Transcript from the 2008 Atlantic Council Annual Awards Dinner press conference.
MR. KEMPE: Welcome, I’m Fred Kempe. I’m president and CEO of the Atlantic Council. Admiral Mullen is on his way but because of the shortness of time, I thought we would get started and then give our apologies to Admiral Mullen as he comes and then we can turn your questions to him as well. I’ll be very, very brief.
First of all, I want to deeply express the extent to which the Atlantic Council is honored that Prime Minister Tony Blair and Rupert Murdoch have accepted and are here to speak tonight as they accept the Distinguished International Leadership Awards, in the case of Tony Blair, the Distinguished International Leadership Award; in the case of Rupert Murdoch, Distinguished International Business Leadership.
Let me tell you, before I turn it over to Ron Reese, I want to give you a little bit of information about tonight and the awards. These awards were designed to highlight the four pillars of the Atlantic community: the policymaker, the business leader, the military leader, and a great artist. Someone who is not here up with us is Evgeny Kissin, perhaps the greatest living pianist at the moment, and he’ll be playing tonight, but he’s — excuse me — Admiral Mullen, it’s so great. I didn’t think you would get here quite so quickly.
We just sat down one minute ago and I wasn’t quite sure how traffic would get you here, but I should have known the chairman of the Joint Chiefs would have found a way to get through the traffic more efficiently than mere mortals like myself. But at any rate, I’ve just talked about these leadership awards and we’ll thank you now as well for accepting the Distinguished International Military Leadership Award.
This is the second year we’ve given this award; last year it was General Jim Jones, who was at the time just stepping down as Supreme Allied Commander, Europe. And we did this, as I said, Admiral, to recognize the four pillars of the Atlantic community: the military leader, the business leader, the policymaker, and the great artist Evgeny Kissin, who will speak at his own press conference playing Chopin tonight.
To qualify for a nomination, you must have demonstrated excellence in your chosen field, and as you can see by the gentlemen here, excellence is defined in a quite demanding way. And you must have demonstrated commitment and service to the Atlantic community and its values: free markets, free peoples, individual rights, rule of law.
At tonight’s event, and this is my last paragraph, at tonight’s event we’ll have a crowd of 800. This is the largest gathering of Atlanticists in America each year. We — there are 52 nationalities in attendance, 26 CEOs or chairmen of companies, more than two dozen senior officials and legislators, senators and congressmen, 37 ambassadors, three former national security advisors, two former secretaries of State. Just the excitement of the men who are winning this prize has been reflected in the sort of crowd we’ve attracted for the night. So let me leave it at that. I’m going to quickly tee up a question for each of the gentlemen in regard to their speeches and let them talk for about a minute about that and then open up to you for your questions.
Let me start with Prime Minister Blair. Your speech — and people will see it — has a tone of urgency about many things, but particularly regarding the Middle East, but for our purposes tonight, it also underscores what we’ve been arguing about at the Atlantic Council, which is the Atlantic community in a way has to get its act together again and realize for the 21st century, you know, we’re not done. We’ve got a lot more to do. And I just wondered if you could talk a little bit about this speech, why you decided to give this sort of a message now and with the urgent tones that seem to be in your speech.
MR. BLAIR: Thanks very much, Fred, and first of all, can I say how honored I am to receive this award from the Atlantic Council and to thank you so much for bestowing it on me.
What I shall talk about tonight is the importance of the Atlantic relationship in confronting the major security threat that we face. And essentially I wanted to say that in order to confront this threat and overcome it, we need a combination of hard power and soft power, that it is important that we stand firm militarily where we have to, but it’s also important that we win the hearts and minds, that we make sure that we are not just exercising the power to confront but also the power to persuade. And in doing that, a resolution of the Israel- Palestine conflict is one major part of bringing greater reconciliation between the world of Islam and the world of the West, and most particularly in the Middle East where this global security threat has originated and where so much of it has played out.
