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Trump Says Military Escalation is Over; Iran Fires Ballistic Missiles at Iraq; President Trump Will Impose New Sanctions on Iran; Ukrainian Boeing 737 Plane Crashes; David Urban, Member of Donald Trump's 2020 Advisory Committee, is Interviewed About Trump's Actions on Iran; Iran Supreme Leader Warns that Missile Strikes Are Not Enough; Mohammad Marandi, Professor, University of Tehran, is Interviewed About Iran; Interview With Former U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired January 8, 2020 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what's coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned, and a very good thing for the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And President Trump appears to be saying this round of military escalation is over, while also slapping new sanctions on Iran, and calling
on them to make a new deal. We talk to Trump confidant and 2020 campaign official, David Urban.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The United States waged an economic war against Iran, the United States has to come to its senses.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: The view from inside Iran, and what does all this mean for American foreign policy in the region? I speak to former deputy national
security adviser, Antony Blinken.
Plus, the fallout for the region, did President Trump indicate the rules of the game are changing? Analysis from journalist, Mina Al-Oraibi, in Abu
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
Iran seems to be standing down, those are the words of President Trump as he addressed the nation after Iran's retaliatory strikes on U.S. basis in
Iraq. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: All of our soldiers are safe and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases. Our great American forces are prepared for
anything. Iran appears to be standing down, which is a good thing for all parties concerned, and a very good thing for the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: The president spoke hours after Iran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two Iraqi military bases, housing U.S. troops
overnight. A strike that Iran's supreme leader called a slap in the face of America.
The belief in the administration seems to be that Iran chose to send a message rather than taking action that would provoke a substantial U.S.
military response. A rational for calming tensions, perhaps. It seems there may be no further escalation over the killing of Qasem Soleimani for
now. But crucially, the president did announce that his administration will impose new economic sanctions on Iran.
Meanwhile, as Iranians grapple with these tensions, tragedy as a Ukrainian Boeing 737 plane crashed minutes after takeoff from Tehran, killing all 176
people on board. At this point, there's no clear indication of what caused that crash.
So, is the president facing the bravest test of his presidency to date, sending conflicting messages? Let's get some insight now from a man who
knows him well, David Urban, political commentator and member of Donald Trump's 2020 advisory committee. He's joining me from Washington.
Welcome back to the program, David Urban.
DAVID URBAN, MEMBER OF DONALD TRUMP'S 2020 ADVISORY COMMITTEE: Thanks, Christiane. Thanks for having me.
AMANPOUR: I know that you are close to the president, you are close to many of his senior officials, you were all at West Point together, and you
have a sort of comradery, and you've been in touch with him. Can you walk us through, if you can, the sort of thinking before President Trump made
his statement, which the world is taking now as calming tensions, as not furthering a tit-for-tat military escalation for now? Are we reading it
correctly and how did he come to this?
URBAN: Yes. Christiane, I think you're exactly correct. I think this administration, this president, in previous interactions with Iraq had
exercised a great deal of restraint on numerous occasions.
AMANPOUR: You mean with Iran, right?
URBAN: Yes, with Iran. I'm sorry. Excuse me. Yes, with Iran, in terms of, you know, we had the attacks on the oil tankers, you had the attacks on
the Saudi oil fields and then, most notably, direct attack on a U.S. drone by the Iranians, and the president and the administration did not respond
And so, what I think -- you know, you saw in this instance, is the use of flexible deterrents, right. You know, there was a direct attack, direct
assault on the U.S. embassy, U.S. sovereign soil by Iranian proxies, and this president, unlike presidents in the past, decided to say, no longer
will the U.S. will allow Iran to attack the U.S. via proxies.
Look, in 1983 the attack on the U.S. marine corps barracks in Lebanon and on and on, the world and the U.S. has turned a blind eye to Iran, you know,
with the use of proxies. And this president has said, it's no longer going to be the case.
So, I think today was an off-ramp for further escalation. I think, it's a very positive thing. I think that you will see, hopefully, the world, you
know, de-escalates, tensions kind of ease and things get back to relative, you know, "normal" there in the region.
AMANPOUR: I wonder what normal is for you. And so, I want to go through a few of the things that the president said because he did seem to be
offering some measures forward, but then there was also some confusion and conflicting messages, which I'd hope that you will untangle.
But just from your perspective as a former artillery officer, and you've served in the Persian Gulf region during the first Gulf War, what did you
yourself make of Iran's retaliation? This was clearly expected, some kind of retaliation, and we were waiting to see whether it would be
proportionate as the Iranians said it would be, and whether it would be tolerable for the administration.
URBAN: Listen, I think, as you correctly point out, it was proportionate on their behalf, and tolerable on our behalf. So, it achieved the
Iranian's internal objectives of being able to look tough to their own internal population, yet not poke the bear, so to speak, and further
escalate the situation.
Look, you know, Christiane, the Iranian people are a great culture. We have -- you know, Iranians flourish everywhere in the world when they're
allowed to. Only under this regime are they being held back. And I think the president offered a glimpse of the possibilities of what could be
possible if this regime were to kind of change their course. Iran could enter the, you know, discourse, you know, and become a major player on the
world stage, Iranian doctors, engineers, artists. I mean, Iranian people are incredibly talented, and yet, they are being held back by their own
AMANPOUR: I want to take a few points step by step. Let's just talk about what sort of cause this latest round of escalation. I know that you and
the administration has a different view and you just loathe the Iran nuclear deal.
