John Negroponte - US Deputy Secretary of State, 2007-2009 HARDtalk

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John Negroponte - US Deputy Secretary of State, 2007-2009

Stephen Sackur speaks to John Negroponte, a veteran US diplomat and adviser to a host of Republican presidents, to ask about President Trump's impact on America's global role.

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Now on BBC News it's HARDtalk with Stephen Sackur.


Welcome to HARDtalk. I am Stephen Sackur. Donald Trump embraces


disruption. What does that mean for America's national security and


foreign policy? At first glance it seems to herald a new era of


confrontation from the Korean Peninsular to the Mexican border.


But are there limits to the President's break with convention?


Well, May guest is veteran diplomat and adviser to a host of Republican


members, John Negroponte. Does this Presidency marked a permanent shift


in America's global while? -- role? John Negroponte, in Washington, DC,


welcome to HARDtalk. Thank you. Let me start with some words if I may


that you wrote or at least you co- site in a very public letter during


the presidential campaign last year. It was a grim warning about Donald


Trump as future president. You said then, he in your view could be the


most reckless president in American history. You had eight months to


judge him. How do you feel about it now? Let me just put the letting


context. I didn't write those words but I did sign the letter. And I


also came out in favour of Hillary Clinton, which is a somewhat unusual


thing for a Republican to do. But that was in the context of a


political campaign. I guess my short answer as to how things have come


out now, I think, and to the question that you asked at the


beginning of the show, I think that there are limits to what he can do.


He is constrained by the Congress, by the Constitution, by our courts


and by the reality out there, which makes itself more evident every day.


So he, like everybody else in the past, has to deal with events and


the circumstances that he confronts. In terms of the style of this


Presidency, do you think he is listening to his key advisers in the


foreign policy and national security machine? Well, that is a great


question because it is hard to tell whether and when he is listening,


and whether... Even if he does listen, how long it takes hold. But


I think in a number of instances we've seen pragmatism takeover after


initial bluster. Example, some of the comments he has made about our


alliances. Originally, both in the campaign and in his initial days in


office, and now of course it has reaffirmed our Nato alliance, he is


fast friends with the Prime Minister of Japan, the most important


alliance that we have in east Asia, Pacific region, along with South


Korea, Australia. He was going to cancel North American Free Trade


Agreement and now we are busy holding serious negotiations with


both Mexico and Canada. Yes, but John Negroponte, on those issues,


that maybe today's statement or policy, though it could change


tomorrow, which comes back to a fundamental point which a whole host


of important people have raised over the last few months, including James


Clapper, from national intelligence, and other veterans, they have said


this guy is simply not fit for office. What do you think? I mean, I


am a little bit disappointed in Jim's statement. I am surprised that


a former director of national intelligence would make a statement


like that. I don't think he is in a position to judge the fitness of the


President. And, secondly, I don't think that is the whole...


CROSSTALK How can you say that when this


letter that we started the interview with said, you know, "Most


fundamentally, Mr Trump lacks the character, the values and the


experience to be president? " he questioned his mental fitness,


I believe, to hold office, and I would never go that far and I would


never say that. I did not say those words. I associated myself with that


letter, no doubt, and I won't take it back. And I supported Hillary


Clinton, though I want to point out that was in the context of a


political campaign. We only have one president at a time. He has been


elected now. We've got to want him to succeed. I don't think the best


way to support him in carrying out his role is to make a pronouncement


that he is unfit for office. That is not the judgement of a retired


government official to make. If anybody does that, it is gonna be


people in the Congress, and the vice president and so forth, according to


the procedures of the 25th amendment. I've got you. Well, in


that case, let's drill down into actions and judge him on those. So,


let's start in the Korean Peninsular. I know it is something


that you have been following very closely, along with everybody in the


foreign policy establishment in Washington. Let's just look at the


Trump rhetoric, a gamba style, it is let's face it, bellicose, the phrase


is "Locked and loaded, fire and fury like the world has never seen".


