness to talk, but we dismissed it as the fantasies of a classical leftist. And it wasn’t until we hit upon Pakistan as a channel, and which took about eight months, that we found a means of communicating that both sides accepted.
Then when I came to China, we had the great advantage, that there never having been any relations for 25 years, there was nothing concrete to talk about except fundamental interests. So, in the first few meetings, they consisted of each side putting before the other some fundamental principles we wanted to follow.
And I think the credit that the Nixon administration deserves is not so much opening to China — which was almost inherent in this situation, but we may have done it with great, greater determination — but that we didn’t get diverted into a lot of tactical issues, and focused on the overall relationship, which has since evolved.
It’s the most bipartisan foreign policy the United States has. Every succeeding administration, with whatever changes they might make at the beginning, went back more or less to the main lines that some degree of cooperation between China and the United States is a contribution to international peace.
ZAKARIA: A final question, Henry. You are now 85 years old. You had your birthday last week. Is your strategy now to simply outlive every critic that you have?
KISSINGER: Well, that would give my critics a very short life.
I might be very tempted to do this.
I’ve become, with some difficulty, fairly philosophical about this…
ZAKARIA: But every time some new book comes out and some tapes come out, you must cringe.
KISSINGER: I don’t read them anymore.
KISSINGER: I know there are a number of books …
ZAKARIA: You know, a lot of actors say they don’t read the reviews, but most of them actually do …
KISSINGER: No, what I’ve done, I make the compromise that I sometimes read the excerpts — that I read the excerpts that are published in magazines.
I’ve had an opportunity to do the things that I believe in. I have been able to express myself in many forums. And it would be unnatural, and probably would mean I haven’t done very much, if there were not other points of view that were expressed with some vehemence.
ZAKARIA: Well, we hope you will use this forum to express your views again.
Henry Kissinger, thank you so much