So I shall focus both on the nature of the threat, the importance of the Middle East peace process, which I obviously now have a significant interest in as the special representative of the Quartet, and the importance of the Atlantic alliance, of Europe and America standing strong together in order to overcome this threat and to exercise both the hard and the soft power necessary for that eventual victory. And once again, Fred, let me say it’s a very great pleasure to come along to the Atlantic Council, especially in such distinguished company and it’s, over the 10 years that I was prime minister, I did stand up for that alliance and I did so because I believe in it. And no matter how difficult it is to stand up, it’s important that we do so.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister. Let me just add to that that one of the people you’re working very closely with in the Middle East is the chairman of our board of the Atlantic Council, General Jim Jones, who is Secretary Rice’s special envoy on security issues.
MR. BLAIR: Yes, and he’s done and is doing a fantastic job and certainly making a big difference.
MR. KEMPE: Let me turn — it’s hard for me to know: four-star topped uniformed men in America, four-star business leader. But I hope not knowing the protocol between these two ranks, I think I’ll turn to Admiral Mullen first. And I wonder if you could talk a little bit about what it is in short you want to say tonight, and in a way, how does the Atlantic community fit in for someone like you when you have such enormous global challenges, where you have issues really all over the world that you have to attend to?
ADM. MULLEN: Thank you, Fred. I too would just like to express my appreciation for this award this evening, and it’s really, I’m fortunate to represent so many young men and women who serve our nation around the world. And it’s a great honor to be here and I’d also just like to say congratulations to Mr. Blair and Mr. Murdoch for their selection as well.
NATO’s a very important entity to me. It’s an alliance that has stood the test of time over many, many years.
As a former commander in NATO, I have — when I was living in Europe a couple years ago, it became very evident to me that there were going to be continuing challenges, and this was prior to the time that NATO made the decision to take on the mission in Afghanistan. And I think what I’ve learned is the relationships that we have, the countries that are in NATO, those that also want to join in the future are all very important parts of being relevant in the future. And I think at the heart of that is being able to move forward in a positive way in Afghanistan.
I was delighted most very recently with the Bucharest summit and what I saw, several countries, the U.K., Netherlands, France, among others stepped forward with additional capabilities which we need there and that in the long run, succeeding there, I think, is going to be — is going to aim directly at whether NATO has a future or is relevant in the future. And I think that’s clearly the test that’s out there right now. The military aspect of it, where I obviously spend most of my time, is an important one. I have friends there, relationships there which are very strong and which we need to continue to make strong for the future. In addition, to follow onto what Mr. Blair said, the combination of the hard power and the soft power is also critical.
We feel strongly we need to build partnerships with many nations around the world. And certainly, Afghanistan is a great area focus and at least I believe you can’t focus on Afghanistan without including a strong focus on Pakistan. And they come together and the relationship there is very important. And then it quickly moves into the broader Middle East, Central Asia, and the need for stability there. So I’m very concerned about that, committed to that. I know the United States and the United States military is and we can’t say enough about how important that mission is and success there is for NATO in the future.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you. We’re glad to have you with us, sir. Rupert Murdoch, for those of you who haven’t seen his speech, it’s a very strong speech about also, in a way, renewing, reenergizing the Atlantic community, but you’ll see in the speech, it also has some harsh language about Europe and perhaps its lack of political will and social culture to defend itself and calls for reform from the outside of NATO, meaning a globalizing of NATO where partners would be based more on principles than necessarily geography and he names three countries who could be potential members: Australia, Japan, and Israel. So I only say that not to steal your opening, Mr. Murdoch, but because some of the people in the room may not yet have seen the speech and as a past newsman, that’s certainly what I saw in it. So I wonder if you could comment on that and why you decided to choose tonight and this occasion to send this very strong call to action?
MR. MURDOCH: Thank you, Fred. I think you have said just about everything I was going to say. (Laughter.) But —
MR. KEMPE: But say it again better. (Chuckles.)
MR. MURDOCH: I feel that the Atlantic community, as originally conceived, is something which we can really extend out votes to the community of countries that share the values, certainly, of this country and Britain and theoretically of Western Europe. And we really ought to be thinking of spreading, having some organization if you like, that includes more the new countries of Eastern Europe, countries like Australia and Japan and Israel, and I’m particularly pointing out Colombia and calling for us to do more about that country, which is our own great hope and friend in the Andean region.
