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Will Deal Slow Iran's Push for Nuclear Weapons?; Obama Surrendering to Iran?

Aired November 25, 2013 - 18:28   ET



ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, is President Obama surrendering to Iran? Will his new deal slow its push for nuclear weapons?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tough talk and bluster may be the easy thing to do politically, but it's not the right thing for our security.

ANNOUNCER: Should the U.S. ease up on sanctions? Is it putting Israel in danger?


ANNOUNCER: On the left Van Jones. On the right, Newt Gingrich. In the CROSSFIRE, Trita Parsi, who supports the newly-announced agreement, and Cliff May, who doesn't support it. Is the president making peace or getting fooled? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.


VAN JONES, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Van Jones on the left.

NEWT GINGRICH, CO-HOST: I'm Newt Gingrich on the right. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, two guests who come down on different sides of the Iran nuclear deal. My view is very simple. This is surrender to the Iranians. It's an exact parallel to what happened with North Korea when the State Department team was duped, patted themselves on the back all the way to the Koreans' nuclear explosion.

Today both Saudi Arabia and the Israelis, who never agree on anything, are remarkably close, calling this a stupid deal. Apparently, the same people who told the president the Obama care Web site would work told him this was a good deal.

JONES: Well, look, first of all, this is a big difference between this and the North Korean deal. The two "i" words. First of all, Israel was not looking right down the barrel and saying, "No way."

But No. 2, inspectors on the ground, and I think that's something we have not talked about enough, we are spending time on this show talking about how we get inspectors on the ground to know what's going on. We didn't have that in North Korea.

So in the CROSSFIRE tonight, we have Trita Parsi, who's the author of "A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama's Diplomacy with Iran," we have and Cliff May, who is the president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

So we're going to start with you, sir. I don't understand why people like you are not happy about this deal. This is a good deal. First of all, we're going to keep $100 billion of the Iranians' money locked under key. We give them $1 billion back and get a chance to put inspectors on the ground. Why is that by itself not a good deal?

CLIFF MAY, PRESIDENT, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: Well, there have been inspectors on the ground for a long time. The question is what they have been allowed to see. What they will be allowed to see in the future.

The problem is with this deal, it's meant to stop this particular regime from acquiring nuclear weapons. And I think quite properly, as Newt says, the negotiations in North Korea went along a similar path. Various things were given. At the end of the day the North Koreans tested a nuclear weapon, once, twice, three times and are still developing missiles.

The Iranians will be able to do the same thing here, despite this agreement or this joint action plan as it's calling. The Iranian programs proceeds toward development with nuclear weapons, and our leverage is diminished.

JONES: Is it your view that we should have no interim deal, no interim step, that somehow these sanctions -- we have the most crippling -- President Obama has put the most crippling set of sanctions on of any country in modern history, and they are still -- they have gone under sanctions from 200 to 19,000 centrifuges.

Is it your view that we should go from sanctioning to total surrender from the Iranians with no interim deal at all? Not any interim deal; surrender?

MAY: No, I think you're right, Van. There should be an interim deal. It just should have been a better interim deal than this. My fear is, and it's not just my fear, is that the sanctions rule, we're now kind of removing a brick or two, and the whole thing could collapse. In fact, the high-school regime is saying the sanctions wall now will collapse, and it will continue as the Iranians continue to move ahead. They are still enriching uranium, keeping enriched uranium. The plutonium reactor at Iraq, that's not going to be dismantled. They're moving ahead towards a nuclear weapon. And that's what we don't want.

GINGRICH: Trita, let me explain for a second with a picture why so many Americans, I think, are very cautious about this dictatorship. It goes all the way back to 34 years ago, the taking of the American embassy, which was clearly an illegal act sanctioned by the mullahs, only carried out by the mullahs, over 400 days of illegally holding Americans now hostages.

Now, on a weekend where you would think if they had any self- discipline, the Iranians would have played meek, nice, civilized, three examples. The foreign minister says we have won the right to enrich. Remember, every single U.N. Security Council resolution said they had to quit enriching. They now interpret the agreement as we've won the right to enrich.