However, most analysts around the world believe that whatever you might think about it, certainly Iran was abiding by it. Tensions were reduced
between Iran and the United States. And the maximum pressure campaign is what U.S. intelligence had predicted would result in Iran lashing out, as
you enumerated, at the top, which has led us to this point.
So, my question to you is, President Trump did two things in this speech today. He doubled down on those sanctions and the maximum pressure
strategy, and he said the Europeans, the Russians, the rest of the world should pull out of the nuclear deal, but also come together to get Iran to
make a new deal. How do those two things work together? How does increasing what you just heard the Iranians call economic terrorism, how
does increasing and doubling down on that, the strategy that got us to this point right now, jive with trying to open a pathway to a new deal?
URBAN: Well, let's just be clear. The Iranian nuclear deal did nothing, and you know this and your viewers know this, did nothing to address some
of the major concerns of the region and the globe. The IRGC, the Quds Force, none of those organizations and groups were subject to any type of
monitoring sanctions. They were not a part of the deal.
And so, to have a deal that overlooks the major, major malfeasance, the bad actor, the part of the Iranian government that is causing problems
globally, the deal is not worth the paper it's written on. And so, you now, I would love to see the Iranian government come forward, you know,
step forward and say, hey, listen, we're going to change how we do business. We're going to, you know, come forward and sit down. The
president has offered to meet with the leaders of (INAUDIBLE) at the UNGA and other venues and it's been rebuffed by the Iranians. The ball is
clearly in their court, Christiane, here.
AMANPOUR: They say that if sanctions are removed, they would open up talks and they say that they would do that without preconditions. I guess I want
to know whether --
URBAN: It's a little chicken and an egg.
AMANPOUR: Well --
URBAN: Right. So, you know, if they would come forward, I think that if you were the party that's being -- that is being sanctioned, if you're
across the globe, if you're the party that is creating this chaos, I think it's incumbent on you to cease creating the chaos and come forward, sit
The president, again, has offered no preconditions, come sit at a pull- aside any of these numerous meetings he's offered and yet, it's been rebuffed.
AMANPOUR: Well, we'll see whether there's some kind of back channel way to try to figure out whether there's a route to reopening negotiations.
I want to ask you this. In their response, the Iranians were very clear that this was, in the words of the supreme leader, a slap in the face, that
this was, in the words of the foreign minister, a proportionate response under the legal rights that a country has for self-defense as they said.
The president of Iran talked about how Qasem Soleimani had helped Europe and the rest of the world in fighting ISIS, whatever you believe.
I know you're not going to agree with that. I'm telling you what they're saying. But listen, the question to you is this. Each and every one of
them have said in lockstep that our response is not military, it is to get the United States forces and presence out of this region. That's their
political game and political agenda.
To which point President Trump said the following, and I picked up on this and I would like you to analyze it for me. This is what he said about
getting NATO more involved in the region.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Today, I am going to ask NATO to become much more involved in the Middle East process. Over the last three years, under my leadership, our
economy is stronger than ever before and America has achieved energy independence. These historic accomplishment shades our strategic
priorities. We are now the number one producer of oil and natural gas anywhere in the world. We are independent and we do not need Middle East
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, that is a very clear statement to somebody who is trying to figure out what the president's strategic aim is. And I wonder how you
AMANPOUR: First of all, the U.S. does, according to U.S. figures, still depend on 5 percent of its oil from the Persian Gulf. So, it's not
completely independent of that. But was he saying there that he wants to reduce America's presence and increase "NATO's presence"? How did you read
URBAN: Yes, Christiane, I think you're exactly correct. Look, this president has been very clear from the time he's campaigned throughout the
time he's been in office that he is not in favor of the U.S., you know, being engaged in endless wars and having U.S. taxpayers fund endless wars
and have U.S. blood spilled in endless wars for no end.
AMANPOUR: I'm not saying endless wars. I understand that, although --
URBAN: No, no. I --
AMANPOUR: -- his strategy of confront and contain is a bit dubious.
AMANPOUR: But my question is, American presence in the region, presence, bases.
URBAN: Yes, I don't think that you will see a retrenchment, a major retrenchment in U.S. bases. I don't believe that you will see that. I do
think that what the president would love to see is something along the line that existed in Sinai with the multinational force observers. You know,
you have observers there from long ago, kind of maintaining the peace.
I think that there is a role for the globe to play NATO, Europe to play. The Europeans are very dependent on oil from this region as well. I think
they should help bear the burden. I think that's what the president is looking for here, some burden sharing in terms of defending and supporting
the peace in the region.
AMANPOUR: That's probably going to send jitters through the spines of the rulers of Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states. The UAE's oil minister
said the following about the Strait of Hormoz and how important it is for not just them, but for you as well. Just listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUHAIL AL MAZROUI, UAE ENERGY MINISTER: The Strait of Hormoz is not only important for us, it's important for the world economy and it's important
to the whole supply chain, and Iran understands that. If that supply is cut, I can assure you, every country in the world will be impacted. And
the world economy cannot sustain another $100 oil prices and another huge spike.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, you are, you know, on the president's 2020 advisory committee. I mean, you obviously know that there's no way that the United
States, by reducing its presence or whatever, can watch a situation where oil prices go up.