You know, when one looks at Afghanistan, I couldn’t agree more about the importance of it, but I think we’re fooling ourselves if we don’t recognize that the heavy lifting there is being done by the United States and by Britain rather than all the circle members of NATO, who certainly have contributed some forces, but aren’t seeing them using their arms too actively. Of course there are exceptions, but —
So I really think we have got to — we can chain them into doing a lot more. But we have to think beyond just the all-Atlantic community as we thought about it as being the United States and Canada and Western Europe, but really countries that share the values and cherish the values of freedom and are ready to doing something about it, rather than just talk about it.
MR. KEMPE: And on the Colombian situation, you are calling for the Democratic Congress to push bravely for it on the free-trade agreement, I believe, if I read it correctly — to pass the free-trade agreement. Well, let me turn to questions from the floor. Please.
Q Tom Baldwin, Times London. And I have got two questions, if I may. First question, I would like to pose to Admiral Mullen, which is whether you agree with your fellow awardee’s speech — (inaudible) — when he said — (inaudible). Europe no longer has the political will or social culture to support military invasion in defense of itself or its allies.
My second question is to Tony Blair, which is one of the (myths ?) between Europe and America has always been the cross-fertilization of political ideas. There are people beginning to compare Barack Obama’s message of — (inaudible) — (transnational ?) change to that of yourself, and — (inaudible) — wondering whether he — that reminds you of your younger self.
MR. BLAIR: (Chuckles.) First of all, on that latter point, I know it has been a time since I have done these types of press conferences, but I think the American presidential election is up to America, so just kind of leave me out of it.
MR. BLAIR: Yeah, I know. It’s a good try, Tom, but — (laughter). Yeah, I’m not that out of practice. (Laughter.)
On the first thing — look, I think the — I mean, really what I am saying in my own speech is that we do have to be prepared to stand up and defend ourselves, defend our values. Now, that doesn’t just mean militarily, but it does mean that we are prepared to do it militarily as well. And for very obvious reasons, we have been a major part of the whole allied effort in Afghanistan. And it is no real surprise, I think, that we want to maximize the European contribution.
But I think there is a broader issue here, which is whether we are prepared in the West. And you know, leave aside Iraq for a moment, just focus on Afghanistan. That was a military conflict, which was supported the whole of the international community at the time. And the important thing is once we undertake this mission to see it through. And that is why I think the transatlantic alliance is not simply about military action and military force, but we do have to be prepared where we are engaged militarily to stand up for ourselves. So I think that in the broader picture, we will face a set of choices in the years to come as to whether we are prepared to do this or not, not just on the American side, but on the European side as well. And I think it is important once we undertake the mission that we see it through.
MR. BLAIR: Well, I think for the reasons that the admiral has just given, one of the things that we wanted at the Bucharest conference was to have more commitment. There are countries that have come forward and given that further commitment. But I think I would make a more general point is that I want to stop poking fingers at individual European countries. But I think there is a general point, which is in a sense the point that I will be making tonight, is that you cannot afford our will to be any less than that of the enemy that we are fighting. And so it is important we demonstrate our commitment. Now, we all undertook this mission together and we have got to see it through together.
MR. KEMPE: Would you like to point —
ADM. MULLEN: Just briefly, I think the value connection in the Atlantic alliance is absolutely vital. And in that regard, it has never been more critical that the alliance move forward in a positive way, and that we nurture it in a way to make sure it does have an impact. I, again, focusing on Bucharest, I think — or actually focusing on the Afghanistan mission, I think NATO went in and in my country went in without thinking more along the lines that it was a stabilization mission, and it has turned out to be a pretty tough fight, and that it is going to continue to be a pretty tough fight. And there are countries who are fighting, and obviously, every country has got to make up its own mind, tied to the — particularly in the democracies we are talking about — to what the people of those countries believe should be happening with respect to their militaries.
I think the criticality of it for the long term is there. The threat for the long term is there.
And again, tie it very closely to Pakistan, and that together we can actually do a lot about this. But if we’re apart and if we don’t reach to other friends as well — I mean, Australia has troops there. There are other countries who are contributing. And I think that all is tied to what NATO not just is but needs to be in the future.
ADM. MULLEN: The work that has been going on, particularly over the last year or so to generate more capability, is reflective, I think, of some change there. Certainly I think that change needs to continue.
MR. KEMPE: I’ve only let the London Times have that many questions because this is a NewsCorp evening. But please, BBC.