Second, President Rouhani, the so-called moderate, although he's hand- picked by the dictatorship, says this is a great victory for Iran, as you just suggested, Cliff, the sanctions wall will collapse.

The most amazing thing, in a regime which currently has an American pastor locked up for a year for preaching Christianity, in a regime which just arrested a whole group of people for having had communion, I mean, a deliberately vicious regime in many ways, you have the real dictator, Khamenei, saying over the weekend in a speech that the Israelis are rabid dogs, the Americans are our enemies.

Now, why should any American trust a dictatorship that is openly telling us with contempt that they fully plan to break this agreement?

TRITA PARSI, AUTHOR: All you've done here is you've repeated the problem. You've not presented any solution. There's no doubt that this regime in Iran is a regime that is not popular with the people in any way, shape or form. The question is, how do you deal with this issue?

The approach of just pursuing sanctions and absolutely no diplomacy has seen the Iranian nuclear program go from 164 centrifuges to 19,000 centrifuges. Clearly not a successful track record.

This deal, for the first time ever since 2003, freezes the nuclear program, and part of the reason why it cannot be a repeat of what happened in North Korea is because, within the next six months, they're going to eliminate their stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium. As long as they don't have 20 percent enriched uranium, as long as they can't go back to 20 percent, they cannot build a bomb.

MAY: Let me ask you a question. I'm curious on your answer. This regime says it is not going to build nuclear weapons. That's part of this agreement. This regime says they have never had a nuclear weapons program. Do you believe this regime has never had a nuclear weapons program, or do you agree with me that this regime has been lying?

PARSI: This regime has been lying about some of these things, but here's the deal.

MAY: Have they been lying about having a nuclear weapons program?

PARSI: Here's the deal.

MAY: Can I just get that answer clearly on that one?

PARSI: I believe that prior to 2003, they did things that are illegal and that had clear weapons dimensions.


PARSI: Now, here's the issue, though. MAY: Do you think they stopped in 2003 for good?

PARSI: Your questioning is leading to the idea that we have to trust them. That is not the case.

MAY: I'm glad you agree. I'm glad you agree on that. We have to verify.

PARSI: We have to have a mechanism to verify, that they are not cheating on what they're saying they're going to do, and that this will detect them so quickly we can do something about it. This is why this is a good deal. We will get unprecedented inspections in Iraq in the next six weeks.

MAY: They did not sign the additional accord which would allow for on-demand inspection...

PARSI: That's exactly why we have to...

MAY: That should have been a better deal, and then it would have been a better deal.

PARSI: That's exactly why we have to take this to the second phase. And in the second phase, if no one sabotages it -- which unfortunately, there is a risk of people in this city will sabotage a deal -- we will get to the second phase. And in that second phase, the Iranians will have to sign additional protocol. They have already indicated that that will take place. And in that phase, that's where the real sanctions relief will come in.

GINGRICH: So let me ask a question.

PARSI: That's when this gets resolved.

GINGRICH: Let me just ask you. You posed a legitimate idea. I don't totally agree with it, but it's at least legitimate. So if, in fact, after six months, they do not accept intrusive inspections, they only allow basically shadow inspections, would you then be prepared to say this deal has fallen through and we have to follow a very different strategy, because they're clearly not complying?

PARSI: What the deal says is that, in the next six months, they're going to have -- they're going to negotiate what the end game is. They have decided some of the parameters of that end game, but the rest of it is up for negotiation, including what the Iranians claim that they already have, which is this right to enrich.

The reason why it has to go into these phases is because, after 34 years of mistrust and because of the complexity of this issue, it is completely unrealistic to expect that this entire issue could have been resolved over one weekend in Geneva. They have to divide it into two phases.

Now mindful of the inspections regime that is in place, and I think it's important to remind viewers that the Iranian nuclear program is the most inspected program, according to the IAEA right now. They spend more time inspecting that program than any other program.

