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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard; Israeli Prime Minister to Address Congress; Susan Rice at AIPAC; Rice Says Obama's Commitment to Israel "Deep and Personal"; Rice: A Bad Deal With Iran Is Worse Than No Deal
Aired March 2, 2015 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, face-off. The Israeli prime minister warms up for a provocative speech to the United States Congress. And now President Obama is weighing in on the tensions with a crucial ally. Will the heat get turned up even higher when another top administration official speaks out this hour?
Nuclear warning. As U.S. negotiations with Iran get back under way, a United Nations watchdog accuses Tehran of hiding something. Will that give Israel more ammunition to attack President Obama's policy?
And battling ISIS. Iraqi troops launch a new offensive against the terrorists. But is the commander of Iran's elite fighting force actually the man in charge?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Let's get right to breaking news tonight.
President Obama is insisting his rift with the Israeli prime minister isn't personal just hours before Benjamin Netanyahu goes before the U.S. Congress to slam American's policy on Iran. In a new TV interview, the president also is setting new markers for negotiations over Iran's nuclear program. Those talks are fueling the rising tensions with Israel right now.
This hour, we're standing by to hear from the president's national security adviser, Susan Rice. She has been vocal in her criticism of the Netanyahu speech, warning that it is disruptive to U.S.-Israeli relations. I will talk about that and more with Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. She's a key member of the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees. She's also an Iraq War veteran. Our correspondents and analysts, they are also standing by. CNN is using its global reach to bring you the breaking news in the United States and around the world.
First to our global affairs correspondent Elise Labott. She has the very latest -- Elise.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the president tried to play down the damage the speech would do to the relationship with Israel, but warned the prime minister's speech was a distraction of their shared goal of dealing with Iran.
LABOTT (voice-over): President Obama sought to preempt the Israeli leader's speech to Congress tomorrow, saying a deal with Iran is the best way to keep Israel safe.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If they do agree to it, it would be far more effective in controlling their nuclear program than any military action we could take, any military action Israel could take and far more effective than sanctions.
LABOTT: And he accused the prime minister of never giving the negotiations with Iran a real chance.
OBAMA: Prime Minister Netanyahu made all sorts of claims. This was going to be a terrible deal. This was going to result in Iran getting $50 billion worth of relief. Iran would not abide by the agreement. None of that has come true.
LABOTT: Now the Israeli leader is hours away from launching a full- out assault on Obama's policy towards Iran. Prime Minister Netanyahu said he is not attacking the president.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: My speech is not intended to show any disrespect to President Obama or the esteemed office that he holds. I have great respect for both.
LABOTT: He spoke to a friendly audience to dial down tensions. But his remarks tomorrow will be provocative. Aides say the prime minister will lay out what he knows about the Iranian nuclear agreement on the table and warn about the dangers to Israel, the U.S. and the world if the deal goes forward.
NETANYAHU: Israel and the United States agree that Iran should not have nuclear weapons, but we disagree on the best way to prevent Iran from developing those weapons.
LABOTT: Netanyahu will also urge Congress to press the Obama administration to push back the March 24 deadline for a political framework, allowing more time for negotiations on a tougher deal.
The White House put out its ambassador to the United Nations to assure Israel and its friends the United States will "take whatever steps are necessary to protect its close ally."
SAMANTHA POWER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: We believe diplomacy is the preferred route to secure our shared aim.
LABOTT: But even the president handicapped the chances of a deal.
OBAMA: It's probably still more likely than not that Iran doesn't get to yes. But I think that, in fairness to them, they have been serious negotiators. And they have got their own politics inside of Iran. It is more likely that we could get a deal now than perhaps three or five months ago. But there are still some big gaps that have to be filled. (END VIDEOTAPE)
LABOTT: Now perhaps the toughest critic of Israel about to speak, Susan Rice, who called Netanyahu's visit destructive. White House very nervous about what the prime minister's aides told us on the way over on his plane, that he plans to disclose those details of sensitive negotiations.
That's why the U.S. is now thinking twice about sharing real-time intel on these negotiations with Iran in the final days before the November -- March 24 deadline.
BLITZER: It's a real tense time in U.S.-Israeli relations right now. Elise, thanks very much.
Let's talk about more, a little bit more about the president's new interview that he just granted to the Reuters news agency, his relationship with Israel, his efforts to try to reach a landmark nuclear deal with Iran.
