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Sever Weather in Midwest; Iran Agrees to Nuclear Deal; Interview with Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes; Israel Unhappy with Iran Deal; Remembering Officer J.D. Tippit

Aired November 25, 2013 - 13:30   ET


CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: The moisture from the Gulf of Mexico will get pulled up here and it will get thrown up over the top of the cold air. That's the problem. It will be 35 degrees aloft at 5,000 feet. It will be 31 degrees down below where we live through parts of Tennessee, Kentucky, northern Georgia, maybe even parts of northern Mississippi. East of there, I-95 is all white -- it's all wet, not white.

I got a couple e-mails and tweets about New York City. New York can get a little bit of flurries to start and end but 99 percent of what you see east of i-95 will just be rain.

This is the area, Wolf, I'm concerned about. West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, parts of Ohio and Pennsylvania and Upstate New York, there will be an ice event there. Then it will snow on top of that and you won't be able to see the ice when you try to drive over it.

We'll keep you up to date.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Please. We'll stay in close touch with you.

Chad, thank you.

For the latest on the weather and a look at the world's busiest airports check out

Other news, more on Iran right now. It's agreeing to limit some of its nuclear programs in exchange for an easing of international sanctions. President Obama says it's an important step toward keeping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Critics, however, call it a major mistake.

We want to get a behind-the-scenes closer look how the deal was finalized, discuss the political fallout.

Joining us now is Ben Rhodes, assistant to the president, deputy national security advisor for strategic communications.

Thanks very much for coming in.

BEN RHODES, ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT & DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: Good to see you, Wolf. BLITZER: I want to show viewers a photo released by the White House Saturday night. There you see the president in the Oval Office casual. Tony Blinken, there on the right part of the screen, and you in your shirt. You're there, as well. What was going on in the Oval Office when you met with the president Saturday night?

RHODES: Well, I hadn't slept in awhile, Wolf. But what I can say is what we were doing is getting updates from the team in Geneva on the finally text of the agreement they were negotiating. Throughout the day, the president was in touch with his negotiators. He spoke to Secretary Kerry about 3:00 in the afternoon our time. They were literally sending language back of the agreement that they were negotiating with the Iranians and the P5-plus-1. The president was reviewing that because we had a sense we could close the deal on Saturday.

BLITZER: Did the president sign off on every paragraph, basically, in that four or five-page document that was released yesterday?

RHODES: He basically did, Wolf. Essentially, he's been tracking this negotiation over the course of the last several weeks. He talked to Secretary Kerry before he went out to Geneva on Friday. And then on Saturday, Secretary Kerry was calling him, updating him on what was the text of the agreement and sending back language. So we were very comfortable with how the agreement came out and very grateful for the leadership of Secretary Kerry and our team on the ground in getting that done.

BLITZER: Did you always intend for the president to go out and address the nation whenever there was -- if there was going to be an agreement? We saw him late Saturday night, what, about 10:30 or so. He went out and made a major address welcoming this agreement. Was that always the intention?

RHODES: We did, Wolf. This is a significant first step towards an agreement, the most progress we've made with Iran, certainly in the five years that President Obama has been in office. And it sets a course towards potentially resolving one of the most difficult issues we've confronted as a corrupt over the last several decades, which is the Iranian nuclear issue.

It was a late night for us but, at the same time, I have to note that the president was going out at 10:30, 11:00 at night. It was six hours ahead in Geneva. President Kerry worked till 6:00 in the morning there. But we felt it was worth it to get this done and it was necessary for the president to explain to the American people and the world why this is in our interests and why it's a good first step.

BLITZER: Here's a line from that agreement that was concluded late Saturday night, early Sunday morning, in Geneva, that jumped out at me. I'll put it on the screen. "The U.S. administration, acting consistent with the respective of roles of the president and the Congress, will refrain from imposing knew nuclear-related sanctions."

So explain that. During the six-month period, even if Congress were to strengthen, increase sanctions against Iran, the president is making it clear he would veto any of those sanctions? Is that right?