Clearly implicit in that is a threat that the United States, if North


Korea doesn't change policy, change direction on its nuclear programme,


the United States could contemplate a first strike military option. Do


you believe that is a real option? No, I do not. And the reason I do


not is, first of all, it would wreak havoc on the peninsular and the


first people to suffer, or the next people to suffer after any kind of


attack on North Korea would be South Korea and Seoul, which is only 35-


40 miles from the border with North Korea, is a complete hostage not


only to North Korean nuclear weaponry, if it were to choose to


use it, but to conventional artillery. So it would just be some


kind of a Holocaust and it just doesn't make any sense whatsoever.


And it has been one of the fundamental conundrums of our policy


towards career throughout the years, is this hostage type situation that


exists on the peninsular. So, political and diplomatic means of


solving this must be found. OK, well. And that is the right


approach. You couldn't be clearer with me. But explained the absolute


incoherence in Washington that we outsiders here on a daily basis. I


met Lindsey Graham the other day. We had a great conversation. We talked


about Korea. This is a direct quote. "I Am 100% certain that if Kim


Jong-un continues to develop missile technology that can hit America, and


if diplomacy fails to stop him, they will be an attack by the United


States". Well, that is a senator speaking. He is not the one who is


going to pull the trigger. Only the President can decide to do that. Let


me say something about this conversation regarding Korea and


these types of conversations, which disturb me. We always sought or


start out almost as if it is the United States that bears


responsibility for the attention of the peninsular. And to my way of


thinking this is a little bit like standing the truth on its head. It


was North Korea that invaded South Korea in June of 1950, with, by the


way, the encouragement of the Soviet Union, it now Russia, and China. And


I think those two countries bear some responsibility for the


situation of the peninsular. And it is Kim Jong-un in violation of


myriad resolutions and of the nuclear non-proliferation Treaty who


has just exploded a hydrogen bomb. So where is the outrage? We focus


all of our energy... We focus all our energy on some of the rhetorical


blemishes of the president of the United States.


CROSSTALK I don't think for a moment he will


pull the trigger. Your point is well taken. If I am invited to Pyongyang


to have a conversation with Kim Jong-un I guarantee I will put him


on the spot. Well I hope so! Yes, but right now I am talking to you. I


wish you would go there. So do I but right now with you need to talk


about the way the US is candling this because this is what the


insight you have into. Let me talk to you about a couple of things on


how Trump is handling it. You have to let me ask you the question. I am


simply asking you what is the long-term consequence of Donald


Trump, and some talk to him about this, like Lindsey Graham, and you


know this, Lindsey Graham says that Donald Trump said to him that if


there is going to be a walk to stop Kim Jong-un it is going to cost


thousands of lives but those lives are going to be lost over there.