URBAN: No, Christiane, you're exactly correct. Look, there is a large presence, as you know, in Qatar (ph) and in Djibouti (ph), a large military
presence in these nations for that exact region. There are carrier battle groups in the region to ensure the free and unimpeded flow of ships in the
Strait of Hormuz. I don't see those going anywhere anytime soon.
AMANPOUR: Now, I want to also ask you about the last bit of President Trump's speech, where he directly addressed the people of Iran, and much
like you, he talked about what a great nation it was and what potential there is and what untapped potential.
I wonder whether you -- what message you got from the outpouring of the millions on the streets over the last four days. I mean, four straight
days of scenes that I haven't seen since the beginning of the Iranian revolution, that others in the United States say, suddenly, we have united
a nation around an unpopular regime, where there were demonstrations against the regime, there, in Iraq, in, you know, Lebanon. Are you
concerned about that? And I just want to play what the vice president of Iran, Masoumeh Ebtekar, told me about these scenes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MASOUMEH EBTEKAR, IRANIAN VICE PRESIDENT FOR WOMEN AND FAMILY AFFAIRS: This is a very clear indication of the response of the Iranian nation and
the fact that the presence of the people, the huge crowds are staggering. And even for us, we've been taking part in many of these marches and
demonstrations from the beginning of the revolution. This is something else. And from one city to another city, it's a resurrection. It's a
revival of the Islamic Revolution. It's a revival of the Iranian nation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And that's a reformist talking. I mean, about the revival of the Islamic Revolution that most people had thought was tired and on its --
you know, at least in that ideological way, you know, people were being fed up with it.
I mean, is that an unintended consequence, do you think, of all of this?
URBAN: Christiane, look, obviously it is a state where there is not a free and fair press, that people are not being able to access, you know, all the
information. They -- you know, unfortunately, the Iranian people have a controlled media and they get to see scenes and are told what they're told.
I believe, as the president said and as many others have noted, Tom Freeman and others, that the Iranian people flourish everywhere but Iran.
Why is that? It is because of the regime that is in place that does not allow them to do so. And this regime needs to change. And look, it is, as
you point, out only a week or so ago, they were rioting in the streets where Soleimani had to put down riots against it --
AMANPOUR: But that's what I'm saying.
URBAN: So --
AMANPOUR: You know, these were massive scenes that, actually, it's not about the Iranian press, it's our press looking at these scenes and I've
been there and I've seen -- I've never seen anything like it before, to be honest with you. I'm just wondering whether you're concerned that this
effort to reach out to the people of Iran may fall on deaf ears right now.
URBAN: Now, I am -- listen, I have a great deal of faith in the Iranian people, the Iranian diaspora. The Iranian people know that the United
States has no issues with the Iranian people, only Iranian regime in place currently.
AMANPOUR: OK. Now, I need to quickly ask you, because we always have to do this, the president keeps talking about his beautiful weapons and, you
know, the fantastic U.S. military and how, you know, they'll use them if they have to. And you, of course, a president of a company that represents
defense contractors and lobby against them --
AMANPOUR: -- or lobby for them, rather, major ones. Is there -- I mean, what do you think is going to happen next? Is this an opportunity for
your, you know, companies and others to --
URBAN: No, no, no. Christiane, I would say, look, up until this point, this president has been incredibly restrained with the use of force. As I
pointed out, you know, the attacks on the, you know, flag tankers, not U.S. flank tankers, but the, you know, foreign flag tankers, the Norwegian and
other tankers in the Straits, the attack on the Saudi oil fields, the attack on the U.S. drone, the president has been incredibly restrained in
use of military force.
So, I don't believe there's any -- no one is looking to profiteer here or there's no look at any type of military buildup here. This is a
proportional and flexible use of military force done by an administration that is very focused.
AMANPOUR: David Urban, thank you as always for joining us.
Now, we go to Iran where the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has warned that these missile strikes were not enough of a punishment for the
killing of their revered General Qasem Soleimani. Take a listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AYATOLLAH ALI KHAMENEI, SUPREME LEADER OF IRAN (through translator): They were struck with such a slap last night. That's another matter. Military
action like this is not sufficient. What is important is ending the corrupting presence of America in the region.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, to give us some perspective from within, I'm joined by Mohammad Marandi, a political analyst and Iranian academic joining me from
Mr. Marandi, welcome back to the program.
Let me first ask you about --
MOHAMMAD MARANDI, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF TEHRAN: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: -- Iranian retaliation. How is that going down at home? Is that enough for the people? It appears the United States can live with
what Iran did. Can the people of Iran?
MARANDI: I think the most important element about the strike was that all of the Iranian missiles got through the air defense system and the U.S.
armed forces were unable to down any of them or intercept them and they all hit their targets, and that was a major achievement, especially since the
Americans were expecting an attack of some sort, or at least they thought there may be an attack.
And that, I think, sends a message to the United States and the U.S. friends in the region, like Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, that all bases
are vulnerable to Iranian missiles and Iran has many such sites. And that those countries that are supporting the United States or who potentially
will support the United States in any military conflict, if they do so, they'll be seen as an enemy and they will be on the receiving end of
Iranian missiles as well.
So, I think that that is a sign of Iranian strength and people were quite impressed that these missiles or these -- I don't consider missiles to be
beautiful, but in the language of many Americans, beautiful missiles reached their destination.
