Return to Transcripts main page

FAREED ZAKARIA GPS

Discussion of the Iran Nuclear Deal; President Obama Speaks About Returning American Prisoners; A New Era of Relations with Iran Begins? Aired 10-11a ET

Aired January 17, 2016 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[10:00:09] FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: This is GPS, the GLOBAL PUBLIC SQUARE. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I'm Fareed Zakaria coming to you live from New York.

We have a great show for you today starting with the day many critics said would never come. Iran comes in from the cold satisfying all the initial requirements of the nuclear deal. At the same time Tehran releases five American prisoners.

Is this a new era of relations with the West or is it a trick as some critics contend? A good deal or still a deal with the devil?

And President Obama began his final year with a heartfelt State of the Union.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Protecting our kids from gun violence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAKARIA: What will he be able to accomplish in 2016 and what to make of his possible successors. I will talk to David Frum, Sean Wilentz, and Raha Faroohar.

Finally, a riddle. What do asteroids, ice ages and man have in common? Find out later in the show.

But first, here's my take. I want to tell you today about an experience I had recently. One that I think shed some light on a big trend that worries all of us -- radicalization. I'll get to my tale in a moment, so bear with me.

Thomas Jefferson often argued that an educated public was crucial for the survival of self-government. We now live in an age in which that education takes place mostly through new platforms. Social networks, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram are the main mechanisms by which people receive and share facts, ideas and opinions.

But what if these new technologies encourage misinformation, rumors and lies? In a comprehensive new study of Facebook analyzing posts made between 2010 and 2014, a group of scholars found that people mainly share information that confirms their prejudices, paying little attention to facts and voracity, as Cass Sunstein wrote about in a recent "Bloomberg" article.

The result, the study authors conclude, is, quote, "the proliferation of biased narratives fomented by unsubstantiated rumors, mistrust and paranoia." The authors specifically studied trolling, the creation of highly provocative, often false information with the hope of spreading it widely." They write that many mechanisms cause false information to gain acceptance which in turn caused false beliefs that once adopted are highly resistant to correction.

As it happens, in recent weeks, I was the target of a trolling campaign and saw exactly how it works. It started when an obscure Web site published a post titled, "CNN Host Fareed Calls for Jihad Rape of White Women." The story claimed that in my private blog, I had urged the use of American women as, quote, "sex slaves," unquote, to depopulate the white race.

Disgusting. And so much so that you'd think the item would collapse of its own weightlessness. Right? Wrong. Here's what happened next. Hundreds of people began linking to it, tweeting and re-tweeting it, adding their comments which are too vulgar or racist to repeat. A few far right-wing Web sites reprinted the story as fact. With each news cycle, the levels of hysteria rose and people started demanding that I be fired, or deported or killed.

For a few days the digital intimidation veered into the real world. Some people called my house late one night and woke up and threatened my daughters who are 7 and 12. It would have taken a minute to click on the link and see that the original post was on fake news site. One that claims to be satirical but doesn't really make that clear. It would have taken simple common sense to realize the absurdity of the charge.

But none of this matter. The people spreading this story were not interested in the facts. They were interested in feeding prejudice and hysteria. The original story was cleverly written to provide conspiracy theorists with enough ammunition to ignore evidence. It claimed that I took down the post after a few hours when I realized it received negative attention.

So when the occasional debunker would point out that there was no evidence of the post anywhere, it made little difference. When confronted with evidence that the story was utterly false, it only convinced many that there was a conspiracy and cover-up.

[10:05:10] Elizabeth Colbert, writing in the "New Yorker," recalled an experiment performed by two psychologists in 1970. They divided students into two groups based on their answers to a questionnaire, high prejudiced and low prejudiced. The students were told to discuss with each other controversial issues like school bussing and integrated housing. Then the questions were asked again.

The surveys revealed a striking pattern, Colbert notes. Simply by talking to one another, the bigoted students had become more bigoted and the tolerant, more tolerant. This group polarization is now taking place at hyper speed around the world. It is how radicalization happens. I love social media, but somehow we have to help create better

mechanisms in it to distinguish between fact and falsehood. No matter how passionate people are, no matter how cleverly they can blog or tweet or troll, no matter how viral things get, lies are still lies.

For more go to CNN/fareed and read my "Washington Post" column this week, and let's get started.

Saturday was a banner day for Iran. It was a day that many of the Islamic Republic's status critics were certain would never come. The rogue nation or once rogue nation, depending on how you see it, was found to have complied with its requirements under the nuclear deal. It took part in an extraordinary prisoner swap with America and then major financial sanctions against the country were lifted and billions of dollars of its assets released.