Let's go to our White House correspondent, Michelle Kosinski.
What's been the reaction over there, Michelle?
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. This serves as a rebuttal to what we heard from the prime minister today, as well as a prebuttal to this bigger, broader speech that he will give before the joint session of Congress tomorrow.
We heard the president really spell out what he called a substantial disagreement between the U.S. and Israel. First, he wanted to emphasize the unbreakable bond between the two countries, the unprecedented sharing in military and intelligence, the cooperation there.
But in spelling out the disagreement, he said that Prime Minister Netanyahu wants to double down with either sanctions or a military response to Iran's nuclear program as a sort of looking at these negotiations with a very pessimistic eye whereas the U.S. feels that bringing Iran to the table is the most effective way. In fact, he said even more effective than would be a military response.
This is the first time we're hearing the White House talk about a possible 10-year plan. This was asked of the White House over the past couple of days. But they said it wasn't accurate, some of the details that were leaking out from Israel. Today we heard the White House say that leaking information is a betrayal of Israel on the part of the trust between the two allies.
But the way the president described it was, if the U.S. can stop Iran from progressing its nuclear program, keeping it as it is and rolling it back some for at least 10 years, then that would be a huge improvement and that would be a real step toward that shared goal as the president put it of stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon at all, Wolf.
BLITZER: Michelle, thank you, Michelle Kosinski at the White House.
Now to the nuclear talks at the center of the tensions right now between the United States and Israel. Secretary of State John Kerry meeting today with Iran's top diplomat. The negotiations resuming as the U.N. watchdog group has been raising some doubts about whether Iran could even be trusted.
Our chief security national correspondent, Jim Sciutto, is traveling with the secretary. He is joining us from Switzerland right now.
What's the latest over there, Jim?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I'll tell you, for all the drama, all the acrimony back in Washington between the U.S. and Israel, the nuclear negotiations taking place just behind me here, they're at the core of the disagreement, continuing, starting really at a feverish pace tonight.
Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, meeting twice for about an hour each just in the first three hours of talks this evening, they will keep, this pace up through tomorrow into Wednesday, but perhaps with an ear, an eye to what's happening in Washington. Secretary of State John Kerry today made it clear exactly what kind of deal the U.S. is seeking here. Have a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Any deal that we would possibly agree to would make the international community and especially Israel safer than it is today. That's our standard.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: It's clear the two sides moving closer on what enrichment capacity Iran would be able to keep after a long-term agreement, also on the duration of the agreement, perhaps 10 years. But the key disagreements are major.
One you mentioned, Wolf, that is IAEA complaining today that Iran still has not detailed -- and keep mind this is a good 16, 17 months into the interim agreement, still has not detailed its previous work, suspected work on weaponization programs.
I spoke to a senior State Department official tonight who said that is a key subject of the negotiations. They are asking for it. Any final deal will have to have full disclosure. I also spoke to a senior Iranian diplomat who said they are working with the IAEA to resolve this question, but still not resolved after nearly a year-and-a-half.
Another major disagreement, Wolf, that's on the sanctions. How quickly will the sanctions be listed? The Iranian foreign minister saying today they want the sanctions listed all at once at the start of any agreement. That's really a nonstarter for the West and the U.S., the West reiterating that they want those sanctions lifted piece by piece to maintain leverage and really to make sure Iran keeps abiding by the agreement going forward.
Yes, the gaps are narrowing, but still some of the gaps that exist, it's going to take a lot of work, Wolf, to bridge them.
BLITZER: Yes. As the president himself said, there's no guarantee there's even going to be a deal right now.
Jim Sciutto, thank you very much.
Tonight, the Israeli people are divided about their prime minister's decision to come to Washington to speak to the U.S. Congress against the wishes of the Obama White House.
Let's go to Jerusalem. Our anchor Kate Bolduan has got the latest from there.
Kate, what are you hearing?
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Wolf.
You said it. The Israeli public is divided on this issue of the speech from their prime minister. The most recent polling here says they are divided 38/38 split if they support the prime minister making the speech. And 24 percent of those polled actually didn't have an opinion or a position on the prime minister giving that speech.
Here is where the range of diversity of opinion really centers on. One is, will the prime minister's speech succeed in impacting the talks over the Iranian nuclear program? The prime minister himself in a speech leading up to his trip to Washington, he himself acknowledged he did not know; 180 prominent former Israeli security officials came out just yesterday to call on the prime minister to cancel the speech because they believe that the speech will actually bring Iran closer to obtaining a nuclear weapon.
