Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations HARDtalk


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Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations

Stephen Sackur speaks to Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. How different and unpredictable is Trump going to be?


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We're about to see what kind of impact President Donald Trump

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will have on the US and the world beyond.

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Today, my focus is the international arena.

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My guest has been close to the centre of US foreign

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Richard Haass was a senior adviser to both Bush presidents and has

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offered his insights to the President-elect, too.

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From big power diplomacy, with Russia and China, to global

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How different, how unpredictable is Trump going to be?

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Richard Haass in New York City, welcome to HARDtalk.

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You've just written a book with the cheery title

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In your opinion, does the election of Donald Trump

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to the presidency add to that sense of a world in disarray?

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It's more the world the 45th President of the United States

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It's the result, in part, of things the United States has done

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It's in part simply a result of the end of the Cold War,

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the loosening up our international relations, the rise of certain

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Where I think he may have added it slightly,

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Where I think he may have added to it slightly,

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and not just him but first in the American political campaign,

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candidates, including him, were saying things and endorsing

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positions which, shall we say, were untraditional.

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The fact that Senator Sanders, Secretary Clinton and Donald Trump,

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all three rejected the major pending trade agreement, the so-called

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that itself was a major departure from things.

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Obviously, during the transition, some of the things he's said

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But I would put the lion share of the explanation, if you will,

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for the disarray he'll inherit and this daunting inbox he's

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going to inherit more from things the United States and others have

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Right, so what you're laying out is a proposition

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is the preconditions are there for disarray

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and that a US president, whoever he or she may be incoming,

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can only do, and you just used your finger and thumb there,

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can only do a little bit to change that sense of disarray.

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So, to me, that is a recognition from you that actually

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the United States of America and its commander-in-chief have much

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less agency and leverage in the world than they used to have?

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Perhaps, but I wouldn't drive it too far.

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I think what we've learned is that when the United States stays

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aloof from the world, the world is not self organising.

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The centrifugal forces tend to get much stronger,

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and when the United States does engage in the world,

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we still have more capacity to act and to lead than anybody else.

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We can't control it, we can't determine it,

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but we can shape it more than any other single actor.

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Let's talk a little bit about Trump, because we're going to get the big

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picture, believe me, but it is important to tease

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out what we've learned from the weeks of transition that

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Donald Trump has a very particular style.

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You're a guy who's steeped in foreign policy-making,

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you're systems, a machines sort of guy.

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Donald Trump doesn't seem to operate inside the machine,

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he operates primarily through messages on Twitter.

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Do you worry about the style that's he's bringing to Washington?

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This wasn't exactly the style of diplomacy I studied

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when I was a student at Oxford 40 years ago.

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I worry that Twitter is all too easy a form of communication.

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You've got to think once or twice before you press send.

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I think the United States, as a country, has to think more

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than once or twice because so many others are counting on us

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and Twitter can be something that you, you're not doing it

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in a careful enough way, and if others are basing their

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security and their calculations on America, then we've

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got to be very careful with what messages we send.

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And it's not just about Twitter in itself, it's also about the degree

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to which the United States' incoming president actually listens

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There have been a few symbolic moments, if you like.

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One was when asked on Fox News whether he was reading

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the presidential daily brief, the intelligence brief, he said,

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"Yeah, but only sort of reading it once a week,

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"I don't have to be told because, you know, I'm like a smart person.

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I don't have to be told the same thing in words every single day".

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Again, speaking as a guy who's been inside the system,

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that isn't really the way things have worked.

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Do you think it's the way things should work, that a guy

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There's that old expression, I think it was the former

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governor of New York, that you campaign in poetry,

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My own experience, from having worked with four presidents,

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is when you govern, you're dealing at a level of detail that outsiders

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I myself found the daily intelligence briefings quite

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They actually do change quite a bit from day-to-day,

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particularly when they give you the broader brush,

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sets of analyses, as the CIA and others do.

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So, to be perfectly honest, I hope that Mr Trump establishes

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a better working relationship with the intelligence community,

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and if he does, I think he'll actually find it to be a valuable

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We've already seen one important episode.

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When it came to the allegations which have emerged, which have been

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verified as far as the US intelligence community is concerned,

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from CIA, FBI, Director of National Intelligence,

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all of them adamant that there is compelling proof

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that the Kremlin authorised a hack of the Democratic National

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Committee, because they wanted to influence the US presidential

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Donald Trump chose to side with Putin's message,

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rather than the message coming out of his own intelligence chiefs.

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Now, that's something that happened, it's not something we have

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It is, I think its raised questions about his relationship

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Again, I'm hopeful, I'm not predicting,

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I think it raises questions also about US policy towards Russia.