RHODES: Well, what we want, Wolf, is to give this time to work over the course of the next six months. We do not believe there should be new sanctions. We've said to Congress, we shouldn't move forward with sanctions during the next six months because we have to test whether the negotiations will work. If the Iranians don't live up to their end of the bargain, we'll move to new sanctions with Congress. But it's necessary now to test diplomacy.

It's important to note though, Wolf, even as we are giving them some limited relief, the bulk of the sanctions will be enforced. So over the next six months, Iran will lose more revenue by far than it gains in relief because of the sanctions Congress has put in place, which will continue to be enforced.

BLITZER: They are going to gain, according to administration officials, about $6 or $7 billion over the next six months, right?

RHODES: That's right, Wolf. But because we're enforcing the oil and banking sanctions, that $6 to $7 billion is comparable to what they lose in a month of the revenues that they're denied through the sanctions that we'll continue to enforce. People should see the perspective here, that even they're going to continue to face economic sanctions from the oil and banking sanctions that are in place.

BLITZER: Give us the perspective. So how much does Iran lose regularly as a result of all of the sanctions? Give us some perspective. That $6 billion or $7 billion they're going to gain, what does that compare to, as far as what Iran is losing because they're failing to comply with the United Nations Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency requirements?

RHODES: Over the last year and a half or so, since we started enforcing the most crippling sanctions we've put on Iran, they're somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 billion in frozen reserves. Access that is -- funds that are being denied to the Iranian government based on their oil sales and being cut off from the global financial system. You're talking about significant amounts of revenue they're denied on an annual basis. So the $6 billion or $7 billion is a fraction of that $100 billion frozen around the world. Because we'll be continuing to enforce those sanctions, that revenue that is frozen will continue to go up. So I think that the relief should be seen in that perspective. It's also reversible relief. If they don't meet their end of the bargain, we turn it off and the relief is cut off and the sanctions are back fully in place.

BLITZER: One final question, Ben, before I let you go. An American Christian pastor has been held in detention by the Iranians for a while. He's been sentenced to eight years in prison for questionable charges.

There's a picture of this pastor and his family. They would like him out.

Here's the question a lot of people are asking right now who have been familiar with this case. Why didn't you and maybe you did, but you'll tell me if you did, ask the Iranians to do a gesture, release this Christian pastor to show good faith, some good will?

RHODES: We did exactly that. We raised two issues with the Iranians in our discussions with them. One is the nuke program. The other is Americans detained in Iran. President Obama raised it with President Rouhani when they spoke. We've raised it at the working level on the margins of the P5-plus-1 talks. That includes this pastor. It also includes other Americans. For instance, we've been concerned about, of course, the whereabouts of Bob Levinson, missing for a long time. Another issue we raised very regularly with the Iranians. And we have said to them it would be the right thing to do not just for legal purposes but humanitarian purposes to let these Americans come home.

BLITZER: What do they say? Why not show good will? Why not release Bob Levinson, a former FBI agent, missing for several years, this Christian pastor? Why don't they show some good will and release these Americans?

RHODES: Well, with Bob Levinson, we've been working hard to establish his whereabouts. With these other Americans, we know who are in custody, including the pastor. The Iranians make assertions based on their own legal system. We reject those assertions that these individuals have a legal basis for being detains. So essentially, this has been a back-and-forth that we've had with the Iranians.

Wolf, it shows one thing, which is we're trying to resolve the nuclear issue, which is of great concern to us. But even as we're doing that, it doesn't lessen our concern about other activities of the Iranian government. The detention of Americans, also their activities in the region as it relates to support for Hezbollah, support for Assad. So our concerns extend beyond the nuclear issue. But if we can deal with the nuclear issue through this negotiation, get a peaceful resolution that assures us that they cannot develop a nuclear weapon, that would be in our interests. And that's what we're trying to get done through these diplomatic efforts.