Q (Inaudible.) My question is for Tony Blair. About the Middle East peace process, what do you think is still a realistic goal for the Bush administration before President Bush leaves office. What do you think is still something realistic to put on the table at this last stage of negotiations and the process?
MR. BLAIR: I think it is still entirely realistic to get an agreement between the parties on the core issues this year. But it’s only realistic if we push forward with the determination that is necessary. And that means measures by Israel to lift the weight of the operation, consistent and compatible with an increase in Palestinian security.
And one of the things that we are working on now in the peace process is to try and make sure that we get the right package of measures together that allow progressively the occupation to be lifted and the Palestinian security capability to be improved so that Israel is confident with its security and the Palestinians are confident that in any agreement, they will indeed get statehood. In addition to that, we need a different and better strategy for Gaza.
Now, my view of the peace process has changed since I became the special representative of the quartet. I mean, I used to think like everybody else that if you only got an agreement, then the facts on the ground would change. I am more convinced than ever that we need to change some of the realities on the ground in order to create the space for the politics to work. It is possible to get that going soon. And I think the next few weeks are absolutely critical in this peace process. And if we are able to get strong measures, confidence- building measures for the Palestinians on the West Bank, a proper security plan for the Palestinians, and start the process of — as I say — lifting the occupation progressively as we improve Palestinian security capability. Then we can create the space in which the politics can succeed. So it’s perfectly possible to do it this year. It’s a perfectly realistic ambition. But it’s going to have to be focused on absolutely relentlessly in order to get it done.
Q May I follow-up very quickly?
MR. KEMPE: A quick follow-up, sorry.
Q But one of the criticisms of — (inaudible) — Bush administration at the moment on the way they’re handling the peace process is that they’re not doing what it takes on the ground to actually — (inaudible) — that there isn’t enough work being done on the ground to actually make this a realistic goal.
MR. BLAIR: Well, this is where I think the next few weeks are absolutely critical. And you’ve got several weeks coming up. You’ve got the donors’ meeting for the Palestinians. We raised $7.7 billion in pledges in December in Paris. We will start over the next few weeks to allocate the promises to the project. You’ve then got a visit by President Bush to Israel. You’ve then go the World Economic Forum. You’ve got a major private-sector Palestinian investment conference. And then, you’ve got the Berlin Security Conference at the end of June.
Now, all of these events are basically — they’re built around the same concept, which is the concept we’ve been working on now for several months. And that is to get the economic measures, the security measures, and the access and movement restrictions dealt with together as a package, so that on the West Bank — leave Gaza to one side for a moment — Palestinians can see the real possibility that if they take the right security measures, the occupation can be lifted. And the Israelis can see that the Palestinians have the determination to grip this and do it, which is why we are training forces in Jordan in a completely different way than had been done before and building up that security capability.
Now, in addition to this, as I say, without going into the detail of it, we need also to find a different way of dealing with Gaza, one that harms the extremists and helps the people, as opposed to the strategy we’ve got at the moment. But we are working flat out on these issues now. And I think we will be able to tell within the next couple of months or so whether this is really going to come to fruition this year or not. And I believe it is possible that it can, and we should. There is literally, in my view, spending time out in the Middle East now as I do — there is nothing more important to this fundamental battle we’re fighting about extremism in the world than solving this issue. MR. KEMPE: Thank you. (Inaudible) — also if you’d identify yourself, please.
Q Absolutely. (Inaudible) — now, there’s a number of experts and policymakers in this town who think that one of the threats to the alliance is Russia. (Inaudible) — and quite successful and he is — (inaudible) — new threats. Of course, I’m talking about Ukraine and Georgia. So would you please comment on that?
And the second question is for Prime Minister Blair. Don’t you think that there are too many outside players when we are talking about peaceful agreement or creation of separate countries for Palestinians? And I mean Iran and I mean — (inaudible) — I mean Syria, and I mean Hezbollah, and I mean Hamas. So how are you going to deal with that? (Inaudible.)