AMANPOUR: Now, the president of the United States, as you know, addressed the nation and the world after this, everybody was waiting to see what his
response would be. And he believes that Iran has shown a response that he can tolerate. He said, as you heard, that Iran seems to be standing down
and that's good for everyone.
Can you confirm that? Do you feel that that's the case, that for now this round has happened, and that the rest is to be determined?
MARANDI: Well, I think that the military attacks will end because I think the Iranians feel that they've sent the right sort of message, even though
many leaders in the United States will deny it. But the Iranians feel that they understand that Iran has much more strength than they anticipated.
But I do think that this, we have entered a new chapter in the region. The Iraqis have turned against the United States, no matter what the Americans
say. We saw the funeral processions in Iraq for General Soleimani and it turned out that he was exceptionally popular there, contrary to what we've
been hearing over the past few months. And the Iraqis have turned against the United States. They want them to leave the country. And I think that
the Iraqis are ultimately going to force the Americans out.
And if the Americans don't leave, I think there will probably be conflict. The Americans would like to blame Iran, but -- as a scapegoat, but the
reality is that the Iraqis have the capability and the will to regain their sovereignty, and they probably will. So, it would be best for the
Americans to leave without this ending in some sort of confrontation.
So, I think that this is the beginning of the United States being pushed out of Iraq and ultimately Syria as well, because they need Iraq in order
to stay in Syria.
AMANPOUR: So, is it just Iraq and Syria or is it the rest of the region that Iran is insisting when it keeps saying the real retaliation, revenge
for the assassination, as they say, of Qasem Soleimani will be when American forces and presence leaves the region? Your supreme leader said
that today, President Rouhani said that today. And I wonder what message you took from President Trump saying that he's going to ask NATO to
shoulder more of a burden in the Middle East. That's what he said, he's going to call NATO and ask them to take on more in the Middle East.
MARANDI: Well, NATO is already facing its own internal crisis and I don't think they have that sort of capacity or the will to do so. There isn't
really much they can do. Iraq is asserting itself and the United States is going to have to recognize that. The only footholds that the Americans
will really have is Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. The Emirates is a very small country, a very -- only a fraction of the population is actually
And both Emirates and the Saudis, all of their assets are alongside the shore, very near the Iranian Coast. And therefore, very vulnerable to
Iranian retaliation if they are involved in any anti-Iranian activity. So, I think the Americans have to be more realistic.
Many in Washington like to think that Iran is weak and incapable and if the Americans really want to, they can take Iran out. I assure you that that's
not the thinking in Iran. The Iranians, ever since the illegal war in 2003, have been preparing themselves for an eventual confrontation with the
United States, which I hope never happens. But I think if it happens, we're going to see a regional war and we will see the loss of oil and gas
coming out of the Persian Gulf.
And even if the United States were self-sufficient, the price of oil would go so high, I don't believe it would be -- I think it would be well over
$200, $300 at least for the short-term and that would create an economic collapse. And no matter how much oil you have, once the global economy
collapses, you're as miserable as everyone else.
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about President Trump seemingly conflicting messages, where he said on the one hand, he wants Iran to be able to come
back to some kind of a new deal. He did urge his European allies and the others who are party to the Iranian nuclear deal, the JCPOA, to, as he
said, pull out of it, and Iran to come back and join everybody for another deal. He also said the following about sanctions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: As we continue to evaluate options and response to Iranian aggression, the United States will immediately impose additional punishing
economic sanctions on the Iranian regime. These powerful sanctions will remain until Iran changes its behavior.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, do you see an opening for a diplomatic or some kind of negotiated deal out of this, and actually a whole different deal to start?
MARANDI: No, I don't think that the Iranians will be willing to negotiate a new deal at all. And I think as things stand, the Americans will be very
lucky ever to get this deal again. Because the Iranians right now are doing research and development in the nuclear field. They no longer have
the limitations that they imposed upon themselves as a result of the deal. Therefore, Iran is advancing, progressing quite rapidly.
It is, of course, a peaceful program and the international atomic energy agency has full supervision over what's going on. They have full access.
But Iran is developing rapidly and you cannot take away the technology that a country develops.
So, what Trump has done is that he's helped Iran push forward these technological advances. And I don't think that even this deal will be able
to be brought back to the table. If there ever is a negotiation it will probably be Iran who will be demanding a lot more than today.
And I think, again, in the United States they always like to see Iran as weak and collapsing. I've been hearing this since I was a teenager, that
Iran is on the verge of collapse, Iran is unpopular, the people hate the government. It's always called a regime in the United States. But it's
been around for 41 years and I think that the funeral ceremonies that we saw over the past few days, both in Iran and Iraq, show a high degree of
legitimacy that you will not find anywhere else in this part of the world.
AMANPOUR: And finally, let me ask you, because there's been another tragedy in Iran, and that was the crash of the Ukrainian plane with 176
people on board. Most of them were Iranians. There were others as well, obviously, Ukrainians and some Canadians. Can you tell me, because clearly
everybody wants to know whether there was -- it had anything to do with the timing of what's been going on?
And Iran has said, right now, they will not be giving the black boxes to Ukraine, which is meant to be investigating them because they own the
planes and they fly that flag. What can you tell us about reaction there to this terrible tragedy?