With that in mind, the public has been wondering -- I spoke with many Israelis on this. They wonder, is the fallout of the speech then worth it? The divide lands on if you support Netanyahu and trust him. Those who are critical of Netanyahu say absolutely not. It further needles President Obama and potentially injuries the key bond between Israel and America. Those who support Netanyahu say simply if he doesn't speak up, who will?
Here is the key undercurrent of all of this, Wolf. I know you know it. Two weeks from now is the Israeli election. Netanyahu is in a tight race. The smart political minds here say, regardless, no matter what the result is of his speech and its impact on the Iranian issue, they do wonder if it will be just enough though to persuade undecided voters here to at least win him another term in office -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. I think there's no doubt that one of the reasons he wanted to deliver the speech was to get some political support back in Israel. But there's some analysts who think that could have backfired, given the deteriorating U.S./Israeli relationship at the same time. Kate, thanks very much.
Let's get some more now.
Joining us, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, Democrat of Hawaii. She's a member of the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committee, also an Iraq War veteran.
Congresswoman, thanks for coming in.
You will attend the prime minister's speech before the joint session of Congress tomorrow, right?
REP. TULSI GABBARD (D), HAWAII: Yes. I will be there.
BLITZER: Because you know a lot of your -- not a lot, but maybe 30 of your Democratic colleagues in the House and Senate have at least publicly already said they are not going to come because they think it's inappropriate.
GABBARD: I think it's important to look at the issues here.
I think, first of all, yes, the invite should have been handled better. At a bare minimum, the president should have been given the respect of being informed by Speaker Boehner and the prime minister, his ambassador here, that this was happening.
But I think it's unfortunate that this really has turned into a very big distraction. And it's turned into a somewhat partisan issue away from the shared objectives that both the United States and Israel share, which is the issue at hand of preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
If you look at where Israel sits, obviously, the prime minister of Israel is deeply concerned about the outcome of these negotiations, as they directly impact and threaten the people of Israel. I think it's important to hear what he has to say.
But then Congress, we need to do our job to make sure that we don't stand by and let Iran develop a nuclear weapon.
BLITZER: I want you to listen to what your Republican colleague from Utah Jason Chaffetz -- he was sitting in that seat in the last hour -- told me. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Don't you think the speaker should have at least had the courtesy to tell the White House what he was planning on doing?
REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: Well, I think he did do that.
BLITZER: Only after the invitation was delivered.
CHAFFETZ: We're talking about semantics.
BLITZER: It's not semantics. This is a serious issue, Congressman. CHAFFETZ: We're a co-equal branch of government here, Wolf.
BLITZER: But, as a matter of courtesy, why wouldn't the speaker of the House at least tell the president?
CHAFFETZ: Get over it. Get over it. He is going to come here and speak to a joint session of Congress.
BLITZER: We know that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And he also had some other strong words. We will play another clip from him.
But are you over it right now, the fact that the speaker did not go through protocol and alert the White House and at least consult with the White House, I want to invite the prime minister to address Congress?
GABBARD: By his not doing that, it's created the situation where we're in today, where so much of the conversation is around how the invitation took place and when the president was informed, rather than on the substance of the issue at hand, that these negotiations are ongoing, what the prime minister from Israel is going to speak about.
And so I think we have to get past the distraction and really come together and recognize, as it has been, it must continue to be a bipartisan concern, an issue about Iran's nuclear capability.
BLITZER: I want to pick your brain where you stand on these negotiations. But listen once again. Here is Jason Chaffetz, the Republican congressman from Utah, who has no confidence in these current U.S.-led negotiations with Iran.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHAFFETZ: The biggest problem that we have on the face of the planet is Iran getting a nuclear weapon. And we have to do anything and everything we can do in our powers to make sure that that doesn't happen.
BLITZER: You would support a preemptive strike against their nuclear...
CHAFFETZ: Absolutely. We negotiate from a position of strength, Wolf. We do not do this through appeasement.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You heard him say he would support a preemptive military strike to try to destroy Iran's nuclear capabilities. Are you with him on that?
GABBARD: I think it's -- we have got to look -- of course, at diplomatic and a negotiation that is successful is I think everyone's ideal approach to this.
