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Hagel Steps Down as US Defense Secretary; Iran Nuclear Deadline Extended to July 1

Aired November 24, 2014 - 11:37   ET



BECKY ANDERSON, HOST: All right, you're watching CNN, this is CONNECT THE WORLD, live from Abu Dhabi with me, Becky Anderson. You're joining us

as news out of Washington somewhat overshadows what are the extension of nuclear talks between Iran and world powers in Vienna.

As we've just heard, US president Barack Obama confirming within the past half hour that his defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, is stepping down.

Here is how the president made that announcement.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Chuck, I also want to thank you on a personal level. We come from different parties, but in

accepting this position, you sent a powerful message, especially to folks in this city, that when it comes to our national security and caring for

our troops and their families, we are all Americans first.

When I nominated you for this position, you said that you'd always give me your honest advice and informed counsel. You have. When it's

mattered most, behind closed doors in the Oval Office, you've always given it to me straight, and for that, I will always be grateful.

CHUCK HAGEL, US DEFENSE SECRETARY: It's been the greatest privilege of my life -- the greatest privilege of my life to lead, and most

important, to serve. To serve with the men and women of the Defense Department and support their families. I am immensely proud of what we've

accomplished during this time.


ANDERSON: That is what happened in Washington just in the past half hour. Clearly, as I've suggested, somewhat overshadowing what have been

incredibly important talks that are going on in Vienna, the nuclear talks, the Iranian nuclear talks.

And word that a deadline to reach an agreement has been extended. Very busy news day today. We're told the parties have agreed to a March

1st deadline for a political framework and July 1st for a final deal. Negotiators have been scrambling to meet a midnight deadline. Low-level

talks set to resume next month, but the location has not yet been determined.

According to reports, Britain's foreign secretary says Tehran will be able to access about $700 million a month in frozen assets during the

deadline extension period. So, much to discuss with Nic Robertson, who is live in Vienna, which is the site of the talks. Before we come to you,

Nic, let's go to John Kerry who is, as we speak, at a news conference. Let's listen in.

JOHN KERRY, US SECRETARY OF STATE: -- today to a deal that would make the entire world, especially our allies and partners in Israel and in the

Gulf, safer and more secure.

Is it possible that in the end we just won't arrive at a workable agreement? Absolutely. We are certainly not going to sit at the

negotiating table forever absent measurable progress.

But given how far we have come over the past year, and particularly in the last few days, this is not, certainly, the time to get up and walk

away. These issues are enormously complex. They require a lot of tough political decisions, and they require very rigorous technical analysis of


It takes time to work through the possible solutions that could effectively accomplish our goals and that give the leaders of all countries

confidence in the decisions that they are being asked to make.

So our experts will meet again very soon. In fact, we will have a meeting in December as soon as possible in order to continue this work and

to drive this --


KERRY: -- as hard as we can. And as the parties continue to negotiate, all of the current restraints on the nuclear program in Iran

will remain in place.

Now, let me make it clear. Our goal in these negotiations is not a mystery. It is not a political goal. It is not an ideological goal. It

is a practical goal, a goal of common sense, and it is achievable.

The United States and our EU and P5 Plus 1 Partners -- the UK, France, Germany, Russia, and China -- a group of nations that doesn't always see

eye-to-eye, agree unanimously about what the viable agreement would need to look like.

First and foremost, a viable agreement would have to close off all of the pathways for Iran to get fissile material for a nuclear weapon. A

viable agreement would have to include a new level of transparency and verification beyond the expanded access that we've had under the JPOA.

And as these conditions are met, a viable agreement would also include for Iran relief from the international nuclear-related sanctions that

helped to bring them to the table to negotiate in the first place.

And because of the nature of these talks, we should not -- and I emphasize, we will not in the days ahead -- discuss the details of the

negotiations. And we're doing that simply to preserve the space to be able to make the choices that lie ahead.

But I can tell you that progress was indeed made on some of the most vexing challenges we face, and we now see the path told potentially

resolving some issues that have been intractable.

I want to emphasize, this agreement, like any agreement regarding security particularly, cannot be based on trust. Because trust can't be

built overnight. Instead, the agreement has to be based on verification, on measures that serve to build confidence over time.

