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The Politics of Peace; Selling the Iran Deal to the Skeptics; Syria Peace Talks; U.S. Threatens Karzai with "Zero Option"; Imagine a World

Aired November 29, 2013 - 14:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, I'm Christiane Amanpour and welcome to the special weekend edition of our program, where we bring you two of the big stories that we covered this week.

Iran, the United States and major world powers inch closer to a permanent peaceful nuclear deal.

But Afghanistan and the United States seem to be slipping away from sealing a deal that would keep the peace once NATO forces pull out next year.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): First to Iran, where the nuclear negotiators return to a hero's welcome after sealing an interim deal to limit and freeze parts of its nuclear program in return for fairly modest and reversible U.S. sanctions relief. Newspapers hailed their accord.

"This is Iran and everyone is happy," reads one headline, and many Iranians indeed are upbeat.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're happy, actually. We're a lot happy. So after all these tensions we have finally reached an agreement. So with the West, that also protects our rights and also -- I mean, remove their concerns. So of course we're happy. That's -- I think that's everybody's reaction.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): The next day, President Hassan Rouhani, who came into office pledging to ease the crippling economic burdens on the Iranian people, took a page out of the American presidential political playbook, touting his first 100 days in office in a nationally televised broadcast.

But not everyone is upbeat. The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, lambasted the deal as a historic mistake, putting him on a diplomatic collision course with his closest and most powerful ally.

And President Obama faces a tough sales job to persuade him, as well as members of his own Congress, a point I put this week to the Russian ambassador to the United Nations; with Moscow being a strong backer of diplomacy, it's supporting this attempt to resolve Iran's nuclear disputes.


AMANPOUR: As you can see, this deal has been signed, has created a storm of opposition in Israel, in some parts of the Arab world, in the U.S. Congress.

What can you say about your confidence that this deal will be kept to, that Iran won't break out, that there is sufficient verification?

Do you feel that?

VITALY IVANOVICH CHURKIN, PERMANENT REPRESENTATIVE OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Yes, we do. You know, it's because it's not a rhetorical deal. It's something which is setting in train (ph) very important steps from Iran and the international community and cooperation with Iran.

The nuclear program of Iran, the enrichment program, will essentially be not stopped but sort of not developed any further and, in some cases, turned back. What I'm referring to is the intention of Iran to dilute some of the uranium which was enriched to 20 percent.

New verification measures are being put in place. A joint commission is going to be -- is established between the six and Iran involving IAEA and its inspectors.

So this is -- I mean, the paper has been released. It's a pretty detailed and very serious deal which I believe is a great achievement, both for the six and for Iran and it's particularly important that we are finally talking in practical things and there is a real opportunity here to get rid of this specter of Iranian nuclear weapon.

And if this is -- if it were to happen -- and we believe that there is a very good chance of that -- then this threat to Israel, which has been hanging over their heads for such a long time, will be taken care of.

So I think that the Israelis and other doubters should give everybody an opportunity, those who are involved in the actual negotiations, to move ahead on this deal. And that might turn around the entire situation in the bigger region. It will have a positive impact on Syria; will hopefully have a positive impact on the Israeli-Palestinian track and the entire situation of the Middle East.

So we're really at a crucial point now. And we are very pleased and encouraged that we are beginning to turn away from the logic of confrontation on the use of military force to dialogue and involvement. This is something which Russia has been advocating for a long time.

AMANPOUR: It's going to be much more difficult to reach the comprehensive deal, don't you agree?

CHURKIN: Not necessarily. I think many of the elements are already there in this document. If the things which are described in the document happen, then both sides will have the confidence that, really, they are dealing with the situation seriously and I think actually they were setting their sights even higher, saying that the deal -- the definitive deal must be not only signed but implemented within 12 months.


AMANPOUR: Now as the ink on the interim deal was drying and Netanyahu was dispatching his national security adviser to the White House for urgent consultation, I got their take from Mr. Obama's deputy national security adviser, Benjamin Rhodes.


AMANPOUR: Ben Rhodes, thank you very much for joining me.

Do you believe that the prime minister is being naive by believing that sanctions will force Iran to completely surrender its nuclear program?

