McCain: Terrorism threatens all we hold dear

In exclusive interview, US Republican presidential candidate tells Post the US must not dictate terms of peace to Israel.

mccain jlem 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
mccain jlem 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The success of Hamas and Hizbullah in the region is not only a danger for Israel, but also a threat to US national interests, US Republican presidential candidate John McCain said Tuesday in an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post. "If Hamas/Hizbullah succeeds here, they are going to succeed everywhere, not only in the Middle East, but everywhere. Israel isn't the only enemy," Arizona Sen. McCain said, in the only interview he is giving to the Israeli media during his visit here. "They are dedicated to the extinction of everything that the US, Israel and the West believe and stand for. So America does have an interest in what happens here, far above and beyond our alliance with the State of Israel." McCain, who arrived on Tuesday for a one-day visit accompanied by senators Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said that while he would never tell Israel not to speak with Hamas, he was personally against it. "Someone is going to have to answer me the question of how you are going to negotiate with an organization that is dedicated to your extinction," McCain said in a lounge in Jerusalem's David Citadel Hotel, as Lieberman and Graham listened. McCain, who has been here on numerous occasions since his first visit in 1979, was careful about dispensing advice or coming across as dictating policy to the Israeli government. "I really think that we should understand that the US and Israel are partners. Israel is not a client of the United States," he said. "If you are partners, then you don't dictate what you think the terms of the survival of a nation should be." Asked whether Israel was using the right tactics in trying to quell the rocket fire on Sderot and the western Negev, McCain praised Defense Minister Ehud Barak - terming him "one of the great military people" he has met - and added, "I can't give you a good answer as to how you respond to these rocket attacks." But, he then said dryly, "I can tell you that I believe that if rocket attacks came across the border of the United States of America, that the American people would probably demand pretty vigorous actions in response. I think I know my constituency in the state of Arizona, and they would be pretty exercised if rockets came across our southern border." McCain's toughest talk, however, was reserved for Teheran, which he said unequivocally was pursuing nuclear weapons - remarks that were at odds with last year's controversial US National Intelligence Estimate. "I think Iran is a threat to the region," McCain said, adding that not only were the Iranians "obviously pursuing nuclear weapons," they were also arming and training extremists to send into Iraq, supporting Hizbullah and influencing Syria. "At the end of the day, we can still not afford to have Iran with nuclear weapons," he said. "We know they have ambitions that are not just aimed at the State of Israel." These ambitions included "destabilization of the entire region upon which the United States' national security interests rest," he said. McCain, meanwhile, made no promises regarding former secretary of state James Baker, a man who causes anxiety among many pro-Israel supporters in the US and who has been mentioned as a possible presidential envoy to the region under a McCain administration. One thing he did promise was that whomever he picked for that role, "I would personally be engaged. I know enough about it to be personally engaged and give it my highest priority. Secondly, he said, any candidate for that position would be someone whom both sides would listen to and respect. As to a future role for Lieberman, who has been touted as a secretary of state or defense secretary, McCain warmly thanked Lieberman for supporting him at a time when it was not the popular thing to do. "I know many ways that he can serve this country [the US], with or without me as president of the United States," McCain said. McCain, who spoke by phone with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday, just before meeting the Post, is scheduled to meet on Wednesday with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Barak, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Likud head Binyamin Netanyahu, as well as visit the Western Wall. He will also take a helicopter tour with Barak. He leaves on Wednesday evening for France and Britain. Immediately after arriving on Tuesday afternoon from Iraq, McCain went to Yad Vashem, and then to a meeting with President Shimon Peres. The McCain interview will appear in full in Friday's Post.