They are not going to die here. Now that seems to be the mentality


Lindsey Graham is portraying as Trump's mentality. My question to


you is, if you are saying, you know what, ignore the words we are not


going to launch and military strike against North Korea, what does it do


to American long-term credibility? All of the threat and no action. Let


me say first of all, I consider that a rhetorical response to the setting


off of a hydrogen bomb. But at the same time the President is pursuing


diplomatic avenues. He just had an extensive conversation with Xi


Jinping, the president of China. He constantly talks with Prime Minister


Abe of Japan. All the key stakeholders in the Korean situation


besides ourselves, China, Japan, South Korea, we are in constant


contact with all of these people. The President himself is leading


that diplomatic effort. He has just accused the South Koreans, I am


using the word he used on Twitter, appeasement. He has had a


conversation with the President of South Korea since and I think the


South Korean president has come around to taking a pretty stern line


vis-a-vis North Korea. He has asked for the additional deployment of the


so-called thermal altitude, the THAAD devices, to protect against


incoming missiles, and we are enabling greater military


capabilities for the South Koreans, citing we are in pretty good harmony


with South Korea about how to confront this situation -- so I


think. But Ambassador John Negroponte, you seem to say what


low-to-mid -- Vladimir Putin has set and Jim Clabo has set, which is what


the administration won't say, if North Korea is absolutely intent on


continuing its nuclear programme and developing the ballistic missile


capability with the bomb, in the end there is nothing we can do to stop


them. No, I don't think I would say that. I would say that we've got to


revitalise some of the diplomatic efforts that we undertook in the


past. I was involved in the Bush administration when we had six party


talks on the Korean question. I think that would be a good


initiative. I think more sanctions. I think one of the things that's


before the UN Security Council at the moment is to stop oil exports to


North Korea. The Chinese and the Russians are baulking at this. But I


think if we are not going to use military force, then we have to use


more effective economic and diplomatic pressure. And I think


that can be done. And talking of coherence, you know, your time with


me is very measured. But when you heard the woman who has one of your


previous jobs, that of the US ambassador at the United Nations,


when you heard Nikki Haley talk about the United Nations looking at


every country that does business with North Korea giving aid to North


Korea's reckless nuclear ambitions, and implying that there could be


"Secondary sanctions" to put an embargo on all of those nations,


presumably starting first off with China, did you see that as realistic


and helpful? Some of that, the devil is in the details. Clearly we can't


stop trading with the People's Republic of China. We have more than


$500 billion worth of trade a year. We would have to stop importing


iPhones. That would be hard to get the Americans to do. You might apply


secondary sanctions against specific Chinese firms. Those upon and we


might have information that they are doing business with North Korea and


better enabling the economy. Something to that effect. In other


words, very specific, targeted targeted words, that is not the --


beyond the realm of imagination whatsoever. Let me see if your tone


continues into the next region that want to get to you, that is Donald


Trump policy on his own backyard if I can put it that way, Mexico and


Latin America. A whole host of policies, starting with the wall,


which he still seems intent on building, and he is having to battle


with the Congress about getting the money for it, and a host of other


things. In recent days the signal he has sent by saying that these


so-called macro -- Dreamers, the miners that Obama protected from


deportation, Donald Trump has effectively ended that protection, a


host of signals which suggest he doesn't mind riding up Mexico and


indeed other near neighbours in Latin America because he doesn't


care about that relationship and that sphere of American sort of


foreign policy-making and influence. What do you make of that? Because


you have spent a lot of your career in Latin America. Not only did I do


that, I was in Mexico when we both conceived and negotiated Nafta. It


is a subject near and dear to my heart. It was a major accomplishment


of the United States government. Trade with Mexico since we signed


the Nafta has quadrupled, I think. The export from Mexico to the art of


states has United States content in it. That is much better than only 5%


content if the product is coming from China, for example. That is


number one. Number two, Mr Trump was about to renounce the Nafta a couple


of months ago. Then his secretary of agriculture came to him and said to


him, by the way, do you realise, Mr President, that Mexico is the


largest or the second largest market for agricultural exports from every


single state in the United States, and we just can't possibly stop


trading with Mexico. It is going to be disastrous. In the State


Department, the desire is to modify the Nafta, modernise it, updated,


but not subjected to any radical changes, and certainly not to


discard the agreement. What do you think America's traditional allies,


you know, in this conversation we have referred already to traditional


allies in Asia like South Korea and Japan, we've just addressed Mexico,


we could talk about European allies in Nato starting with Angela


Merkel's Germany, what do you think they believe is happening in


Washington right now? I think they probably think, just like I do, that


we have elected quite an unusual person to be president of the United


States, and that he is kind of an original number. But at the same


time he is president. And he will be president three at least one term in


office, and so they have to figure out how best to deal with that. I


think they probably also have some competence, as do I, that both


events on the one hand and fundamental national interests on


the other hand will cause us to ultimately behave more or less the


same way we have been in the past years and decades. And I think we


are seeing some of that playing itself now. And it has only been


eight months. But I think if we have this conversation think you will see


that patent reinforced. we have this conversation one year


from now, I think we this conversation think you will see


that patent reinforced. will see that pattern be reinforced.


