December 20, 2021
Raghida Dergham with:
HE Ahmed Aboul Gheit;
HE Dr. Nayef Al Hajra;
HE James Jeffrey
Good morning, Washington DC, on Inauguration Day, for President Joe Biden and a historic
day, of course. We welcome James Jeffrey, Ambassador James Jeffrey, who is well-known to the
region for his leadership. Welcome from DC. We wish you a peaceful transition and a unified
United States of America. James. Jeffrey.
Good afternoon Cairo where we have my good old friend forever. Ahmad Aboul Gheit, the
Secretary-General of the League of Arab states. It is such an honor to have you from New York
to Cairo. We are friends forever. Thank you for this particular participation in the first 2021 epolicy
circle of the Beirut Institute summit in Abu Dhabi. Welcome from Muscat welcome to
Nayef Al Hajraf His Excellency the Secretary-General of the GCC. Thank you. This is the first
time you join us at Beirut Institute. But we are hoping you will come to the summit in Abu Dhabi
in June, hopefully, if time permits and if Corona permits, and if life permits. This is the first
Beirut Institute summit e-policy circle of 2021, as I said, but it is the 28th e-policy circle as a
rundown for the summit in Abu Dhabi, which Ahmad Aboul Gheit honored as before and your
predecessor Nayef Al Hajraf was together as Dr. Ziani and the same panel. So we hope we do
this together with you in June. God willing, situations permitting. As I said, my co-chair and His
Royal Highness Prince Turki joins me in thanking you for accepting to launch the 2021 e-policy
circles. The host country is looking forward to receiving you in June, God willing, if not in
October, we will see. I want to thank you for your continued belief. And you and all the audience
and everybody who’s been with us for the last 27 e-policy circles. Thank you for your continued
belief in the conversation, in this constructive global conversation that we have had through the
Beirut Institute summit in Abu Dhabi. We deal with all these unsettling times and unpredictable
times with difficulty. We are having a hard time going through the challenges that have come our
way. But we must endure. And we must persevere. And we must always think forward with all
positivity. If at all possible. I want to tell you something personally before I give you the floor
for four minutes each of you and I want to share this with the wider audience that has been with
us with the e-policy circles for the last six, seven months. I have tested COVID-positive at the
beginning of 21. Thank God, I am now negative and recovering. Without the great love and
encouragement of friends, colleagues, family, particularly my own daughter, I may not have
been lucky enough to host you today. So join me in praying for those who have been less lucky
who are less lucky. Please remember the needs of the loved ones as well. That does all we can to
collect courage to have faith and to be there for each other in those most difficult times. We need
compassion for one another. And we need to have each other’s back. So with that, I want to thank
you for the honor of launching the 2021 e-policy circle for the Beirut Institute summit in Abu
Dhabi. With this, I want to start with welcoming Ahmad Aboul Gheit for four minutes to tell us
what you want us to learn from you today. And thank you for launching this session. Please.
Ahmad Aboul Gheit
Thank you very much Raghida, for inviting us. Four minutes are too short, but I will try my best.
Change is coming to the world in two hours. Change is coming to the world in two hours through
the arriving of Biden administration, and there will be change in every respect when it comes to
international relations and amongst the regions as well as the great powers. I would hope that
change would also affect and influence developments and the Middle East region. The region has
been subject to chaotic developments over the last 10 years. Over the last 10 years, many states
and nation-states suffered or worse threatened by disappearance, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Iraq, and
others. But what is really important is for us to try to help in regaining the nation-state and
reviving these countries. I read James’s article in foreign affairs, I read a few days ago. And he
wants to stick to continue the current line, the current line, James says, or Ambassador Jeffrey is
extremely dangerous, but that I leave for our further discussion. What I have to focus on because
it is limited to four minutes is the Palestinians. The departing administration treated the
Palestinians deeply, deeply unjust. And they give Israel possibly everything Israel aspired over
the last 70 years or so. They gave them Jerusalem. They gave them the Golan or at least
recognition of the Golan of the occupation, legitimize the occupation. They denied UNRWA
funds. They offered the Palestinians a plan compelling the Palestinians. God forbid never to
allow Israel 30% extra territory of the West Bank. What we are hoping that the coming
administration would focus on the Palestinian cause, which is the core of the Middle East
problems. Opening up the consulate in East Jerusalem, reviving American funding of UNRWA
and annuling the Trump plan and from there launching proper negotiations and proper contacts
with the Palestinians, to allow the revival of a real genuine process. And then I think I’m
covering my four minutes. I can continue to explain our situation with the coming
administration. Thank you.