MARANDI: Well, obviously it's a huge tragedy. Most of the passengers were Iranian. I think the Iranians will want to see what is in the black box
and figure out what happened. I don't know the reason why, at the moment, there may be a problem with Boeing, but it may have something to do with
the fact that Boeing has treated Iranians very poorly.
The United States is preventing Iranian aircraft from receiving spare parts. This is inhumane. It puts Iranian lives at risk. This particular
airliner was not an Iranian airliner, but it does remind Iranians of what the United States has been doing to Iran for the last four decades.
The United States even forces Airbus not to provide Iranian passenger aircraft with spare parts, which is very dangerous and puts people's lives
But the United States is carrying out economic terrorism. It is trying to -- economic warfare, as Trump himself calls it, is directed at women and
children. They even prevent the country from importing medicine.
They try to force countries not to allow Iran to purchase food from them. And the image of the United States in Iran is not good, to say the least,
AMANPOUR: This crisis is probably not over.
Mohammad Marandi, thank you so much for joining us from Iran, from Tehran there.
MARANDI: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: And, as we said, President Trump has taken this opportunity to step back from increasing the military confrontation, saying that he sees
opportunities to work with Iran, although we just heard the view from Tehran.
But he also again reiterated his criticism of the nuclear deal.
Tony Blinken was deputy national security adviser to President Obama. And he is now senior foreign policy adviser to the Democratic presidential
candidate Joe Biden.
And he's joining me from Washington.
Antony Blinken, welcome to the program.
TONY BLINKEN, FORMER U.S. DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: Hi, Christiane. Great to be with you.
AMANPOUR: I don't know whether you have heard all the back and forth between the president's view, the view from Iran, what the president said
Let me just ask you to give me your sense of where Iran and the United States are at this moment, given this apparent end to the current tit-for-
tat military cycle.
BLINKEN: Well, Christiane, what is encouraging is that there does seem to be on both sides a desire to de-escalate and we see that through the
comments from Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, and to some extent at least, the comments from President Trump this morning.
So, that's a good thing. And I'm also very thankful that no Americans were killed in the missile attack on our bases in Iraq.
But when I step back and look at where we are vs. where we were a week ago, before all of this, I think that, from the perspective of American
interests, we're in a much worse place, and this has been a strategic setback.
If you think about our core interests, first that Iran not get a nuclear weapon, well, as a result of the president tearing up the nuclear
agreement, and accelerated by the events of the last week, Iran now considers all restraints that it negotiated off, and it can pursue the
program that we stopped, we meaning Obama/Biden administration.
Second, we have a profound interest in continuing to stamp out ISIL, or Da'esh, and what remains of it. And yet now the forces that we have in
place to do that, a small number, but very critical, in Iraq and in Syria, are busy protecting themselves, instead of prosecuting the mission against
That means ISIL will have a window, an opportunity to regenerate, and all the more so if we're actually forced to leave Iraq. We want to make sure
that Americans are safe or safer. The administration said the action against Soleimani made them safer.
In the very next breath, it told Americans to leave Iraq, and embassies throughout the region have warned American citizens that danger is now
increased for them.
We have a profound interest in making sure that we're focused on the big strategic challenges we face in an adversary, Russia, and a strategic
competitor, China. Well, both of them are thrilled at the prospect of us getting re-embroiled in a conflict in the Middle East.
And, by the way, the president has talked about ending forever wars, which would be a good thing. He's now increased our troop presence in the region
by 18,000 in recent months.
And so if you step back and look at all of those interests, we're in a worse place than we were before all of this. And it goes back, in my
judgment, at least, to the original sin of the president tearing up the Iran nuclear agreement that was working, and unleashing a chain of events
that have brought us to today.
AMANPOUR: It seems ne'er the twain will meet over that. I mean, you are vehemently convinced that that defanged one of the main dangers from Iran,
and, likewise, the administration, you heard David Urban, you heard the president today call it a foolish deal.
I want to ask you, though. They have also said, gosh, look at us. We took an action that no other administration was ready to take, that we have sent
a very serious message of deterrence, that, yes, the Iran nuclear deal, but it never dealt with Iran's external malign activities, and that we believe
that this is going to send a message.
And you saw a relatively proportionate Iranian response that did not kill or damage any serious American personnel or facilities.
Why did you never take out Qasem Soleimani?
BLINKEN: Well, you always have to ask, for any action that you're thinking of taking, what are the likely consequences going to be? What will be the
second- and third-order effects?
And to the extent previous administrations, including the Bush administration, looked at this and may even have had opportunities to take
action, I think the conclusion was that the second- and third-order consequences meant that the risk was not worth the reward.
And the consequences that I just laid out suggest that that was the right calculus to make.
When we had militia in the past, for example, take shots at our embassy or at our bases, we in the Obama administration authorized our Special Forces
to go in and go after the trigger-pullers. And we did that in coordination and cooperation with the Iraqi government and dealt with them.
And, by the way, during the pendency of the Iran nuclear agreement, while it was enforced, being respected by both sides, there were virtually no
attacks on our facilities in Iraq, either on our embassy or on our military bases.
All of this started to unravel when President Trump tore up the agreement.
AMANPOUR: President Trump today called on, as I said, the rest of the signatories to the agreement to pull out, but also called on them and Iran
to, everybody, let's get together and come up with a new deal.
How likely do you think that is, given that he also re-upped the economic sanctions and the strategy of maximum pressure?
BLINKEN: Right now, not very likely.
