April 7th, 2015
01:49 AM ET

Ben Rhodes: "we're not going to convince Prime Minister Netanyahu"

Sunday's edition of CNN’s FAREED ZAKARIA GPS featured an interview with Ben Rhodes, the Obama Administration’s deputy national security advisor for strategic communication, spoke to Fareed Zakaria about the Iranian nuclear deal.

TEXT EXCERPTS

Rhodes on concessions in the Iranian nuclear deal: “No, look, Fareed, we've always said that Iran would be able to access peaceful nuclear energy.  The question essentially is can we design a program with the Iranians and the p5+1 that could meet our bottom lines, and that's what this program does.  Because if you look at their Arak facility - they're not producing weapons grade plutonium.  If you're looking at their Fordow facility, they are not enriching uranium.  If you look at their Natanz facility, the only place where they will be enriching uranium, they're dramatically reducing the number of centrifuges that are operating and only operating their first-generation centrifuges.  That extends the breakout timeline, also in part because they'll be shipping their stockpile out of the country.  That goes from two to three months, the breakout timeline, to at least a year for ten years.  And there are additional limitations that continue.”

Rhodes on convincing Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu: “I think that we're not going to convince Prime Minister Netanyahu.  Frankly, he's disagreed with this approach since before the joint plan of action, the first interim agreement that was reached with Iran.  But what we will say to Prime Minister Netanyahu, as we're saying to our Gulf partners too, is we're making a nuclear deal here.  It's the right thing to do.  It's the best way to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon for the longest period of time.  At the same time, though, we're not at all lessening our concern about Iran's destabilizing actions in the region, its threat towards Israel and our other partners, its support for terrorism.  And we can have a dialogue with them about what else can we be doing to reassure you of our commitment to your security, to counter those types of destabilizing activities, and make clear that, again, while we may have a nuclear deal here, we're going to be very, very vigilant in confronting other Iranian actions in the region that concern us.  “

On GPS: What the Iran nuclear deal means for Israel

FULL INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

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

ZAKARIA: Ben, thank you for joining us.

RHODES: Good to be with you.

ZAKARIA: The president had said in 2012 that he wouldn't accept a deal that didn't end Iran's nuclear program. And yet, what you have is a program that will have thousands of centrifuges, that does not ship its enriched uranium away as had been initially imagined, where the Fordow facility which was meant to be entirely destroyed, hasn't been destroyed. Are these all concessions you had to make?

RHODES: No, look, Fareed, we've always said that Iran would be able to access peaceful nuclear energy. The question essentially is can we design a program with the Iranians and the p5+1 that could meet our bottom lines, and that's what this program does. Because if you look at their Arak facility - they're not producing weapons grade plutonium. If you're looking at their Fordow facility, they are not enriching uranium. If you look at their Natanz facility, the only place where they will be enriching uranium, they're dramatically reducing the number of centrifuges that are operating and only operating their first-generation centrifuges. That extends the breakout timeline, also in part because they'll be shipping their stockpile out of the country. That goes from two to three months, the breakout timeline, to at least a year for ten years. And there are additional limitations that continue.

So this meets our needs, particularly because there's such a robust inspections regime to verify that they're meeting their commitments.

ZAKARIA: When I had Prime Minister Netanyahu on this program, I asked him at the time - this was months ago. I said my sense, my reporting is that the deal is somewhere in the range of 5,000 centrifuges. Is that acceptable to you? He said that's too high. Why is he wrong?

RHODES: He's wrong because there's no deal that could be reached that involves Iran just dismantling its entire nuclear infrastructure. Obviously, that's the preferable solution, but the fact is, Iran was never going to agree to a deal in which they got rid of their entire nuclear infrastructure. No other country in the negotiation would have supported us taking the position that they would have zero centrifuges.

And also, the fact of the matter is, they know the nuclear fuel cycle. They already have this knowledge. Even without centrifuges operating, there's still a breakout timeline, because they can reinitiate their nuclear program. The question is, can we sufficiently limit the numbers and types of those centrifuges and the stockpile, to put them further away from a weapon and then have inspections such that if they tried to break out and pursue that weapons capability, we would see it almost immediately and be able to take action.