Thank you very much, Ahmed Aboul Gheit I’m sure James Jeffrey will be responding to these
points and hopefully in a way that will correct the wrongs if there had been two wrongs from his
point of view as well. But I’m sure he’s going to address the critical points you’ve raised
regarding the status of the Palestinian issue and the Palestinians and occupation, and as you
correctly said, the Golan Heights where also the Russians are trying to play around with the
Israelis on that so now I would go to Dr. To Nayef Al Hajraf for his four minutes please thank
you very much.
Naif Al Hajraf
Thank you. Get well soon, inshallah. Very delighted to join Beirut Institute for the first time. I’m
looking forward to June; hopefully, physically, we will be able to meet. I came from an
accounting background, and in 101 accounting course, we always emphasize the balance sheet,
so I believe that everything should be balanced in our life as well as when we’re addressing
regional and international affairs. What we are seeing, unfortunately, as some sometimes reality
force us not to enjoy that balance in which people can focus and on development and then
pursuing a better future fair for themselves as individual as countries as nations. As we are
speaking now, we are just less than two hours from a new chapter written at the backyard of the
beautiful Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. And, we’re hoping that the new administration will
look at this part of the world in different ways with recognition of our interests as well as our
concerns, and stability and security in this part of the world is vitally important for the stability
of the world at large. And we spare no time in contributing and engaging in very constructive
way with the international community to maintain and enhance this security and the stability in
the region. GCC, for the record, and for the credit had played a very significant role and playing
as a stabilizer on the region, a partner in which we honor our commitment. And we engage
constructively with the international community for a better world for everyone. Whether it’s
being on political arena or helping countries in need developing countries, or even stabilizing the
energy market, we played a very important role to keep the balance, which I was referring to
earlier in my speech. Looking forward, I think we have some very important items on our agenda
as we have the Yemen dispute, we have the situation in Iraq, we have Syria and, of course, we
have the longest standing Palestinian issues. We have the standoff between the US and Iran,
which an unstable environment over the region, we believe that through negotiation, by
addressing these issues by giving the chance for every interested country to put their concerns as
well as their interests on the table, so no one be left behind. We strongly believe that COVID-19
has put us at a greater challenge. The world after COVID-19 will be totally different from the
world before COVID-19. One way, or actually the only way to work out all these challenges, is
to working together collectively and look for the future. Thank you.
I thank you very much Dr. Nayef Al Hajraf. I want to point out two things in good intention.
Both of you mentioned the items and the different parts of that Arab region. On your mind.
Please remember Lebanon. Neither one of you mentioned Lebanon. You mentioned Syria. You
mentioned Iraq, and you mentioned Yemen; you did not mention this very tortured company
called Lebanon. But we will discuss that when we engage a little further down the line. This is a
personal appeal to you because leaving us to rot is not what I think for stability for the whole
region. Thank you very much. James Jeffrey, foreign minister, to you.
Thank you very much. And thank you for the invite. On behalf of you, Raghida, and the Beirut
Institute. It’s a very, very significant day for the United States the shift in administration and also
when you get a shift in parties. That makes it a bit more interesting, particularly under the
circumstances we see today. That’s not just inside the United States. It’s also in the world.
