On Tuesday, August 14, Connecticut voters will go to the polls in a primary election to choose the Democrat and Republican candidates for the next United States Senator to fill the seat held by Senator Joseph Lieberman, who is retiring at the end of his term. Much of the candidates’ rhetoric has focused on the economy – but we wanted to know more about their stance on foreign affairs – specifically, on issues related to the Middle East.
We posed the same set of questions to two Democrat and two Republican candidates for Senate in the upcoming primary. Congressman Chris Murphy (Democrat), Linda McMahon (Republican) and Chris Shays responded. At press time, the Ledger had not heard back from Susan Bysiewicz (Democrat). Here is what they had to say.
With this issue, the Ledger begins its election 2012 coverage. In addition to our interviews with the candidates for Senate, the Ledger’s elections coverage will include a look at the Congressional race in District 5 – the seat being vacated by Chris Murphy – as well as key local races.
LEDGER: You are seeking to fill the Senate seat soon to be vacated by Joe Lieberman – who is certainly one of Israel’s staunchest supporters on the Hill. How would you describe your own support for Israel?
MURPHY: I’m proud to be a very proud supporter of the U.S./Israel relationship. As a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee I’ve been at the table since we’ve made some very important decisions during a very dangerous time for Israel — and we have stood by them in the fight to keep Iran from gaining nuclear weapons, and the fight to aid them in their protection against a growing instability in the region. I’m excited to be able to elevate my voice on behalf of the Israeli partnership with the United States and I intend to be a very strong voice for Israel and being a similarly strong advocate for this key relationship.
McMAHON: Israel is an important foundation of stability and democracy in the Middle East. The U.S. and Israel share common principles and a strong commitment to eradicating terrorism. Israel has been a resolute ally, and the United States should stand ready to assist our friends to promote peace, defeat terrorism, and prevent hostile countries that sponsor terrorism from obtaining nuclear weapons.
I believe the U.S.-Israel alliance remains critical as the two countries face an array of shared threats from a potentially nuclear-armed Iran, to the expanding military capabilities of the terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah. Israel is finding it increasingly difficult – and expensive – to meet these challenges. With the increased unrest in the Arab region, we must remain vigilant in our cooperation.
Maintaining the U.S.-Israeli security agreement, which pledges to provide Israel with $30 billion in military assistance through 2017, is vital to ensuring that Israel maintains its qualitative military edge over those adversaries that threaten the Jewish state and actively work to undermine U.S. interests in the region. While budgetary times are tight here at home, I support the President’s FY 2013 request for $3.1 billion of security assistance to Israel. Approximately 75 percent of that money will return to the United States helping to support American jobs while supporting our democratic allies in the Middle East.
Additionally, I favor legislation such as the United States-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act of 2012, which states that it is U.S. policy to: (1) reaffirm the commitment to Israel’s security as a Jewish state, (2) provide Israel with the military capabilities to defend itself and help preserve its qualitative military edge, (3) expand military and civilian cooperation, (4) assist in a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that results in two states living side by side in peace and security, and (5) encourage Israel’s neighbors to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. The bill also expresses the sense of Congress that the United States should take specified actions to assist in Israel’s defense.
I completely support Israel’s right to defend itself against all threats from both state and non-state actors, and I view any attack on Israel as an attack on the United States. Israel has the right to exist and live in peace just like every other nation in the world. That right must be recognized by its neighbors in the region, and the United States must encourage other nations to form public alliances with Israel to counter threats from its neighbors, like Iran, that refuse such recognition.
SHAYS: I have been and continue to be one of Israel’s strongest supporters. When I was a member of Congress, I traveled to Israel on numerous occasions, met with most of its leaders and demonstrated a firm commitment to Israeli goals and aspirations. I co-sponsored legislation to: recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and locate the American embassy in Jerusalem; support Israel’s right to protect itself by building a fence; fully fund foreign aid to Israel; prohibit direct assistance to the Palestinian Authority unless a criteria of peaceful conditions are met.
LEDGER: What are your thoughts on how the Israelis and Palestinians might be brought back to the negotiating table? And what are your views on the so-called “two-state solution”?
MURPHY: I am in support of a two-state solution. The U.S. has to be a partner with the Israelis and the Palestinians with respect to future negotiations. All of the important progress that has been made in the region with respect to peace agreements has come with U.S. facilitation and that’s not likely to change. The conditions are not great for peace today. There is leadership on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides that are not in a strong negotiating position as prior regimes have been; there have been some unfortunate preconditions to negotiations set up by the Palestinians that shouldn’t exist. My position is very similar to that of Prime Minister Netanyahu – I think that both sides should come to the table and start negotiating today without any preconditions. That’s what negotiations are; negotiations are a point at which you talk about the conditions for peace and the conditions for a deal. I’d like to see the Palestinians drop their requirements with respect to settlements and other issues and come to the table and start talking.
