National Press Club

Former Senate Majority Leader Mitchell Says Put Ukrainian People First

May 21, 2014 | By Bob Weiner and Alexis Brooks |

Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell

Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, who also served as Northern Ireland and Middle East Special Envoy, said at a Club Newsmaker that negotiators should consider the Ukrainian people first, not the interests of the U.S., NATO, or Russia.

“Ukrainians want to look westward,'' he said. ``They see greater freedom. A Russian withdrawal permits the Ukrainian elections to go forward.''

Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea, setting off a series of sanctions by the U.S. and its European allies. Mitchell added that Russia in the future will not be the dominant Eurasian power. “What happens in China and India will matter,” he said.

Regarding Iran, where the U.S. and other nations are involved in negotiations to prevent the Islamic Republic from gaining nuclear weapons, Mitchell said, ``We need to make the case to Iran that the consequences will be more severe. The case needs to be made to Russia and China that Iranian weapons could spell the decline of non-proliferation, several Middle Eastern countries would seek their own weapons, and you could see leakage into Asia.''

Mitchell said Iran should be able to have nuclear power for peaceful uses.

He forecast that the “most important” governing factor in the future will be the “independence and empowerment of women.” In addition, while the world is one-fifth Muslim in population now, by mid-century the proportion will rise to one-third.

Mitchell, a Democrat, represented Maine in the Senate from 1981 to 1995, the last six year as majority leader. He said he developed a good relationship with the Republican leader, Bob Dole.

``In the six years we worked together, there was not once a harsh word in public or private,'' he said, ``We disagreed every day. We negotiated hundreds of agreements on the process for proceeding on legislation, but with a bond of trust. For both of us, the highest goal was to help the American people, not party.”

Mitchell later became a co-founder of the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, together with Dole and two other former Senate leaders, Howard Baker and Tom Daschle.