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Dempsey Discusses U.S.-China Relations, Middle East Challenges

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 19, 2012 – The military’s strategic shift to the Pacific region provides an opportunity to improve U.S.-China relations, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today.

"In our re-strategy, we've taken a decision to rebalance ourselves toward the Pacific," Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said during an interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria. "I think this is more opportunity than liability to improve our relationship with China and I am personally committed to having that as the outcome rather than get into an arms race or into some kind of confrontation with China."

Dempsey also discussed security challenges in the Middle East and said Egypt may produce the first democracy borne out of the Arab Spring civilian uprising that began a year ago.

"I do think that the Arab Spring can produce a democracy and I'd be eager to see a competition of ideas actually play out," he said. "But I'm concerned because in some ways I think the competition of ideas may be somewhat stymied."

The chairman, who visited Egypt earlier this month, said he spoke with senior Egyptian leaders regarding the release of 19 Americans being held and how it could impact relations.

"I can tell you we came to a very clear understanding of how serious this is," he said. "And also a clear understanding that our relationship would be somewhat stalled until this particular issue is resolved.”

That said, Dempsey said he reinforced the importance of U.S.-Egyptian military relations. "I do believe that Egypt is, in many ways, a cornerstone of the future of the region in that if this Arab Spring is to have a positive outcome, I think we'll see it first in Egypt. The stakes are extraordinarily high and I made that clear."

Dempsey said he believes Egyptian military leaders are eager to cede power, although they maintain some vested interests. "I think that the various parties in Egypt are kind of circling each other trying to determine just what they intend to do," he said.

"My personal observation is I think that the military is actually eager to cede power because they've experienced how challenging it can be to, as they describe it, manage the street, manage the media, manage a judiciary."

Although the military has largely run the country for decades, Dempsey said, “they haven't been under the unblinking eye of the people in the media in this new world in which they find themselves."

Dempsey also discussed Israel's relationship with Iran and its potential to prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capability. "I think that Israel has the capability to strike Iran and delay the capability of Iran to achieve a nuclear weapons status probably for a couple of years," he said. "But some of the targets are probably beyond their reach, and of course that's what concerns them."

U.S. officials have told the Israelis that "it’s not prudent at this point to decide to attack Iran," Dempsey said. "That's been our counsel to our allies, the Israelis," he said. "We also know, or believe we know, that the Iranian regime has not decided that they will embark on the efforts to weaponize their nuclear capability."

"I'm confident that they understand our concerns," Dempsey said, "that a strike at this point would be destabilizing and wouldn't achieve their long-term objectives.” He added that he understands Israel’s unique national security challenges.

On a recent trip to Israel, Dempsey said, he had candid conversations with senior Israeli leaders.

Dempsey said he believes it would be premature to use the military option for Iran while diplomacy is effective. "I think that the economic sanctions and the international cooperation that we've been able to gather around sanctions is beginning to have an effect," he said. "I think that our diplomacy is having an effect, and our preparedness."

U.S. officials believe Iran is “a rational actor,” and as long as that is the case, Dempsey said, “we think the current path that we're on is the most prudent at this point."


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Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey


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