Q & A with… Senator Joseph I. Lieberman

By Judie Jacobson

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians… Iran’s forward march toward the acquisition of nuclear weapons…the struggling economy…
We thought it was time to touch base with Connecticut’s junior Senator Joe Lieberman for his take on some of today’s pressing issues, especially vis a vis the Middle East. Here is what he had to say.

Q: Israel’s moratorium on settlement construction ended last week, despite threats from the Palestinians that they would pull out of the talks if it were not extended. Do you think Netanyahu should extend the moratorium?
A: This is a decision for Prime Minister Netanyahu and the government of Israel as to whether they should extend the moratorium on construction or not. But I think the Prime Minister has been very clear that this is a one-time moratorium and that he cannot extend it and I understand that. I think the focus on whether housing or community centers or child care centers are built on the West Bank is misplaced. The question here is the Israelis and Palestinians negotiating to see whether they can reach a mutually satisfactory agreement that leads to a two-state solution – the Jewish state of Israel and a Palestinian state. For the continuation of the moratorium to be a condition of the negotiations going forward would be like the Israelis saying they won’t continue the negotiations until all anti-Israel material is taken out of the text books that are used in Palestinian schools or until the Palestinians renounce the right of the refugees to return. Abbas hasn’t walked away and I take that to be an encouraging sign. I hope he doesn’t walk away because these talks are the best hope that the Palestinians have to take steps toward statehood.

Q: There was a rumor floating around last week that the United States was considering offering to release convicted spy Jonathan Pollard in return for the extension of the moratorium. Do you know anything about that?
A: I saw that story and I’ll tell you I really don’t know. I haven’t heard that from anyone authoritative.

Q: Do you think it would be a good idea?
A: That’s a real call for the president. There’s been controversy surrounding this forever. Of course, it’s a call for the Prime Minister too as to whether he would make that a condition for continuing the moratorium. The moratorium is definitely going to be lifted. Right now it’s only a question as to what extent it is lifted. In other words, construction will begin – now it’s a question of how much. Is it all within the green line? Is some of it over the green line? There’s a new formula being discussed that construction would begin again but it wouldn’t be below the number that occurred during Prime Minister Olmert’s peace negotiations with Abu Mazen.

Q: The U.N. came out last week with a report condemning Israel for the flotilla incident — what’s your reaction to that?
A: I thought it was so unfair. It was one of those things where you don’t whether to laugh or cry. It did come from the U.N. Human Rights Commission which is notoriously anti-Israel. It’s classic 1984 George Orwell – you know, war is peace and love is hate. The Human Rights Commission has some terrible violators of human rights who have been chairs of the commission, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that they’ve put out a report on the flotilla incident condemning Israel. It was just totally one-sided and I think it will have very little effect on Israel.

Q: Hillary Clinton seemed to suggest recently that we may just have to learn to live with a nuclear Iran. Do you agree with that?
A: I didn’t see that comment and I’d be surprised if she actually said that, but I certainly don’t agree with the idea that we’d have to live with a nuclear Iran. To me, every time the President says – and I’ve heard him say this both publicly and in private – that Iran getting nuclear weapons is unacceptable to him and the United States, he means it. That’s exactly where we should be. If Iran gets nuclear weapons that’s the most significant change in international relations in a long time, because Iran is not only an extremist government, it’s also an expansionist government and a terror-sponsoring government that will end President Obama’s desire to limit the spread of nuclear weapons, not just in the Middle East, but throughout the world; it will strengthen terrorists and it will compromise the security of the United States. As I see the U.S. extending defensive capacities to countries in the Middle East, both Israel and our Arab allies, to me that’s not about learning to live with a nuclear Iran, that’s helping those countries be prepared to defend themselves in the event we are forced to take military action against Iran and Iran strikes back.

Q: Are the sanctions on Iran having any effect?
A: Well, I was proud to have been one of the sponsors of the original sanctions legislation – a lot of people in both parties worked on them and the President signed them. The reaction to the sanctions is much stronger than I expected it would be; That is, the willingness of countries around the world to take part, beginning with Europe, but then allies in Asia like Japan and South Korea, as well. I think that the implementation of the sanctions is greater than the Iranians expected, so I think they are having an effect on Iran economically. But whether it’s enough of an effect to lead them to stop their nuclear weapons program, I remain skeptical. And I view with great skepticism this attempt now by the Iranians to begin negotiations again . It’s one thing to sit down and talk, but I certainly hope that the United States and the rest of the world will not let up on the sanctions, on the economic pressure, until the Iranians do something real, like, well, stop their enrichment programs while the negotiations are going on. Otherwise we have to keep squeezing the economy tighter and tighter until we see how serious they are.

Q: What’s on your agenda these days?
A: Well, I’m always working on homeland security and I continue to work on that. I’m particularly working on a cyber security bill. Fortunately, without saying too much, we have developed a cyber offensive capacity, but our defenses are not as strong as they should be and more and more countries are developing the ability to strike us through cyber warfare. Not only that, but to steal enormous amounts ofmoney from private countries through cyber attacks on accounts. So, I’m working on a bipartisan bill with Senator Susan Collins of Maine and others, and I hope that we have an opportunity to get it passed in the so-called lame duck session.
Also, obviously, the number one concern is the economy. I’m working hard to make sure that nobody’s taxes are raised while the recession is going on. The economists may have decided that the recession ended last year, but most people I talk to still feel that it’s going on and to me that’s the worst time to raise anyone’s taxes.

Q: Finally – are you going to come out in support of either of the candidates running for Senate this year?
A: No. I’ve decided it’s best for me to just concentrate on being the best Senator I can and stay out of the politics in Connecticut. I want to be ready after the election, with Senator Dodd’s retirement, to become the senior member of the delegation and to try to bring the Connecticut delegation together so we can be more effective for the state.

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