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Can Iran Be Trusted with Nuclear Deal?

Aired January 23, 2014 - 18:28   ET



ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, is the U.S. keeping Iran from building a nuclear bomb or getting fooled? President Obama says...

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Key parts of the program will be rolled back.

ANNOUNCER: But Iran's president just told CNN...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will not accept any limitations.

ANNOUNCER: Who's correct? On the left, Stephanie Cutter. On the right, Newt Gingrich. In the CROSSFIRE, Tom Perriello, a Democrat and former congressman, and Rick Santorum, a former senator and presidential candidate. Is Iran fooling itself or the U.S.? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.


STEPHANIE CUTTER, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Stephanie Cutter on the left.

NEWT GINGRICH, CO-HOST: I'm Newt Gingrich on the right. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, guests with very different views of President Obama's foreign policy.

Here's how I see it. Libya is in chaos. Syria is in chaos. Iraq is descending into chaos. Pakistan is a mess. Afghanistan is teetering on the edge, and then you have the Iranians.

Within the past two weeks, CNN has recorded three things that should alarm every American. First, Iran's president tweeted the world's powers surrendered to Iran's will. Second, Iran's foreign minister declared his country isn't dismantling any of its centrifuges. And then you have Iran's president today explaining to CNN's Fareed Zakaria what those chants of "death to America," like you hear in "Argo," really mean.


HASSAN ROUHANI, PRESIDENT OF IRAN: What they mean to say relates to the aggressive policies of the U.S. and intervention and meddling by the U.S. We don't want those to continue.

(END VIDEO CLIP) GINGRICH: Well, I would just suggest to you that, if an American leader was wandering around chanting "death to Iran," it would be really hard to explain that we didn't mean it; it was all symbolic. And frankly, if you go all the way back to the original incidents that are captured in the movie "Argo," they've had a long tradition now of over 30 years of behaving as though they mean it.

CUTTER: You're right, Newt. They have a long tradition of saying things exactly like that.

But what matters here is that, for the first time in decades, we have an agreement in place that has halted Iran's nuclear weapons program. It's a temporary agreement that gives us space to negotiate a broader deal. This is real progress for the first time in decades that the American government under the leadership of President Obama has been able to accomplish.

This with world powers, including China and Russia, are enforcing a deal with Iran to make sure that they are not producing weapons-grade uranium, are dismantling some of their capabilities with their centrifuges and unprecedented transparency. This is happening all under the spotlight of international inspectors.

So I don't understand how you can't call that progress. But we're going to get to that.

GINGRICH: We're going to get to that.

CUTTER: You're not going answer right now. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, former Democratic Congressman Tom Perriello, who's now with the Center for American Progress, and former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum. He's now chairman of Patriot Voices.

Senator Santorum, I want to start with you. You've had some very smart advice about Iran back in 2012. I want you to take a look at this.

RICK SANTORUM, CHAIRMAN, PATRIOT VOICES: I would be saying to the Iranians, "You either open up those facilities, you begin to dismantle them and make them available to the inspectors, or we will degrade those facilities through air strikes."

CUTTER: How is that different from what President Obama right now -- how exactly is that different? Because we're dismantling. There's unprecedented transparency, and we've made clear that all options are still on the table.

SANTORUM: Well, first off, there's three elements to a nuclear program. There's the development of the material, the uranium, the enrichment of that. Secondly, there's a weaponization of that. And third, there's the delivery capability.

The two -- two of the three are not even being discussed. The weaponization continues. The research continues on the weaponizing of the uranium. Secondly, they're obviously continuing to develop longer and longer- range missiles to deliver that. Why the Iranians have to develop long-range missiles that are capable of carrying nuclear warheads if they have no interest in a nuclear weapon is sort of a little fuzzy.

CUTTER: But you understand what this deal is. This is a temporary deal to give us space to negotiate...

SANTORUM: What this -- what this deal is, is a respite...