But I, like so many others, have some very deep cynicism about the odds of that being successful.
BLITZER: A military strike?
GABBARD: Well, of coming to a negotiation...
BLITZER: Oh, I see. Yes.
GABBARD: ... that would prevent us from even having the conversation.
BLITZER: What happens if there's no deal?
GABBARD: Well, then I think we do have to look at, what are our other options on the table? We have got to look at whether breakout time that Iran has and look at every option that we have to make sure that that objective -- Iran's objective of a nuclear weapon is not achieved.
BLITZER: The options, if there's no deal -- and the president himself just said in this interview with Reuters there might not be a deal. He's not necessarily 100 percent confident that there will be a deal. The options are then you go back and you strengthen the sanctions, you try to isolate them as much as possible.
And then the last option would be some sort of military strike. What you are saying is...
GABBARD: We need to keep all options on the table in order to reach that objective of making sure Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon, not only for what that would do with Iran and Iran's intentions, but also for what the -- the impact that it would have on the proliferation of nuclear weapon development in the region and other parts of the world.
BLITZER: So, I sort of hear you agreeing with Congressman Chaffetz.
GABBARD: I think we need to keep all options on the table.
BLITZER: In the end, all options on the table. But you are not rushing for any military action?
GABBARD: Absolutely not.
BLITZER: Are you closer right now to the president's position to go forward with these negotiations or the prime minister's position that these negotiations, for all practical purposes, are disruptive and a waste of time?
GABBARD: Well, frankly, I think Congress is looking for more information, looking for the details of these negotiations, and looking with cynicism.
I think one of the issues that has been coming up in Congress has been the issue of sanctions and recognizing that these sanctions are not turned on and off like a spigot very quickly. If there is a negotiated outcome that Iran does not hold up its end to the deal, simply saying we are going to turn the light switch back on and these sanctions will be fully back in place, I think, is really not a realistic view.
We're looking at it with a very cynical eye, because thus far Iran has not shown that it can be trusted.
BLITZER: I want you to stand by, Congresswoman. We have much more to discuss.
Tulsi Gabbard, she's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're following the breaking news. We're also waiting for Susan Rice. The president's national security adviser, she's about to address the pro-Israel lobbying organization AIPAC. We will have live coverage.
BLITZER: Susan Rice, the president's national security adviser, has just started speaking before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, their convention.
Let's listen in.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
SUSAN RICE, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: But I want to take a moment before I begin to remember three young men who aren't with us here today.
I want to call us back to those terrible days last summer, when we were united in grief over the horrifying kidnapping and murder of Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrach.
RICE: As a mother, my heart breaks for such unspeakable loss. Those boys were our boys, and we all continue to mourn their tragic loss.
BLITZER: Unfortunately, we have lost the connection. We are going to try to fix it with the conference that is going on, the AIPAC conference.
As soon as we get that line cleared up, we will go back and hear what Susan Rice has to say.
In the meantime, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is with us, the Democrat from Hawaii, the Iraq War veteran, member of key committees in Congress. We're talking about this U.S.-Israeli relationship. She is speaking now before this AIPAC group. You were there at a panel discussion earlier today. She has got a lot of work to do to try to fix the U.S./Israeli relationship. The president has a lot of work to do. But the prime minister has a lot of work to do as well. It's a tense time.
And that was one of the questions that was brought up in the panel that I was on, which had three post-9/11 veterans, U.S. veterans talking about some of the bonds that exist between U.S. veterans and service members, as well as the Israeli Defense Force and different ways that both of our countries have benefited from the strong military partnership.
I look back to our senior senator from Hawaii, Senator Dan Inouye, Medal of Honor recipient, World War II veteran and someone who really has been -- was critical throughout his life in getting funding for the Iron Dome and really served as a major partner for Israel with a lot of the advances that they have had and also brought a lot of the benefits to the U.S. military as well.
BLITZER: Yes, Senator Daniel Inouye, a great United States senator, a war hero and a strong supporter of Israel at the same time. What advice do you have right now for the president of the United States, the president's national security adviser, Susan Rice, to try to fix this clearly tense relationship?
GABBARD: I think put yourself in Israel's shoes.
I think whether you are -- when you in any kind of situation, where there's a little bit of a standoff and personalities and egos are hurt, if you put yourself in their shoes and understand where he is coming from, where the Israeli people are coming from and their deep concern about Iran's continued development of a nuclear weapon and what they want to do with that, and I think Prime Minister Netanyahu needs to do the same with President Obama and what he is trying to accomplish here.