And it's interesting, Christiane. The Iranians have now said that they are not going to abide by the remaining limitations on their program. We will
see what they actually do. You would think, in this context, that Europeans, our partners there as well, maybe even Russia and China, would
be very upset.
But they are so upset at the actions that the United States has taken, by the way, without consulting our partners, without informing them -- they
too had folks on the ground who are at risk and put at increased risk by these actions. So they're all sending the same message, which is both
sides need to de-escalate. And they are putting the United States on par with Iran, a moral equivalence.
That's a terrible place for us to be. That should never have happened. So I think the prospects of getting back to a deal are pretty low. That said,
it would be a very good thing if the administration decided to revisit this and put something concrete on the table. We will see if they do.
AMANPOUR: I just want to play -- I sort of described what the president said, but because it involves the other partners and his precise words, I
just want to play it and then get your reaction.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Iran must abandon its nuclear ambitions and end its support for terrorism.
The time has come for the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, and China to recognize this reality.
They must now break away from the remnants of the Iran deal, or JCPOA. And we must all work together toward making a deal with Iran that makes the
world a safer and more peaceful place.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: I mean, again, as we discussed, that's obviously a good intention, to make the world a safer and better place.
But do you think that the other signatories, the Europeans, who have tried their best to keep this deal alive, and who see Iran, as Iran says, take
reversible steps away from it to try to end these sanctions, do you see the Europeans changing their calculation right now?
BLINKEN: I think that's exactly the wrong message to send the Europeans, if you want to get them to work with you in dealing with these matters.
The fact of the matter is, the world was made a better and safer place by the Iran nuclear deal. It took a major challenge to world peace off the
table. It cut off all of Iran's pathways to a bomb. It put in the most intrusive inspections regime in arms control history, and, by every
account, Iran was abiding by the agreement.
And our own intelligence agencies confirmed that. That was a very strong foundation upon which to build. And before the president got out of the
agreement, he had an opportunity. He went to Europe, to the Europeans, and said, let's see if we can make this agreement even stronger, and I will
stick with it, if you're also willing to join us in taking even greater action against the other things that Iran is doing that we don't like.
And there was a conversation, a discussion that took place in that -- in that lane, in that -- and then the Europeans did make some commitments to
take an even tougher line with Iran when it came, for example, to its missiles, or to its support for destabilizing activities throughout the
And the president still pulled the rug out from under them by getting out of a deal that they were a party to as well, that they negotiated, along
with us, and that was working.
So, if anything, this is "Alice in Wonderland." The Europeans are the ones who would be saying to President Trump, you're the one who needs to come
back and see if we can revive what had been a very good deal for our interests, for our security, for our future.
AMANPOUR: I mean, I don't know whether it's just sort of tough talk, but you heard Mohammad Marandi, the Iranian expert, saying, even if there was
an attempt to get back to a deal, he's not sure you could even get back to one that, as he says, is as effective as the one that you already
BLINKEN: Well, Christiane, you put your finger on something else that's important too.
When I was running through the strategic setback I think we have -- we're now facing as a result the actions of the administration has taken, another
one of those setbacks is, at least for now -- and this could change -- that hard-liners have reconsolidated their position in Iran.
They have managed to rally everyone around the flag, in the wake of the death of Soleimani, when, just weeks ago, as you have noted, there were
significant protests throughout the country that were violently repressed by the government, by the regime.
So that's another setback too. There's a lot of message-sending going on. Again, I'm hopeful that what we have heard, both from President Trump this
morning here in Washington, but also from the Iranians, at least from the foreign minister, suggests that, OK, both sides have sent strong messages.
Let's -- let's cool it.
But this is not the end. And I do think there's a strong prospect that, in the weeks and months ahead, Iranians will look for other ways to make
trouble for us and to exact a cost for the removal of General Soleimani.
They have other means of doing so, including through cyberattacks.
AMANPOUR: How did you read President Trump saying he's tonight's going to be talking to -- today to NATO and ask them to get more involved in the
Middle East and then said, we're energy-independent, we don't need Middle Eastern oil? What is he saying? Is he saying this is the beginning of us
I -- what was he saying?
BLINKEN: I wish I knew. I really didn't understand that.
We have had a NATO training mission in Iraq, for example, that has been important and effective in helping to train the Iraqi military to confront
ISIL. That mission is now in jeopardy as a result of the actions that the administration took.
If the Iraqis follow forward on insisting that we leave, NATO is going too. And that mission will end. So, far from increasing NATO's role, we're
likely to see it decrease. That's one thing.
Second, I don't think the Europeans are of a mind to play ball on that. They're extremely upset that, again, a very consequential action taken that
affected their interests, there was no consultation, no information, nothing.
So that's a pretty, pretty heavy lift for the administration to reengage NATO. And, again, if this is about us pulling back, and NATO moving
forward, recent events belie that, because what we have seen, as I mentioned earlier, is, the president has actually increased the number of
Americans in the Middle East, our forces in the Middle East by about 18,000.
So he may talk about ending forever wars, but he's actually resourcing them right now.
AMANPOUR: So, let me just play this sound bite, because you're also a key foreign policy adviser to Vice President Biden.
I mean, you not only were in the Obama administration when this deal was negotiated, and very involved, but you're also now adviser to Biden, who's
leading the Democratic presidential campaign.