CUTTER: ... a longer program to halt their development of weapons grade uranium.

SANTORUM: What this is, is a respite for the Iranians whose economy is being crushed by sanctions. And they're starting to feel it. I was the author of the Iran Freedom Support Act, which put in a layer of those sanctions. And I believed over time that if, in fact, we had real sufficient sanctions and got international support for them, that the Iranians would, in fact, come to the table.

But what the president has done -- what the president has done is given them a respite on what I would consider not a critical path part of their weapons development in exchange for economic relief that solidifies the regime.

And what you're hearing from the Iranians is they're not really slowing down anything. They're not really slowing -- this is not really doing anything to...

CUTTER: I just have one last question.

SANTORUM: ... to change the timeline for their program.

CUTTER: You have to admit that it's progress. That they have stopped making weapons-grade uranium and that they are diluting what they already have. You have to admit that that's progress.

SANTORUM: The heavy water reactor construction continues. The -- as I've mentioned before...

CUTTER: And that's all part of a potential comprehensive deal.

SANTORUM: But it's not even on the table. I mean...

CUTTER: Is on the table for a long-term deal.

SANTORUM: What we've done -- what we've done is give them what they need, which is access to economic growth, which is harmful for the long term for our chances of getting any permanent deal.

GINGRICH: Tom, you just came back from a very impressive trip to the Syrian camps along the Turkish -- in Turkey, along the Turkish border. So you've been in the region. You understand the people often talk differently than we do.

But I want to come back to the president of Iran talking about the notion of death to America. Here's what he actually said in the campaign. Remember, this is the moderate wing of the dictatorship.

He said, "Saying death to America is easy. We need to express death to America with action."

Now, I just want to ask you to sort of interpret for us Americans how should we interpret somebody who says "We're going to express death to America with action?"

I understand Stephanie's point that a deal has been cut, although the Iranians say publicly we are -- the White House is exaggerating what the deal is, even for the interim. But how do you interpret death to America?

TOM PERRIELLO, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Well, I mean, first of all we have to understand we're not entering into this agreement because we want to have, you know, play time with Rouhani. We're not looking to be friends with this guy. We're looking to make a deal that's in the strategic interest of the United States and of our crucial allies of the region, including Israel and others.

And to enter in that negotiation, if I want to sell my house, I don't necessarily care if the person I'm selling my house to is a jerk. I care whether I'm getting a good deal on selling my house.

And right now what we have is we've entered into a deal where, despite what Senator Santorum said, we've basically given up nothing in return for an upside gain of potentially getting a deal. I don't -- I think there's no reason for real optimism that that deal is going to come through, but we've also risked almost nothing. The sanctions remain in place. A tiny amount of the discretionary sanctions are there. Even Iran's own assessment is that there will be 1 percent economic growth. I've tried to run for office with 1 percent economic growth. It's not a good thing.

They feel tremendous pressure. That's why you see the Davos charm effective. But the fact is, they know they're not out of the woods. They're nowhere close to out of the woods on the kind of economic crushing sanctions that are in place, not just by the United States but by our allies, which is one of the things President Obama has been able to do is not make this about the U.S. versus Iran that united the world in creating that economic pressure.

So now we have an upside chance for an absolute game-changer in the region if we can pull back that program and, if it falls through, and there's reason to believe is falls through, we're no worse off than we were before. We have all the sanctions. We can ratchet back up the discretionary sanctions, and we continue that program. So to me, this is a pretty good negotiation where you've given up little and had a lot of upside.

GINGRICH: What's your interpretation?

SANTORUM: Well, my interpretation of death to America is that they mean it. The Iranians have declared war on the United States and have been in a state of war with the United States since the revolution in 1979. There is nothing -- there is nothing in the history of Iran, moderates to conservatives, if you will, or radicals in the government that gives you any indication that they are willing to back down one inch from their desire to get a nuclear weapon.