I think if they do that, they can listen the standoff and come to an understanding where they recognize, look, we're working towards the same goal and see how they can find some areas of agreement.
BLITZER: How worried are you, though, that about 30 or so, at least 30 of your Democrats in the House and Senate, including one of your senators from Hawaii, have decided to boycott Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech tomorrow morning?
GABBARD: I think the message needs to rise to the top that this is not about partisan politics. It's about two strong allies and strong friends for so long, both working towards the same objective, two allies who have different ideas how to get there. But, ultimately, this friendship and partnership will continue, and to the benefit of both of our countries.
BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about what's going on in the war against ISIS.
You served in Iraq. You spent a year there, right? You risked your life going over there. Right now, the Iraqi military says they are moving towards trying to liberate Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's birthplace, his hometown, from ISIS.
They have got a lot of support from the Iranians right now. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard, they are in there. It sounds like a very, very complicated, tenuous situation. I'm not very optimistic this whole Iraqi military operation is going to succeed.
GABBARD: I also have concerns about this for one primary reason, which is what you mentioned, the fact that the Iranian forces are playing such a major role in this. The Shia militias are playing such a major role in this.
And my question is, where are the Sunni fighters? Tikrit, like Mosul, is a Sunni homeland. And if there is not an agreement in place before this attack happens and if the Sunni fighters are not playing a side- by-side role in this with a plan for them to take charge of security, to take charge of Tikrit after this attack is over and ISIS is gone, then the effects of it, they may win the battle, but they will lose the overall fight, because that vacuum will still exist where the Sunnis will turn to ISIS for protection and from this oppression.
BLITZER: A lot of U.S. analysts, I have been speaking to them, deeply concerned. Qassem Suleimani, he's the leader, the Iranian leader of the Quds brigade, he is supposedly there leading the Shiite militias in this fight against ISIS.
And the concern is, yes, these Shiite militias may win, may help the Iraqi military, which is largely Shia as well, but in the long-term Iran is going to be the big winner in Iraq.
GABBARD: And this is why I have spoken about this a number of times. This is why it's so critical for there to be some sort of three-state solution, three-state configuration, where you have the Kurds empowered, you have the Sunnis empowered and the Shias empowered, with each of their own three spaces, because until that happens, you are going to continue to see this failed policy.
It started with President Bush, it continues today, where you have this Iran-influenced Shia government that's oppressing the Sunnis. And the only one that benefits from this is ISIS.
BLITZER: Yes. Vice President Joe Biden, when he was in the Senate, he was one of those suggesting maybe it's time to sort of split up Iraq, which was an artificial creation. He had suggested into an independent Kurdistan and independent Sunni area and an independent Shiite area, as well, given the fact they can't apparently work together.
Hold on one moment.
I think we have reconnected with Susan Rice at the AIPAC confirmation. I want to listen in. (JOINED IN PROGRESS)
RICE: It is not negotiable. And it never will be.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
RICE: Our alliance grows l'dor va'dor, from generation to generation. That's what counts. That's what we have to protect. As John F. Kennedy said, back in 1960, friendship for Israel is not a partisan matter. It is a national commitment.
RICE: No one knows this better than all of you. For decades, AIPAC has built bipartisan support for America's special relationship with Israel. That's why every President -- from Harry Truman to Barack Obama -- has begun from a fundamental, unshakable premise, that is that strengthening the security of Israel is in the national interest of the United States of America.
RICE: President Obama's commitment to Israel is deep and personal.
I know, because I see it every day. I first saw it when I accompanied then-Senator Obama to Israel in 2008. I saw it when he surveyed with horror the stacks of charred rockets that Hamas had fired on Israel, and when he walked through the hollowed-out homes of Sderot.
That same year, President Obama came to this conference, still a senator, and he made a promise. He said, Israel's security is sacrosanct. And, each day, over the past six years, President Obama has kept that promise.
RICE: The president is profoundly committed to ensuring that Israel is never alone.
RICE: That's why, today, security cooperation between our countries is not just strong. It's stronger than it has ever been.
RICE: Both President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu have called it unprecedented. And that's the way it's going to stay.
RICE: President Obama has met with Prime Minister Netanyahu more times than with almost any other world leader. As national security adviser, I'm in nearly constant communication with Yossi Cohen, my friend and my Israeli counterpart, who I'm so pleased is here tonight.