BEN RHODES, OBAMA'S DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, with respect to Prime Minister Netanyahu, I believe that Israel has a right to be skeptical of Iran and its intentions. Given the threats made out of Iran towards Israel in recent years, it's understandable that they would take a very hard line in terms of what they want to see in an agreement.

We did have a tactical difference with the Israelis about whether to do this first step. And our case was let's do this first step to halt the program so that they're not making progress over the course of the next six months.

With regard to your question, though, it is not our judgment that you can just sanction Iran to the point to which they capitulate and essentially give up everything in return for nothing.

We believe that there has to be some diplomatic back-and-forth, which was why we were willing to provide albeit limited sanctions relief on this front end of the deal, because ultimately we need to reach an agreement between the P5+1 and Iran.

We believe sanctions, again, are a part of the pressure that brought them to the table; we wouldn't be where we are without sanctions. But ultimately you have to use those sanctions to get a diplomatic resolution.

AMANPOUR: But let me just play this sound bite, because the sort of argument of the day is over enrichment. Let me play this little bit about what Secretary Kerry said about that.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: No, there is no right to enrich. We do not recognize a right to enrich. It is clear in the NPT, in the nonproliferation treaty, it's very, very clear that there is no right to enrich.


AMANPOUR: So I hear what Secretary Kerry is saying loud and clear.

But is this a semantic game, Ben? Because does not the final agreement -- even the interim agreement -- have Iran actually enriching?

Are not these centrifuges still spinning?

RHODES: Well, Christiane, let me say a couple of things.

First of all, we recognize a right to a peaceful nuclear program. We do not recognize a right to a domestic enrichment capability. And the fact of the matter is, right now Iran is in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions that have to do in part with their enrichment.

What we did say, though, is that as part of a final resolution, you could have a mutually agreed-upon state in which Iran's program is much different than it is today. They dismantle the elements of that program; they've accepted constraints, limitations, verification measures and have a very limited enrichment capacity on Iranian soil.

However, that is only if we agree to it. It's only if the P5+1 and the United States defines that end state and agrees to it.

If we cannot get to that state, then essentially we revert to a status quo in which Iran is in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions outside their national obligations and is confronted with pressure. And the first step agreement makes very clear that over the course of the next six months, Iran will have to address those Security Council resolutions.

So the bottom line is it's not a right that they can inherently have based on this agreement or any other; it is something that could be negotiated as a part of an end state in which the international community was assured that they could not develop a nuclear weapon.

AMANPOUR: Right. So just to be clear, in the final agreement, you expect -- there is an expectation or you envision that there will be enrichment under mutually-agreed circumstances and constraints in the final agreement.

RHODES: Yes, if and only if Iran can meet all of our concerns, give us assurance that their program is peaceful, accept significant constraints that meet the test of the United States and the international community, if and only if in that circumstance could we foresee that acceptance of that capability.

However, if Iran does not meet all of our concerns, they maintain their current status quo of being outside of their international obligations.

So to be clear, this is not a right that we are conferring; this is a negotiation to see if we can get to a place where we're assured if we can't get there, they have no right. They continue to face sanctions. They continue to face the leverage of those U.N. Security Council resolutions.

AMANPOUR: And then obviously they continue to enrich, as they have done under 10 years of sanctions.

So I was just trying to understand the enrichment part of it.

Let me just quickly move on to Afghanistan now, where the national security adviser, Susan Rice, has been meeting with the Afghan president.

Can you tell me what is she there to tell President Karzai about the U.S. troop deal?

And is the United States prepared to walk out and take its troops out with no residual force, as it did in Iraq?

RHODES: Well, Christiane, what we have is a BSA, bilateral security agreement, that could allow for U.S. troops to stay in Afghanistan in a very limited number, to carry out two missions, counterterrorism and training of Afghan forces.

The Loya Jirga, that President Karzai convened, approved and accepted this bilateral security agreement, what we've said the President Karzai, however, is that we need to move to complete this, sign it by the end of the year, because the United States needs time to plan for any post-2014 presence. We need to consult with NATO allies who might be a part of that effort.