We need to deal with this as the Israelis are dealing with it, as a life-and-death situation, because it's going to be a life-and-death situation. Iran with a nuclear weapon very well means the end of the state of Israel. And we aren't taking it that seriously. I don't think we're doing anything that the Israelis would like to see us do, which is actually do something to degrade that capability.

PERRIELLO: But we have degraded it, right? Bibi Netanyahu put a cartoon bomb up. He drew a red line, and he said we can't be at this line. This interim deal -- even the interim deal absolutely brings that back. It halts and it brings down the enriched uranium to 20 percent. It doesn't deal with everything. No interim agreement does. But it absolutely moves back what Netanyahu and Israel said was the existential, most urgent threat.

SANTORUM: What degrades the capability of this -- of the Iranians is -- are doing things to degrade it. Like viruses and worm that get into their computer systems. Like other types of accidents that occur to people in Iran who happen to be working on the nuclear program.

We don't see evidence of the United States doing anything to actually physically degrade this capability. What we see is a lot of talk that is, well, at best uncertain as to what -- what that deal is about.

PERRIELLO: I would take strong policy over strong rhetoric. And I think in the Bush years, we made Iran a lot stronger. The terrible war in Iraq and some other things.


CUTTER: OK. Next, I'm going to tell you how President Obama has taken a page from, I think, somebody that you're probably both fans of, Ronald Reagan. So stay here.


CUTTER: Welcome back. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Tom Perriello and Rick Santorum.

Iran's president had some tough talk today. He told CNN his country won't, under any circumstances, destroy centrifuges that could be used to make a nuclear bomb. Well, that's up for negotiation.

What Iran has agreed to is a temporary halt of its nuclear weapons program. This lets the U.S. negotiate without the threat of a nuclear bomb launching towards Israel or the United States.

And guess what? Iran is living up to its side of the agreement, at least so far. They're ending their enrichment program and opening it up, in an unprecedented level of transparency, for international inspectors. Remember the old Ronald Reagan adage, trust but verify? Well, that's what the Obama administration is doing and the rest of the world is actually doing.

Despite all the bluster, Iran has backed down.

So Senator Santorum, I want to come back to you for a second. Over a decade ago, President Bush declared this in defining his foreign policy. Let's watch.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: States like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.


CUTTER: Now, we all remember who he was talking about. He was talking about Iran, Iraq and North Korea.

Now, 11 years later, knowing what we know now, wouldn't you agree that he focused on the wrong country there that started with the letter "I"? What we did in Iraq actually weakened our hands in dealing with the threat from Iran, we let them get stronger and build the capability that they have now?

SANTORUM: I actually argued at the time that Iran was the greater threat, that they are the ones and in fact for a long time argued that we should have been focused on Iran.

CUTTER: We should have found that clip.

SANTORUM: And back when I was running for re-election, back in 2006, in the middle of the Iraq war I was asked a question by Tim Russert. They said, you know, what's the greatest threat to the country? I said Iran. He said you misspoke, you meant Iraq. I said, no, Iran.

And I've always felt that, that, you know, this is a theocracy that has very clear intent. You say, well -- you know, he said under no circumstances will we release -- you know, we dismantle our program and you said, well, but that's subject to negotiation. Maybe you just didn't hear what he said. No, it's not subject to negotiation.

CUTTER: Well, that's what negotiation is.

SANTORUM: No, but they're very clear. They have been very, very clear --

CUTTER: They were also clear that they weren't going to negotiate over their uranium. So --

SANTORUM: But they have done nothing -- they have done nothing irreversible. They have done nothing they can't the next day simply reconstitute and put back.

CUTTER: Absolutely, and that's what Tom said earlier. But there's nothing for us to lose. If there's anything, we're moving it forward. SANTORUM: What we lose -- what we lose is our credibility, and that's the problem with this president is he draws red lines and he loses credibility when he doesn't stand up and support, particularly our allies in the region. The Israelis have been very clear. They don't like these negotiations, they don't support these negotiations, they see them as a hindrance to getting Iran to --

CUTTER: For the first time in a decade, their program has stopped, which means they're not making progress on creating a bomb pointed towards Israel.