McMAHON: I support a sustainable two-state solution to the conflict. This is both essential to the survival and security of Israel as a democracy and a fundamental American interest. A peace agreement is something that must be brokered between the Israelis and Palestinians. It is not the duty of the United States government to dictate the terms of any negotiations or accords. Consequently, I disagree with President Obama attempting to prescribe terms of an arrangement, namely his call that borders be based on the Israel-West Bank armistice line existing prior to the 1967 war, or the “Green Line.” Doing so has only emboldened the Palestinians not to negotiate for peace, and talks cannot be successful while the terrorist organization Hamas remains influential on one side of the table. Additionally, I would note that Israel’s Prime Minister has offered to meet Abbas anytime anywhere and the lack of progress is due to the Palestinians’ refusal to come to the table without preconditions.
As Palestinians seek greater international recognition of statehood outside of a negotiating framework, I oppose recognition of Palestinian statehood by the United Nations. I commend President Obama’s indication last year that the United States would veto any Security Council resolution looking to do so. The U.N. has long held anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian institutional bias, and the U.S. must continue to contest this imbalance.
SHAYS: The United States should support the peace process and under no circumstance try to force a settlement. Ultimately only the Israelis and Palestinians will be able to negotiate a lasting peace. It is not in Israel’s best interest to absorb the Palestinians under one Israeli state. I believe a two-state solution is possible, but only if the Palestinians completely renounce terrorism and fully recognize the State of Israel.
LEDGER: The moment that Egypt’s new President Mohammed Morsi took office he announced that he would be “reviewing” his country’s peace treaty with Israel. Do you think there is a role for the U.S. here?
MURPHY: The U.S. gives Egypt substantial military aid and that aid should be conditioned upon their honoring international agreements with Israel and other partners. So, we need to watch Morsi’s words and actions very carefully over the coming weeks and months. Our aid to Egypt should not be unconditional. If Egypt start to walk away from its historic cooperative relationship with Israel, than we should start talking about walking away from our historic cooperative relationship with Egypt.
McMAHON: It is my understanding that Morsi pledged to respect all international treaties – this would include the 1979 peace treaty with Israel. Additionally, it was recently reported that Morsi reached out to Israeli President Shimon Peres vowing to put Middle East peace efforts back on track. While these developments are promising, the United States must monitor the relationship closely. The U.S. will give Egypt approximately $1.5 billion in aid this year so we have a vested interest in how those dollars are used and just how the budding Egyptian democracy is developing, including their relationships with other countries.
SHAYS: The peace agreement between Israel and Egypt was based on Egypt’s recognition of the State of Israel and Egypt’s commitment to maintain a peaceful coexistence. In return, Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula. If Egypt renounces the peace agreement, Israel has the inherent right to reclaim the Sinai Peninsula. If Egypt renounces the peace agreement, the United States must immediately rescind all foreign aid to Egypt.
LEDGER: In terms of Iran’s push to develop nuclear weapons: do you think that sanctions are working? Do you ever see a time or conditions under which you would support military action against Iran, either on the part of the U.S. or on the part of Israel?
MURPHY: I think it’s too early to know whether the sanctions are working or can work. We’re about two weeks into the latest and strongest round of sanctions; so it’s going to take time – months, not years – to evaluate whether there are changes in the Iranian regime. But we do know that the sanctions are crippling the economy. We also know that there is growing chorus within the regime that believe Iran should change its position on nuclear talks. So, I remain hopeful that sanctions can and will work. I applaud the President for his work to bring together European nations to place these sanctions.
I also agree with him that all options should be on the table – including military options. My ultimate support for any military action would be dependent upon circumstances and the intelligence presented to me. So, while I think that military options should still be on the table, I think it’s irresponsible to say today whether or not I’d support a military strike without that information in front of me.
McMAHON: The first, and most important, thing we must do is prevent Iran from obtaining or producing nuclear weapons. While I support building strong international support for sanctions, we cannot wait for the United Nations to enact further restrictions that Iran will simply ignore. It is my hope that the current U.S. sanctions will have their intended effect and bring Iran to the table. Iran having nuclear capability not only endangers the state of Israel and its people, it endangers the entire world, including the United States. We cannot allow for the capability of Iran to have nuclear weapons. Containment is not an option; we must prevent the Iranians from ever getting to that point. Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has repeatedly threatened the security of Israel and challenged its status as a legitimate state. Allowing Iran to produce weapons would increase instability in the region and throughout the world. All options in dealing with Iran must remain on the table. The United States should continue to exert pressure and press for hard sanctions against Iran until the threat is neutralized.