So we cannot wait, as he has suggested, until after the Afghan election to complete that BSA.

So our message is we've got a good agreement on the table for the American people, for the Afghan people, in terms of meeting our mutual concerns. But we have to get this done and get it done as soon as possible so that we can make the decisions that are necessary about the future of our relationship with Afghanistan.

AMANPOUR: And very finally, on the sanctions and the Iran deal, there's a sort of a mix-up in public about the timeline.

The French are saying the sanctions could start to be eased, the ones that you've agreed to, in December.

Is that correct?

RHODES: Well, we're still working through the modality, essentially, Christiane. What happens is we control some of these funds that will be released to Iran on a metered basis over the course of the six months of the agreement.

So I think we are still setting that timeline.

But it is likely that you will see that within the coming weeks, because the agreement is going into force.

I think it's also important to note, though, that even as we are providing that relief, we are still enforcing the overall (ph) sanctions, the banking sanctions. So Iran will actually be denied more revenue over the life of the agreement than they will gain from this temporary relief that's a part of this first step.

AMANPOUR: Ben Rhodes, thank you very much for joining me from Washington.

RHODES: Thanks, Christiane.


AMANPOUR: Now the next big meeting coming up in Geneva is scheduled for January and it's attempting to bring all sides of Syria's brutal civil war to the peace table for the very first time.

Iran, which provides Assad with his military lifeline, could have a major role to play if it's allowed to take part in the Geneva talks.

The U.S. is so far opposed to that, despite freely admitting that, back in 2001, Iran was instrumental in helping to achieve a political solution in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban.

And that brings us to our other big story of the week, after a surprise visit from national security adviser Susan Rice, the U.S. still has not sealed the deal with President Karzai to keep U.S. forces on the ground to prevent the Taliban's return.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. Fresh off the Iran nuclear deal, the United States ramps up efforts with its partners to talk peace in Syria and in Afghanistan.

National Security Adviser Susan Rice was there this week, trying to persuade President Hamid Karzai to hurry up and sign the deal to keep U.S. forces there or risk having no help to stave off the Taliban once U.S. and NATO forces finally pull out next year.

Although this strange tweet from a former U.S. official close to Rice may not have helped, it reads, "Dear Karzai, you picked the wrong member of the administration to mess with this week. We are not in the grand bazaar. Rice has made her final offer."

Now everyone had thought they had a deal after Afghanistan's tribal elders endorsed keeping U.S. forces at the Loya Jirga in Kabul. But then, out of the blue, Karzai moved the goalposts by refusing to sign until after the presidential election next spring.

So why is he playing with fire and holding out?

I asked someone who knows him very well, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. He served as Karzai's foreign minister, and then he ran against him in the next election in 2009, before dropping out of the race amidst allegations of electoral fraud.


AMANPOUR: And let me warn you, we do have a significant delay on our satellite transmission all the way to Afghanistan.

But welcome, Dr. Abdullah, and please, can you tell me why President Karzai is not signing this deal that was endorsed by the Loya Jirga that he called?

He says he doesn't want to sign it until after the presidential elections next year.

DR. ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, FORMER AFGHAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Thank you, Christiane. Right from the beginning, since quite a few months, this has been my doubt and I had expressed my view over that issue, that these negotiations between Afghanistan and the United States are being delayed not because of the content of the bilateral security agreement, but primarily because of the personal feelings or personal interests of President Karzai and then, in Loya Jirga, President Karzai expressed his views.

And he wanted this deal to be signed later on so he has leverage, and in exchange he asked for good elections. I don't know what did he mean by good elections. As a result of bad elections? He became the president of Afghanistan in 2009. And he was the one who was to be accused of fraudulent elections and he was the culprit behind it.

AMANPOUR: All right.

ABDULLAH: Now he wants to change his story and I think it's -- he wants, in exchange for signing of the agreement, a sort of guarantee about his favorite candidate.

AMANPOUR: All right.

ABDULLAH: That's all that one can say about it (INAUDIBLE).


AMANPOUR: Well, let me ask you, what if he's pushing the envelope -- and it sounds very much like so -- you heard deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes say this has to be signed by the end of this year; otherwise, they won't have the time to put all issues in place.

