Alex Witt   |  August 17, 2013

Bridging a divide in Egypt: Can it be done?

Ambassador Dennis Ross talks to MSNBC's Alex Witt about the increasing violence in Egypt.  He explains the "completely polarized" situation. He suggests approaching Saudi Arabia to assist in influencing Egypt's military.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> let's go to the developing situation in cairo where the death tolls continue to rise. the muslim brotherhood is calling for a full week of protests. joining me now is ambassador dennis ross . always good to see you. thanks for joining me. give me your reaction to what you've seen over the last few days in escalation of violence and how you think it can be stopped.

>> we have a completely polarized situation and what makes it so difficult is that it is seen in terms by both sides. they are out to destroy the state and turn it into an islamic run state and the military have made a judgment they're not prepared to accept it and they're beginning to suppress it. the muslim brotherhood feels it can carry on this struggle and sooner or later it will turn public opinion in egypt more to its side. ironically at this point, one of the things that remain clear is that a majority of the public continues to support the political tear and sees muslim brotherhood as being more of a problem than the military. you have a divide now and it's hard to build a bridge between the two.

>> i'm curious about what you think the united states role should be. you want the united states to continue its aid to egypt . this would be in $1.3 billion to the same military that's opened fire on those that were the supporters of the former president. this violence this week, does that change any of that for you?

>> obviously, it makes it much more complicated. it makes it much more difficult. i would hoping we could use the aid as a lever to influence the situation with egypt . it's clear that our assistance has minimal effect right now on the military. the problem is if you cut it off then you have no possibility of influence and if we cut it off one of the consequences will be almost everybody else outside the region meaning the europeans will cut it off and that's going to give false hope to the muslim brotherhood if they keep the struggle, sooner or later the international community will support them. i guess my instinct would be to try to go to these have the influence. that is saudi arabia . you heard them making support of the egyptian government and what the egyptian military is doing. one of the things i would suggest is we go to the saudis and say if we don't see the military adopt more of a containment approach, more of an effort to say we really will make an effort to foster a transition we're going to have to cut off our assistance. i think through the sau dirks s we have some potential to influence the military before i would may any judgment, i would take that step. i don't want us to take a step that means we become not only irrelevant but we trigger a backlash in egypt .

>> you talk about saudi arabia having so much influence, i want to show a graphic is that shows our plon temonetary contributions. you see that money is talking here. you say they have more influence closely aligned culture influence. if we go talk to saudi arabia , what's in it for them to listen to us and basically, do our bidding, if you will?

>> they don't want the egyptian government to lose all semblance of legitamacy on the outside. they do want the symbol of american acceptance to help. they do have stake in us maintaining a relationship. it's not as if we have no leverage for that. they have an interest and are maintaining the ties and having others in the international community be prepared to support the egyptians.

>> all of our interests in keeping egypt calm and profitable, does it all boil down to our desires to keep israel safe?

>> i think it's a combination of things. preserving peace is one thing. having the egyptian military do more where there's a jihadi presence and the muslim brotherhood was doing nothing to deal with that, that's another element. our dependence as overflight to parts of the rest of the region and we get priority over anybody else. our cooperation with them in term, these are interests the united states has. we do have interests trying to strike the balance between interest and value s not a simple thing to do.

>> thank you for your time, sir.

>> my pleasure.