We'll unpack all the details in this hour. Bu let's start with CNN's Nic Robertson who is live for us in Vienna where most of the action took place.

Nic, one of the things that struck me at least initially was while America media made a big deal of this story, initially the Iranian media had not because it was reported that there were many hard liners in Iran still opposed to the -- the deal. Explain the politics of Iran that allowed this to happen.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: It's long been understood that the hard liners, those who sort of came to power through the revolution wanted to maintain a firm hand and control over the country and a lot of people have questioned whether or not President Rouhani and his foreign minister, Javad Zarif, who have been behind negotiating this nuclear deal, were really a power within the country, were really strong voices within the country or merely a front put up by the Iranian government to improve their standing of Iran in the world to unfreeze those billions of dollars.

We heard in the last few hours from President Rouhani some quite striking words that I believe go to the heart of that. He talked and he appeared to have a message for the hard liners in his own country. He said who would have believed that our own diplomats and our own politicians can negotiate for Iran and come back on an essentially equal footing with the rest of the world and negotiate a good deal for Iran that diplomacy is good.

That there is a win-win situation here. That diplomacy is the way forward. That appears from the president of Iran to be a very clear message to the hard liners in his country and for the population that what has been achieved, the nuclear deal, with steps Iran has taken so far are positive, that there is positive benefit.

We've also heard during the process of waiting for the International Atomic Energy Agency here to announce Iran's compliance from the Iranian media. We heard leads that there was going to be a prisoner exchange from a lawyer representing one of the American-Iranian detainees. Prisoners held in the United States before his release. That release apparently held up according to the lawyer because the Iranians weren't sure, wanted to make sure that the assets that were being unfrozen were unfrozen, that money was blowing before the prisoner exchange could happen.

So the diplomatic footwork here has been obscured to us a lot of the time but for the Iranian president he is using it to bolster his moderate position in Iran right now -- Fareed.

ZAKARIA: Thanks, Nic. Terrific reporting as always.

This deal would not have happened without my next guest. Wendy Sherman was the United States' lead negotiator on the deal. She is now a senior fellow at Harvard's Belford Center and she joins us from Tel Aviv.

[10:10:02] Wendy, welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

WENDY SHERMAN, FORMER CHIEF U.S. NEGOTIATOR WITH IRAN: Thank you, Fareed. Good to be here on a good day.

ZAKARIA: There are critics of the deal who say -- let's start with the prisoner exchange, which I know was a side negotiation that -- that Secretary Kerry was having. That this is Iran's pattern. It takes hostages, it does things that are unconscionable, should never have happened, and then demands concessions of it.

What do you then say to people who argue that the Iranian position has been one of doing things that they should not do even in the nuclear arena and then expecting concessions for undoing them?

SHERMAN: Well, I think that there's no question that Iran has done things that all of us think are wrong. They detained American citizens completely unjustly. They built up a nuclear program that even the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in the past had really been focused towards nuclear weapons. We know that they are destabilizing parts of the Middle East. They sponsor state sponsorship of terrorism. Their human rights record is not very good to say the least.

All of these facts are facts. But it is also true that not only the United States but the international community has sanctioned Iran repeatedly for all of these terrible actions. It has really harmed the Iranian economy. That's why, as Nic Robertson reported, you hear President Rouhani, who is about to face parliamentary elections and Council of Expert elections, talking about how this is good for the country because they need to write an economy that, quite frankly, is very deep in the hole.

So they have paid a price. A very big price for what they have done. And what I think we all should be focused on today are two very important things. One, American citizens are coming home, though we still have some more work to do in that area. Particularly for Robert Levinson who is -- and his family. He's been missing for so many years. And we have a nuclear deal that is now being implemented where Iran has significantly reduced its program and it must remain entirely peaceful forever. ZAKARIA: Wendy, when you negotiated with these people, did you get

the feeling when you were negotiating with them, A, that they were trustworthy that they were when they would make -- you know, when they would say something across the negotiating table, they stuck to it? And secondly did they make the power to make the deals that they were making as you went through this long process?

SHERMAN: Well, as Secretary Kerry and President Obama have said, this is not a deal about trust. This is a deal about verification. And so if my counterparts said something across the table, we needed to verify it. We needed to know that it was indeed fact that there had been compliance.

As you know, Fareed, there was an interim step called the joint plan of action as oppose to the joint comprehensive plan of action. It ended up being in place for nearly two years and the Iranians complied with every provision of that interim step which added confidence that they might indeed comply with a comprehensive plan, which has now been passed and now been implemented and all of the provisions appear to have been implemented and the IAEA will continue to monitor compliance.