Susan Rice, the national security adviser, is there, presumably she's giving the same message to President Karzai.

Are you worried that, just like Iraq, the U.S. will pull out its troops when it leaves, with no residual force?

ABDULLAH: In the same way that he has -- he had a miscalculation about the views of the people of Afghanistan, and the way that he could play with the feelings of the people of Afghanistan, he has a miscalculation about the United States as well.

He thinks that whatever happens, there is an interest in the United States to stay here forever for ulterior motives rather than securing Afghanistan or helping -- restoring the stability in the country or fighting terrorism.

So he can do whatever he wants. So it's all based on his miscalculations and also irresponsible attitude towards dangers of the country as well as towards the demands of the people.

AMANPOUR: So the head of the Loya Jirga, the tribal elder, basically pleaded with President Karzai in public to sign the deal now.

What do you think the attitude of the majority of the Afghan people are?

Do they want a residual protective U.S. force?

ABDULLAH: The absolute majority of the people would have wished that, during the past 13 years, President Karzai and the administration, the Afghan administration, should have utilized the opportunity, the golden opportunity, which was there for the interests of Afghanistan and the stability in our region, in much better ways.

After 15 years of U.S. presence or international troops' presence, we would have been able to stand our own feet. But he has misused this opportunity, missed out with this opportunity. And now at this state, people are realistic.

They know that we need the continuation of support, continued support and security in military terms from the United States and the NATO forces and ISAF and the international community as a whole, as well as economic support.

So the people are in favor of the continued engagement with the international community. But he himself has a different view. And he has developed different ideas; he is pursuing his own paths. And there was a lesson for him, that all -- for the leaders like him, which were oblivious about the feelings of their own people, about the thoughts of their own people.

Because the Loya Jirga was handpicked. And even handpicked personalities and people, they independently expressed their views and at the same time President Karzai was not expecting that.

So he has to know that now he's out of touch with the people's opinion and he has to listen to his own people, if not to the friends of Afghanistan.

AMANPOUR: So do you think he'll change his mind and sign on after his meeting with Susan Rice?

And if not, what do you think is the risk of not having a U.S. residual force after 2014?

ABDULLAH: Whether he were going to change his mind or not, he is highly unpredictable these days. He has been like this since quite a few months.

But I think what is expected from him is much more responsible attitude towards the interests of the country. The risk of U.S. troops leaving Afghanistan today or tomorrow or zero option is risking the -- losing all the achievements of the past 13 years and messing up with the contributions or sacrifices of the people of Afghanistan and friends of Afghanistan.

And getting the situation back to the old days, mainly due to the failure of President Karzai's administration, mainly because of that, and also because of the conditions which are prevailing in the country and in our region.

AMANPOUR: Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, thank you very much for your sober assessment. Thank you for joining me.


AMANPOUR: And given the political pressure at home to withdraw American troops, this might yet be the last Christmas they'll celebrate in Afghanistan. After a break, from candle power to a dazzling display of Christmas lights. Put on your shades, Santa, and prepare for landing. That's when we come back.



AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, in a time of nuclear diplomacy and sparring over foreign forces, imagine a world where peace on Earth and goodwill is rekindled by half a million electric light bulbs. Forget decking the halls with boughs of holly. The Richards family of Canberra, Australia, have decked their house with 500,000 Christmas lights, 50 kilometers of wire and who knows how many extension cords.

They're in a friendly fight for first place in lights with a family in New York. Their spectacular display, which will cost over $2,000 in electric bills, broke the Guinness World Records for Christmas light bulbs, an electrifying achievement that would warm the heart of Thomas Edison. It was one of his team of inventors who strung the first electric Christmas tree lights back in 1892.

Before Edison's eureka, Christmas trees were lit by little candles, a dangerous decoration that helped make December the most fire-prone month of the year.

Today, with Christmas lights gone wild, the greatest danger is that Santa's reindeer will be blinded by the glare and overshoot the rooftop. And to think: Rudolph only needed one shiny red nose.

And that's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always contact us at our website, Thanks for watching and goodbye from London.