Let me just play what he said about this current state of affairs.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A president who says he wants to end endless wars in the Middle East is bringing us dangerously close to
starting a brand-new one.
A president who says he wants out of the region sends an additional 18,000- plus troops to deal with a crisis of his own making. An administration that claims its actions have made America safer, in the same breath, urges
our citizens to leave Iraq, puts Americans throughout the region on notice because of the increased danger that now exists.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Despite what you're saying to me and talking through your foreign policy lens, how does your candidate, the Democrats, make the case
that, yes, Qasem Soleimani had the United States in his targets, but, no, he shouldn't have been killed; yes, we need to make the world a safer place
and take on those malign activities of Iran, but not this way?
I mean, how do you take that to the people?
BLINKEN: Again, I Americans can see the consequences of the actions that the administration has taken.
Americans supported the Iran nuclear deal. They don't understand why President Trump tore it up. They have seen what's happened since then.
Far from getting the Iranians back to the negotiating table to negotiate some kind of better deal, as the president called it, they are now
advancing once again and reviving once again the nuclear program that the Obama/Biden administration stopped.
We talked about exerting pressure on the regime to stop it from taking provocative actions in the region. Well, we have just been through months
of exactly the opposite, where things have gotten more dangerous.
What the American people are seeing is, as a result of the actions of this administration, an already dangerous world has gotten exponentially more
dangerous, that the world is increasingly in disarray. And we are a contributor to that disarray, instead of actually solving the problems and
making Americans more secure.
So I think people feel that. I think they're deeply unsettled by the erratic, impulsive nature of President Trump's leadership. They're looking
for someone who can restore a sense of strong, steady, confident American leadership, where we're working with our allies, instead of alienating
AMANPOUR: I just...
BLINKEN: ... where we're standing up to dictators, instead of embracing them. So, I think they feel that.
AMANPOUR: I want to ask you a mischievous question.
I want to ask you a mischievous question...
AMANPOUR: ... is whether you think that there is anything political about President Trump's action.
As you know, back in 2011, he said the following about President Obama and posted it on his YouTube channel:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Our president will start a war with Iran because he has absolutely no ability to negotiate. I believe that he will attack Iran sometime prior
to the election, because he thinks that's the only way he can get elected.
Isn't it pathetic?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: I said it was mischievous. But, I mean, he said it. What do you make of that all these years later, that this is happening as an
impeachment is happening, as an election is under way?
BLINKEN: Well, look, Christiane, two things.
First, there's a very strong case to make that the president is one of the best examples we have ever seen of a phenomenon known as projection, which
is to say, the criticisms and attacks and insults that you -- you send toward your adversaries are actually better applied to you.
So, typically, what he says, what he accuses others of doing, he himself is the one responsible for doing.
AMANPOUR: All right.
BLINKEN: But, all of that said, look, I can't get into the president's mind or gauge his motives.
There was some analysis suggesting that he authorized the action against Qasem Soleimani because he was embarrassed by the images of our embassy
having been laid siege to and images of some burnt-out reception areas.
That could be. I don't know.
But I want to come back to something I have heard you say earlier on TV, and maybe this is most important of all. I still don't understand what the
administration's objectives are when it comes to Iran and what the strategy is to achieve those objectives. That remains a mystery. And it's a
mystery still after the president spoke today.
Is it regime change? Is it getting them back to the negotiating table on the Iran deal? Is it ending the missile program? What is it? And until
the administration has clarity about what it's trying to achieve and how is trying to achieve it, I think we're going to continue lurching from crisis
to crisis, from provocation of provocation, and the risks of conflict go up, not down.
AMANPOUR: Tony Blinken, thank you so much for joining us.
And we're going to ask that question to our next guest.
The Persian Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, are heavily dependent on America's protective umbrella. And as President Trump seemed to indicate,
he wants NATO to take on some of that burden. So how will that message be received?
Mina Al-Oraibi is editor in chief of "The National" in the UAE, and she's joining me now from Abu Dhabi.
Welcome to the program, Mina.
Let me just take that out with you, then, as our final guest this evening, after all of this -- events and sort of what we have seen unfold.
Do you see, does your region see a strategy emerging from the United States on Iran?
MINA AL-ORAIBI, EDITOR IN CHIEF, "THE NATIONAL": Well, this administration's been quite clear that it sees Iran's activities in the
region, Iran's proxies in the region as problematic.
And that's a view shared by many Arab states, not only the Gulf states, but other Arab states here. So this idea of Iran feeling that it can have its
proxies, militias, whether it's in Iraq, in Lebanon, in Syria, able to roam about freely -- Qasem Soleimani used to roam Iraq and Syria quite freely.
The Iranian foreign minister clearly used to say that, on issues like Yemen and Iraq and Syria, he has no real role. It's all with the military
command in Iran, and, namely, with Qasem Soleimani.
And that's been problematic. The nuclear deal is spoken quite often about in Europe in the U.S., but really, for people in the region here, nuclear
arms are definitely a concern, but so our proxies and this asymmetrical warfare that's really troubled the region for a couple of decades now.
And so, from that point of view, while the Trump administration has certain issues and problems that people are concerned about, in reality, the fact
that they raised the Iranian interference, if not proxy wars, that are going on in the region is something that quite a few Arabs agree with.