Interesting that you say that. And in your comments about Allies


perceptions. They will have to live with that. Frankly, right now, you


don't know whether you will be living with his president for the


next 3.5 years because he lives under the shadow of a very serious


investigation and, frankly, no-one knows where the special prosecutor's


investigation will end up. As best I can tell they have so far identified


two or three people, his former National Security adviser and Mr


Manor fought and possibly a couple of others, none of whom are in his


administration right now. I will wait and see before rate rush to


judgement. On whether this investigation will produce a


significant outcome. I haven't seen anything yet that causes me to think


it will. But obviously the special prosecutor will explore the facts


and do a good job. When Donald Trump spoke about this he simply says the


whole rush investigation is fake news, a hoax. He blames the


mainstream media whom he has dubbed terrible people on the whole. Others


have looked at the reaction of Donald Trump and they worry about


it. I am talking about people in the establishment in Washington, like


the former director of National counterterrorism Centre. He says it


is worrisome for our democracy. We are at risk of breaking the bonds of


trust between the public and, for example, our security services. When


people loosely used phrases like fake news, the deep state and allude


to Nazi Germany, many Americans now believe there is an act of war being


fought against the elected representatives, possibly including


the president. Is a threat to America's democracy, do you think?


No. You have now sighted yet another intelligence officer who worked


under my general supervision when I was director of National


intelligence. I think getting off into the political realm they don't


have as much qualification to talk about... But it is interesting...


Interesting that these guys feel so passionately and so alarmed by what


they see that they are speaking out in this way, suggests a fundamental


breakdown of trust. The founding Fathers wrote this Constitution with


the assumption that people who in government are not necessarily


Angel. Power has to be restrained. Basically, the people should govern


themselves and they are only limited functions that us a central


government. We have a system of checks and balances that are


designed to compass that. I think we have seen the system of checks and


balances working in spades in few months. We have seen the courts


challenge the immigration orders that were initially issued.


Repudiated them. We have seen Congress that has not changed Obama


can. You can cite numerous examples of where the system of checks and


balances is at work. One element of institutional Washington that is


clearly not functioning is the place, perhaps you know best, the


State department. One third of this job is, see new jobs in the State


Department have not been filled since Donald Trump came in to power.


Has ever been a time when the US was less well equipped to play a


leadership role in the world? Well, you make the assumption that by


filling those subordinate jobs in the State Department that that will


significantly enhance our ability. Call me naive but I assume those


posts are there because they have some sort of important function.


They do. They do. Not all of them are vital but it is not a good way


to run the State Department. I could not agree with you more on that. I


do not hold Mr troll responsible for that. I things that Ellison himself


has been far too cautious about moving forward with feeling these


positions. He has wanted to conduct some kind of study of reorganisation


of the State Department and he said until that study is completed and


completed the reorganisation, we will not fill a lot of key jobs.


That is not the right thing, especially with respect to regional


assistant secretary should. My bigger point, that was the detail,


my bigger point is what you perhaps conclude that right now there is


something of a vacuum in terms of American leadership in the world.


Big beneficiaries of that are China and Russia. Something of a vacuum


but I still think... First of all, we are blessed to have a good career


foreign service and they are filling a lot of these jobs on an acting


basis. But the notion that China and Russia are the big beneficiaries of


what we see unfold in Washington day by day, would you agree? I would


say, I would say it this way. I think China in particular has been


the beneficiary of some of the policies we have carried out. I


think that is more important. Woodside most specifically with the


drum's decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the big


economic agreement that would have brought together 12 countries in the


East Asia Pacific reason. Withdrawing from that on his first


day in office he gave China a huge gift and a huge opportunity to make


inroads into the various economies of the East Asian Pacific region.


There was a huge mistake. I wish we had more time but we are out of


time. Thank you very much for joining me from Washington, DC.


Would you invite me back in one year, please? We can talk about




Stephen Sackur speaks to John Negroponte, a veteran US diplomat and adviser to a host of Republican presidents. Donald Trump embraces disruption and unpredictability, but what does that mean for America's national security and foreign policy? At first glance it seems to herald a new era of confrontation, from the Korean peninsula to the Mexican border, but are there limits to the president's break with convention? Does this presidency mark a permanent shift in America's global role?