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Amb. Gordon Sondland: U.S. should give ‘complete, unfettered support of Ukraine’ until Russia is driven out

The former U.S. ambassador to the EU spoke to JI’s podcast about his family’s history with the Holocaust, testifying during the impeachment inquiry against former President Donald Trump and why he isn’t backing Trump in 2024

David Kennerly

Former U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland

On this week’s episode of Jewish Insider’s podcast, co-hosts Rich Goldberg and Jarrod Bernstein are joined by former U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland for a conversation on his work with the Auschwitz exhibition at the Reagan Library, Iran, Ukraine and his testimony during the impeachment inquiry against former President Donald Trump.

Below are excerpts from the conversation.

On his work sponsoring the Auschwitz exhibition at the Reagan Library: “The Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, which is one of the most beautiful and consequential presidential libraries in the United States, has really taken on a veneer of sort of bipartisanship and sort of a convening place — as you will recall in reading the recent news, the president of Taiwan was brought there to meet with our congressional leadership as sort of a neutral place for her to engage with them. So I felt that the Reagan Library, when they decided to put on a show called ‘Auschwitz: Not Long Ago, Not Far Away,’ and they presented it to me as a potential sponsorship, I thought it just hit all of the right notes. This is a show that was curated elsewhere and traveled to Reagan, and is there now for the better part of the year, and apparently is experiencing, you know, sold out crowds almost every day. It’s quite a show, and I would strongly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about the Holocaust, who has learned potentially to deny the Holocaust, I think it gives a very, very strong and compelling argument that yes, the Holocaust did occur, yes, people, Jews and others were killed, and it’s something that’s never to be repeated. So regardless of where you’re coming from, what religion you are, I think this show at the Reagan Library, which by the way is a beautiful place to visit, besides the show itself, is really, really compelling and important.”

On the EU’s relationship with Iran and the Iran nuclear deal: “I realized that there was a tremendous pride of authorship in the JCPOA, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, by members of the European Union staff, particularly Federica Mogherini, who at the time served as the HR [high representative] VP, which is the equivalent of our secretary of state. And she thought that the deal that they had cut — she and [former U.S. Secretary of State] John Kerry essentially worked together on this deal — she thought the deal that they had cut with Iran was the best possible deal the West could get…what was happening at the time was, Iran had basically attenuated some of their proliferation, not all of it, there was a lot going on in secret that the intelligence community knew about, but the public did not. But what’s more important was the JCPOA allowed a lot of cash to flow to Iran. And as you both know, malign activities, mischief, terrorism, all of these things take money, they’re not free, and Iran was getting plenty of money from the West in order to conduct these activities. That money was not going to uplift their citizenry. So in the face of all of the evidence that we presented to the EU…frankly, what was driving their desire to not withdraw from it, was the business they were doing with Iran. There were a lot of countries and a lot of businesses in those countries, particularly in France, getting rich dealing with Iran, they didn’t want to give up those riches for the betterment of the globe.”

On foreign policy under successive U.S. administrations: “A lot of the Biden foreign policy, unfortunately, is what I would characterize as ‘petulant foreign policy.’ And while I am not a fan today of Donald Trump — I served under him, I’ve made it clear publicly that I do not support him for reelection, or for election I should say, based on a whole host of issues that I’m happy to discuss, and I have publicly — there were a lot of things in his foreign policy that I thought were correct, were effective, the withdrawal from the JCPOA is clearly one of them. And, you know, I think that a lot of the Biden policies were simply, when I call them petulant diplomacy, it’s basically ‘if Trump said left, I’m going to say right, if Trump said up, I’m gonna say down,’ without any real thoughtful analysis about, ‘Was Trump correct, even though I don’t like Trump, I don’t agree with Trump, I beat Trump, was he correct on this issue?’ I think very little of that went on initially in the Biden administration. There was a race to see how many policies they could reverse, and I think a lot of babies got thrown out with the bathwater, and this is one.”

On where the Republican party stands on support for Ukraine: “I think the vast majority of the Republican Party, with the exception of a few isolationist hardliners, believe that we need to leave all options on the table vis-à-vis Ukraine. I’m one who goes even further than that, I’m for a complete, unfettered support of Ukraine until they conclusively drive Russia out of all occupied areas, including Crimea, even if that’s done in stages, but I think it’s an existential threat to Europe to have Russia in any way be rewarded for their incursion. I think that most of the Republican Party and certainly the Democrats are there. It’s the ultra-right and the ultra-left that I think have far more of a voice than they deserve in this issue.”

On his testimony during the impeachment inquiry against former Trump: “I was one of the few witnesses that I believe had no real agenda when I finally had to appear before the committee. I wasn’t there to hurt the president, I wasn’t there to help the president by being untruthful, I was simply there to relay to the committee exactly what I knew to the best of my ability. There was a lot made of my revision of some testimony, when I was reminded by subsequent witnesses about certain meetings or certain things that happened that I had literally forgotten about and once they described it in their testimony, and they went into detail, all of a sudden my memory was jogged…I wasn’t a note-taker, so I didn’t have notes…When they went into that kind of granular detail, it tends to jog one’s memory, and so I made those appropriate revisions, and so on. As far as how the hearing affected me, well, I’m originally from the Pacific Northwest, which is a very progressive part of the country. I’m a Republican, you know, I’m sort of a fish out of water there. And a lot of people in that community, when they thought that I was originally there to help the president and lie to the committee on his behalf, which was not the case, basically had a knee-jerk reaction that wasn’t borne out by my conduct in the hearing. And my conduct in the hearing, when you really go up to 30 or 40 or 50,000 feet and you look at what I said or what I didn’t say, it really wasn’t that meaningful at the end of the day. It was somewhat helpful to him on some issues and somewhat harmful to him on others, but it was the truth.”

Bonus lightning round:Favorite Yiddish or Hebrew word or phrase? “I have one, it’s not profane. It’s ‘kochleffel’…it’s a Yiddish word. It literally means in German, ‘cooking spoon,’ but what it means figuratively in Yiddish, is a pot stirrer, someone who’s always trying to stir up trouble.” Favorite Jewish food? “I mean, phenomenal matzah ball soup. There’s nothing like it.” Favorite synagogue or Jewish community in Europe to have come across? “The big synagogue in Brussels, and the name escapes me at the moment, but it was a very impressive rabbi [and] congregation. Unfortunately, I could only go there twice, but it left me with quite a memory.”

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