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Brzezinski: U.S. mishandling Mideast

Brzezinski: "I think there is going to be no peace in the Middle East unless the United States steps forward."  

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(CNN) -- Former President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, participated in the Camp David Accords of 1978, when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin agreed to a framework for peace in the Middle East.

Brzezinski spoke with CNN's Fredricka Whitfield about current efforts to stop the violence in the region.

WHITFIELD: What are your thoughts here in terms of whether the United States should be sending a very strong signal? Does the United States need to pull out of these efforts to bring peace, given the fact that Israel has taken over Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's headquarters?

BRZEZINSKI: You have shown some very dramatic footage, some very dramatic sound bites as well. And they give you a sense of the immediacy of the tragedy that's unfolding. But I think it's important to step back and to remember that yesterday was a day of historic opportunity in the Middle East as well as a criminal calamity.

The historic opportunity is that, for the first time in 50 years, the Arab states have indicated they are prepared to live in peace with Israel. And they've indicated a more or less equitable framework, subject to negotiation, for such peace.

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The calamity, of course, is the criminal act of terrorism. I find it baffling that the United States is focusing almost entirely on the calamity.

And while Chairman Arafat may be winking at terrorism, and therefore deserves to be castigated for it, and while some Israeli reaction against the perpetrators themselves is justified, the (Bush) administration can't ignore the fact that for the last 10 years, Mr. (Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon has opposed the Oslo peace process, he has contributed to the political climate in Israel that subsequently led to the killing of (then) Prime Minister (Yitzhak) Rabin.

He (Sharon) has been determined to dismantle the Palestinian Authority and he is using every act of terrorism as an excuse to try to destroy the Palestinian Authority.

That is not the way toward peace. And the absence of any meaningful American strategy and a sense of direction is a part of this appalling reality that we are now watching.

WHITFIELD: You heard from Arafat earlier today. He said that if he is killed or if even arrested, he would rather be a martyr in this case. If it turns out that the Israeli movement does cause the death or apprehension of Arafat, do you think this would be a strong signal or should this be a prelude to the United States pulling out its support, since the United States is condemning the actions today?

BRZEZINSKI: I think the U.S. ought to be more engaged. I think there is going to be no peace in the Middle East unless the United States steps forward, moves beyond its nuts and bolts procedural approach -- which is always to be negotiating some tidbit agreement on cease-fire -- and begins to lay out a comprehensive vision of a peace settlement which the United States is prepared to back with its resources, its energy and its influence.

I think the absence of any sense of direction on the part of the United States unfortunately fuels this calamitous, unfolding tragedy that we're witnessing. And it really behooves the United States -- because it's the only country that has the power -- to step in and to promote peace, instead of creating conditions in which the violence actually escalates.

WHITFIELD: You've been intimately involved in the Camp David Accords during the Carter administration. The Bush administration had made it very clear they want special envoy Anthony Zinni to stay in the area. If you were envoy Zinni, what would you do in this case?

BRZEZINSKI: If I were envoy Zinni, I would tell the president that my mandate ought to include an immediate discussion of a political settlement, concomitant with an effort to obtain a cease-fire.

But simply concentrating on a cease-fire means that the existing status quo, including the occupation, continues, and the process can be dragged out and we have seen the results of that over the last several years.

The fact of the matter is, at this stage, there are not enough of a voice among the Palestinians and not enough of a voice among the Israelis in favor of peace.

The Palestinians are not prepared to make the necessary compromises. Neither are the Israelis. Only we can try to promote that and we are not doing it.

WHITFIELD: How disappointed are you, how personally do you take this defeat that the violence has only escalated in the past 20 years or so? That the bridge between the two sides just doesn't seem to be getting any closer?

BRZEZINSKI: Well, I worry about it from a moral point of view. I also worry about it from the American national interest point of view.

From a moral point of view, it's tragedy that the Jewish people -- who have suffered so much and who had the moral upper hand in much of this conflict -- are now losing that position in the eyes of most of the world because they are stronger, they are tougher, they have killed many more Palestinians than Palestinians have killed Israelis.

I feel sorry for the Palestinians because they don't have the kind of the political leadership that is prepared to make the necessary compromises.

So each side makes the other worse.

In addition, I worry about the American national interest. I can see two major jeopardies ahead if we don't step into the breach. If the tragedy between the Israelis and Palestinians degenerates into total violence, if Arafat is killed, we'll probably see major uncertainty, major instability in the Middle East. We'll become more isolated in the war against terrorism because the Arabs will then unite against us. And we could even get an oil embargo with the Saudis, the Iraqis and the Iranians joining forces despite their disagreements. That's a very, very ominous scenario.


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