I also want to thank his predecessor, Yaakov Amidror, who is also here tonight and who was kind enough to greet me backstage. And I have to say hello to my dear friend Ron Prosor, who served together with me for many years at the United Nations.
So together, Yossi and I, we host the U.S./Israel consultative group to ensure that we're working closely across the highest levels of our government. Our armed forces conduct extensive exercises together and our military and intelligence leaders consult continually.
Under this administration, in times of tight budgets, our security assistance to Israel has increased. Since President Obama took office, the United States has provided Israel with more than $20 billion in foreign military financing.
Last year, we provided Israel with the largest package of security assistance ever. And that's money very well-spent. Because it goes directly to bolstering Israel's ability to defend itself by itself, in a very tough neighborhood. It goes to protecting Israeli citizens and to strengthening a vital American ally.
We're maintaining Israel's qualitative military edge with new defense technologies and access to the most advanced military equipment in the world.
President Obama is determined to ensure that Israel -- I'm sorry. When Israel receives the F-15 joint strike fighter next year, it will be the only nation in the Middle East with a fifth generation aircraft.
Since 2009, we've invested hundreds of millions of dollars in developing and producing the David's Sling missile defense program and the Arrow anti-missile system. We've invested more than a billion in the Iron Dome System. As Yossi knows, when I visited Israel last May, I saw this technology firsthand at Paul Mahine Air Force base.
And last summer, as Hamas terrorists rockets rained down on Israeli cities, the world saw how Iron Dome saved lives literally every day. During the height of that conflict, with sirens wailing and Israeli civilians huddling in bomb shelters, the United States stood up for Israel's right to defend itself against rocket and tunnel attacks, even as we worked with the Israeli government to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict.
And when the Israeli government made an urgent request for an additional $225 million to support Iron Dome batteries, President Obama's response was immediate and clear. He said, "Let's do it."
And so within days, legislation was drafted, passed through Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support, and President Obama signed it into law. At that critical moment, we replenished Israel's arsenal of Iron Dome interceptor missiles. That's what it means to be an ally.
Our commitment to Israel's security is why we will also never give up on a just and comprehensive peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It will require hard decisions, but the United States will remain a steadfast partner.
Like past administrations, Republican and Democratic, we believe that a truly lasting peace can only be forged by direct talks between the two parties.
Like past administrations, we're concerned by unilateral actions that erode trust and assault Israel's legitimacy.
Like every administration, Republican and Democratic, since the six day war, we oppose Israeli settlement activity, and we oppose Palestinian steps that throw up further obstacles to peace, including actions against Israel at the International Criminal Court.
The only path to ensure Israel's long-term security is to bring about a viable sovereign Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with a democratic Jewish state of Israel.
Israel's security, our mutual security is also at the heart of one of President Obama's most important foreign policy objectives, ensuring that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon.
As President Obama has repeated many times, we are keeping all options on the table to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. As he said in Jerusalem -- and I quote -- "Iran must not get a nuclear weapon. This is not a danger that can be contained." And he added, "America will do what we must to prevent a nuclear armed Iran."
President Obama said it. He meant it. And those are his orders to us all.
That is still the way we see the danger of a nuclear Iran today. Given Iran's support for terrorism, the risk of a nuclear arms race in the region and the danger to the entire global non-proliferation regime, an Iran with a nuclear weapon would not just be a threat to Israel, it's also an unacceptable threat to the United States of America.
We understand the unique concerns of our Israeli friends and partners. In Jerusalem, President Obama made plain -- and I quote again, "When I consider Israel's security, I also think about a people who have a living memory of the Holocaust. Faced with the prospect of a nuclear armed Iranian government that is called for Israel's destruction. No wonder Israelis view this as an existential threat. But this is not simply a challenge for Israel. It's a danger to the entire world, including the United States," end of quote. Now I want to be very clear. A bad deal is worse than no deal. and if that is the choice, there will be no deal.
Now, negotiations continue. And nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. As of today, significant gaps remain between the international community and Iran. I'm not going to get into all the details about ongoing negotiations, nor should sensitive details of such a negotiation be discussed in public. But I do want to make five key points about our approach to the negotiation.
First, with the joint plan of action, we have already succeeded in halting Iran's nuclear program and rolling it back in key respects. Let's recall what's been achieved over the last year.