President-elect or about-to-be president, and Biden and his team, all of whom we know well,
have spoken repeatedly of restoring America returning to and fill in the blanks. And in some
respects, going back to the Obama administration, how far they will go in this direction is not yet
clear. I’m skeptical that they will return to all of the policies of the Obama administration. Not
because of any criticism of those policies, but because the world has changed. The comfortable
American-led global security and, in many respects, globalization effort that we have all
experienced to one or another degree since World War II in the case of the Middle East since the
1970s, is under great stress, this is something new since 2016. You could see it before 2016. But
the former administration was not totally fixated on it, the new administration will be. That
applies also to the Middle East, and the strains in the Middle East, begin with, again, the absence
of a unifying set of states and policies that the United States can plug on to, like we have in the
European Union, or to some degree even in East Asia, where there is a general consensus of
cooperation with, but competition against China. The key things that we’re looking at are, first of
all, the role of Iran in the region that will be important for the new administration as it was the
last. And, again, the possible threat on the dollar. And finally, the new role of Russia. That is
something that I was involved in a great detail, in the Syrian account. And it is something that we
see not just in Syria but elsewhere, most notably in Libya. But in other areas as well, primarily in
what we would call field, are very under stress states, such as Libya and Syria. We don’t want to
see more states in that condition. The Biden administration will listen to the region. That’s very,
very important. It’s great that today, we have a seminar on the future of the region, where three of
the four speakers are from the region that is very important, something that the Biden
administration will stres. They will be dragged in many directions on domestic policy, the
economy, COVID, the problems with the insurgency we had in Washington, be pressed on
China, there will be pressed on Europe, they will look to the people of the region to explain two
things, three things. One, why the region remains very very important to Americans, I can make
that case, but I’m not from the region that’s your job. Two what the region is doing to deal with
these problems itself and can be counted on by the United States to do. Thirdly, what the region
needs the United States to do. My friend, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, mentioned, is more active on the
Palestinian account. That is one thing this administration will take seriously. Others have asked
for more activity on the nuclear account with Iran. Others talk about deterring Iran’s march
through the region; we’ll have to see what the overall word from the region is. But these people
will listen. So I’m looking forward to hearing in more detail what you want the United States to
do today. Thank you very much.
Thank you very much, James Jeffrey. Actually, let me stay with you to give you the chance to
answer Ahmed Aboul Gheit because he did make it a point that it’s a huge priority for him to see
what this administration will do on the Palestinian issue on correcting the wrongs from his point
of view, in terms of the relationship with Israel. And can you just tell us, do you have any insight
what they plan to do? Do you think you have any, do you want us to hear from you what you
think should be done in order to put some of these worries to rest if there is a possibility to do
On this one, I’m pretty sure I can predict the general lines. This administration will be much
more active in trying to find a solution to the Palestinian issue. That said, there is no one in this
administration who believes that the underlying security problem that needs to be dealt with in
the region is the Israeli-Palestinian issue. That is not an argument that will catch fire here in
Washington. They understand that it was not handled as well as they would like to see it handled,
and as well as people in the region wanted to see it handled in the Trump administration. But
again, I don’t see it as something that they will put at the top of the agenda. You will not see
things like Condoleezza Rice in the Annapolis conference or Secretary Kerry’s shuttle diplomacy
around the region. That’s possibly something that will be done superficially, but their heart isn’t
Nayef Al Hajraf two, or maybe more, actually, of the upcoming members of the GCC have
signed up to the Abraham accords. And how do you think this is going to mean for the next
Biden administration? How is that going to be developed into addressing the wrongs that Ahmed
Aboul Gheit spoke about in terms of the first thing, is there any plan to bring forward more
fairness, justice to the Palestinians, via the Abraham accord, or in parallel?
Naif Al Hajraf
Well, just recalling from Al Ula summit, and what the segment came from Al Ula, emphasizing
the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as one of the main priorities for the GCC, we are where we are
ever since. We strongly believe with the two-state solutions of 1967, we still believe that the
Arab initiatives setting the table since 2002, we still believe that Jerusalem should be the capital
for this Palestinian state, we believe in the right for the Palestinian to return home. I mean,
having said that, we are referring to international and UN resolutions. We strongly believe, and I
can’t agree more with James, as long as this dispute hasn’t been solved, we always will have
security issues within the region. The Abraham accord was a sovereign decision taking by
sovereign states according to their sovereign interests. We respect that and the Palestinians
themselves know how much we fundamentally believe on the legitimacy of their issue and what
we stood all always with their rights. So what we are hoping for that the new administration will
put more pressure on the Israeli side. I think we have explored all the possible avenues. And
everyone believes that there is no other avenues apart from engagement and dialogue with the
political will to reach fair solutions that will keep things balanced.
Ahmed Aboul Gheit are you satisfied that you have a plan towards the Biden administration to
bring to for what you would like them to do, or do you think there’s too much division amongst
Arab countries over this issue? And there’s also a polarization in terms of who wants to do that?
Well, I mentioned earlier to James Jeffrey that Russia is proposing that they will safeguard the
interests of, for example, Israel in the Golan Heights, and not only the Palestinian issue. So what
is your plan? Do you have a plan for that? Who are you? Are you critical that sovereign countries
have taken their own decisions to have the Abraham accord?
Ahmed Aboul Gheit
Not at all, Raghida, the Abraham accords are between Israel and a number of Arab countries.