MAY: But they're denied access to important facilities, such as Parchin. Such as -- such as Fordow.

PARSI: Which is why we have to get the deal so we get access to it. That's the point.

MAY: Listen, we do have...

PARSI: You can't just...

MAY: Listen, we have an agreement on this...

PARSI: You can't just repeat the problem and think that you're actually providing a solution.

MAY: We have an agreement on this, and I guess you do, too. That is that the Iranians do have a nuclear weapons program.

JONES: They do.

MAY: That they have lied about it, and they continue to lie about it, and that we need more intrusive inspections if we're going to...

JONES: We absolutely do, but my point is that we -- that you can't start at the end of the negotiation. I think people actually don't understand the reality here.

Iran is close to having a nuclear bomb. That is the big picture. Yesterday was not perfect. And today I think it's better.

When we come back, I want to ask you, Cliff, why at a moment when war and peace is once again in the balance, you want to keep undermining this president.


JONES: Welcome back. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, we've got Trita Parsi and Cliff May.

In a huge deal this weekend, Iran finally agreed to put its nuclear program on hold for six months to allow for negotiations. In return, the Iranians get a slight easing on the economic sanctions.

Today President Obama took on his critics who don't like this deal.


OBAMA: We cannot close the door on diplomacy. And we cannot rule out peaceful solutions to the world's problems. We cannot commit ourselves to an endless cycle of conflict. And tough talk and bluster may be the easy thing to do politically, but it's not the right thing for our security.


JONES: Look, we are at a critical crossroads here. I am so glad to see the president sounding sober, measured.

Iran is not going to feel safe until it gets a nuclear bomb. We're not going to feel safe if they do get a nuclear bomb. That's called irreconcilable differences.

We are down to three moves left. Either we bomb them now; we apply tougher sanctions, even though sanctions haven't been working; or we negotiate under a freeze. That is what this president is trying to do. I think it's time the president's critics stop undercutting them, and give him a chance to avoid another war.

Now to you: I -- I think the American people are a little bit smarter than maybe people here in Washington, D.C., who love to beat this president up. If you look at these numbers, the American people actually like this deal. Fifty-six percent of them are in favor. I don't understand from the people who are criticizing this president, who are beating up on this president, what is your alternative besides war to a negotiated settlement here?

MAY: For one thing, the sanctions, which you say didn't work are, I believe, what has brought Iran to the table to negotiate in the first place. Do you not think that's the case, Van?

JONES: Listen, they brought them to the table, but at the same time, they've been building centrifuges after centrifuges with the sanctions still in place.

MAY: Right. The sanctions -- the sanctions is what has allowed diplomacy to operate, (INAUDIBLE) if there were not been sanctions, we wouldn't be having these negotiations.

Now, I want this president or any president to have the maximum leverage when he sits down or when his representatives sit down for negotiations. You get maximum leverage when you have maximum sanctions.

What bothers me now a week ago, we were at the state of maximum sanctions, and more sanctioning would allow the president and Secretary of State John Kerry to say, look, I want to ease up on you, I want some real concessions.

JONES: Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold on a second.


MAY: You were against sanctions and we wouldn't have negotiations.

JONES: I'm for --

MAY: Are you for sanctions or against it?


PARSI: In that case, you can say that 19,000 Iranian centrifuges brought Americans to the table. It's not that simple. What happened here is the Iranian people went to the polls, and they realized this regime could not cheat in the elections twice in a row. And as a result, they decided against all odds to still go and vote, even though we they got beaten up on the streets so badly by this regime, and they forced their will onto the regime and they brought in a team who 10 years ago, before Ahmadinejad got into power, was actually pursuing the same path.

They offered a deal in 2005 to cap their enrichment capacity at 3,000 centrifuges. We decline that. (IANUDIBLE) declined because back then the Bush administration was pursuing the approach that you are advocating right now.


MAY: I understand this concept that is very popular, that Rouhani is a moderate. I think he is a pragmatist and I think he's a very good negotiator. But keep in mind as recently as this year, Rouhani said that death to America is not just a wonderful slogan that unites Iranians, it is something that must be acted on.

