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James Baker: Agreement Needed between Regional Players for Post-ISIS Era - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Houston (Texas) – Former US Secretary of State James Baker said that regional players, who are seeking to find solutions to the region’s problems, should negotiate an agreement to deal with the period that will follow the defeat of ISIS.

He noted that while such negotiations would be very complicated, they were the only means to establish stability in the Middle East.

Baker highly valued the revival of the US-Saudi alliance in fighting terrorism, praising the Kingdom for establishing the “Etidal” (Moderation) Center for Combating Extremist Ideology, which was inaugurated in Riyadh in the presence of US President Donald Trump.

In an interview with Majalla Magazine, which is also published by Asharq Al-Awsat, the former US Secretary of State, who served under the term of former President George H.W. Bush, hailed Trump’s restoration of the US “historic policies”, which focus on cooperating with America’s allies in the region.

Asked about Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia, Baker described it as very successful, noting that it had reflected a significant shift in emphasis regarding US policy.

“This trip made it very clear that the US wants to once again implement a policy toward our friends in the region that has been more historically the policy for quite some time. And that was the policy when I was secretary of state under President George H.W. Bush. We were strong allies in opposing the expansion of terror, and the other problems that stem from Iran,” he stated.

“That partnership will confront extremism and terrorism and will disseminate the values of tolerance and coexistence. It will bolster the security, stability, and cooperation needed in the region,” he added.

On efforts to resume the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, Baker said he was very hopeful that progress could be made.

However, the US official said that the Palestinian side was yet to appoint a negotiation representative.

“It is very good that the American president had good meetings with two of the most critical players in this issue: the Saudi and Israeli governments. But the fact still remains that there is really no true bargaining agent on behalf of the Palestinians,” he said.

He went on to say that during meetings between President Mahmoud Abbas and Trump, the two officials pledged to work together to forge a peace deal.

“There’s still a long, long way to go. The old questions of the past still remain. What about Jerusalem? What about boundaries of a two-state solution? What about right of return? Are the Israelis really committed to a two-state solution? So there’s a long way to go, and I’m just not sure about timing. I don’t know what happens to Hamas. And who’s going to be at the negotiating table for all of the Palestinians,” Baker said.

He underlined the need to implement the Arab proposal of 2002, which calls for the establishment of a two-state solution, based upon the land-for-peace formula of the 242 and 338 resolutions.

On Iran, the former US Secretary of State said that the US and its historic allies in the region would exert joint efforts to confront “those types of policy actions by Iran”.

“Closer US cooperation with Gulf States across the board is a very good thing,” he noted.

The US official went on to say that the nuclear deal should have been closely linked to guarantees by Iran to end its threats to the region and its support to terrorist organizations.

“My view of the Iran agreement – JCPOA — is that we never should have gotten into that negotiation in the beginning without tying the lifting of sanctions, in some way, to Iran’s behavior regarding terror and its activities in the region,” he noted.

On Syria, Baker stressed the need to push for a settlement in the war-torn country, by defeating ISIS and establishing a comprehensive ceasefire.

“Ultimately, of course, we need to find a way to an agreement that provides for a more representative and less repressive and, frankly, more decentralized Syrian state,” he noted.

He added that regional players “need to find a way to sit down and negotiate an agreement that will govern what happens after ISIS is defeated.”

Baker highlighted the importance of Saudi Arabia’s role to support Yemen.

“I certainly endorse providing logistical and intelligence support to the Kingdom. That was the policy under the [former US President Barack] Obama Administration, and it remains the policy under the Trump administration,” he said.

“I sympathize greatly with the Saudi position. I think it’s important to find a way to put together a negotiated settlement of that conflict,” Baker added.