As to whether they had the power, there were some times when they said things and then hard liners since Iran has hard liners and hard, hard liners did not back up where they were and they had to start again. They also watched in our country and the United States a very vigorous debate where there was not agreement and indeed with our international partners around the world there was not complete agreement about going ahead with this deal.

So this was a very complicated negotiation, not just in the room, but with parties in our own country and all around the world.

ZAKARIA: Wendy Sherman, stay with us where you are. Up next, I will dig deeper into the details of the sanctions relief, the prisoner swap. We'll be back with more from Wendy Sherman and we are joined by a great panel when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:17:39] ZAKARIA: Let's dig into the details of the deal, the sanction relief, the prisoner swap more with a terrific panel. Here in New York, Brett Stephens is the foreign affairs columnist for the "Wall Street Journal," Karim Sadjadpour is a senior associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Joe Cirincione is a nuclear weapons expert and the president of the Ploughshares Fund. And the former U.S. lead negotiator Wendy Sherman remains with us from Tel Aviv.

Joe, let me ask you about the nature of these concessions and how far it puts Iran back. Because one of the things that I think hasn't been focused on enough is the plutonium facility that Iraq -- that Iran has cemented over. So most nuclear arsenals are plutonium. The United States' arsenal is 100 percent plutonium because plutonium gives you a bigger bang for the buck.

JOE C CIRINCIONE, PRESIDENT, PLOUGHSHARES FUND: Yes.

ZAKARIA: And this was one that Iran has not just scaled back but completely destroyed.

CIRINCIONE: Yes. You know, many people didn't want us to negotiate with Iran on this deal. They wanted to go to war with Iran, to attack Iran to eliminate these facilities. And that plutonium reactor in particular was one of the drivers that pushed the Israelis to say we have to attack now. Because once it goes operational, attacking then would spew radioactivity all over the region. And it was these negotiations at first stopped the construction of that reactor and now as verified just yesterday by the IAEA has completely gutted that reactor.

We have -- we've taken out the core of the reactor. The Iranians have drilled it full of holes, filled it with concrete. This reactor is now like the parrot from Monty Python. It is dead. It is gone. It is no more. It has passed on. This plutonium capabilities now permanently removed from Iran. They have pledged never rebuild it and to make sure we have years, decades of international inspections. Instead of soldiers patrolling these nuclear complexes as some wanted, we have international inspectors making sure this is under lock, tied down for a generation or more.

ZAKARIA: And on the uranium front, you know, you remember Bibi Netanyahu a couple of months away from having enough enriched uranium to make a bomb.

CIRINCIONE: Yes.

ZAKARIA: Where are they now?

CIRINCIONE: Yes. Weeks away, he said, they got. So that bomb has now been completely drained of uranium. Bibi can rest assured they do not have the capability to build a bomb. Under this timeline, it would take them at least a year to restart those facilities, to make a material even for one bomb.

[10:20:07] So the Fordow facility, that secret underground facility that Israeli bombs can't penetrate, that has been stripped of all uranium enrichment capability, about a thousand centrifuges are left, but they're not allowed to enrich uranium, which is easily detectible. And again, under cameras inspectors lock down. Only about 500 centrifuges are left from the almost 20,000 they had. They ripped the rest of them out. Took out the plumbing. Took out the wiring. Put those centrifuges again under lock and key and camera in safe warehoused facilities.

And the -- any uranium gas that they had, that most of that has been shipped out of the country so they are now years away from the capability of building a nuclear weapon.

ZAKARIA: Brett Stephens, you were a skeptic from the start. Are you still a skeptic?

BRETT STEPHENS, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Sure. I mean, the enthusiasm that Joe shows for the deal reminds me of the enthusiasm a lot of people on his side thought for the Yongbyon agreed framework in 1994 where almost precisely the same promises were made about North Korea's nuclear program. And there are a couple of basic problems that we have here.

One of them is the quality of intelligence. Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said intelligence must never be mistaken for intelligence. What we learned is time and time again we are surprised by nuclear development developments, whichever way they go, by the way. We didn't know that India was about to test a bomb back in 1998 starting a nuclear arms race in South Asia. John Bolton was mocked in 2003- 2004 suggesting that the North Koreans were embarking on a uranium enrichment facility. The facility was in fact confirmed by Professor Hecker of Los Alamos several years later.

So the -- people should be very muted in their confidence that Iran has completely dismantled not only the side of their program that we've seen, that we have uncovered, but also things that we might not know about. The second problem that you have with this deal is even as the Iranian fortunately have leased their hostages, they've taken the biggest hostage of all, and that's the nuclear deal itself.