ZAKARIA: Let's talk about the inspection regime. The document says that the inspectors will have to verify that Iran takes key nuclear related steps and then the sanctions will be lifted. Will the inspectors be allowed to go into facilities anytime, anywhere, without any notice?

RHODES: So, Fareed, you have the declared facilities, Arak, Fordow, Natanz, and we'll have daily access to those facilities. Those enrichment facilities at Fordow and Natanz, there will be both a mix of inspections and also other means of keeping an eye on what is taking place there.

Across the nuclear supply chain, there are uranium mines and mills, their centrifuge production and manufacturing and where they warehouse the centrifuges. That will all be under supervision. The reason that's important is, to have a covert pathway to a weapon, you don't just need an enrichment facility, you need the raw materials and the centrifuges. Looking across that supply chain means if they want a covert path, they have to construct entirely secret means of getting those raw materials, producing centrifuges, and having a facility to operate them.

What the deal also has, though, is the ability to seek access to a site that we're concerned about. So if there's something we see in Iran that concerns us, it seems like it is not for peaceful purposes, we'll have the ability to go to the IAEA and investigate that site.

ZAKARIA: So the - what Iran has done in the past, which is to build, as with Fordow, an entirely secret new facility, would be impossible?

RHODES: There are two reasons that guard against that in this deal. One is when they built that facility at Fordow, they used materials from their uranium mines. They used centrifuges they were producing, and we did not have inspections there. So we didn't see that material being diverted to a secret site.

Being able to look over the whole nuclear supply chain is a hedge against them being able to have that type of facility. Because they would need a much broader support mechanism in order to support the nuclear infrastructure at that facility. Beyond that, though, if we saw something, construction that raised our concerns, we could go to the IAEA and get access to investigate that site.

ZAKARIA: Prime Minister Netanyahu is still not convinced. What will you do to try to convince him?

RHODES: I think that we're not going to convince Prime Minister Netanyahu. Frankly, he's disagreed with this approach since before the joint plan of action, the first interim agreement that was reached with Iran. But what we will say to Prime Minister Netanyahu, as we're saying to our Gulf partners too, is we're making a nuclear deal here. It's the right thing to do. It's the best way to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon for the longest period of time. At the same time, though, we're not at all lessening our concern about Iran's destabilizing actions in the region, its threat towards Israel and our other partners, its support for terrorism. And we can have a dialogue with them about what else can we be doing to reassure you of our commitment to your security, to counter those types of destabilizing activities, and make clear that, again, while we may have a nuclear deal here, we're going to be very, very vigilant in confronting other Iranian actions in the region that concern us.

ZAKARIA: And for now, the Republicans by and large seem opposed. What are you going to do to try to get it through Congress, because otherwise there's no deal?

RHODES: Well, first of all, we're going to lay out the details of this. Both the framework and then when we have a final deal in June. And I think on the merits, we'll make the case that this is a very strong deal. And I think people have seen there are more specifics here, there are constraints and limitations here. The duration is longer than people thought. There are limitations that go 15 years. There is transparency measures that go 25 years. There are elements that are permanent, permanent commitments from the Iranians.

So we'll make a case on the merits for the deal, that will be backed up by not just our national security team, but the leading scientists and nuclear experts in this country who can validate the fact that this adds up, this prevents Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

But secondly, we'll be making the case that we're dealing with a set of options, as the president said. Essentially, No. 1, we can have a long-term verifiable deal like this to prevent them from getting a weapon. Two, we could take military action, which doesn't set the program back by as long as this type of deal and carries huge risks in the region. Or three, you could sanction them more. But the fact is, every time we have imposed sanctions on Iran, they've advanced their program. And if they do it from a position of two to three breakout months, that breakout time will collapse, and we'll be confronted with that decision about whether or not to take military action. So in a world of alternatives, this is the best alternative. And Congress killing this deal will both collapse the international unity we need for the sanctions regime, and potentially leave us with that greater risk of war.

ZAKARIA: Ben Rhodes, pleasure to have you on.

RHODES: Thanks, Fareed.

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Topics: Fareed Zakaria • Fareed Zakaria GPS • Iran
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