GINGRICH: I want to ask Tom the same thing about credibility. It struck me as we were looking at all this today that actually a person in chess terms in a very interesting fork is Secretary Clinton. If in fact this does fail, then it's a continuation of what under her was four years of failure. On the other hand, if this does succeed, you have this remarkably successful Secretary of State Kerry who's able to achieve what Secretary Clinton couldn't achieve.

I mean, isn't she in some ways the person who has the greatest paradoxical interest on what's going on in the Middle East?

PERRIELLO: Well, first of all, I don't think she would see it that way. I think she's interested in what's good for the United States. So, if we get a deal that removes this threat, that's good for everybody.

I also think in both parties we need to get away from the idea that if you try something and it fails, that makes you a failure. We actually have to get more creative about trying in all elements of our public policy. You cannot do risk-free foreign policy and do great things. You can't do risk-free domestic policy.

Now, I'm going on a tangent there, but I think it's relevant. In this case, the Iran deal could fail and that doesn't mean that it was right to try it. What would be wrong would have been to give something up while trying it.

GINGRICH: So, in terms of trying great things, you know, the president could succeed in doing for national security what he did for Obamacare. He could end up with the equivalent of the Web site --

CUTTER: Lower the un-insurance (ph) rate?

GINGRICH: Let me ask you a second thing about Hillary, if you don't mind.


GINGRICH: There's a new cover coming out on "The New York Times" called "Planet Hillary." This is probably the media's obsession for the moment. And today, we learned that Planet Hillary has a new powerful satellite orbiting around it which is one of the pieces, I said it right, one of the pieces of the Obama team, a Priorities USA super PAC. Now, my first thought is this was a bad sign for Joe Biden. But in addition, it reinforces the notion -- isn't she in the end tied to the president's record? If she runs in 2016, won't it be almost impossible for her to try to represent some kind of a new start in Washington?

PERRIELLO: I think Secretary Clinton had an identity in the eyes of the American people before they knew who Barack Obama was. I think she served as a great secretary of state and senator. I think she is a force of nature in her own right. I think people are going to judge her based on the extent they think she can be commander in chief.

Sure, she will answer for decisions she made as secretary of state. People understand ultimately those calls come down to the commander in chief, and that's the job she would be running for if she chooses to do so, and I think we would be lucky as a country if she does.

CUTTER: Since you brought up 2016, I want to bring it to the Republicans. Let's talk about Chris Christie. Now, the investigation of what's happening in New Jersey is widening. The U.S. attorney issued some subpoenas today. I think this is going to be a long investigation, and who knows what it's going to uncover.

Did he disqualify himself as a nominee for the party?

SANTORUM: I give the Democrats a lot of credit. They play politics a lot harder than Republicans do.

CUTTER: Not a lot harder than Chris Christie.

SANTORUM: And they are doing it here. I mean, the U.S. attorney here is clearly stretching his political tentacles to go after a popular Republican politician. The media seems very obsessed with picking up on everything he may have done. Yet, they ask virtually no question about Hillary Clinton and Benghazi and she's --

CUTTER: These are subpoenas by the U.S. attorney.

SANTORUM: She hasn't been accountable with what's going on. In fact, the media has done their best to try to whitewash the action --


CUTTER: So, you're not going to answer the question about Chris Christie being disqualified.

SANTORUM: I think it's way too early to determine whether -- look, I went through a presidential campaign where in five months, we saw six leaders. So, I think we're a long way from --

GINGRICH: Let me ask you something which is more important than bridgegate and something which covers you having been back in the Middle East.