That is not the core of the problem in the Middle East. Nobody was challenging normalization
between Israel and Arab countries. Egypt and Jordan have relations with Israel. The issue is the
Palestinians and the denials of the rights of the Palestinians. I personally would hope that, okay if
the Israelis would reacted positively to the Abraham accords, they would open up to the
Palestinians and try to satisfy the Palestinian needs. But the issue is Israel will try to take
advantage of the accords and with continue treating the Palestinians the same way and settling
the settlers in Palestinian territory and annexing Palestinian territory and that is not the peace
even those who planned it the Trump administration were looking for unless they were
completely siding with Israel. That is one aspect of the issues tormenting the region, but there is
a range, there are a range of issues. You have, as mentioned [unclear] with the Iranians. With
Iran, it is not only the nuclear file for Arab countries, and I’m sure that Arab countries and Gulf
countries would love to see Iran live in normalcy and, and a good relationship and neighborhood
relationship with the rest of Arab countries, but it is the issue of, of the Iranian conduct, the
Iranian behavior in the region, it is the pattern of armament of Iran. And there, I would not also
dismiss the Israeli nuclear file because Israel is a recognized nuclear state. So, because of this,
there has been an attempt to create or establish a region free of weapons of mass destruction for
all that is a second point, a turning point. A third point, Raghida is the schism or the Schism, that
is devastating the fabric of our societies, the modernist against the Islamist, those who want to
follow modernity, and those who want to drag the region into the seventh century. As well as the
tensions that are created through the interventions of the neighbors into the affairs of a number of
countries are joining Turkey or Iran. In all honesty, we have to deal with a range of issues and
we have to have a plan for every issue in order to connect them together into a concerted action
aiming at a settlement and pacifying the region.
Let me add, let me interrupt you here Ahmed Aboul Gheit to ask about how the Biden
administration might be handling the issue of Iran. There are two approaches that we have heard
about; we had heard that the Biden administration and the question went to James Jeffrey first,
then to Nayef Al Hajraf that they wanted to have a two-step approach, that they would go back to
the JCP or the nuclear deal with Iran, and then later discuss the conduct the Iranian conduct and
the missiles, precision missiles and the issue of themselves altogether. Others have been critical
of that to say you can’t lift the leverage, and then say, I expect you to do so. And that is a huge
problem, James Jeffrey. Anthony Blinken hinted that it’s not automatic. In the last couple of
days. He said it’s not automatic that we’re going to go back to the JCP way. There are things to
be done. You are in touch, I understand with people around the Biden team. Which ones are they
thinking of? Are they going to wait and study it? Or are they going to make the two-step
approach right away? And how unwise? Is it to just jump into the separation of the two-step
approach? How dangerous is it? And what should the two Secretary Generals of two important
organizations think about to stop them from having us in this region pay the price?
I think we are in a very good start in this forum. And I would urge our colleagues from the
region to make it clear the Biden administration will want to hear people’s views throughout the
region. More so, I think the new administration did for President Obama, a nuclear agreement
with anybody was a matter of religion. And he truly thought that he could bring Iran around to be
a moderate state system through negotiations. The Biden administration, beginning with
President Biden, doesn’t really think this way. They see any agreement that limits nuclear
ambitions as good. They don’t see it as a religious duty. And they’re skeptical about Iran
becoming a fundamentally different state because they sign an agreement with the West. So they
will try to go back because they’ve committed to that, but you’re absolutely right. They’re going
to think how quickly shall we do this. There’s a lot of pressure from the very considerable group
of people in Washington who want to see an agreement. This must be done right now, they tell
the administration because elections are coming up, and if you get an agreement, well, then
Ruhani might be successful or somebody like Ruhani and we will have a different around. I don’t
think they’re going to buy that argument. Because we’ve been waiting for now more than 40
years for a different, more moderate Orient. We’ve gotten a more moderate Orient when they
have seen significant pushback by the region, by the Arab states in the region by other countries
by the West. We’ve seen them run amok in the region, particularly since from 2013, when we
had the initial nuclear agreement to 2018. You all live in the region. You know where Iran was.