I mean, just consider Iran test fired two ballistic missiles in blatant violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. The administration said it was going to sanction Iran for that. The Iranians said hey, we will consider that a violation of the deal and lo and behold the administration quietly removed the sanctions. So Iran is going to use the threat of might it call nuclear snap back to constantly tell the West if you sanction us for our behavior, the deal is off.

ZAKARIA: Wendy, in Tel Aviv, you heard Brett Stephens on this issue of missile testing. What do you think happened? We have about a minute. So I'm sorry to ask you to do this briefly.

SHERMAN: Sure. All I'll say is that indeed the administration has said it will proceed with sanctions against Iran for its missile violations and I expect that they will. It takes time to put the evidentiary material together and one just doesn't do this on the back of an envelope. So in that I think Brett is entirely wrong.

ZAKARIA: And what about the more general point which is that the deal is one that the administration is going to want to preserve and is going to wink at some smaller Iranian violations?

SHERMAN: This is not an all-or-nothing response to Iran. The way that the deal is written, there can be calibrated responses if Iran doesn't do something major, but does something minor. There's an entire dispute resolution mechanism and an ability for the United States to unilaterally slap back sanctions on and to go to the United Nations and get multilateral sanctions back on without the ability of China or Russia or anybody else to veto that action.

This can be done in small steps, this can be done all at once. So we have a way to calibrate this and we have a way to respond to the violations that may occur. And I trust that we will. ZAKARIA: Stay there, everyone. We will be right back with more news

out of Iran including a statement finally by the president of the United States, coming up at 10:45. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:27:57] ZAKARIA: And we are back with more on the Iran deal, the sanctions relief and the prisoner swap with Joe Cirincione, Brett Stephens, and Karim Sadjadpour.

Karim, you're a great follower of Iran's internal politics. And what I'm struck by is the hard liners in Iran have always been very powerful. They have -- you know, if you think about something like this naval incident that happened in 2007 when the British naval boat goes in. They're able to take them for 13 days. They parade them around. Ahmadinejad grandstands. He gives them free uniforms, their clothes back, and something like year and a half, you know, one day they return them.

The hostages whom they had taken have to be given back. And of course, you know, as -- you know, and the Iranian parliament, they said 300 concessions were made by Iran. Some of this is rhetoric I assumed but has the power of the hard liners weakened? Are we looking at a different Iran?

KARIM SADJADPOUR, SENIOR ASSOCIATE, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE: I think it's premature to say that, Fareed. This deal wasn't signed by the Iranians because of geopolitics. It was signed because of economic -- a combination of sanctions, the drop in oil prices and the billions they're hemorrhaging in Syria I think forced them to take this decision.

And I think that's why some folks, people like Henry Kissinger, are concerned that a year from now when the sanctions are removed, the Western businesses are back in Iran, maybe oil prices have come up a little bit, are the Iranians going to continue to adhere to the deal. And we will see what happens.

ZAKARIA: But when you look at what it was that got Rouhani the support? Is it public support? Is it at the end of the day people know that Rouhani is very popular, this deal is very popular or is it do you think that the supreme leader who ultimately has the power has decided to come to, you know -- come to terms with reality?

SADJADPOUR: Well, I think power in Iran, the power of a politician in Iran doesn't necessarily derive from the popular support. It's from the monopoly of coercions. President Rouhani has probably the most popular politician in Iranian. The Iranian people overwhelmingly want change. And we shouldn't understood estimate their will for change, but we shouldn't also underestimate the will of the Iranian hardliners to crush change.

I think, for forces like the Supreme Leader, the Revolutionary Guards, economic integration, rapprochement with the United States, poses more of an existential threat to them than continued isolation. And what we have seen in Iran since the 1979 revolution have been basically these moments of great expectations followed by years of disillusionment. So at the moment there are great expectations in Tehran. But the pattern here isn't necessarily a very optimistic one.

ZAKARIA: Bret, what do you make of the fact that we have this peculiar situation where, in Iran, we are witnessing real politics. There are -- there are moderates; there are hardliners. The hardliners have some power. The moderates have some power.

I mean, frankly, there is a certain amount of similarity with the situation in the United States. I would -- I would underscore Iran is a dictatorship; the United States is a democracy. But my point is that you can see the politics. But in all our Arab allies, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, you don't see any politics. It's an entirely monarchical or dictatorial system.

Within the Middle East, Iran seems to be the one where we actually can see a little bit of what's going on inside this black box. Is that a good thing?

STEPHENS: Well, we have managed politics in Iran, or you might even say stage-managed politics. There's going to be an election next month. The candidates will have already been selected in advance. So I'm not quite sure whether that's real politics or maybe you might call them Potemkin-style politics.