Iran is doing away with its existing stockpile of its most highly enriched uranium. Iran has kept its stockpile of low enriched uranium. Iran has not constructed additional enrichment facilities. Iran has not installed or operated new centrifuges, including its next-generation models. Iran has stopped construction at its potential plutonium reactor in Iraq. In short, Iran is further away from a nuclear weapon than it was a year ago. And that makes the world safer, including Israel.
Moreover, we are not taking anything on trust. What matters are Iran's actions, not its words. that's why as part of the joint plan of action, we have insisted upon and achieved unprecedented access to Iran's nuclear program.
Before the joint plan of action, inspections happened only every few weeks, sometimes every few months. Today, the international atomic energy agency has daily access at Iran's key nuclear facilities, verifying Iran is meeting its commitments.
If I can paraphrase President Reagan with a twist, our approach is distrust but verify.
Second, we've kept the pressure on Iran. I know this firsthand, because when I was U.N. ambassador, President Obama personally directed me to make sure that the Security Council's sanctions had bite. And they do.
Today, even with limited sanctions relief, Iran's economy remains isolated from the international financial system and cut off from the vast majority of its foreign currency reserves. Iran's oil exports have dropped almost 60 percent since 2012. The rial has depreciated by more than 50 percent. And Iran's GDP has shrunk by almost 10 percent.
All told, sanctions have deprived Iran of more than $200 billion in lost revenue.
I should be precise and say that's oil revenue, not all revenue, more loss beyond that.
But sanctions are a tool, not an end in themselves. The question now after the pressure that we and our partners have brought to bear, is whether we can verify that Iran cannot pursue a nuclear weapon. The question now is whether we can achieve a comprehensive deal, a good deal. This is my third point. A good deal is one that would verifiably cut off every pathway for Iran to produce enough fissile for a single nuclear weapon.
Every single pathway. Any deal must prevent Iran from developing weapons-grade plutonium at Arak or anywhere else.
(APPLAUSE) Any deal must prevent Iran from enriching uranium at its nuclear facilities at Fordow.
That's a site we uncovered buried deep underground and revealed to the world in 2009. Any deal must increase the time it takes Iran to reach breakout capacity. That is, as you know, the time it would take to produce a single bomb's worth of weapons-grade uranium.
Today, experts suggest Iran's breakout window is just two to three months. We seek to extend that to at least one year. Any deal must ensure frequent and intrusive inspections at Iran's nuclear sites, including the uranium mills that produce the material fed into Iran's enrichment and conversion facilities. To create a multi-layered transparency regime that provides the international community with the confidence it demands. That's the best way to prevent Iran from pursuing a covert path to a nuclear weapon, to stop Iran from working towards a bomb in secret. Any deal must also address the possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program.
And going forward, we will not accept a deal that fails to provide the access we need to ensure that Iran's program is peaceful.
Any deal must last more than a decade, with additional provisions ensuring greater transparency into Iran's program for an even longer period of time.
That's what we're working towards, a good long-term comprehensive deal that verifiably prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Now, that brings me to my fourth point. We cannot let a totally unachievable ideal stand in the way of a good deal. I know that some of you will be urging Congress to insist that Iran forgo its domestic enrichment capacity entirely.
But, but as desirable as that would be, it is neither realistic nor achievable. Even our closest international partners in the P5-plus-1 do not support denying Iran the ability ever to pursue peaceful nuclear energy. If that is our goal, our partners will abandon us and undermine the very sanctions we have imposed so effectively together.
Simply put, that is not a viable negotiating position. Nor is it even attainable. The plain fact is, no one can make Iran unlearn the scientific and nuclear expertise it already possesses. We must also understand what will happen if these negotiations collapse. I know someone argue that we should just impose sanctions and walk away.
But let's remember -- let's remember --
My friends, let's remember that sanctions, unfortunately, have never stopped Iran from advancing its program.
So, here's what's likely to happen without a deal. Iran will install and operate advance centrifuges. Iran will seek to fuel its reactor in Iraq. Iran will rebuild its uranium stockpile and we'll lose the unprecedented inspections and transparency we have today.
Congress has played a hugely important role in helping to build our sanctions on Iran. But they shouldn't play the spoiler now.
Additional sanctions or restrictive legislation enacted during the negotiation would blow up the talks, divide the international community and cause the United States to be blamed for the failure to reach a deal. Putting us in a much weaker position and endangering the sanctions regime itself.