As you know, last week, as you know, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is Rouhani's boss, made a speech to the Basijs and to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps in which he was ferociously anti-American. So, I just want you to caution --

PARSI: They're anti-American and as a result you want to bomb them? What is your solution? Just being able to repeat a lot of their rhetoric does not bring the end to the conflict.

MAY: Our solution is not surrender. I want the maximum possible leverage until we get the Iranians to stop their nuclear programs, which you say you agree with. You want the Iranians to stop their nuclear weapons program, don't you? Do you or do you not?

PARSI: It would be disastrous if the Iranians get a nuclear weapon.


PARSI: But you say the strategy that you're advocating has brought a much --


MAY: -- are afraid not to have a nuclear weapon. Do you really think that or do you think what the Iranians want is to be dominant in the Middle East, to be --

JONES: I think --

MAY: -- they are the leading sponsors of terrorism in the world. They want to have that -- a shield for that. And they want to oppress their own people.

JONES: Nobody is arguing with you that.


JONES: But here's the thing -- you have these fantasy mythological solutions.

MAY: What?

JONES: Tougher sanctions -- what tougher sanction do you want? You want to have a food and medicine embargo?

MAY: No, we don't want. We've never proposed that.

JONES: -- without losing China, without losing Russia, without losing India, what more sanctions can we do? We have maximized the pressure --

MAY: There is a bill that passed on a bipartisan basis in the House for tougher sanctions, a bipartisan basis. It would pass on a bipartisan basis as well in the Senate. Senator Menendez, a Democrat from your party --


MAY: -- this deal gives away too much and gets too little.

PARSI: This is important to understand. This has been a game of chicken in which both sides have escalated. The Iranians, however, have one last card to play, and to believe they're going to capitulate because of the sanctions pain, without using that last card is a fantasy. What is that last card? That last card is actually they would weaponize --

MAY: Well, and nothing in this agreement stops weaponization, does it?

PARSI: What you are arguing for is they not only go from 19,000 centrifuges --


MAY: A real question for you --

PARSI: That's why we have to have diplomacy.

MAY: Can you imagine the supreme leader actually not having nuclear weapons, giving up that program?

PARSI: Absolutely, I can imagine that. I think the problem --

MAY: The basis of the revolution in '79 was anti-Americanism and to dominate the Middle East.

PARSI: The basis of the revolution was not to get a nuclear bomb.

NEWT GINGRICH, CO-HOST: Let me ask you a question, though, because I'm fascinated -- and you obviously have studied this and think about it a lot. Why would Khamenei give a speech last week that was that viciously anti-Israeli? I mean, describing people as rabid dogs is pretty close to the edge and that viciously anti-American. What is his internal need as a dictator in terms of balancing power in the country that in that moment in time, knowing that they're going to be negotiations in Geneva, he felt he had to go and be this viciously anti-American?

PARSI: There were a couple lines in his speech I think were the key messages. He set out a couple red lines which was actually a message to his negotiators, while at the same time a message to the people on the other side. And I think they were doing that to strengthening their bargaining cards in the negotiations.

I was in Geneva. I could see the dynamic that was taking place. This is a very tough negotiation.

Part of the problem with the attitude of thinking that we can just dictate the terms is because that's a misread of the amount of power the United States has vis-a-vis Iran. If it was that simple, this issue would have been resolved 15 years ago. And the Iranians would not have 19,000 centrifuges.

JONES: Let me add something, and you respond.

MAY: Yes.

JONES: You know, all the pundits, all the politicians are on TV saying it's terrible. Brent Scowcroft says this is a good deal, good interim step. Brzezinski, Anthony Zinni, all the actual people who understand what's going on, the senior security officials, yes -- 70 of them saying this is a good, sensible interim step.

So, I -- at what point do we give this president the opportunity to be the president of the United States and lead, give him the six months? At the end of these six months, if the Iranians are doing terrible stuff, we can go back to the sanctions we already had, the ones you want, military action. Why not give him six months?