The Supreme leader ultimately was the person who had to give his assent to the deal. And, in fact, in giving his assent, he renegotiated a part of the deal. So you have what you might call the illusion of participatory politics, but I'm not sure you have the reality.

Now, it's certainly true, when you look at the Arab world, that there you have a variety of monarchical or dictatorial systems, much to dislike but actually many things to see possibilities of hope.

Look at what's happening in the United Arab Emirates. Go to Dubai or go to Abu Dhabi and compare that to what might be happening just across the water in the Persian Gulf. It's a much more, sort of, open -- open type of society.

The fact is we are -- for better or for worse, we are saddled or we are wedded to the alliances that we have. And we betray those alliances strategically, from a realist's perspective, at our own peril. How badly do we want to push an already nervous Saudi monarchy in the direction of rapid change, or perhaps say, "We don't want to support you anymore?" Because Saudi Arabia, that monarchy, isn't just going to go off to Highgate or to the Riviera and leave a nice democracy behind. We have an interest in making sure that our allies understand that we are going to remain committed allies to them despite the obvious defects of their social and political systems.

ZAKARIA: I want to talk about the -- the sanctions relief. Because I think it's going to be a little less dramatic than people realize, for a very simple reason. Oil is at $30 a barrel. Iran needs oil at $145 a barrel to balance its budget. So I don't see much of a windfall at the end of the day. SADJADPOUR: I think that's right. And I think that's why the popular

expectations people have that their quality of life is going to significantly improve may -- may be disappointed. You know, Iran is probably the largest population in the world which is still isolated from the global economy. You can't use your credit card in Iran. So there's -- there's huge interest in Iran from Asia, Asian businessmen, from Western businessmen.

But I think there is also an important litmus test here, which is the case of Siamak Namazi, who is the last remaining Iranian-American hostage in Iran. He's someone who was an energy consultant, which is very well known by major oil companies, major international corporations. When you have someone like that languishing in an Iranian prison, it's going to continue to send the message to Western businesses that this country isn't yet ready for change.

ZAKARIA: On the nuclear program, just very quickly -- we have 30 seconds. I'm just trying to get a sense of do you think there's a way for them to furtively do this? You know, we've heard talk about satellites and things like that. How worried are you about the points that Bret was making, you can only know what you know?

CIRINCIONE: Right, this deal cuts off the uranium pathway to a bomb. It cuts off the plutonium pathway to a bomb. And it cuts off the covert pathway to a bomb. It's true they could have a small secret facility, but then they'd have to have a secret mine to get the uranium, a secret group of scientists who would have to come, a secret facility for building the centrifuges. The layers of inspections are so complex and the restrictions on their program are so deep that it would be extraordinary if Iran could secretly break out of this deal without us knowing it.

ZAKARIA: And that's different from North Korea, Bret? Fifteen seconds.

STEPHENS: Well, precisely so. I mean, what we've learned, the Defense Science Board had a wonderful paper on this in early 2014, and the emphasis is, especially with these primitive nuclear programs, the pathways to proliferation are multiplying. What we don't know -- we learned that with the A.Q. Khan network -- is vast. It's foolish to imagine a country like Iran that we can know everything about what's going on in this country. Their nuclear program was secret to begin with.

ZAKARIA: Stay there, everyone. We will be back with a statement from the president of the United States on the Iran deal and the prisoner exchange coming up at 10:45. We'll have some live reports from Germany, where the American prisoners are expected to land shortly, and our panel. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAKARIA: We are back with live coverage of this extraordinary weekend for Iran, for the United States. Joining me now is CNN's Fred Pleitgen, who is in Ramstein, Germany, at the American air base where the prisoners released from Iran are expected to land shortly. Fred, what do we know about the condition of the -- the former

prisoners? I remember reading reports that Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post correspondent, has lost 40 pounds in prison. Do we know much about their health?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we don't -- we don't, at this point, know very much about their health. But we do know that Jason Rezaian, from the reports that we've been hearing, Fareed, that he wasn't doing very well. And of course he was in that very tough detention facility there at Evin Prison, which is known to be one that is very, very harsh and certainly not one that would be conducive to someone with a medical condition.

The other big questions, of course, is Amir Hekmati, who was in Evin Prison for four years. And that, of course, raises all sorts of question marks as to how he would be doing. And you're absolutely right. In the next couple of hours we do expect that plane that took off from Tehran to land first in Switzerland and then to come here to the Ramstein Air Base.

