World Leaders Urge Trump Not To Pull Out Of Iran Nuclear Pact
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
President Trump says he has made up his mind what to do about the Iran nuclear deal. He wouldn't tell reporters what he's decided, but he's made no secret in past of how he feels about Iran and in particular how he feels about the nuclear deal reached in 2015 under Barack Obama.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into. Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don't think you've heard the last of it. Believe me.
KELLY: That's the president talking this week at the United Nations. Now, the president's critics argue that pulling out of the Iran deal would be a huge mistake, and we're going to hear now from one of those critics. Ben Rhodes was a foreign policy adviser to President Obama when the pact was negotiated, and he is on the line now. Good morning, Ben.
FORMER DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR BEN RHODES: Good morning.
KELLY: What would be the consequences of the U.S. exiting the nuclear deal?
RHODES: Well, we would be totally isolated from the rest of the world including our closest allies. The constraints on Iran's nuclear program would no longer be enshrined in a deal. And essentially Iran could restart its nuclear program, precipitating a second nuclear crisis in the Middle East to the one we have with North Korea, and we could be left with the decision, the United States, as to whether to allow Iran to go forward with its nuclear program or to start another war in the Middle East. And we thought this was the best way to prevent a nuclear weapon and to prevent another war.
KELLY: So long story short, you think this is a really bad idea to threaten to pull out?
KELLY: Let me put to you the argument that the - that the Trump administration makes, in a nutshell. This is - this is Secretary of State Rex Tillerson talking about the nuclear agreement, and this was yesterday on Fox News.
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SEC OF STATE REX TILLERSON: It's not a stiff enough agreement. It doesn't slow their program enough, and holding them accountable is difficult under the agreement. But most importantly, the agreement comes to an end. And so we can almost start the countdown clock as to when they will resume their nuclear weapons capability.
KELLY: OK, Ben Rhodes, that key point that Tillerson just raised about that this would only rein-in Iran's nuclear program until a certain date, and could the U.S. cut a better deal that would rein it in more permanently?
RHODES: Well, first of all, he made a number of misstatements. It - it didn't slow. It rolled back the Iranian program. It does have provisions that begin to phase out after 10 years and up until 15 years. It's - it's an agreement that is permanent in the sense that Iran has a permanent commitment to not build a nuclear weapon, but some of the constraints were negotiated for 10 or 15 years. What I would say to that, though, is why would we blow up this nuclear deal now over something we're concerned about happening 10 years from now? There's time at the conclusion of this period of the deal to come back and look at it. But why not keep the constraints in place now? It seems like they're precipitating a crisis that is totally unnecessary in seeking to reopen what happens 10 years from now today.
KELLY: One other key point of disagreement, which is whether Iran is already in violation of the deal. From the evidence that you have seen, is it?
RHODES: No. And that's not just my decision. The judgment of the U.S. intelligence community, the IAEA, the monitoring mechanism, our closest allies, even the Trump administration itself has certified twice that Iran is complying with this deal. That is a matter of fact. It's not a subjective matter. And so therefore to be threatening to decertify Iranian compliance, as President Trump has done, flies in the face of the facts and, frankly, alienates us from our closest European allies and, frankly, gives international opinion - pushes it in the direction of Iran, which is exactly what we don't want.
KELLY: What about the argument - again, made by the Trump administration - that Iran is violating the spirit of the deal with its missile program, with threats that - that we heard again yesterday from Iran's President Rouhani threatening to restart industrial-scale uranium enrichment?
RHODES: Well, that threat was made in the context of the U.S. pulling out of the deal. I would say that there's...
KELLY: Threats responding to threats, responding to threats, yeah.
RHODES: But - yeah, and there's a lot of elements of Iranian behavior that we don't like, its support for terrorism, its missile program among them. But that's precisely why we don't want them to have a nuclear weapon. You know, you don't make nuclear deals with Sweden. You make nuclear deals with countries that you don't want to have a nuclear weapon. And that's why this deal focused explicitly on the nuclear program. There are other ways of getting at other elements of Iranian behavior, but all of those elements would be worse if they had a nuclear weapon. That's why this deal prevents it.
KELLY: One quick development - one development to quickly ask you about, which is this. Some news organizations are reporting today that President Trump may decide to throw the matter to Congress, let Congress decide whether to reimpose sanctions. Is that a good idea? Is that one way forward?
RHODES: No. I - you know, I think that creates some degree of chaos. If he doesn't certify, the matter does go to Congress. And the fact of the matter is you'll have the rest of the world wondering where the United States is on this question. And I think that's a very dangerous thing, especially when he's trying to deal with the same countries, Iran - with Russia and China to deal with North Korea. He should be - focus his attention on North Korea now, not creating a second crisis with Iran.
KELLY: All right. Ben Rhodes, thank you.
RHODES: Thank you.
KELLY: Ben Rhodes - he was a foreign policy adviser to President Barack Obama. And he's one of many voices we are hearing in the coming days on the question of what to do about the Iran nuclear deal. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.