FAREED ZAKARIA GPS: Beinart, Slaughter, Stephens, and Nye on what happens if there is no P+5 deal with Iran
The following are video highlights from this Sunday’s edition of FAREED ZAKARIA GPS. The show included panel discussions on the Iran nuclear deal and the assassination of Boris Nemstov (transcript included below), and an interview with Hans Rosling about how the world is in making more progress than we think.
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Beinart on reports that the U.S. is tacitly relying on Iran to battle ISIS in Iraq: “It’s not surprising at all. I mean Iran and the U.S. have overlapping interests there. You know, part of what Benjamin Netanyahu was trying to say is that ISIS is the moral equivalent of the regime in Iran. That’s not true. The Iranian regime is a very nasty, brutal, malevolent regime. But it is not ISIS. It is a country that has the capacity to actually be a stable democracy. If it were ISIS, there would not be 20,000 Jews living in Iran today with 11 functioning synagogues.”
Stephens on why the Iranian nuclear program stopped in 2003: “But one of the reasons why the Iranian program only stopped, at least the nuclearization side of their program, only stopped in 2003 was the coincidence of the high point of American power and the serious threat that the regime faced. Basically they found themselves put to the choice, have a nuclear program or keep — or keep the regime. So when the — when the choices were that stark, they in fact, moved.”
Slaughter on if the Iranian nuclear deal falls through: “It will be seen that there was a deal, that the deal was imperfect, but much better than no deal, that the United States, at the behest of Israel, blocked that deal and at that point, our competitors, other nations will lift their sanctions and we’re going to be stuck with ours and with the ability of the Iranian government to continue progressing toward a nuclear weapon.”
Nye on possibility that U.S-Iran rapprochement reaching beyond the nuclear issue: “Not a permanent one, but I have a view that the Middle East is going through the equivalent of Europe’s Thirty Years War, that you’re seeing religious divisions, state divisions, non-state groups all battling. And essentially, in that kind of a situation, there’s going to be a lot of fluidity in terms of what alliances — temporary coalitions are going to happen.We’re not going to be able to run that any more than you could run the French Revolution, to switch metaphors, in the period after 1789. And it takes two or three decades for these things to work themselves through. So will we be involved with one group and then another group and the enemy of my enemy and so forth? I think yes.”
FULL PANEL INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT
THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST: For more on Iran’s nuclear ambitions and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, and much more, I have a terrific panel joining me today.
Anne-Marie Slaughter was the director of policy planning at the State Department in President Obama’s first term. She is now president and CEO of the think tank New America.
Joseph Nye is a former assistant secretary of defense, former dean of the Kennedy School of Government, former professor of mine, and long-time professor at Harvard University. He is the author of the new book, “Is the American Century Over?”
Bret Stephens is a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for The Wall Street Journal.
And Peter Beinart is a professor at the City University of New York and a CNN political commentator.
ZAKARIA: Imagine that the deal falls through. What do you think is a — is the reaction? Imagine that Bibi get his wish, that the deal is rejected by the United States. What do you think would be the reaction of the Europeans, the Chinese, the Russians? I mean, when you were director of policy planning, these were your counterparts, you were dealing with them. What’s their attitude?
ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER, NEW AMERICA CEO: I think that’s the worst outcome, is that there’s no deal and it’s because of the United States, because at that point, this coalition that we have pretty miraculously kept together, even the Chinese and the Russians and the Europeans, to keep sanctions on Iran, that coalition will fall apart.
It will be seen that there was a deal, that the deal was imperfect, but much better than no deal, that the United States, at the behest of Israel, blocked that deal and at that point, our competitors, other nations will lift their sanctions and we’re going to be stuck with ours and with the ability of the Iranian government to continue progressing toward a nuclear weapon.
BRET STEPHENS, WALL STREET JOURNAL COLUMNIST: Yeah, but there’s — look, there’s no zero hour in diplomacy. There was attempted negotiations in 2009, again in 2010, ’12. And so if this — if this deal falls through, at some point, people will regroup and rethink. And the best thing that can happen, quite frankly, now that oil is worth half as much as it was when these negotiations began, is that you can renew the kinds of serious economic pressure on the Iranians that will make them rethink this.
And by the way, I think this deal suffers from this tremendous defect of the sunset agree — of the sunset provision, telling the Iranians that in 10 years, they’re in the free and clear when it comes to building any kind of nuclear infrastructure…
ZAKARIA: But it was never — it was never going to be a permanent deal in perpetuity. There was always going to be some time…
STEPHENS: No, but look…
ZAKARIA: — timeline.
STEPHENS: — this began with discussions of 20 years, even generations. Ten years is literally…
SLAUGHTER: Yeah, but this began…
STEPHENS: — is literally nothing…
SLAUGHTER: But this began…
STEPHENS: The goal posts have just retreated, and the West keeps moving towards the Iranian position.