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I would simply say that this hacking was not an exception,

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We've seen Russia do what it did to Ukraine and Crimea

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We saw Russian intervention in Syria, which was a war crime,

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I would argue, by any measure and standard.

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There's all sorts of evidence that the sort of political

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machinations they did in the United States

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I expect we're going to see an awful lot of that in places like Germany,

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What we need is a comprehensive policy towards Russia that,

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among other things, would say, you'll only get sanctions relief

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if we see measurable changes and improvements in your behaviour.

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I would also argue that we need to look very hard at

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After the end of the Cold War, the United States and European

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allies essentially stripped Nato of a lot of its military

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and its land components, and I would think they need to be

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reintroduced in places like the Baltic states.

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Not so long ago you were in Trump Tower talking about,

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I wasn't there and privy to it, but I imagine Russia came up.

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What you've just said runs diametrically in opposition,

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again referring to Twitter, to the opinions of Donald J Trump.

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Quote, "I always knew he was very smart", talking of Vladimir Putin.

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"Having a good relationship with Russia is a good

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only stupid people or fools would think it is bad".

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So tell me a little bit about this private conversation

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Did you try to put him right, as far as you're concerned, on Russia?

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In our conversations Russia actually didn't figure all that prominently,

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it was more about developments in the Middle East,

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It was about trade, it was about immigration.

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We haven't spoken in the context of the hacking report

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What I've been saying publicly on that does disagree somewhat.

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Our goal should not be a better relationship with Russia, per se.

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What our policy should be is we want a better relationship,

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but only on a basis of Russian behaviour that takes

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into account our interests and what we think are the norms

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So we don't want to have, if you will, a cosmetically

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improved relationship, we want to have a substantially

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improved relationship, and that's really up to Mr Putin.

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Yeah, well, it's sort of up to Mr Putin, but it's also up

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For example, the degree to which in response

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to the intelligence community's conclusions about hacking,

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whether there's mileage in more sanctions.

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For example, Senator John McCain and a bunch of other

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Republican Congress people have said that they now want to seek extra

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Sanctions are one of the possible responses.

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I might be more interested in certain types of cyber

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As I just mentioned, I'd be interested in strengthening

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our military capability, both outside Ukraine

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I'd also be more interested in providing certain types

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of defensive military help to Ukraine.

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There's already a lot of sanctions on Russia.

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I'd have to be persuaded that additional sanctions would make

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I'm not interested in symbols, I'm interested in substance

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of things that will send a message to Mr Putin that he will receive.

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The evidence, at least on the surface, would suggest not.

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But again, we'll have to wait and see what he actually

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At the moment you are an independent observer, a commentator

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Politico, for example, which gets some stories

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right and some wrong, said in mid-December you were one

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of the top tips for the number two job at the State Department,

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and that Trump was actively considering you.

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Given everything we've discussed so far, could you conceivably work

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Well, I think the answer is, when asked if I could work for any

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president, and I've worked for four, you can only do it if,

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one, you have a similar conception of the job,

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what it actually would entail, and more important,

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that your in sufficient alignment on the major policies.

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You don't have to agree on everything, Stephen,

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but you've got to agree on enough of the big things that

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you can faithfully and effectively represent them.

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I think in my case we would need to talk about it, because there's

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Look, I've just come out with a new book,

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I've written a dozen books before, so my views are not

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It wouldn't make sense for me to be there, unless I thought

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I could have a real chance to affect policy, to influence it

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and that we were sufficiently in sync, so I could be an effective

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representative of this president and this administration,

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and those would be issues that we would have to resolve

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to their satisfaction and to my satisfaction.

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Let me just say, I don't know if I'm seriously

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I don't know if I'll be asked to do anything.

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Obviously we'd have you back if you do know that.

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As you say, your analysis of a world in disarray seems to me to have

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I'm going to be very shorthand about them,

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but you say that the United States needs to be realistic

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in its ambition, it needs to match its vision of ends

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with means, rather than having very ambitious ends but not

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the will and the means to enforce them.

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I'm just wondering, let's talk about some other key areas.

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For example, Nato, which of course I think 70% of the burden

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for spending in Nato comes from the United States.

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Does the United States, in your view, have an obligation

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to maintain that level of commitment to Nato?

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And what would happen if, according to Donald Trump

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and some of his advisers, if the United States got much

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tougher with allies and said if you don't front up more money,

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I think the Europeans need to do more, not so much spend more,

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though that would be welcome, they need to spend what they spend

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The problem with European defence spending is not so much the level,

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but that it's not co-ordinated, so you have tremendous areas

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of replication and you have large areas of shortfalls.