Meanwhile, the Iranians are well aware that if they walk away from a deal, Congress will pass new sanctions immediately and President Obama will support them.
So if Iran refuses to resolve this matter diplomatically and is clearly to blame for that, its isolation will only increase, the cost will continue to grow.
Now, finally, I know that some question of deal of any duration, but it's always been clear that the pursuit of an indefinite -- of an agreement of indefinite duration would result in no agreement at all.
The question is, what is the best way to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon? A deal that extends for a decade or more would accomplish this goal better than any other course of action, longer by far than military strikes, which would only set back Iran's program for a fraction of that time. And at the end of the any deal, Iran would still be required to provide comprehensive access to its nuclear facilities and to provide the international community the assurance that it was not pursing nuclear weapons. And if it failed to do so, we would have the ability to make our own decisions about how to move forward, just as we do today.
There is simply no alternative that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon better or longer than the type of comprehensive deal we seek. We can always bring consequences to bear for the sake of our shared security, harsh consequences. But precisely because this is such a serious issue, we must weigh the different options before us and choose the best one.
Sound bites won't stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Strong diplomacy backed by pressure can. (APPLAUSE)
And if diplomacy fails, let's make it clear to the world that it is Iran's responsibility.
One final word on Iran. Even if we succeed in neutralizing the nuclear threat from Iran, we will still face other threats. Iran's sponsorship of terrorism. Its gross human rights abuses. Its efforts to destabilize neighboring states, its support for Assad and Hamas and Hezbollah. And its intolerable threats against Israel.
Our sanctions against Iran on all of these issues will remain in place. We will counter Iran and the full range of threats it poses. Tehran must understand the United States will never, ever waver in the defense of our security or the security of our allies and partners, including Israel.
The bottom line is simple. We have Israel's back come hell or high water.
And I've been with you all right there through some pretty high waters, as Ron Prosor can attest. I was proud to fight again and again for Israel's security and its basic legitimacy at the United Nations --
From leading the charge against the deeply --
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BLITZER: All right. So, Susan Rice making a strong case for the United States efforts to work out some sort of diplomatic deal with Iran to end its nuclear program, and the possibility of getting some sort of nuclear bomb.
Let's get some analysis quickly. Robin Wright is here, Middle East analyst, the Wilson Center right now. Gloria Borger is with us as well.
Robin, what do you think? Did she win over this crowd over there?
ROBIN WRIGHT, MIDDLE EAST ANALYST: Probably not, but she made a strong case for the administration in terms of putting it in international context and saying that there's no real alternative to a deal. She also made the point over and over that Iran would be held to account on all of its other actions, whether it's mischief or misadventures in the region, its support of extremist groups.
So, I think she's trying to say don't look at the deal in isolation. Remember, this is part of international diplomacy effort, and, frankly, the alternatives are pretty bleak if diplomacy doesn't work.
BLITZER: Gloria, she made a strong case that the U.S./Israeli relationship under the Obama administration is extremely strong.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. She just said, you know, we stand with Israel. We have your back through hell and high water. She said, and got a standing ovation, a bad deal is worse than no deal but she really said Congress shouldn't play the spoiler now -- a warning to these people, if we get a deal, we don't want Congress to mess it up.
BLITZER: Ron Brownstein, a quick thought on how did she do?
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: In that riveting presentation, you heard both sides of the argument. From the administration, there's no better alternative and from the applause in the room, the better alternative is to walk away, demand no enrichment capacity, and simply impose sanctions and alternative the administration says would not work.
BLITZER: How worried should the Israelis be, Robin, about the state of the U.S./Israeli relations right now?
WRIGHT: Well, this probably is a momentary attention. But the fact is if they get a deal, this is going to play out, this tension over the next three or four months.
BLITZER: It's a tense moment right now, Gloria.
BORGER: Well, it is a tense moment. Bibi Netanyahu wants to win re- election. And the question is, is this about Bibi Netanyahu and Barack Obama's relationship, or is this about Israel and America's relationship?
BLITZER: All right, guys. We're going to have a lot to digest tomorrow. Our special coverage, 10:00 a.m. Eastern tomorrow morning, getting ready for the Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu's address before a joint meeting of the United States Congress. He will respond to what we just heard from the president's national security adviser Susan Rice.
For me, that's it right now.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.