SLAUGHTER: The goal posts have moved precisely because we have not been willing to agree to a deal that would freeze it where it was. So they’ve gotten steadier — steadily more — closer to getting a nuclear weapon, more centrifuges, more enriched uranium.
And if we don’t get a deal, there’s nothing to stop them…
PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: By the time we go to the next round of negotiations, they will be even closer, and whether oil prices stay low or stay strong, there is not the appetite for this kind of massive economic pressure in other countries that are not as ideologically opposed to Iran as us, that are more dependent on Iranian oil.
To imagine that we can get, not back — not just back to this coalition, but to a much stronger coalition, and that we will be able to retard the progress Iran has made in the interim, I just don’t know anyone who’s seriously studied either Iranian politics or global politics vis-a-vis the other major powers in the world who thinks that’s possible.
ZAKARIA: Joe, what do you think is the likelihood of these sanctions being able to stay in any event? I mean sanctions notoriously get leaky after a while.
JOE NYE, AUTHOR, “IS THE AMERICAN CENTURY OVER?”: They’ll get leaky, but I think if a deal falls through and it’s regarded as our fault or Israel’s fault, I think they’re not just going to leak, the boat’s going to sink, as Anne-Marie said.
I think the key question for…
ZAKARIA: Because the coun — the countries will openly say we’re not enforcing the sanctions?
NYE: Yes. And — but I think the key question for Bret that I’d be interested in his reaction is if you really thought that low oil prices and a hope for a continuation of sanctions would get you to zero centrifuges, then I might be willing to go along with that. Do you think that’s really plausible?
ZAKARIA: And we are going to hold that thought…
ZAKARIA: — because we are going to take a break, and Bret Stephens is going to answer Joe Nye’s question when we get back.
ZAKARIA: And we are back with Anne-Marie Slaughter, Joseph Nye, Bret Stephens and Peter Beinart. In the interests of that handful of people who have not sat through the commercial, Joe, what was the question you were posing?
NYE: Well, the question I was posing for Bret was — and it’s a serious question, not a setup of any sort — is do you think you can, under the pressure of low oil prices and sanctions which may be leaky, but we’re hoping some of it will hold, do you think you can get to a situation where the Iranians really go toward zero centrifuges?
STEPHENS: Yes, I do…
ZAKARIA: And — OK, and let me just throw in a few facts. The Iranian program is not 36 years old, it was started by the Shah of Iran under American prodding. It is a nationalistic program. There are good polls that show the nuclear program in Iran is popular. They’ve withstood 36 years of sanctions. They withstood the Iran-Iraq War.
You still think a few more sanctions will get them to zero?
STEPHENS: No, not just sanctions. There are all kinds of other pressures. But one of the reasons why the Iranian program only stopped, at least the nuclearization side of their program, only stopped in 2003 was the coincidence of the high point of American power and the serious threat that the regime faced.
Basically they found themselves put to the choice, have a nuclear program or keep — or keep the regime. So when the — when the choices were that stark, they in fact, moved.
SLAUGHTER: So we’re not going to topple the regime, so they’re not going — they don’t face that pressure. And we’re essentially either going to have no deal or a deal that stops things and is at a better position.
ZAKARIA: And I have to say, threatening to topple the regime is probably the surest path to ensuring that they want nuclear weapons, because that’s the one insurance policy…
STEPHENS: But you have to…
ZAKARIA: — they could buy.
STEPHENS: — you have to exact a price on — this is a regime that is winning everywhere it looks throughout the Middle East…
ZAKARIA: Let me ask you…
STEPHENS: — in terms of its regional moves…
ZAKARIA: Let me ask you about this because this — in your and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s conception of Iran, there’s this great paradox. They’re winning everywhere, gobbling up other countries, but actually on the verge of collapse because of low oil pressure…
STEPHENS: No, I…
ZAKARIA: — low oil prices…
STEPHENS: No, I…
ZAKARIA: — and sanctions.
STEPHENS: That’s not. No…
ZAKARIA: How can both be true?
STEPHENS: — that’s — both — look, they are economically vulnerable. Countries that are on the march can also have genuine vulnerabilities. And right now, their great vulnerability is the collapse…
ZAKARIA: Are they very strong or are they very weak?
STEPHENS: They — they are economically vulnerable, but at the same time, they are playing their hands, their cards terrifically and taking advantage of an absence of American will to defend U.S. interests in Syria, in Yemen…
ZAKARIA: Let’s talk about that.
STEPHENS: — and in Iraq.
ZAKARIA: What do you think of these reports, the New York Times has a terrific one, about the fact that the U.S. is tacitly relying on Iran to battle ISIS in Iraq?