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But sure, I think the United States and Europe both have

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to spend more on defence, simply because the threat

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environment going forward is a lot more robust than we imagined it

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You began with a larger point, and I take it, which is any time

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in foreign policy you have a gap between your rhetoric

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and your actual capacity, you run into trouble.

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We've had that in the Middle East lots of times in recent years,

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where we said certain people must go and we didn't have policies to back

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it up, or when the Syrians used chemical weapons,

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So I think that ought to be a lesson.

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We've got to narrow the gap between American commitments

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and rhetoric, and American capabilities and actions.

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But the danger, and again I'm referring to stuff you've

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written in the book, the danger is that at times that

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looks like America abandons key values and principles.

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For example, just pluck a couple of the air,

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you're suggesting America needs to talk less loudly

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about human rights inside China or inside Russia.

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America needs to push less hard to expand the Nato

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family, to countries like Georgia and Ukraine.

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Now to some people around the world, you might call it realism,

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In the case of a country like China, look, the priority, what we need

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to focus on for the next couple of years is not trying

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to make China democratic, no matter how hard we press,

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What we can perhaps do is get China to work with us to deal

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with the pressing North Korean nuclear ballistic missile threat.

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In foreign policy, as in policy of any sort, you have

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to choose your priorities where your interests are greatest

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and your capacity to make a difference is greater.

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In the case of Ukraine and Georgia, bringing them into Nato,

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I would say they don't meet the qualifications.

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In the meantime, we've got our hands full meeting the commitments

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Going back to the guy who may or may not be your future

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boss, Donald Trump, and the issue of China...

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When he tweeted out that he saw no reason to be bound

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by the One China policy, and he was absolutely thrilled

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that the President of Taiwan had given him a phone call,

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in your view that was not representing America's national

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No, and I made it very clear in what I said and wrote

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in the aftermath of those comments of his, that I thought

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That we finessed this problem with China and Taiwan quite

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successfully for decades, and what that has allowed us

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to do, is to go ahead and forge a respectable

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And by the way, it's been good for Taiwan as well.

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It's flourished economically, it represents a democratic model

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that's something of an alternative, to say the least, to

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So my sense of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", so I disagree

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with the idea of questioning the One China policy.

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The more we talk and the more we run round some of the key issues

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facing the globe today, the more I'm thinking,

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despite your caution about declaring Trump a major addition

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to the uncertainty and disarray in the world, that's precisely what,

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in substance, you do seem to be saying, on a whole raft of issues.

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Well again, I never assume there is a correlation

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between what was said during a campaign,

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The purpose of campaigning, shockingly enough,

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The purpose of governing is something very different.

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But assuming I continue to be on the outside of things,

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and I think that's a pretty good assumption, where I see areas

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of policy I agree with, I will stand up and say fantastic,

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and where I see policies I disagree with, I will criticise them.

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That's been my stance during the last eight years

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of Mr Obama, and that will be my position going forward,

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again assuming I continue to be here at the Council on Foreign

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I'm interested in this concept you developed,

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correct me if I'm paraphrasing it wrongly, but this idea

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That is the idea that nation states these days do have obligations that

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run far beyond their own borders, in terms of collective action on key

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issues facing the world community, whether it be trade issues,

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global trade issues or the huge challenge of climate policy.

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I want to know if you believe the United States, looking forward,

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is going to be meeting its sovereign obligations?

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This is what I think is smart and necessary.

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Nothing stays local for long any more.

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What goes on inside countries is no longer simply their business alone,

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whether it's a coal burning electricity plant, whether it's

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a virus that comes out like Zika or Ebola that can affect everybody,

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whether it's terrorists or hackers, what we've learned

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is nothing as local, everything's potentially global.

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I believe this ought to become the intellectual compass,

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so to speak, of American foreign policy and that we ought to be

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consulting and talking with other countries,

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and also companies and NGOs and others about how we deal

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with this global world, in which all these challenges

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you mention are far ahead of their responses.

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Will the Trump administration do this?

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The clue is in the mantra "Put America First".

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That doesn't seem to be recognising collective obligations in the sense

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Obviously not, but again that was a campaign slogan.

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Whether that's a governing slogan we will have to see,

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and even if it remains a slogan, what will it actually mean

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For example, does the United States change the basis of its regulatory

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framework when it comes to where we are on climate

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Does the United States actually pull out of Paris?

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I hope we don't pull out of Paris, indeed the Paris agreement

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is a model of an international agreement, where countries retain

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the ability to decide for themselves what it is they want to do or don't

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want to do when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions,

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and they simply pledge to do their best, but they set

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So it is fully consistent with American sovereignty.