And let me put it bluntly, the four Arab capitals, Beirut, Baghdad, Damascus, and Sanaa in 2018,
versus where they were in 2013. That is a clear and present problem for the region. And if we’ve
also heard, today, this administration needs to hear that from you, not for me, that’s the most
important thing. This is a threat that they have to deal with. Can you deal with Iran in the region
and go back to the nuclear accords? I can think of scenarios where you could, but you have to be
very careful. If it is, first, we do the nuclear accords and as you said, Raghida, give up all
leverage. Then we look at a region, and the way we’ll look at it is to sit down with the Iranians
and talk about that I’ve talked to as Dr Zarif. I’m sure many of you who have talked to him, you
know what he’s going to say. And it’s not going to get us to a change in the behavior of what I
used to call because I’ve had considerable contacts with him, including my house rocketed by
him, Kasem Soleimani, his foreign policy in the region. Now his success, his foreign policy in
the region. That’s what this administration is going to have to deal with.
Nayef Al Hajraf what have you got to say to the Biden administration? You are in the middle of
it? It is in your neighborhood, Iran, is there? I know that you have wanted to do de-escalation
altogether in the GCC, you have had attempts probably over the years, and it did not really
produce many results. What is it? Look at what James Jeffrey is saying? Tell them what you
want. What are you doing about it? Can you influence them? What leverage do you have with
that by the administration to say, Excuse me, don’t drop the ball on us while you’re only focusing
JCP first and then regional conduct later, can you share with us some of the thoughts that you
probably had discussed in a lot of behind the scenes, have you a plan?
Naif Al Hajraf
We made it very clear whenever the opportunity comes that the JCPOA, I will be visiting the
JCPOA should include us and it should be a JCP OA plus plus. We have all the legitimate right
to put our concerns as well as interests collectively on the table. If there is any renegotiation of
that deal. This is number one. Number two, we are an advocate for de-escalating the tension and
the region. We strongly believe that our economic agenda to flourish requires stability in the
region as a fundamental prerequisite, we need to focus on our development plans, we need to
focus on diversifying our economy we need to focus in our youth, our entrepreneur. So this will
never be reachable or achievable if we haven’t enjoyed as a region, a stable environment.
Number three, which is the most important thing he says, we are an advocate for dialogue and
constructive dialogue. We might agree on some items we might disagree on other items, but we
know this region better than anyone else exclusively. But this is reality. Two things we cannot
change. We can’t change history. And we can’t change geography. Iran is a neighbor over the last
40 years or so, their behavior is a big concern for us, their interventions and domestic affairs, and
destabilizing countries within the region, Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, which is very close to our
heart, Yemen, Syria. These are evidence. And we cannot be silent on that.
What does that mean Nayef Al Hajraf? I cannot be silent on that, for example, when the
Revolutionary Guards are running the case and the show in Lebanon, in Iraq, in Syria ,in Yemen,
what is the actual plan? You have to tell you that the administration that don’t rush doesn’t rush
into embracing the JCPOA. And leaving that conduct? What is the evidence that you are the
leverage that you are willing to use with Washington? Do you have any actually?
Nayef Al Hajraf
We just need to zoom out a little bit and see the picture from 50,000 feet above sea level. And we
can see where the Iranians and conventions and influence is and how this is a great and direct
danger for the stability of the region.
The last thing the new administration wants in Washington, DC is to have a destabilizing region
that will affect the supply of the energy, that will destabilize the economic reform and the region,
that will create another tension within the region fueled and feeded by the Iranian behavior, and
this is very clear, we made it very clear. They have all the evidence and who are willing to work
together to have a common agenda for the better of the region.
Are you are you worried about a conflict military conflict between the US and Iran?
Nayef Al Hajraf
We are Yes, we are. Because the last thing we need in this part of the world is another military
conflict. it helps no one. And there is no winner.
Please go ahead. Go ahead. Go ahead.
Nayef Al Hajraf
I mean, we are just less than 100 miles from where I am now to the Iranian border. So I have all
the concerns, all the legitimate concerns to be worried.
James Jeffrey, I see that you are nodding. You see it coming?
No, I don’t see it coming. I agree with Dr. Nayef. It would be really frightening for everybody
beginning with the people in the region. This is one reason why, to his credit, President Trump
did not respond militarily t at a strike on the Saudi petroleum installation, although he’s most
criticized, and the shootdown of a over $100 million expensive Global Hawk American drone.
Trump’s argument was that you don’t want to start a regional war when nobody has been killed
on the other side or nobody has been killed on our side. When he used military force, it was
either when we were directly challenged like with chemical weapons in Syria, attacks on our
people also in Syria or Iraq. That is, I think, a cautious policy that the next administration will
do. We have all seen the studies done by our central command, in conjunction with our partners
in the region of the Iranian missile and rocket threat to our partners and allies. Nobody wants to
see a conflict. I think that we won’t have one.