BLITZER: As far as the Obama administration is concerned, you still regard Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism?

RHODES: Absolutely, Wolf. Just taking their support for Hezbollah and some of the attacks we've seen across the region and, indeed, in different parts of the world over the last several years, we have very serious concerns about Iran's support for terrorism.

At the same time, we want to deal with the nuclear issue, in part, because we want to make sure Iran can never develop a nuclear weapon, which would make its support for terrorism that much more disturbing.

BLITZER: Ben Rhodes, is assistant to the president for national security affairs, an advisor on communications.

Thanks very much, Ben, for coming in.

RHODES: Thanks, Wolf. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: While the Obama administration considers this a diplomatic breakthrough, our next guest is cautioning that the president should be more careful. The former Senator, Joe Lieberman, is standing by live. We'll get a different perspective from him right after this.


BLITZER: While the European Union has welcomed the news that a deal with Tehran has been reached, Israel has not. It has criticized the deal. Benjamin Netanyahu issue a statement saying, quote, "It is true the international pressure which we applied was partly successful and has led to a better result than what was originally planned, but this is still a bad deal."

The secretary of state, John Kerry, says the deal will actually help Israel's security.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: I believe that, from this day, for the next six months, Israel is in fact, safer than it was yesterday because we now have a mechanism by which we are going to expand the amount of time in which they can break out rather than narrow it. We are going to have insights to their program that we didn't have before.


BLITZER: All right. So let's bring in the former Senator, the former vice presidential nominee, Joe Lieberman, he is joining us.

Thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: A few days ago, you wrote an important op-ed article in the "Washington Post" saying, "Given Iran's history, the U.S. needs to be very wary of dealing with the Iranians." What are your thoughts about this current six-month deal?

LIEBERMAN: Well, the point of the op-ed that I wrote was to say that when we deal with Iran, we're not dealing with a friend. The more I have dealt in foreign policy, the more it seems to me like human relations. You've got to know who your friends are and who your enemies are, and don't treat your enemies like friends till they prove they've changes. Iran is an enemy. There's American blood on Iranian hands, going way back to the Marine barracks in Beirut a long time ago. And, of course, they're an autocratic government that represses their own people, contrary to our own values.

But relevant to this agreement, the Iranians have a terrible record of not keeping agreements and, frankly, of lying. The main point I wanted to make in that op-ed was, when you negotiate with Iran, be careful. And frankly, if I had my way, I wouldn't have seen the U.S. or the P5-plus-1 negotiate an interim agreement. I would have held out, kept the sanctions on, and gone for the comprehensive agreement, because the interim agreement seems to set a new normal, which is really an unsustainable and bad one. BLITZER: Don't you have to start somewhere in dealing with an adversary? You know the U.S. was once bitter enemies with Japan or Germany or even China. So you start with modest steps and try to improve a relationship and hope that thing will change. This is a relatively modest step, but potentially very significant.

LIEBERMAN: Well, time will tell. I mean, this probably is a historic agreement but we won't note till six months or beyond. I mean, if it sets up the situation for a comprehensive agreement, which I doubt, then it will be historically positive. If, as I fear it creates a new normal where people decide Iran's open for business again, and yet, they've given up none of their nuclear infrastructure really and are just as ready to build a nuclear weapon as they were yesterday, then this will be seen as a historically catastrophic agreement which made the world much more insecure.

I always believe that you've got to talk to your enemies, but what I'm saying here is, I believe it was a mistaking to enter into an interim agreement. I think the better course for us and our allies would have been to negotiate to a comprehensive agreement. It's going to be tough. But I'd rather learn that up front than create this entirely new situation where people start doing business with Iran again. And if we don't enter into the full comprehensive agreement, the world's going to be a lot less safe.

BLITZER: Senator Lieberman, thanks so much for joining us. Have a happy Thanksgiving and a Happy Hanukkah this week, as well. We always like having you here on CNN.

LIEBERMAN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

LIEBERMAN: Same to you, Wolf. All the best.