I want to make it even further clearer to everybody here, we really want this to work. But not at the cost of just anything. We want to reach

a comprehensive deal, and we want it to work for everybody.

And we want the people of Iran to get the economic relief that they seek and to be able to rejoin the international community. We want to

terminate the sanctions. Yes, we want to terminate the sanctions, which were put in place to get us to these negotiations and ultimately to be able

to bring about a deal.

But the world -- and I underscore this -- not just the United States, not just the P5 Plus 1 -- the world still has serious questions about

Iran's nuclear program. And for the sanctions to be terminated, we need Iran to take concrete, verifiable steps to answer those questions. That's

the bottom line.

And for my friends in the United States Congress, with whom I spent almost 30 years in the United States Senate, I would say that together we

have been through some tough policy deliberations. I had the responsibility of chairing the Foreign Relations Committee when we put the

sanctions regime in place that has helped us get this far.

I believe in the institution and the critical role that the Senate has to play and the House. We have stayed in close consultation throughout

this process, and we will continue to do so, and we look for your support for this extension and for continued --

ANDERSON: John Kerry speaking in Vienna at what are the P5 Plus 1 talks as he confirms a seven-month extension to those talks. He says he

wants a political agreement in four months. He says the world still has serious problems with the Iranian nuclear program, and he says that talks

cannot be based on trust alone, because confidence takes time to build. Any agreement, he says, needs to be based on verification.

And he says because of the nature of the talks, we will not be releasing details of these negotiations. He said a similar thing, I

remember, back in August of last year, when the talks were announced between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Clearly, we know that news does leak out, but at this stage, at least, warning I guess as much the media as anybody else that the details of these

negotiations as they continue into next year between Iran and P5 Plus 1 will not be discussed in the open.

Let's get you some analysis on that. Nic Robertson is standing by. He is in Vienna outside the building where this news conference is

currently being held, and Reza Sayah is in Tehran for you this evening. Nic, starting with you, your response to what we've heard from John Kerry

just in the last few moments?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, of course, we've all been waiting to hear what those details of the good

progress that John Kerry and the State Department have been suggesting all day has been made, and that they've given the good progress as the reason -

- and John Kerry's given it now as the reason to continue, that there's been an extension until July next year.

But, as you said, he has been very, very clear we should not and we will not release the details. The reason, he says, is to continue to

create the space for the talks to go on. That any leakage of information would be detrimental.

He also went on to say that some of this progress has been all -- and he seemed to indicate some of the sort of more significant steps in

progress have happened in the last few days rather than over the last year -- he said that there had been good progress on some issues.

So, I think when we listen to that language, for me he is not saying there's been some progress on all issues. There's been progress on some

issues. Clearly significant things remain --


ROBERTSON: -- and it's a significant amount of time that's being given to the extension, Becky.

ANDERSON: Before I get to Reza, you have been there, as you rightly point out, for some days, now, talking to sources on the ground. What is

it that we know of any remaining gaps at this point? How far apart are the parties involved? And there are, of course, a number of them.

ROBERTSON: Well, one of the things John Kerry said here now, and one of the things he's been saying over the past few days, is that everyone

from the P5 Plus 1 and, indeed, the world is essentially in lockstep about what Iran needs to do, that there can't be this progress until there is

trust on the issue that Iran is not trying to progress down a path towards making a nuclear weapon.

That clearly is something that hasn't been -- a gap that hasn't been bridged in these talks. He has said they won't be talking about the

details, but one of the details that he made very, very clear here -- and this is, if you will, to dispel notions that are circulating in Iran today

that this is a political agenda by the United States. He said absolutely not.

And the issue of sanctions, he said we put these sanctions on to bring about these talks, we want them lifted. And so very much the sanctions

issues clearly has been a deeply divisive issue at these talks and continues to be, Becky.

ANDERSON: Nic, thank for the time being. Let's get Reza up in Tehran. Reza, as Nic rightly pointed out, John Kerry very quick to point

out that it is -- these talks have not been on the US side driven by a political agenda and that they are well aware of the stories doing the

rounds and the tension in Iran over the easing of sanctions. Your response to what you're heard?