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I'm hoping that the Trump administration comes

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It's the argument I've made to people around

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Mr Trump privately already, that people should think twice

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before they see the Paris agreement as a problem.

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Let me tap into your personal experience to something we touched

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on early on in the interview, but I would like to get a direct

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It's about the way in which people acquire policy-making powers

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in the national security and foreign policy arena.

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I mean, you worked at the coal face for 30 years, you served a number

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of different presidents, you worked as an official

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in the State Department and you took, in the end,

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some of the top jobs in national security and state,

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What we see in the Trump administration is a Secretary

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of State, Rex Tillerson, who has come straight from the CEO

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position in big business, as we know, with an oil company

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We see a Defence Secretary who has almost literally come

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straight out of uniform, who has not had any sort

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We see, for example, a son-in-law of the president,

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with absolutely no foreign policy making experience at all,

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who is now, it seems, in a post where he is expected

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I think in the case of the Secretary of State, nominee Rex Tillerson,

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this is someone with an awful lot of experience around the world.

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I'd say the same thing about General Mattis, who is going

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The real question is whether you can get a National Security Council

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There I think there's some grounds for concern,

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because you have so many people with positions of power

:21:43.:21:44.

You've got a president, a vice President, a chief of staff,

:21:45.:21:51.

a chief strategist, a national security adviser, now you've

:21:52.:21:53.

got a special adviser, so it's a lot of people.

:21:54.:21:55.

The question is - how are you going to orchestrate this?

:21:56.:21:58.

How are you going to make sure that the policy

:21:59.:22:01.

is made in the right way, and more importantly,

:22:02.:22:03.

implemented in a way that is consistent with the decisions?

:22:04.:22:05.

I think that's an enormous challenge for this administration,

:22:06.:22:07.

You rather diplomatically didn't address the one name I put to you,

:22:08.:22:19.

that some regard as most controversial of all.

:22:20.:22:21.

Mr Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

:22:22.:22:28.

You've been around the Middle East diplomacy and peacemaking effort,

:22:29.:22:30.

does it seem to you credible in any way that he should be given

:22:31.:22:33.

I'd say we'll see exactly what his role is and how it fits

:22:34.:22:40.

I don't know Mr Kushner, but I would simply say the idea

:22:41.:22:47.

of trying to re-establish a degree of strategic trust between

:22:48.:22:49.

the United States and Israel is essential and if he could help do

:22:50.:22:52.

Right now you can imagine scenarios the US and Israel could face over

:22:53.:22:58.

the next couple of years; the collapse of Jordan,

:22:59.:23:00.

some problems with Iran, another war with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

:23:01.:23:02.

So anyone who could help bring these two governments together,

:23:03.:23:05.

In terms of the Israeli-Palestinian "peace process", quite honestly

:23:06.:23:12.

I don't think it much matters who works on it.

:23:13.:23:15.

I think the prospects for advancing that,

:23:16.:23:16.

The parties are so far apart and the essential prerequisites...

:23:17.:23:27.

I've been involved in Northern Ireland,

:23:28.:23:29.

I've been involved in Cyprus, I've been involved in Middle East

:23:30.:23:31.

peacemaking, and you've got to have protagonists that are both willing

:23:32.:23:34.

and able to make serious compromises.

:23:35.:23:38.

I simply don't see that between Israelis and Palestinians right now.

:23:39.:23:41.

So I wouldn't think this is an area that deserves an awful lot of focus.

:23:42.:23:45.

We're out of time, so it's a brief one.

:23:46.:23:48.

On the eve of the Trump Presidency, are you optimistic about the next

:23:49.:23:51.

four years of foreign policy-making, yes or no?

:23:52.:23:56.

In a word, I am worried, given what the inheritance is.

:23:57.:23:59.

I think anyone has got to be worried.

:24:00.:24:01.

Richard Haass, thank you very much indeed for joining me on HARDtalk.

:24:02.:24:03.

Good evening, fairly lively weather over the next few days. A week

:24:04.:24:45.

weather front crossing the UK overnight, not a great deal of rain.

:24:46.:24:50.

Pretty strong winds

:24:51.:24:51.

Stephen Sackur speaks to Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. The waiting is almost over - we're about to see what kind of impact President Donald Trump will have on the US and the world beyond. Stephen Sackur focuses here on the international arena, with Richard Haass having been close to the centre of US foreign policy making for three decades and more. Richard Haass was a senior advisor to both Bush presidents and has offered his insights to the president elect too. From big power diplomacy with Russia and China to global trade and climate policy, how different and unpredictable is Trump going to be?