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LBBJ: Let's start with the macro here. Do you think the U.S. is on the right track with its foreign relations?
Lowenthal: What a general question to ask? I didn't know there was one track. Are you talking about the Middle East?
LBBJ: Let me narrow it for you. Let's talk about our allies and the great, other powers – China, Russia, Israel, Britain. How do you think we are doing with those countries?
Lowenthal: I think that the United States still has the respect as the democratic leader of the world, facing a world with many dangers. While people ask a great deal of us, we get little credit for what we do. I think that it's a difficult time. If you ask me specifically how we're dealing with some of the critical issues that are there, I think that in the Middle East, which is now the hot spot of the world, we have to understand that our closest ally is Israel. Israel is the most democratic state in the region. . . .There is upheaval taking place. People are hungering throughout the Middle East for more individual freedoms. It has led to the Arab Spring . . . Although we are on the side of democracy and movements toward democracy, that does not occur overnight. What we have seen is the shift and the Arab Spring has led to the conditions under which, ultimately, in the long term, there can be greater democracy in the Middle East. But right now they're going through this transition period.
LBBJ: They've been transitioning for hundreds of years.
Lowenthal: But we haven't had overturns of governments. Now the Syrians also. We're talking about shifts where people have turned over their government. We're talking about taking away a 40-year dictator in Gadhafi.
LBBJ: So you think Libya is a good example?
Lowenthal: I think Libya is an example of one in which we are beginning to understand. I think the overwhelming number of people respect and love the United States. We are seen as the liberator. There are strong elements within that community that do not want to see any change, who are much more fundamentalist and are quite upset about this. That dynamic is being played out. In Egypt, you have a fight between the democratic issues and the military and fundamentalism, and you see the same thing throughout the rest. There are these dynamics taking place throughout the Middle East. I think that the hope is we can support those elements that truly do want democracy and do want to participate and to maintain their own . . .
LBBJ: So you think Obama has done a good job as far as his approach to Syria, to Iran, to Libya, to Egypt?
LBBJ: Do you support everything he's done?
LBBJ: What about Israel?
Lowenthal: I think Obama has Israel's back. I truly believe President Obama when he says that Iran will not develop a nuclear weapon. We're not going to go in and attack at this moment. We're going to use other sanctions and other controls to do that. We're going to shut off the pipeline. . . We are now beginning to see the world come behind and agree with Obama that Iran should not have a nuclear weapon, but we have yet to convince the Russians and the Chinese to go along with us. Those are the two that we need to do that. We need Putin and we need the Chinese to step up because the rest of the world is into turning off the tap. . . It will take the president and diplomacy to bring the Russians and the Chinese along. They are the two largest obstacles to shutting off the entire tap to Iran at this point.
LBBJ: Are you talking about the Strait of Hormuz?
Lowenthal: We're talking about shutting off all sale of even low-grade nuclear uranium, which is flowing from the old Soviet Union. Iran does not produce it itself; it buys from there. So if you can control the central bank of Iran and you can cut off economic resources and you can keep Iran from purchasing, you can stop their ability to develop anything. Will it be successful? It will depend upon the sanctions and the president understanding at what point we say it's working or not working. I think that he and the Israelis are sharing intelligence very closely. We are going down this path, and we are not going to allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons.
LBBJ: So that is the position that you believe the United States government should take, that Iran, under absolutely no conditions, should have a nuclear weapon?
Lowenthal: But we will try all ways short of an attack, of an aggressive attack. We will close the tap. We will isolate Iran. We will remove money from the central bank.
LBBJ: We understand this is hypothetical, and probably several years off, at the very least, but what if those things don't work?
Lowenthal: Everything is on the table. Iran will not develop nuclear weapons. The question is, do we posture now and scream and yell? I don't have the intelligence to know that, but I believe the president has it.
LBBJ: Here's another hypothetical. Let's say there's an uprising in Iran.
Lowenthal: Thank goodness.
LBBJ: Because the economic sanctions are working.
LBBJ: And the people are finally tired. They've had enough of their rulers.
Lowenthal: I would hope so.
LBBJ: What should the United States do at that point?
Lowenthal: I don't know. It depends. I think that the entire world would like to see Iran's rulers leave. I don't think that anybody supports them. I think that they trade with Iran – the Russians and the Chinese – but I don't think anybody thinks that Iran is anything but a rogue nation at this point. So I would hope that we would have worldwide condemnation if there were a worldwide support for a revolution.
LBBJ: We have had worldwide condemnation of what Syria is doing to its people and nobody has stepped in to help there. The U.N. is pretty much worthless at this point, isn't it?
Lowenthal: Well, I don't think people in the United States want to see our role as the role of having to step in everywhere. I think our role has been that we have done as much as we can do.
LBBJ: If we use Syria as an example, the U.N. is pretty much . . . its hands are tied when a nation tries to kill its own people. Iran could do the same thing. They could start killing their own people if the people have an uprising. Do you think the U.S., because of the potential uprising in Iran . . .
Lowenthal: I think the U.S. should go to the United Nations and build worldwide support if there needs to be an intervention.
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