What's going to happen then is that the people who came out of Iran are going to be taken off. They're going to be taken by bus to the Landstuhl Medical Facility. And that's where they're going to get state-of-the-art medical treatment. The Landstuhl Medical Center, of course, is well known around the world as America's pretty much biggest U.S. military medical facility outside of the U.S. It's a class II trauma center. It's a place where they are going to receive world-class treatment.

And the other thing is, Fareed, it's not only a hospital; it's also a very large compound, and from what we're hearing, they're also going to be reunited with their family in that place, where, of course, they will also have some privacy to see each other again, to hold their loved ones once again, and then of course to receive the medical treatment that, no doubt, they are going to need after this long imprisonment.

ZAKARIA: Thanks so much, Fred. Stay on it, terrific reporting.

When we look at the -- you know, the images, once we will see them, it will remind us, Bret Stephens, of the Cold War. Because Ramstein Air Base was often the transit point -- the movie "Bridge of Spies" has these kind of exchanges. And, of course, the Israeli government has done many such exchanges, sometimes 1,000 Palestinians for one Israeli.

And yet there are critics who say this should never have happened because you are, in some sense, making concessions that will then lay the seeds for the next round of hostage-taking.

STEPHENS: Well, I'm glad these -- these Americans are coming home. And it seemed to me a fairly even exchange, except for the obvious fact that the Iranians who were being exchanged were indicted or charged with serious crimes. These are simply people who -- Americans who happen to be in Iran and were genuine hostages. Look, in the Israeli case, it's somewhat complicated by a number of

factors. One is the ratio. In one case, one -- one soldier who had been taken in Gaza for a number of years was released for I think something like 1,000 prisoners. And that's really an important question to ask, whether the ratio's even. A lot of these prisoners were dangerous people who then returned to terrorist organizations.

ZAKARIA: Which is -- just to be clear -- which is not true in the case of the Iranians who were being held in America. My understanding is these were just people...

STEPHENS: They were businessmen passing on technology.

ZAKARIA: They violated the embargo, but they are not terrorists?

STEPHENS: That's exactly right.

The case of Israel is complicated by the fact that it is a citizens' army. The people who are in it are often conscripts. There's a feeling that there's an advantage for every soldier to know that the entire country will go all the way to get them back. And I think we owe some deference to the Israelis to make those sorts of ethical decisions for themselves.

ZAKARIA: Super.

We are now going to go to Jake Tapper in Washington because we are going to hear from the president shortly. I would love to hear from Jake what he thinks the president is going to say. This is a big victory for diplomacy, something he talked about way back in his first presidential campaign?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR, "STATE OF THE UNION": That's right. And in fact, he talked about dealing with Iran and other nations with whom the United States has had icy and hostile relations. During the Democratic debates in 2007, 2008, obviously there is going to be time for politicians to criticize the Iran deal and criticize details of the swap that took place, four Americans being held under what American officials call trumped-up charges in Iran, being swapped for seven individuals being held in the United States.

There will be time for criticism. But, right now, Fareed, what we should probably do is take a moment and reflect on how wonderful a moment this is for the families of these four individuals, Amir Hekmati, the former U.S. Marine who has been held since 2011; Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post reporter. That's been a big cause, getting him freed. Saeed Abedini, the minister -- we've had his wife Naghmeh on the show, on my show, several times talking about her desire to get him home. And then Nosratollah Khosravi, who is not coming back, we're told, on the flight that has already left Tehran. He's staying in Iran, at least for now.

It's a remarkable moment, Fareed, for these families, so many tears shed, and the great news that these individuals will be coming home.

ZAKARIA: Jake, do you think that the president is going to use this as an opportunity to talk about a thaw in relations with Iran?

Because, you know, there's always been two elements to this. One is you do the deal because Iran is a rogue nation and you want to make sure it doesn't have nuclear weapons, and it is a competitor and you'd want to make sure it doesn't have a nuclear capacity. And the other was the "Nixon Goes to China," the opening up of Iran, the bringing Iran in from the cold. Do you think the administration feels it's time to start talking about that broader possibility?

TAPPER: I think, probably. I don't know exactly what he's going to say. But I do think that he will herald this moment as an opportunity to demonstrate what diplomacy can achieve in terms of getting these Americans home safe.

He will likely make the case that it's because of the thaw in relations between the United States and Iran; it is likely because of this deal, this deal to end Iran's potentially nuclear weapons program -- it's a nuclear program, but potentially those could be weaponized -- to end that program, that that's how this was able to be diffused, including what happened recently, just in a few -- a few days ago with the 10 U.S. sailors who had, according to them, accidentally drifted into Iranian waters, were being detained by Iran, were ultimately released.

