FNC Features Kissinger Responding to Obama's Debate Claims on Iran

During a phone interview with FNC anchor Megyn Kelly, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who already voiced disapproval of Barack Obama's attempt to suggest that Kissinger would agree with his intention to meet personally with Iranian President Ahmadinejad, on Saturday elaborated on his disagreement with Obama, and clarified his views on how America should negotiate with Iran. The segment began with a soundbite of Obama from the debate trying to lecture McCain about Kissinger’s views. Obama: "Senator McCain mentioned Henry Kissinger, who’s one of his advisors, who, along with five recent Secretaries of State, just said that we should meet with Iran, guess what, ‘without precondition.’ This is one of your own advisors."

Asked by Kelly if he supported having a President "meet with Ahmadinejad without preconditions," Kissinger responded: "No, I don’t. I have argued that, at some point, negotiations with Iran are important. But it is my view that they should be on the working level, and that the President should not be involved until we know that we are close to an agreement, or that we know what the nature of the agreement is." Kelly soon sought clarification: "So, in other words, you favor negotiations at the lower level, perhaps all the way up to the Secretary of State, but you do not believe an American President should sit down without preconditions, as Barack Obama says he would like to do." Kissinger: "That is correct."

Kissinger later expanded on his reasoning: "It has to be at a level in which one can test the various issues that are raised by such an effort. And if you start with the President, then that – Presidents and generals should not be the first negotiators because if a negotiation at that level fails, you really have no other recourse, and it would be in the conditions of a country that has declared America as the principle enemy, to start at that level would be to legitimize their conduct over a whole period of time."

The former Secretary of State ended up voicing direct agreement with McCain’s position, and tied in President Nixon’s approach to dealing with China: "I think McCain is right, and I think that it is unwise to sit down with Ahmadinejad. If Iran really wants to negotiate with us, they will find a negotiator who has the prospect of achieving something that needs to be done. And, secondly, if progress is to be made, there have to be a lot of exchanges at other levels. Before Mao and Nixon sat down, there were two years of exchanges at lower levels."

Below is a complete transcript of the interview which aired on Fox News Channel at about 5:15 p.m. on Saturday, September 27:

BARACK OBAMA: Senator McCain mentioned Henry Kissinger, who’s one of his advisors, who, along with five recent Secretaries of State, just said that we should meet with Iran, guess what, "without precondition." This is one of your own advisors.

JOHN MCCAIN: Dr. Kissinger did not say that he would approve of face-to-face meetings between the President of the United States and the President, and Ahmadinejad. He did not say that.

MEGYN KELLY: The candidates sparring last night over whether a United States President should sit down without preconditions with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It is something that Barack Obama wants to do and something McCain says is not only naive, it’s downright dangerous. Each man claiming that Kissinger supports his position. So what’s the truth? Well, joining me now, on the phone, is former Secretary of State to Presidents Nixon and Ford, Dr. Henry Kissinger. Mr. Secretary, good evening to you.

HENRY KISSINGER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Nice to talk to you.

KELLY: Nice to have you here. All right, so what is the truth? Do you support the notion of an American President sitting down with Ahmadinejad without preconditions?

KISSINGER: No, I don’t. I have argued that, at some point, negotiations with Iran are important. But it is my view that they should be on the working level, and that the President should not be involved until we know that we are close to an agreement, or that we know what the nature of the agreement is.

KELLY: So, in other words, you favor negotiations at the lower level, perhaps all the way up to the Secretary of State, but you do not believe an American President should sit down without preconditions, as Barack Obama says he would like to do.

KISSINGER: That is correct.

KELLY: What is the danger in having a President do that?

KISSINGER: First of all, we have to understand that if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, that will be a dramatic change in the situation in the most explosive region of the world today in the Middle East. It will give Iran a capability to protect [UNINTELLIGIBLE] ... with a set of nuclear weapons, and it will demonstrate that the opinion of the United Nations Security Council, which asked Iran to desist from building nuclear weapons, has been totally ignored, and therefore it would start an arms race for nuclear weapons in that region. A whole number of countries have declared that nuclear weapons in Iran are unacceptable. So what we need is a definition of what we mean by "unacceptable," and what we’re going to do if diplomacy does not succeed. It’s in this context that I believe negotiations should be conducted to demonstrate either that we can achieve what we define as unacceptable, or that other measures have to be taken. But in order to do this, it has to be at a level in which one can test the various issues that are raised by such an effort. And if you start with the President, then that – Presidents and generals should not be the first negotiators because if a negotiation at that level fails, you really have no other recourse, and it would be in the conditions of a country that has declared America as the principle enemies, to start at that level would be to legitimize their conduct over a whole period of time.

KELLY: And let me ask you, Mr. Secretary, one of the things John McCain says is that it would legitimize Ahmadinejad in the eyes of the world. In other words, you give this man who says Israel should be wiped off the face of the map legitimacy by even having that sort of photo-op with him. What are your thoughts on it?

KISSINGER: I think McCain is right, and I think that it is unwise to sit down with Ahmadinejad. If Iran really wants to negotiate with us, they will find a negotiator who has the prospect of achieving something that needs to be done. And, secondly, if progress is to be made, there have to be a lot of exchanges at other levels. Before Mao and Nixon sat down, there were two years of exchanges at lower levels.

KELLY: Understood. And the candidates are at issue on that and many other items. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, always a pleasure. Thank you so much for coming on, setting the record straight. We appreciate it.

Brad Wilmouth
Brad Wilmouth is a contributing blogger to NewsBusters