It strikes me that there is, that al Qaeda is still much more dangerous than we normally want to give it credit for. They are in Fallujah. They are, as you know, in parts of Syria. Their allies in a variety of forms are mutating and evolving all over the place and the massacre and the Nairobi mall.

Isn't it a fact that in many ways these things are getting to be more dangerous and, in fact, they're getting more recruits that we're not, in fact, winning the long term? This is not about Obama. This is about the United States. We are not winning the long-term struggle for young people in the region?

PERRIELLO: Well, whether it's more or less, it is a very serious threat. And I think anyone who thinks that it's not and not people looking to hurt us and our allies off base. I also think the growing isolationism in both parties is dangerous because there is no corner of the world relevant to the United States.

I see Syria as an example of this. I supported a more aggressive posture towards Syria and many said this is not in our interest.

Well, what happens when we pull out the threat of U.S. force is safe havens for al Qaeda move in. So, you have a repressive dictator slaughtering civilians, you have the al Qaeda safe havens, that's both an issue for us morally but also strategically. Al Qaeda does remain a threat.

GINGRICH: Stay here.

SANTORUM: I just want to say, I agree with that. So, there, there's a point of agreement.

GINGRICH: Point of agreement.

Stay here. Next, the final question for both of our guests.

We also want you at home to weigh in on today's "Fireback" question. Is the U.S. getting fooled by Iran? Tweet yes or no using #crossfire. We'll have the results after the break.


GINGRICH: We're back with Tom Perriello and Rick Santorum. Now, it's time for the final question.

You get to go first.

CUTTER: Senator, I want to switch gears a little bit.

SANTORUM: A little bit.

CUTTER: Back to domestic issues.

This was former and presidential candidate -- former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee today at the RNC meeting.


MIKE HUCKABEE (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido without the help of the government, then so be it.


CUTTER: So, there is a lot there to deconstruct. I was going to ask who Uncle Sugar is. But my basic question is, do you agree with that sentiment that an insult to women, particular women who can't afford contraception for the government to come in and say women should have access to this with no out-of-pocket costs?

SANTORUM: I think what Governor Huckabee was saying is that we've seen an unprecedented assault by the Democrats against Republicans claiming there was a war on women when, in fact, there is a -- Republicans have been tremendous in supporting equality of women in the workplace and a whole host of other places. We happen to disagree on reproductive rights and abortion. But on the issue of contraception, I don't think there's a whole lot of disagreement in America. That's one of the things that's most frustrating is there isn't a lot of disagreement on access to contraception. Whether the government should pay for it, there is an agreement.

CUTTER: Do you think language like that, though, helps --

SANTORUM: I think Governor Huckabee --

CUTTER: -- with restoring your image with women?

SANTORUM: I think Governor Huckabee would probably phrase it differently. Mike speaks off the cuff, as some of us are known to do and probably would choose different words to communicate that message.

GINGRICH: I'll take you to a much different and less sexy topic.

PERRIELLO: All right.

GINGRICH: You have been all across the region and we're talking about the concerns of Turkey, for example.

Do you see any place in the region providing sort of a moving towards stability rather than moving towards instability in what you've seen over there?

PERRIELLO: You know, it's obviously, a very difficult time in the region. And some of those things, civil war, Arab Spring continues to be, whether you call it Arab winter, and what-have-you, a development in progress.

You know, Turkey has been relatively stable, but it is also relatively democratic. And you have a potential corruption issue actually relatively good on the Syria issue. How do we balance with those allies? And I think we'll see those (INAUDIBLE)

CUTTER: I wish we could take this conversation much further. Unfortunately, we're short on time. Thanks to Tom Perriello and Rick Santorum.

GINGRICH: Go to Facebook or Twitter to weigh in on our "Fireback" question. Is the U.S. getting fooled by Iran?

Right now, 64 percent of you say yes, 36 percent say no. The debate continues online at, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

CUTTER: From the left, I'm Stephanie Cutter.

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

Join us again tomorrow for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.