BEINART: It’s not surprising at all. I mean Iran and the U.S. have overlapping interests there. You know, part of what Benjamin Netanyahu was trying to say is that ISIS is the moral equivalent of the regime in Iran. That’s not true. The Iranian regime is a very nasty, brutal, malevolent regime. But it is not ISIS. It is a country that has the capacity to actually be a stable democracy. If it were ISIS, there would not be 20,000 Jews living in Iran today with 11 functioning synagogues.
This — there is — we have much more in common, both strategically with this government in Iran than ISIS. And I think this is one of Netanyahu’s big problems, is that most Americans don’t believe that Iran and ISIS are similar threats to the U.S. They can see that ISIS is of a different caliber.
ZAKARIA: What about that point, that if you look at Afghanistan, Iran and the U.S. have basically the same interests. Both don’t like the Taliban. If you look at Iraq, Iran and the United States have very similar interests. Is this — is it possible to imagine a U.S.-Iran rapprochement that goes beyond just the nuclear issue?
NYE: Not a permanent one, but I have a view that the Middle East is going through the equivalent of Europe’s Thirty Years War, that you’re seeing religious divisions, state divisions, non-state groups all battling. And essentially, in that kind of a situation, there’s going to be a lot of fluidity in terms of what alliances — temporary coalitions are going to happen.
We’re not going to be able to run that any more than you could run the French Revolution, to switch metaphors, in the period after 1789. And it takes two or three decades for these things to work themselves through. So will we be involved with one group and then another group and the enemy of my enemy and so forth? I think yes.
ZAKARIA: What do you make of the death of — murder of Boris Nemtsov? Is there anything to say about it?
BEINART: I think, you know, we are seeing what a brutal regime this is, a regime that I think is stripped more and more of any shred of legitimacy that it — that it faces, that it — that it could have.
And I think that, you know, a lot of this comes down to whether you’re basically an optimist or a pessimist. I think that the critics of Benjamin — of Barack Obama are generally pessimistic. They tend to see that authoritarianism is on the march.
I think one — the crucial divide between them and Obama is that I think Obama is basically an optimist. I think he basically believes that economic forces, the forces of globalization, will ultimately make a regime like Putin not be able to sustain itself forever, and certainly not be on the march.
STEPHENS: I think Peter’s analysis is absolutely right, and I’m a pessimist. And quite — and quite frankly, part of the problem that we have with Putin is that just as now we’re talking about Nemtsov, six years ago, or a few years ago, we were talking about Anna Politkovskaya. So many opponents of the regime who met mysterious ends.
And that was… time and again, we regretted the murders, we wondered about the motives of the murders, and then it was swept under the carpet for the sake of a pragmatic relationship with Russia. And so these killings continue.
I’m not a — I don’t know who killed Boris Nemtsov, but it’s just the case that a lot of his political opponents come to untimely ends. And I think what’s happening now in Britain, with an inquiry into the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, is an important starting point. There needs to be historical accountability for what’s happening in this — in modern Russia. I think Russians might be paying attention, and as they start paying attention, they’ll realize that their enemy is not in the West, their enemy’s in the Kremlin.
SLAUGHTER: Well, I — there’s actually some good news in this story, not, obviously, about Nemtsov. That’s terrible. We don’t know who did it, but I think it’s certainly somebody friendly to Putin.
But what that story obscured was that demonstration that Nemtsov was planning to attend that became a memorial for him. What that shows you is that even at a time when Putin is supposed to be at an all-time high, when he’s supposed to have support because of the war in Ukraine and Crimea, he’s actually once again facing significant demonstrations at home. And that’s what he’s terribly scared of.
ZAKARIA: Do you think that…
NYE: I think that it’ll…
ZAKARIA: Can I just ask a question?
ZAKARIA: Do you think that we are now in a situation with Russia where, Russia is not the Soviet Union, so it’s not really a cold war, but the relationship between Russia and the United States particularly, and the West, is just going to be adversarial?
NYE: I think we’re in for a bad spell. And it’s not just Putin. I argue in my book that Russia is a country in serious decline. It’s a one-crop economy which has a terrible demographic problem. There are going to be fewer and fewer Russians. It has a health problem. The average Russian male dies at age 64, which is a decade earlier than other normal developed countries. And with such rampant corruption that any attempt to reform it is blocked.
This is a picture of a society in deep decline. The danger is that declining societies are often more dangerous than rising ones. If you ask me, which is more dangerous, Russia or China, I worry more about Russia. Remember, 100 years ago in the Great War, as it was called, it was Austria-Hungary, was the only major power that really wanted war. And that’s because Austria-Hungary was in decline.
ZAKARIA: On that sober note, Joe Nye, Peter Beinart, Bret Stephens, Anne-Marie Slaughter, thank you very much.