SHAYS: Given Iran’s history, its support of terrorism, and its stated mission to destroy the State of Israel, it is not acceptable to allow Iran to have nuclear weapons. If it was not for actions by the State of Israel, Iraq and Syria would have nuclear-power plants capable of producing weapon-grade material. It has taken the United States too long to tighten the sanctions. The sanctions are beginning to have a significant impact on the economy of Iran, but we need to do a better job getting Russia and China to recognize if they don’t help us make the sanctions work the only alternative is military action. How long we should wait to see if the sanctions work depends on the status of Iran’s nuclear program. Since I have not had any recent classified briefings I cannot fully answer this question. Since we need to do everything we can to ensure that Iran does not become a nuclear power all options must be available to us. Working closely with Israel on this matter is a national security imperative.
LEDGER: What role should the U.S. take with regard to the ongoing crisis in Syria? Should we intervene to save lives?
MURPHY: I think we have to understand the limited tools at our disposal when it comes to Syria. Ultimately, it’s going to be Syria’s neighbors – in particular Turkey – that will have the greatest effect on the ground. I don’t support direct military actions or ground troops in Syria. I think we should work with Turkey in particular to change the behavior of Assad, but also to create a substantial safe zone in the region so that the population that is being targeted by the Assad regime has a safe place to go.
McMAHON: I strongly condemn the continuing violence in Syria as the government of President Bashar al-Assad cracks down on protesters, killing thousands. While many are calling for the arming and funding of the Syrian opposition forces, I believe we must be careful in moving forward with aiding the rebel forces given the lack of a united, coherent opposition and the fact they are supported by Hamas and al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. While America often finds itself on the front lines in international crises, we can let the Europeans take the lead while focusing on public diplomacy initiatives. The United States can support the delivery of humanitarian assistance through independent organizations. We should never put troops in harms way unless there is a vital U.S. national interest and unless there is a clear mission and criteria for victory with decisive U.S. military action.
SHAYS: The U.S. should work with all of Syria’s neighbors — Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, and Israel — to help ensure this conflict does not seep into neighboring countries. This is a civil war that the U.S. military should not be engaged in unless it is to guarantee no biological or chemical agents get into the hands of wrong parties.
LEDGER: Last month, at the urging of Turkey, Israel was excluded from the Global Counterterrorism Forum in Istanbul, that was an initiative launched by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2011. Sen. Lieberman and Sen. Mark Kirk wrote a strong letter to Sec. of State Clinton, criticizing her for not standing up to Turkey. Do you think that Sec. Clinton made a mistake?
MURPHY: I think we have to be gravely concerned about the anti-Israel rhetoric coming out of the Erdogen Administration in Turkey. Turkey has certainly been a very important ally to our country, but we can’t let their growing anti-Israel bias go unchecked. I understand the President had a fine line to walk considering our relationship with the Turkish government, but, speaking for myself, I would certainly be willing to call out Turkey when I feel it has crossed the line with respect to Israel.
McMAHON: Yes, the Administration was wrong to exclude Israel from the Forum. Israel is one of the United States’ greatest allies and they have as much experience dealing with terrorism as anyone and their knowledge related to counterterrorism is top notch. To have this gathering without Israel makes no sense and is a slap in the face to our good friends the Israelis. It appears the Administration was more concerned with pandering to some of the countries that did attend than actually having a productive forum.
SHAYS: As a Senator, I would have taken a leadership role in criticizing the Administration for caving to Turkey’s insistence that Israel be excluded from the Global Counterterrorism Forum in Instanbul, and I would have signed the Lieberman/Kirk letter.
LEDGER: Out of 184 countries that America has diplomatic relationships with, Israel is the only one in whose capital the U.S. does not house its embassy – even though Congress in 1995 voted to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. President Obama is not alone — no President, Republican or Democratic, has done opted to relocate the embassy to Jerusalem. Would you support relocating the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital?
MURPHY: Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Ultimately, I think that we should have our diplomatic presence there. I don’t understand all of the historical reasons for keeping the main embassy in Tel Aviv – we do have a major diplomatic presence in Jerusalem – but my belief is that our policy should be to ultimately fully recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
McMAHON: The Israelis have long worked to protect their land, freely travel, and peacefully live in their capital. Jerusalem should remain undivided. I support the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 that calls for the U.S. Embassy to be moved to Jerusalem. Such a move would signify America’s strong support of the Israelis.
SHAYS: I fully support moving our embassy to the Capital of Israel, Jerusalem. That is where it belongs and the sooner it is moved there the better.