MAY: He's got the six months. That's the reality of the thing. He now does have six months to get a better agreement. This plan, which is all it is, it's not a treaty. It doesn't go very far, over the next six months, he can get something different.

If he's as tough as Trita just described, the supreme leader being, I think Trita is exactly right, the supreme leader was sending a tough message saying "I can be anti-American, I can continue to threaten Israel, the Americans will still go along." He was being tough.

I think that this president should be just as tough. I hope he will be and I will support him in that if he's tough and he understands that the goal here is not to kick the can down the road. The goal is to keep this regime -- this regime -- from having nuclear weapons. Because once it does, it will be an inflection moment in history and a very dangerous century.

GINGRICH: Let me just ask you all to stay here.

Next, we'll have the final question for our guests.

We also want you at home to weigh in on today's "Fireback" question. Do you think the nuclear deal with Iran is progress or surrender for the U.S.? Reply now by tweeting "progress" or "surrender" using the #crossfire. We'll have the results after the break.


GINGRICH: Now, we're back with Trita Parsi and Cliff May.

It's time for the final question.

And you're an optimist, you have hope, et cetera. But let me ask you -- if there's a final point here, and you're right. Diplomacy may not work. What would you do to stop the Iranians if, in fact, in the end, they're determined to get a bomb?

PARSI: You know what? When you invest in diplomacy, you got to really invest it. No one asks the question, if you go to war, and it doesn't work, what would you do then? Because we are committed to Plan A. Plan A is now diplomacy, and we got to make every thing possible, every effort to make sure it's a success.

GINGRICH: I agree with the point --


PARSI: If they'll fail, we'll talk about it later on.

GINGRICH: No, no. Are you prepare to accept --

PARSI: At this point, every effort now should be made to make sure that this is resolved peacefully for a very simple reason, the United States has had a war in Iraq, a war in Afghanistan, the population is really tired of war.


PARSI: That's why we got to make sure --

GINGRICH: So, if diplomacy fails, would you accept an Iranian nuclear weapon?

PARSI: If diplomacy fails, I think at that point, we have to look at all the different options very carefully.

But I actually believe that diplomacy is going to succeed, because I'm seeing a political will on both sides for a very simple reality, both sides know that if it fails, both sides are worse off. That's why you have the president leading this so strongly and effectively right now.

JONES: Well, final question for you. You have a president who now has three countries, Russia, he's done a weapons of mass destruction deal with them, they're backing off on nukes. You've got Syria, chemical weapons, and now, possibly Iran. He's held together this incredible coalition, just this past week, you know, the Security Council in Germany.

Are of willing to give this president any credit at all in the role he's playing in trying to give peace to this world?

MAY: I'm going to give him support but not credit. Syria is a terrible message (ph). There were 100,000 people killed. The Assad regime is more, has been better than ever because of this chemical weapons deal, and we haven't gotten the chemical weapons out. So, I can't give him high marks in that.

Russia, the reset hasn't worked. Vladimir Putin sees the --

JONES: So, no credit?

MAY: -- diminishment of American strength as in his interest. He has not been cooperative on almost nothing, certainly not on Iran.

No, I want us --

JONES: What about the coalition that has gotten to Iran at this point, do you give him credit for that, and put together a world class coalition, including Russia and China, do you give him credit for that?

MAY: We've gotten to the point where we have an interim deal that is not good. I hope it will become a better deal over the months ahead.

JONES: Well, you can't say I didn't try.

MAY: Can't say you didn't try. You always try. I give you credit.


JONES: Thank you. I'm the diplomat.

I want to give a big thank you to both to Trita and Cliff.

You can still be a part of this conversation. Go to Facebook, go to Twitter, weigh in on our "Fireback" question. Do you think the nuclear deal with Iran is progress for the U.S. or surrender?

Right now, 54 percent of you say progress, 46 percent of you say surrender. The debate will continue online at, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

From the left, I'm Van Jones.

GINGRICH: From the right, I'm Newt Gingrich.

Join us tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.