BLITZER: We'll take a quick break. Much more news right after this.


BLITZER: Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. This just coming into CNN right now.

Jim, the administration now talking about that November 30th deadline, if you will, for getting the Obamacare website operational. They have been saying now for the vast majority of Americans for several weeks. How does it look?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what they're saying right now -- and this was just said by the deputy press secretary, Josh Earnest, in a press gaggle aboard Air Force One in California. The president is moving from San Francisco to Los Angeles later today, but en route to San Francisco, Josh Earnest telling reporters that that site will be ready. He said it will be ready for the vast majority of users on November 30th. That they feel like at this point, they're going to hit that target date and he said that because for a couple of things. They feel like they have gotten the error rate down, that they have also gotten more capacity. They believe that 50,000 concurrent users can use as we speak right now, and they feel like that will be the case on November 30th.

I did talk to a senior administration official about all of this who cautions that, once again, this website will not be perfect. Will not be perfect on November 30th, but they do feel like it will be ready for the vast majority of users. That's been the metric they've been using for the last several years, the vast majority of users on the website will be able to sign up and get health insurance.

Of course, all of this is coming at, hopefully, at least in the eyes of the White House, at a good time for them, because had they reached the deadline of November 30th and they were still having these website issues, there's no telling how much political trouble they would have been in up on capitol hill -- Wolf?

BLITZER: We'll see what happens by November 30th, in the next few days.

Jim Acosta, over at the White House, thank you.

Coming up, we remember Lee Harvey Oswald's other victim. A closer look at the life of the Dallas police officer, J.D. Tippit. That's next.


BLITZER: Remembering the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, but he wasn't the only one killed by Lee Harvey Oswald on that day in 1963. On today's "American Journey," Anderson Cooper remembers the Dallas police officer, J.D. Tippit.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As the bells rang out in Dealey Plaza to commemorate John Kennedy, an 85-year-old great grandmother watched and listened, and more than anyone in the audience, she must have felt a double heartache. The nation had lost a president. She had lost a husband.


WALTER CRONKITE, FORMER NEWS ANCHOR: A Dallas police officer was shot and killed while chasing a suspect.


COOPER: Marie Tippit was home that day. She remembers her husband coming home for a quick lunch before he headed back to his patrol car. She told NBC News, it was suddenly a very hectic day.

MARIE TIPPIT, WIFE OF J.D. TIPPIT: They had called him and told him a description of the person that they were looking for.

COOPER: That person was Lee Harvey Oswald. Tippit drove to the Oak Cliff neighborhood in Dallas. He pulled over at intersection of 10th and Patton and stopped a man on the street. As he got out of his patrol car, Lee Harvey Oswald fired three times from a .38 caliber revolver. He shot Tippit a fourth time as the officer lay on the ground. J.D. Tippit died instantly.

TIPPIT: I couldn't believe it. It was just unreal.

COOPER: Marie Tippit was in agony as they buried her husband. She had three children to raise and a pension of $232 a month from the Dallas police. Donations from a grateful public ultimately added up to almost $650,000.

Today, there's a memorial plaque at the corner of 10th and Patton in honor of J.D. Tippit, but it took almost a half century to make it happen. It was dedicated last year. She told the Dallas news, quote, "I'm proud we have it. It will be a good thing for history to remember what happened here."

Anderson Cooper, CNN


BLITZER: Officer J.D. Tippit as well.

Thank you, Anderson.

Let's do a quick check of the markets right now. The Dow Jones Industrials is up about 35 points. Investors seem to be welcoming the nuclear deal with Iran and its promise to bring more international stability. The price of oil dropped more than a dollar a barrel on the news this morning. That's because the deal could mean a big increase in the amount of Iranian oil out there on the world's market. The price has since come back a little bit.

That's it for me this hour. I'll be back 5:00 p.m. eastern in "The Situation Room." Thanks very much for watching.

NEWSROOM continues right now with Brooke Baldwin.