MR. BLAIR: I think on the first point, it’s necessary for Europe and indeed for America for obvious strategic reasons to have a relationship with Russia. It’s one of the reasons why President Bush met President Putin recently. But I think also it’s important we preserve our independence strongly, both in security and energy terms. And I think for all the differences in emphasis, I think most people in Europe would agree with that as well as people in America. And I think it’s really a question of how Russia develops as to how that whole relationship develops in years to come. I mean, the truth is we need Russia to deal with the problems in the world. But we also need to know the direction they’re heading.
In respect to the Middle East, yes, there’s no doubt there is. I mean, one of the reasons why this is important to solve, one of the reasons why it’s so important that we get progress on the Israeli- Palestinian issue is precisely because that issue is being used by outside players, Iran and Syria, the general strain and movement of extremism in the region to try and whip up antagonism and sectarianism and division. And one of the reasons why it is therefore important to make progress is to demonstrate that these people won’t succeed. But it is precisely because they see it as so important to disrupt the process for peace that it should be so important for us to maintain it and to do it.
Q How are you going to do it?
MR. BLAIR: Well, the only way you will defeat this extremism is by building a strong enough alliance for moderation. And that means, one, that we stand up and are prepared to defend ourselves when we come under attack. And that’s why there can’t be any compromise with terrorism in that region, and secondly that we’re prepared also to go out and persuade people why the vision that we have of the way life should be lived is the best one. And the truth is, there is everything to play for. The Middle East is — as I often say — the Middle East is in transition. The question is where is it transiting to. And the truth is, there are two different visions in the Middle East competing with each other at the moment. One is basically all the 21st-century economy where people want to take their politics and their culture up to date with their economy. And the other is where they want to use that economic power to bolster a semi-feudal politics and culture. And we’ve got to be on the side of those who are trying to thwart the forces of extremism and make progress in the region.
And the Israel-Palestine issue is just — it is the block to doing that. It’s not the origin of the extremism — let me make that absolutely clear.
And also, let me make it clear that there should be no compromise whatever with Israel’s security. However, if we want to improve the position of that region and the forces of moderation within it and modernization, and if we want to protect our own security long-term, it’s important to solve it.
MR. KEMPE: Okay, one more question and then we’re going to have to close because —
ADM. MULLEN: (Inaudible.)
MR. KEMPE: Respond briefly.
Q In fact, if you could when you’re dealing with Russia, if you could also pick up the missile-defense issue here, because coming away from Bucharest, actually Sochi, I think it was hard to know whether it was half-empty or half-full with the Russians.
ADM. MULLEN: Let me just say first from a security standpoint and a military standpoint, there is no place that I go in the Middle East or in the Persian Gulf, that part of the world, where the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian challenge isn’t front and center. And its resolution and reaching some kind of agreement would have, in my view, a huge impact on the security in that part of the world. It wouldn’t solve it all, but it really takes a huge step in the right direction.
I’m actually encouraged from a NATO perspective with NATO’s engagement of Russia. I’ve been in and out of NATO meetings over the last four years or so. And my military counterpart is routinely engaged. Like many discussions or many meetings, we don’t agree on everything. But I think that engagement is very important. And while Ukraine and Georgia did not succeed in membership this time around, it was clear to me — and I thought the positive news was it’s not if but when for those two countries. And so, I’m encouraged by that.
One of the areas that we certainly have focused on with Russia has been the evolution of missile defense, which I think is an important capability for Europe. And it gets at the threat that Iran is developing. And it’s very clear to me it’s not intended to focus on Russia, never was, and that we’ve made progress in that regard. And actually, a few months ago, it was widely seen as there wouldn’t be much progress there or we wouldn’t reach any kind of common ground. And I think actually coming out of Bucharest and Sochi, we have. And so we look forward to continuing to work that very important security capability.
MR. KEMPE: Thank you, Admiral. We are running out of time, but we’ve got four or five minutes. And then, these gentlemen have to get ready for the evening. Let’s take these three questions quickly as a bunch and then we’ll see who they go to and what the subjects are, please. And identify yourself as well.
Q Sure, Patrick Adams of the Washington Examiner. Two quick questions. Mr. Blair, I was wondering if you could describe how you envision what you would like your relation with President Bush to be after he leaves. Is he somebody you want to still work together professionally, do you hang out with him personally? And if so, on what issues would you want to work together.
And for you, Mr. Murdoch, I know Mr. Blair won’t weigh in on our election, but I have a feeling you might. And I wanted to get your prediction on tomorrow’s primary in Pennsylvania.