AMANPOUR: Clearly, also, we know that your leadership in the UAE, also in Saudi Arabia, have been calling for de-escalation for every -- for all
sorts of reasons. They don't want to see another war on their doorsteps or on their coastlines.
What do you make of President Trump's reaction today, and of Iran's retaliation that seemed to -- they seemed to have come to a sort of a de
facto agreement that that's it, for the moment at least?
AL-ORAIBI: For this round, hopefully, in terms of military escalation, that's where it's come from.
I'm originally from Iraq. And for many Iraqis, there is concern that this war is playing out in Iraq. And the attacks yesterday that happened, the
Ayn al Asad Air Base is an Iraqi base. Yes, there are American troops there. There are foreign troops there. But it's an Iraq air base.
But the Gulf here, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, you're right, have been calling for de-escalation. Let's not forget that there's quite strong evidence
that Iran was behind the attack on Aramco, for example, September, and that was a huge blow, really, for stability, regional stability.
And yet still Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other Arab countries said, let's calm down. Let's not escalate the situation, because, definitely, one
thing this region doesn't need is another war.
AMANPOUR: And what do you make of the words from President Trump in terms of presence in the region?
As you know, the Iranians have said our final revenge will be kicking Americans out of this region. And you heard President Trump talk about
trying to get other NATO nations to take more burden in that -- in your part of the region, and sort of -- sort of saying that we don't need the
oil from there, as we used to need it.
How do you think that message is going to be read in the UAE and in Saudi Arabia?
AL-ORAIBI: The Trump administration has been saying for quite some time they want to come out from the region, they don't want to see an American
This is an isolationist administration in many ways. And so it doesn't come as a surprise. There are other countries that are present here in the
Gulf, but also in the region. France has been playing a larger role than it used to. The Germans, to some extent, are also playing a role.
So I think there's no expectation that the U.S. is a lone presence in the region. What happens in Iraq and whether the Americans pull out from Iraq
or not will impact whether NATO is there.
It's quite clear that the American security umbrella that's present in Iraq is important for the presence of other NATO troops. Again, I mean, while
the Trump statements say that they want to -- Trump wants to pull out American troops from the region, he's been sending more troops into the
So, really, there's mixed signals there. The rhetoric is one thing. The reality on the ground is, the Americans still have huge strategic interests
here, whether it is securing oil resources or fighting terrorism.
Let's not forget that the fight against ISIS is not all complete yet. It's interesting to see that other countries, the Europeans, namely, the Brits,
the French, and the Germans, have come together, called for de-escalation, but also have huge interests here and not just yet going to be pulling out.
AMANPOUR: And President Trump also said something quite interesting. He said, Iran and the United States and the rest of the world share a fear,
hatred of ISIS, and here's an area where we could actually cooperate.
And, of course, that's one of the things that Iran points to, that, actually, it has taken the lion's share, certainly in the beginning, of
pushing back ISIS, either through its own forces or through its proxy militias in Iraq.
What do you make of that kind of description from the president, when -- when it's already been happening, and this may, in fact change that
AL-ORAIBI: Well, it's interesting, because President Trump always seems to find a way to keep a backdoor or a possible route to either meet with the
Iranians or speak with the Iranians.
The reality is, yes, Iran was involved in the fight against ISIS, but, equally, you have had close to 70 other countries fighting ISIS, especially
The Iranians have really tried to use this to their propaganda advantage, saying that the proxies on the ground were fighting ISIS, Da'esh. But, at
the same merits, it was really Iraqi armed forces inside of Iraq that pushed back against ISIS.
We had a huge contribution from the counterterrorism forces and some militias that are not controlled by Iran. Again, the militias on the
ground are not all Iranian-run. Some have their own allegiances inside of Iraq.
But the possibility of Iran working with the United States or with the international community to push back against terrorism, extremism is
something that we would be welcomed by everyone, including Gulf Arab states.
They're very keen to see stability, working towards that in the region. But, unfortunately, proxy rule, militia rule has only destabilized the
AMANPOUR: Mina, finally -- and we don't have much time left -- but we have talked about Iraq, where you're from.
And the Iraqis have said over and over again, certainly this last week, how desperate they are not to have their nation used as a battlefield for a
proxy war between the U.S. and the -- and Iran.
Where do you see -- can -- do you think that this is going to -- how do you think Iraq can make sure that that doesn't happen in the future?
AL-ORAIBI: The ultimate political battle at the moment is inside of Iraq.
So, Iran is putting pressure on those political parties and political leaders that it supports, in addition to, of course, militia leaders that
have representation in the cabinet or the Parliament, to push back against the U.S..
On the other hand, you have certain Iraqi leaders, either Arab nationalists or Kurdish nationalist or secularists, who don't want to see complete
control of Tehran over the Iraqi political process that are very concerned about the Americans pulling out.
We just had a vote for a resolution in Parliament that really people are questioning that there was even enough voting to push for American troops
to leave the country.
There's a caretaker prime minister. And let's not forget, there have been protesters on the streets of Baghdad from the 1st of October and other
parts of Iraq, from the 1st of October, pushing back against Iranian-backed militias and corruption in the country.
AL-ORAIBI: And it's heartbreaking to see that, actually, those people are -- their voices are getting forgotten.
AMANPOUR: Mina Al-Oraibi, thank you so much for joining us from Abu Dhabi.
And that is it for now. You can always catch us online, on our podcast, and across social media.
Thanks for watching, and goodbye from London.