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U.S. Maneuvers In Middle East Diplomacy


For more on the changing dynamic in that region, we're joined live in the studio by P.J. Crowley. He served as assistant secretary of state for public affairs in the Obama administration between 2009 and 2011. He also served on the National Security Council in the Clinton administration. P.J., thanks for coming in this morning.

P.J. CROWLEY: Pleasure, Rachel.

MARTIN: OK. So, we just heard about the political standoff in Egypt. What is America's next diplomatic move when it comes to Egypt and the Islamist government of Mohamed Morsi?

CROWLEY: Well, it has limited power to influence this political struggle and institutional struggle within Egyptian society. So, on the margins, it can caution about the relationship. And the United States is vital to Egypt's future. The Egyptian economy is struggling and, you know, for the country to continue to advance, Egypt needs outside assistance, including assistance of the United States. So, it does have some levers in terms of significant aid. But ultimately, this is a struggle about, you know, political factions, about institutions, about how inclusive and tolerant Egyptian society will be going forward. And the United States has a role to play but limited.

MARTIN: This past week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton helped broker a truce to stop the fighting between Israel and Gaza. But it is fragile - even she admitted that. Is this being hailed as a kind of diplomatic success though?

CROWLEY: I would liken it to putting the shovels down. It doesn't solve the underlying problems. In fact, the cease-fire in essence pushed off many of the underlying issues that will now be negotiated, you know, things like controlling the entry paths into Gaza, particularly from Egypt. One the more remarkable aspects of this latest confrontation was how significant the Hamas military power had grown - not only were able to smuggle weapons in from places like Sudan or Libya or Iran, but they now have the makings of an indigenous, you know, military capability. So, obviously, the embargo, which is primarily designed to prevent the smuggling of weaponry has largely failed. On the Hamas side, they are obviously politically empowered, but they're looking to break this embargo, break this siege and expand the level of goods coming into Gaza.

MARTIN: So, in light of the past week, in light of what we're seeing happening in Egypt and the conflict between Israel and Hamas, what is your best guest, P.J., as to the mood at Foggy Bottom, the mood at the State Department for the past couple of days.

CROWLEY: Well, there's a real dilemma here, because, obviously, the status quo is not sustainable and yet the conditions don't exist to try to make another push necessarily, you know, for a Middle East peace negotiation. And the situation is going to actually get worse this week. You know, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, who was largely sidelined in this latest confrontation is committed to go to the United Nations this week to seek an enhanced observer status with the United Nations. The United States has threatened to cut off all assistance with the Palestinian Authority. Israel has threatened to cut off tax revenue that it collects on behalf of the PA. And even Hamas has objected to this gambit. So, how do, you know, how do you preserve options for a negotiation under these conditions that do not favor it? So, the administration, having been burned two years ago by an attempt to restart negotiations has to contemplate does it just try to deal with the status quo or does it, you know, try a new initiative to try to change the dynamic?

MARTIN: In just the remaining couple of seconds, P.J., big picture - is the United States, the diplomatic community in particular, looking at the Middle East, the aftermath of the Arab Spring and wondering whether America's influence in the region is starting to wane?

CROWLEY: Well, these are real revolutions and ultimately they'll be resolved in the region, not imposed from the outside. The United States does have a role to play but I think we just have to expect that going forward there will be steps forward and there will be steps backward, as they struggle, as we've seen in Egypt, to figure out how to move towards something that resembles democracy.

MARTIN: P.J. Crowley, former assistant secretary of state to Hillary Clinton. He spoke with us live in our Washington studios this morning. Thanks for coming in, P.J.

CROWLEY: A pleasure, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.