Q I have a business question for Mr. Murdoch. I’m with Reuters. And I’m just wondering if you would say whether you’ve actually made a bid to buy — (inaudible) — any kind of joint venture with — (inaudible) — or whether that’s a dead issue now.
MR. KEMPE: And as you deal with Newsday, since I know others probably would want to ask in this room and we haven’t gotten to it, you may want to say just how much trouble is Google in for a potential three-way alliance of Yahoo!, Microsoft, and NewsCorp? But that’s — I just can’t take my hat off all the time. Please?
Q My name is Juan — (inaudible) — for Spain — (inaudible) — my question is for Tony Blair; congratulations for the award. We know you are a very — (inaudible) — person. You were the leader of a rock band when you were young; there are rumors, quite younger than now.
MR. BLAIR: Yeah.
Q Prime Minister, you were — supported the war. You now are — (inaudible) — what of these things — do you regret about any of these things?
MR. BLAIR: Oh, you mean being in a rock band? (Laughter.) I think anyone who heard us did but — (laughter) — it’s, I think, a question like that requires a speech to answer it and we haven’t got the time, but maybe another moment. On the first question that you asked me, look, President Bush is a friend of mine. He will remain a friend of mine. And I strongly supported his leadership throughout his time as president. And I’ll continue to support him afterwards, so it’s as simple as that.
MR. KEMPE: Also, for the Spanish gentleman, I think in President Aznar’s introduction of Prime Minister Blair tonight, you will see a very interesting introduction of a man from the right, as President Aznar is, and a man from the left of the political spectrum, which Prime Minister Blair is. And it captures a little bit of what you’re asking about. And you know, Rupert Murdoch, you have the opportunity to make news here at the end of this press conference.
MR. MURDOCH: It’s not off the table and — (inaudible) — and I are still talking.
Q That’s all, you can’t say any more?
MR. MURDOCH: Can’t say any more than that.
Q There’s hasn’t been a more actual formal proposal from him?
MR. MURDOCH: I can’t say anything more than that, sorry.
MR. KEMPE: Okay, is there anything you would like to say at all about Microsoft-Yahoo!?
MR. MURDOCH: Yes, that on the Microsoft situation, people were asked would I bid for Yahoo! and the answer is, no, I can’t afford to do that. I mean, the environment of today, I can’t afford to buy anything. I certainly can’t afford to bid against Microsoft, and least of all for Yahoo!.
But there’s a very interesting dynamic going on there in that world where Google is going forward, marching forward with tremendous momentum, gathering the majority ofthe revenue that comes from this new search technology. And I think it presents a lot of questions to everybody, whether they’re ordinary marketers, advertising agencies. Are they being cut off? Is Google really going to get control of the advertising world? And should Microsoft be supported in their attempt to try and stop that and do they have the capacity to do so?
Q Do you do work with —
MR. MURDOCH: It’s a matter of brain and skills rather than of money.
Q Would you be part of the Microsoft, any kind of deal that Microsoft would do?
MR. MURDOCH: It would depend on the deal.
MR. KEMPE: All right, the — I’ve given a lot of latitude because of my sordid past at the Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones, but the — I want to close this, again, thanking these three gentlemen. Let me just say that today, particularly on the comments of NATO, on Afghanistan, on the Middle East, you saw what these awards are all about. You have the business leader provoking a new way of thinking, trying to provoke an idea, push an idea forward that he thinks the time has come. You have the military leader who has to not only keep us safe, but inform the policymaker in any host of dangerous situations of what’s doable, what’s not doable, what works, what doesn’t work. And then you have the policymaker who in the end has to make the tough decisions.
We had Henry Kissinger talking to a group of young people, a board member of ours, talking to a group of young people at the Atlantic Council not so long ago. And he said, you read newspapers, you talk to your professors; that’s all fine, but when you’re a policymaker, you have to decide and you have one shot. And he said, so be a little bit lenient at times as you look at your political leaders because they’re not your professors, they’re not — they actually have to decide. So thank you for you three gentlemen, for so well representing what we wanted to represent with these awards, and we look forward to your speeches and to the celebratory evening. Thank you.
April 21, 2008