Trump, Obama advisers say Russia, Iran remain threats to U.S.

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Russia’s challenge to NATO and democratic nations, as well as Iran’s influence on the wider Middle East, remain two of the top threats to world peace, two former White House advisers to presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump said Dec. 10.

The comments by the two former Marine generals, ex-Trump chief of staff John Kelly and Obama national security adviser Jim Jones, mirrored those a day earlier by former Vice President Dick Cheney in Dubai. But on Dec. 10, neither offered the same rebuke Cheney gave of Trump’s push to withdraw from the wider region.

The two spoke at the SALT finance conference in Abu Dhabi, hosted by Anthony Scaramucci, a financier who had a short-lived 11 days as the director of communications for the Trump White House.

For Jones, who served nearly two years in Obama’s White House, Iran remains an “existential threat.” He praised the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration after the president unilaterally withdrew from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers over a year ago. That has since seen tensions dramatically rise across the Mideast, with attacks and Tehran beginning to break the limits of an accord designed to keep it from having enough material for a nuclear weapon if it chose to pursue one.

“You don’t negotiate with the Iranian regime,” Jones said. “You have to be tough with it and you have to be consistent. And sooner or later, the people of Iran will do the right thing.”

Jones later added: “Politics of appeasement don’t appeal to me. Now, it doesn’t mean you have to go have a land war with them, but the economic sanctions and the international community should just isolate them until the point that the Iranian people do what I think they’re going to.”

On Russia, Jones pointed to Russian interference and social media.

“The Russians have reinvented of themselves to destabilize not only our country and our elections, but elections in democratic countries,” he said.

Kelly separately warned Russia wants to challenge the U.S. as a world power, something that stands in contrast to Trump’s efforts to have a warm relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Kelly himself declined to speak to journalists at the event and largely stayed away from criticizing Trump. However, he did say that the Trump administration tried to “do too many things” and that Trump now finds himself surrounded by too many people in his decision-making.

“I think he has too many people in the room now,” Kelly said.

The hosting of the SALT conference marks one of many events that draw former Western officials drawn to the Emirates for speaking fees. The federation of seven sheikhdoms is home to the skyscraper-studded city of Dubai. It hosts some 5,000 American troops and the U.S. Navy’s busiest foreign port of call. Emirati forces also deployed to Afghanistan.

The UAE has drawn increased scrutiny in Washington as Abu Dhabi’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan found himself named in the Mueller report. The Emirates’ involvement in the years-long Saudi-led war in Yemen also has faced international criticism, though Abu Dhabi has begun withdrawing troops from the campaign in recent months. Both Kelly and Jones made a point to praise the Emirates while on stage.