News Column

Henry Kissinger Holds Court in Davos

January 25, 2013

Kim Hjelmgaard

Davos veteran and former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger got the ball rolling on Thursday in Switzerland in another distinctly European-flavored day at the mountain resort.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and George Osborne, the U.K.'s treasury secretary, were all on the program.

Kissinger, appearing for his umpteenth time at the gathering of global luminaries, gave his own wide-ranging assessment of the state of the world in response to questions from Davos founder Klaus Schwab.

Kissinger spoke about Syria, nuclear proliferation, the Middle East in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and more.

On the Middle East: "For one thing, it (the Middle East) is a system in which many of the states were artificially created at the end of the first World War."

On nuclear powers: "Pakistan has demonstrated enormous sophistication in developing nuclear weapons and could become a source of proliferation in the region."

On Iran: "The Iranians need to understand that if they keep using the negotiations to gain time to complete a nuclear program the situation will become extremely dangerous. ... The danger is that nuclear weapons become almost conventional."

On U.S.-China relations: "They will interact with each other everywhere. ... These countries will conduct an increasing rivalry."

On the future of Europe: "One underlying problem is what sacrifices can be asked of populations. ... The cohesion of Europe depends on the willingness to make sacrifices by those immediately concerned. ... What needs to be resolved is the relationship between austerity and growth. ... Whatever happens, the idea of European unity needs to be resolved. ... Europe needs to be maintained as an ideal, even if the ideal solutions don't exist."

Kissinger joked that when he talks about Europe, he is talking about Britain, too.

Kissinger also said that President Obama was not his first choice in the last election.

Enter British Prime Minister David Cameron, attending Davos for his seventh-consecutive time.

Cameron, in his speech, launched straight into North Africa and the terrorist attack last week in Algeria.

"We must be tough, we must be intelligent and we must be patient," Cameron said.

"The French are right to act in Mali and I back that action, not just with words but with logistical support, too," he added.

Then, the proverbial elephant in the room: Europe.

In a speech in London on Wednesday, Cameron said that if his government were to be re-elected in 2015 he would give his nation the option to opt out of the European Union in an in/out referendum.

"This is not about turning our backs on Europe," Cameron said in Davos on Thursday. "The club we belong to is changing," he said, insisting that Britain needs to re-think its relationship to the union. He then went on to talk about his views on capitalism and set out his agenda for the U.K's G-8 presidency. A big theme of that will be taxes, he said.

Away from the forum, news landed that Spain's unemployment rate breached the 26% mark in the last quarter of 2012. There are now nearly 6 million people out of work in that country.

A good time to discuss the eurozone crisis.

A panel featuring a gaggle of prime ministers, including Enda Kenny (Ireland), Mario Monti (Italy), Mark Rutte (Netherlands) and Helle Thorning-Schmidt (Denmark) addressed just that.

Kenny said, "It's important in terms of international reputation for contributor countries to understand their money is not wasted." Kenny had been talking about his nation's bailout program for its indebted banks.

The Netherlands' Rutte said a debate should take place over what kinds of things should be done at the European Union level and at the national level. Italy's Monti appeared to indicate that he agreed with Cameron's promise of a referendum. "It is important whenever a people are asked a question about the EU that the question be the full question: Do they wish to be members of the EU or not?" Denmark's Schmidt also approved. "It is a perfectly legitimate question," she said.

Germany's Angela Merkel, the boss of Europe's largest economy, mostly refrained from hitting back at the idea of Britain leaving the EU during her speech Thursday. She opted, instead, to talk about global economic growth and said Europe was making progress.

"You, too, have addressed competitiveness and see this as a central policy in the years ahead," Merkel said, referring to Cameron's remarks this week.

Source: Copyright USA TODAY 2013

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