Ahmed Aboul Gheit, let me pull you back in please come back. Join us. So far, come back
because I need you. I want to talk Turkey. And I want to talk about what you know, of course,
the balance of power in the region is always between Isral and Turkey.
Ahmed Aboul Gheit
And why don’t we talk Biden administration because Turkey is a regional player, but we need to
focus on becoming a global power that would affect their policy.
This is exactly my question to you. What do you expect the Biden administration will be doing
vis a vis Turkey? Turkey is playing a big role in in Libya and Syria. And the trouble with Egypt
continues the Muslim Brotherhood project goes on we spoke of modernity versus going back to
you know, basically the forces of imposing probably religion on a state.
Ahmed Aboul Gheit
Absolutely. You see,
What should you be saying to the Biden administration, what is the Turkish role in the Arab
Ahmed Aboul Gheit
I would on Turkey, I would tell them, restrain Turkey because they are living in an environment
that shows imperial behavior. They think that they are the new Ottomans coming for their own
region, so they have to be restrained. Their Turkey is connected to Iran is connected to Muslim
Brothers is connected to the Islamists. And again as ambassador Jeffrey said, they will not the
current or the coming administration will not behave Obama. Absolutely, yes. Because they
behave Obama administration, and it is a further disaster that would strike explain these. What…
Explain these. What do you mean behave Obama?
Ahmed Aboul Gheit
Obama between 2010 and 2016, was there thinking that the Islamist is an ally. So that ally often
produces Daesh and ISIS and certain fundamentalist forces that wreak havoc in the region. We
have to be careful there. Plenty of Muslim Brothers personalities are living in Turkey, being
financed by Turkey. Turkey is militarily in Iraq, and in Syria, and in Libya. So the coming
administration, I would hope, would tell Turkey, restrain your action. Turkey is threatening
Eastern Mediterranean gas and oil fields, quarreling with Cyprus, with Greece, with France,
everywhere. So that is my advice to them. But what I’m focused on, do not miss, again, that the
core of all conflicts in the region emanates from Palestine. Nobody is convinced. Please,
Ambassador Jeffrey, tell the Arabs that we are not convinced. And we will leave you to the
Israelis to absorb Palestinian territory; there will not be peace. That is my logic.
I got you. Jeffrey, let me go back to that. And you’re an expert on Turkey, you know, Turkey
very well in Syria, and it’s thrown up its presumptive rule. Maybe it’s incorrect to say that in the
support of some extremists, whether it is in Daesh, Muslim, or otherwise. And in Libya, I
address this what is that? Have you spoken to anybody in the upcoming potential members of the
administration about what do they plan to do about Turkey? Turkey? As I said, Syria, Libya, etc.,
will president Erdogan get away with it, because he seems to think he can, including in his
relationship playing that he was playing the cards with Russia. Please address that. James
Yeah, Turkey is a highly successful state, militarily, economically. All in all, it’s pretty stable
politically, in a region that has seen in good part because of thingstThe United States has done
over the last 20 years, far less stable than it was say in the year 2000. And it’s normal that
countries that see a vacuum move into it. The unique thing about Turkey is that a Turkey is
essentially not really in terms of its population focused on the Middle East. Turkey, the Turkish
population and Turkish foreign policies focus has long been a Caucasus, the Black Sea, the
Balkans, and more generally Europe. That’s where there are 5 million Turkish migrants. That’s
where their economy is very closely tied to knock to the Middle East. Erdogan is a bit different.
And I agree that Erdogan sees himself as a neo-Ottoman leader of the region. The point is
nobody else in Turkey thinks that way, with a couple of minor exceptions, is a Navy Admiral
pushing the eastern Mediterranean. But this is not a structural element of Turkish society, of
Turkish foreign policy. It’s something that Erdogan brings to the table, the Muslim brothers or
not. I mean, I’ve been in many countries with Muslim brother elements in the population in the
Middle East. The one place where you don’t run into them is in Turkey, with few exceptions.
So he just sends them to the Arab by geography.
It’s also his own ideological background from what we call the Milli Gorus and his predecessor,
who had ties to the Egyptian Muslim brothers. There’s a long history to this, but it’s unique to
him. It isn’t like Iran, where you have a whole state system, and much of the society built into the
Vilayet el Fakih expansion.
