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NSC aide McDonough; Israeli intel chief Yadlin; Egyptian activist Sawiris; Mideast scholar Ajami headline Institute conference

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(Washington, D.C.) The Obama administration approaches the prospect of an Islamist-led government in Egypt with "eyes wide open" while it still rejects the idea of military intervention to resolve the Syria crisis, said Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough, speaking at The Washington Institute’s May 4-6 Weinberg Founders Conference, “Navigating the New ‘New Middle East’”. 

Conference speakers -- foreign policy practitioners of all backgrounds from Washington and around the world – focused on the many issues and actors making headlines in an uncertain region as old regimes fall and new governments take shape. Videos of their insightful, and often provocative, presentations are available on the Washington Institute website.

  • Obama official McDonough defended the administration’s policies toward Egypt and Syria stating that the Arab Spring is advancing American values by promoting democracy and engaging millions of citizens in governing their country. In addition, he argued that “no president since Harry Truman has done as much for Israel’s security as Barack Obama,” adding that the two countries have “an almost identical assessment of timelines” to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. View video here.
  • Former chief of Israeli defense intelligence Amos Yadlin warned that Iran is close to entering a “zone of immunity” in which its nuclear facilities would be invulnerable to attack. He warned that there is a very thin line between “too early to attack and too late to attack" and he cautioned former Israeli security officials to emulate his approach by exercising caution in public discussion of the Iran issue.  View video here.
  • Colin Kahl, former Pentagon official in the Obama administration, and Jamie Fly, an NSC aide in the Bush administration, concurred that the United States needs to retain the option to strike Iran militarily to prevent a nuclear breakout -- but they disagreed sharply on the targets, timing, and strategic purpose of such an attack. View video here.
  • Egyptian business leader Naguib Sawiris, founder of the liberal Free Egyptians Party, issued a stinging critique of the Islamist groups who “hijacked” the Egyptian revolution and are now consolidating power at the expense of minorities and secularists. View video here.
  • A broad policy debate on the Syria crisis featured renowned Mideast historian Fouad Ajami lambasting the Obama administration for failing to intervene to stop the carnage; former U.S. envoy to Syria
  • Ambassador Theodore Kattouf argued that diplomacy should be allowed to run its course before the U.S. considers military action as a "last resort;" while  Economist Washington bureau chief Peter David cautioned that military intervention is not warranted. View video here.

The weekend event, which brought together 300 policymakers, diplomats, journalists, scholars and members of the Institute's board of trustees, included sessions on a broad range of Middle East policy issues, including the impact of U.S.-Israel relations on overall U.S. engagement in the region; the future of radical Islamist terrorism one year after the death of Usama bin Laden; Chinese and Russian policy toward Middle East crises and other headline topics.

About the Washington Institute:

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy seeks to advance a balanced and realistic understanding of American interests in the Middle East and to promote the policies that secure them.