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think many here in Iran will disagree with that argument. They believe there's a lot of

political factors involved in the failure of reaching agreement, and outside factors -- elements, factions, governments outside of the P5 Plus 1

and Iran.

Notably, the government of Israel, who vehemently is against any kind of deal. Saudi Arabia widely believed to be against a deal. The US

Congress has spoke out against a deal. Iraq's position is, look, no one's ever made public any evidence that we were making a bomb.

For the past year, we've abided the guidelines of the temporary deal. We've stopped enriching Uranium at 5 percent, we've down-blended 20 percent

enriched uranium, therefore eliminating it. We've agreed to broader inspections. We're signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation --


SAYAH: -- Treaty. And that's why they argue that it's the West that's being inflexible. People here are disappointed. Here's a taste of

some of that disappointment.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We want this to be resolved, for the negotiations to reach an outcome that makes people happy.

But unfortunately, I don't know why they can't find a way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): If they're reaching an agreement on some issues, then we still have hope. When you have a

conflict of more than 30 years but you manage to agree on some things, that's a good thing.


SAYAH: So, certainly disappointment, but they haven't lost hope, Becky. As you heard, they're hoping that they're on the right path and

eventually these two sides will reach an agreement.

ANDERSON: Reza Sayah in Tehran. And viewers, apologies for the quality of sound. We wanted to get you to Tehran. Clearly the technology

slightly letting us down tonight. But Reza, thank you for that. I know the viewers will at least have been able to hear some of what you said.

I'm not sure if I heard Reza point this out, so I will underline the fact that the President Rouhani is due to speak in the next hour or so to

address the Iranian nation on the current situation so far as these talks are concerned and the extension to the deadline.

So, the deadline for a deal being extended, and the delicate and drawn-out diplomacy continues. What are the competing power plays and

priorities that shaped the last 12 months of closed-door talks between Iran and the six world powers?

Well, let's find out. I want to find out who the other regional player are who are quietly in the mix for you. For more, I'm joined from

London by Robert Cooper, who is a former senior advisor to Catherine Ashton, who is a key figure in these talks. Also an advisor to Javier

Solana, her predecessor. Thank you, sir, for joining us.

You've just heard John Kerry speaking to the press and the wider watching public. You've heard our reporters on their reaction to what

they've heard. Yours, sir, as things stand?

ROBERT COOPER, FORMER ADVISOR TO CATHERINE ASHTON: Well, my reaction is that this is doable. It's always been doable and it's still doable now.

I'm a bit puzzled by the length of the time. What's going to happen in this next six months?

I -- normally in this kind of negotiation, the best thing is to try and do it quickly, to try and achieve some kind of momentum. And so, I

find the period a little bit worrying. I don't know what's going to happen in Iran. But the more it goes on, the more I'm convinced that this can be


ANDERSON: Is Europe still central to these discussions? Clearly, Catherine Aston has moved on to other work. She's no longer in charge of

foreign affairs but has stayed on with this portfolio through certainly this deadline, if not the next.


ANDERSON: Just how involved are Europe, and what is the role these days of, for example, the Omanis, who have been hosting talks behind closed


COOPER: Well, I think the Omanis are the people that you go to when you've got a difficult problem with Iran. They know the Iranians extremely

well. They're extremely discreet. We've heard about the talks behind closed doors. We haven't heard anything more. That's what you want in

these circumstances. They're very reliable partners in this. What about the European role?


ANDERSON: What about Europe?

COOPER: Well, it was originally started by Europe. It was originally Britain, France, and Germany. Then Javier Solana joined in, and then

Russia and China and eventually the USA. Of course the USA is the big dog, as they say, in this story.

But if you look at where the sanctions -- the sanctions are an important part of the story -- if you look at the sanctions, it's

essentially what Europe has done that's made a difference. The US has had sanctions like you'd never believe on Iran since whenever. It's the

European sanctions that have added the extra pressure on Iran. So, I think Europe is a vital part of this.

ANDERSON: Fascinating. And with that, we're going to leave it there. Sir, we've had a shorter show because, of course, President Obama

announcing officially the resignation of his defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, earlier on in this hour. But sir, we thank you for joining us.

I'm Becky Anderson on what was a very busy news hour. Thank you for watching. From the team here in Abu Dhabi in the UAE, it's a very good