Okay, I want to go to Yemen and other things. But before I do that, Jame, Jeffrey, Syria, you
think this is it? I mean, Bashar Al Assad, President Bashar Assad is he there to stay? And did
Russia, Russia, pocket Syria? Is it still a problem that a quagmire is in the offing still there about
Syria quickly, James Jeffrey.
It’s a quagmire. Its military still makes 30% of the country, including most of its oil, and much of
its agricultural riches are not under the control of Assad; his economy has totally collapsed,
partially because of the situation in Beirut, partially because of our sanctions, mainly because of
his own destruction of the country. Half the population have fled their homes to avoid his
oppression. And there’s a large international coalition that is pushing for a UN brokered solution;
he has not won, he’s not going to win.
But they actually sucking the life out of this country of Lebanon where I am. I mean, even now,
for example, the explosion of the port where my own home has been totally demolished and
devastated. This is something nobody taking them to account. It’s that we have suffered here.
And then the continued push of sucking the life out of us, for Syria goes on without anyone
doing anything about it. With the help of Iran, with the protection of Russia, James, Jeffrey?
There’s only so much this administration can do, as there was only so much the last
administration can do. But the administration is not going to let Assad regained the entire
country and set it up as a Russian Iranian protectorate. I cannot see that happening.
Okay. Nayef Al Hajraf, I want to do a couple of things with you. Because Yemen is an essential
thing for the GCC for the whole Arab region, of course. I also want to address the issue of your
relationships as GCC countries with both Russia and China. There has been a very serious talk
about the pact between China and Iran. You have great relationships with China, meaning the
different 6 Gulf states at the same thing. I guess, you know, you’re building good relations with
Russia. How are you using these relations to make sure that Iran’s influence does not jeopardize
your own security in the region with Yemen, Iraq? Can you tell me where it went? What is your
prioritization here? Is it Iraq first, is it Yemen? Is it simultaneous? What are you saying to the
Russians on this? What are you saying to the Chinese there is a huge interest economically that,
again, it can be leveraged? Can you please address this and tell me where you’re at on this one?
Nayef Al Hajraf
Before answering your questions, I would like to go back quickly to the Syrian situation, please.
So many people have overlooked the humanitarian disaster that the Syrian people are suffering.
This results in hundreds of thousands of young people will be lifted out of the schools and who
will be right now recruited by terrorist groups, and those who will be moving bombs will be
spread around the region, in no time. 10 years of war have created a whole generation that we
should look at it in a very serious way. And Yemen and Iraq, both are neighbors. In Yemen, we
have the GCC initiative, which is one of the three refracts for the solution in Yemen, the GCC
initiatives 2011. Then the outcome of the national dialogue between them and the people, then
the UN resolution 2016, these are the three pillars in which we are hoping that the Yemeni
people will find the way, by what the UN Special Envoy Martin Cliff is doing. To bring them all
together, there will be no military solution in Yemen, the only solutions only will be through
political dialogue. So we are very concerned about the suffering of the many people who have
been held at the siege, with the Houthis group supported by Iran, with a clear example of Iranian
intervention in the security of the region, their continuous Attack on Saudi Arabia by drones and
missiles. This is totally not accepted, totally conducted. And this requires an international
community to put more pressure on Iran, to put more pressure on the Houthis. To build on the
dialogue table with the legitimate government of Yemen. Iraq, has also has been severed from
the Iranian intervention and influence actually on the political scene as well as underground. We
strongly believe that a United and a strong Arab Iraq is essential for the region. We have
established a new relation with the Iraqi authority with the Iraqi government. Mostapha al
Kazemi is doing a great job, yet he been challenged greatly especially with the reset sense of the
green zone and targeting the political or diplomatic missions within Bagdad. These are all driven
by an Iranian agenda. So we stand clear. And these two files Yemen and Iran, are very important
for the security of the region, and the GCC sounds fair and supporting a piece on united Iraq.
And an end for the Yamane conflict.