We see the aide to the president putting his remarks out on the podium there in the Cabinet room.

I think he'll likely do that. But it's also true that there is a real compartmentalization, as you know, Fareed, in terms of Iran's behavior, on one hand, in terms of doing everything it was told it needed to do and the United Nations certifying that they had done it, when it comes to ending their potential weaponization program of their nuclear program, but then, at the same time, also doing things that they're not supposed to be doing, such as the ballistic missile test several weeks ago.

In fact, it's not long ago -- just over the weekend, I believe -- that the Obama administration and the Treasury Department initiated some new sanctions against individuals in Iran for that ballistic missile test. So I wonder if the president is going to take the opportunity to both herald this moment, talk about the achievement in diplomacy, getting these Americans home, getting the 10 U.S. sailors home, ending the nuclear program as it existed, while also issuing something of a warning to Iran in terms of their behavior, in terms of the ballistic missile test, in terms of their sponsoring of terrorism. They are still listed as a state sponsor of terrorism, according to the U.S. State Department. That hasn't changed. So it might be a double-edged message, especially now that the Americans are out safely and he can talk about the ballistic missile test and the sanctions against those Iranians allegedly responsible for that test, Fareed.

ZAKARIA: I think it's, in any event, going to be a very big event in -- in, you know, geopolitics. You hear, already, the Chinese president has made plans to visit Iran. The French foreign minister is making his second or third trip there. You know, India is boosting it relations. In many ways, I think we might look at this as Iran coming in from the cold and a victory for the president. And there he is.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a good day. Because once again we're seeing what's possible with strong American diplomacy. As I said in my State of the Union address, ensuring the security of the United States and the safety of our people demands a smart, patient and disciplined approach to the world. That includes our diplomacy with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

For decades, our differences with Iran meant that our governments almost never spoke to each other. Ultimately, that did not advance America's interests. Over the years Iran moved closer and closer to having the ability to build a nuclear weapon. But from Presidents Franklin Roosevelt to John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan, the United States has never been afraid to pursue diplomacy with our adversaries. And as president, I decided that a strong, confident America could advance our national security by engaging directly with the Iranian government.

We've seen the results. Under the nuclear deal that we, our allies and partners reached with Iran last year, Iran will not get its hands on a nuclear bomb. The region, the United States and the world will be more secure.

As I've said many times, the nuclear deal was never intended to resolve all of our differences with Iran, but, still, engaging directly with the Iranian government on a sustained basis for the first in decades has created a unique opportunity, a window to try to resolve important issues.

And today I can report progress on a number of fronts. First, yesterday marked a milestone in preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Iran has now fulfilled key commitments under the nuclear deal. And I want to take a moment to explain why this is so important.

Over more than a decade, Iran had moved ahead with its nuclear program. And before the deal, it had installed nearly 20,000 centrifuges that could enrich uranium for a nuclear bomb. Today, Iran has removed two-thirds of those machines.

Before the deal, Iran was steadily increasing its stockpile of enriched uranium, enough for up to 10 nuclear bombs. Today, more than 98 percent of that stockpile has been shipped out of Iran, meaning Iran now doesn't have enough material for even one bomb.

Before, Iran was nearing completion of a new reactor capable of producing plutonium for a bomb. Today, the core of that reactor has been pulled out and filled with concrete so it cannot be used again.

Before the deal, the world had relatively little visibility into Iran's nuclear program. Today, international inspectors are on the ground and Iran is being subjected to the most comprehensive, intrusive inspection regime ever negotiated to monitor a nuclear program. Inspectors will monitor Iran's key nuclear facilities 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. For decades to come, inspectors will have access to Iran's entire nuclear supply chain. In other words, if Iran tries to cheat; if they try to build a bomb covertly, we will catch them.

So the bottom line is this, whereas Iran was steadily expanding its nuclear program, we have now cut off every single path that Iran could have used to build a bomb. Whereas it would have taken Iran two to three months to break out with enough material to rush to a bomb, we have now extended that breakout time to a year. And with the world's unprecedented inspections and access to Iran's program, we'll know if Iran ever tries to break out.

Now that Iran's actions have been verified, it can begin to receive relief from certain nuclear sanctions and gain access to its own money that had been frozen. And perhaps most important of all, we've achieved this historic progress through diplomacy, without resulting to another war in the Middle East.

I want to also point out that, by working with Iran on this nuclear deal, we were better able to address other issues. When our sailors in the Persian Gulf accidentally strayed into Iranian waters, that could have sparked a major international incident. Some folks here in Washington rushed to declare that it was the start of another hostage crisis. Instead we worked directly with the Iranian government and secured the release of our sailors in less than 24 hours.

And this brings me to a second major development. Several Americans unjustly detained by Iran are finally coming home. In some cases these Americans faced years of continued detention. And I've met with some of their families. I've seen their anguish, how they ache for their sons and husbands. I gave these families my word. I made a vow that we would do everything in our power to win the release of their loved ones, and we have been tireless.

On the sidelines of the nuclear negotiations, our diplomats at the highest level, including Secretary Kerry, used every meeting to push Iran to release our Americans. I did so myself in my conversation with President Rouhani.

After the nuclear deal was completed, the discussions between our governments accelerated. Yesterday, these families finally got the news that they had been waiting for.

Jason Rezaian is coming home. The courageous journalist for The Washington Post who wrote about the daily lives and hopes of the Iranian people -- he's been held for a year and a half. He embodies the brave spirit that gives life to the freedom of the press. Jason has already been reunited with his wife and mom.

Pastor Saeed Abedini is coming home, held for three and a half years. His unyielding faith has inspired people around the world in the global fight to uphold freedom of religion. And now Pastor Abedini will return to his church and community in Idaho.

Amir Hekmati is coming home. A former sergeant in the Marine Corps, he's been held for four and a half years. Today his parents and sisters are giving thanks in Michigan.

Two other Americans unjustly detained by Iran have also been released. Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari and Matthew Trevithick, an Iranian who was in Iran as a student. Their cases were largely unknown to the world, but when Americans are freed and reunited with their families, that's something that we can all celebrate.

So I want to thank my national security team, especially Secretary Kerry; Susan Rice, my national security adviser; Brett McGurk; Avril Haines; Ben Rhodes. Our whole team worked tirelessly to bring our Americans home, to get this work done. And I want to thank the Swiss government, which represents our interests in Iran, for their critical assistance.

And, meanwhile, Iran has agreed to deepen our coordination as we work to locate Robert Levinson, missing from Iran for more than eight years. Even as we rejoice in the safe return of others, we will never forget about Bob. Each and every day, but especially today, our hearts are with the Levinson family and we will not rest until their family's whole again.

In a reciprocal humanitarian gesture, six Iranian-Americans and one Iranian serving sentences or awaiting trial in the United States are being granted clemency. These individuals were not charged with terrorism or any violent offenses. They're civilians and their release is a one-time gesture to Iran, given the unique opportunity offered by this moment and the larger circumstances at play. And it reflects our willingness to engage with Iran to advance our mutual interests, even as we ensure the national security of the United States.

So, nuclear deal implemented; American families reunited. The third piece of this work that we got done this weekend involved the United States and Iran resolving a financial dispute that dated back more than three decades. Since 1981, after our nations severed diplomatic relations, we've worked through an international tribunal to resolve various claims between our countries.

The United States and Iran are now settling a longstanding Iranian government claim against the United States government. Iran will be returned its own funds, including appropriated interest, but much less than the amount Iran sought. For the United States, this settlement could save us billions of dollars that could have been pursued by Iran, so there was no benefit to the United States in dragging this out. With the nuclear deal done, prisoners released, the time was right to resolve this dispute as well.

Of course, even as we implement the nuclear deal and welcome our Americans home, we recognize that there remain profound differences between the United States and Iran. We remain steadfast in opposing Iran's destabilizing behavior elsewhere, including its threats against Israel and our Gulf partners and its support for violent proxies in places like Syria and Yemen.

We still have sanctions on Iran for its violations of human rights, for its support of terrorism and for its ballistic missile program. And we will continue to enforce these sanctions vigorously. Iran's recent missile test, for example, was a violation of its international obligations. And as a result, the United States is imposing sanctions on individuals and companies working to advance Iran's ballistic missile program. And we are going to remain vigilant about it. We're not going to waver in the defense of our security or that of our allies and partners.

But I do want to, once again, speak directly to the Iranian people. Yours is a great civilization with a vibrant culture that has so much to contribute to the world in commerce and in science and in arts. For decades your government's threats and actions to destabilize your region have isolated Iran from much of the world. And now our governments are talking with one another. Following the nuclear deal, you, especially young Iranians, have the opportunity to begin building new ties with the world. We have a rare chance to pursue a new path, a different, better future that delivers progress for both our peoples and the wider world. That's the opportunity before the Iranian people. We need to take advantage of that.

And to my fellow Americans, today we're united in welcoming home sons and husbands and brothers who, in lonely prison cells, have endured an absolute nightmare. But they never gave in and they never gave up. At long last, they can stand tall and breathe deep the fresh air of freedom.

As a nation, we face real challenges around the world and here at home.