China and Russia I asked you about please
Nayef Al Hajraf
China and Russia, we are enjoying as it bilateral and a whole, the GCC organization is enjoying
a good relationship with both countries, both countries are very powerful. China is the…
Nayef Al Hajraf they are on the Iran side both of them,
Nayef Al Hajraf
Because it’s a bit of a, by mutual agenda. They have seen that they’re tied in with Iran in saving
the agenda and their interest. And I think this is how we should look at things. I mean, we have
to speak the same language. We are concerned about their vital contribution to the security and
the stability in the region, although they have their own views on that. But also we have our
views. And as I said, I mean, we sat together, and we’ve changed your views. And we have
continuous consultations with both sides.
what is it that you want them to do right now, like China’s pact with Iran? Did you do tell them
kindly take I mean, did you tell the Biden administration, probably you tell me if you will tell
them that, take our interests into account
Nayef Al Hajraf
it’s all about balancing the relation, as I said, it’s we would like to see a very balanced
cooperation between the superpowers within, within the region, we have our concerns, we will
always know our region better than others. And we have built a very trusted momentum that we
will work with anyone to reach those civilizations, which is very essential for us.
I’m going to introduce this last point with you for a concluding one a minute of yours. And then
I’m going to go to James Jeffrey, and then I’m going to conclude with Ahmad Aboul Gheit. Qatar
back to the GCC fold. Is this going to allow you to have a real coherent, one approach as a GCC
to the countries you mentioned, the major powers we spoke about? Whether it’s the United
States, whether it’s China, whether it’s Russia, or even whether it’s Iran and Turkey, or you, give
me one last-minute conclusion and tell me how is this going to make a difference? And what is
your wish list to Biden’s administration one minute to you?
Nayef Al Hajraf
Qatar is a founding member state, and they never left the GCC. So they are not back they are
there. And we always will have the differences. There is no harm of having our difference as
long as we are working within the framework that will save the mutual interests for all member
states. And this is what is Al Ula’s declaration is all about, and I think we are looking into the
future. We have learned from the GCC Rift. I think everyone, there is no winner. And now we
are moving forward; we have this back in our behind. My wish list for the new administration for
Biden is despite of whatever you know the region, we know more, and we are trusted partners.
He was the vice-president for the Obama. And we know that that period wasn’t really one of the
best for the regions. But let’s have a new beginning with open arms. Because we do have a
strategic relation and we are the trusted partners you can listen to, and we’ll be very honest and
give you our advice.
I thank you very much. Stay with me. Do not leave me yet. But do remember Lebanon. I want to
beg you again, you the GCC countries don’t drop the ball on us.
Nayef Al Hajraf
Lebanon is very important for us Lebanon. I think the Lebanese elite political group they need to
put the Lebanon interest first. We stand firm with the Lebanese people. And we were the first to
condemn and sent condolences as Beirut’s port exploded on August the fourth. We still hope that
the Lebanese will act as an independent state, not as a backyard of Iran.
Thank you very much, James, Jeffrey take a minute and a half and give me your concluding
remarks. And what do you think we should tell you and you should do for us in this region?
Again, thank you for having me here. At the end of the day, policy is a question of choices and
priorities because we all want an endless list of things. And we probably in this forum could all
agree on what would be on that list. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to get them. So the first
thing and Dr. Nayef correctly said that, you all know the region better than we do. And that’s
true. So tell the Biden administration what your priorities are. We’ve heard all kinds of problems.
And I agree with the list. There is the Palestinian question. There is Turkey. There’s Islamic
extremism, there is obviously Iran, and there is the encroachment into the region of Russia and
China. What’s the most dangerous, then what comes next? And what comes next? And then on
each of these, what specifically do you want the United States to do, bearing in mind, they will
only be able to do maybe 20 or 25% of what you want? That would be very helpful.
Thank you very much, James Jeffrey, Ahmad Aboul Gheit your wish list in one minute because
we’re gonna lose electricity.
Ahmad Aboul Gheit
So one minute, yes. I would ask the coming Biden administration to help the region not to repeat
the mistakes of both previous administrations whether Trump or Obama, the last 10 years in the
region where chaotic. The great power rivalries created havoc in the region. James Jeffrey said
we would not allow Russia or Assad to do this or to do that. You might be correct then. But
please understand the ramifications on the people. 10 million Syrians are refugees or displaced.
Do not forget the core and the root causes of the problems. Palestine again. Help for Palestinians.
Thank you so very much, everybody, we’re gonna lose electricity. Listen, I’m not going to have
this every single week until I recover a little better. But I promise you. We have great guests in
February and throughout the months to come until the summit is held, God willing, in Abu
Dhabi. Thank you very much for the honor. Thank you for the friendship. Thank you for the
support. Thank you for tolerating me and coming to be by my side in these difficult times.
Ahmad Aboul Gheit
Thank you. And thank you so much. God bless you. Thank You honor me. I thank you so much.
Goodbye for now. Thank you, Your Honor, me. We thank you