On Sunday’s edition of CNN’s State of the Union, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) joined CNN’s Jim Acosta about Israeli’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Iranian nuclear deals, and the drought in California.
Senator Feinstein, thanks for joining us this morning. We appreciate it.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you.
ACOSTA: I wanted to start with Prime Minister Netanyahu and what he has said about this deal. He says that this nuclear deal with Iran threatens the survival of Israel. Do you agree with that?
FEINSTEIN: No, I do not.
The surveillance and inspection and transparency runs 20 to 25 years for everything, all the centrifuges, rotors, the mills. The production facilities for yellowcake go out to 25 years of IAEA surveillance and inspection.
So, dependent upon how strong that is — and a precondition has to be that there’s going to be a real rededication in the IAEA to do the kind of work that’s going to be necessary to do 24/7, 365 days a year in the various facilities. But I think that, having watched this for a long time and knowing this particular foreign minister, I think this is the best that’s going to get done.
It’s a framework. It has to be wrapped into a final agreement. There still can be some changes. But I don’t think it’s helpful for Israel to come out and oppose this one opportunity to change a major dynamic, which is downhill, a downhill dynamic in this part of the world.
ACOSTA: But let me ask you this, Senator, because, obviously, Prime Minister Netanyahu is trying to scuttle this deal. He came to Washington. He spoke to a joint meeting of Congress. He’s continuing to speak out on news programs like this one.
Do you think he is overstepping his bounds as a foreign head of state?
FEINSTEIN: Well, I think he’s said what he’s had to say.
And, to be candid with you, this can backfire on him. And I wish that he would contain himself, because he has put out no real alternative, in his speech to the Congress, no real alternative, since then, no real alternative.
ACOSTA: Well, his real alternative, he says, is more sanctions. What’s wrong with that?
FEINSTEIN: Well, what — it depends on what you believe more sanctions is going to do.
More sanctions will certainly drive the program more underground, make it more difficult. A couple of years now have gone in to get this far. And it’s a better agreement, candidly, than I thought it was ever going to be. I think that it can be a very serviceable, practical agreement. And it can signal a new day. Otherwise, we keep this dynamic going, which is not productive of anything that’s positive for the region.
ACOSTA: Senator, you have a lot of access to intelligence information on the Senate Intelligence Committee. And I don’t want you to get into classified information, but, from what you can say to the American people, based on what you know, do you believe that the Iranians have been trying to develop nuclear weapons or weaponize their nuclear program up until this point?
FEINSTEIN: Well, I can say this, that the Iranians — and the intelligence reflects that, of both people I have spoken with and reports I have read — that this joint agreement has been carried out over the last couple of years without infraction.
And I think that’s some indication. I believe that this foreign minister and this Iranian president, both of whom are moderates, really want to show that there is another way for Iran, and, therefore, giving up this program is worth it. So…
ACOSTA: And — and let me ask you this, because you mentioned the foreign minister, Zarif, Javad Zarif, a couple of times. It sounds like you trust him. Do you trust the Iranians?
FEINSTEIN: I believe he is sincere. I believe that President Rouhani wants this. And it looks like the supreme leader will be agreeable.
Now, having said that, we have got everybody jumping to conclusions in the Congress. This agreement has to be written up into a binding kind of agreement. And that’s the document that we all need to see, the final document.
ACOSTA: One thing that has been raised as an issue by the Israelis is that this will lead to an arms race in the Middle East, that the Saudis will want to develop a nuclear program and perhaps weaponize it, thinking that the Iranians will be able to do so as a result of this deal.
What do you make of that prospect?
FEINSTEIN: Well, I would say that’s true if there’s no agreement.
See, I — it’s a — it’s a perverse finding. To continue to go the way that this is going, that leaves only a military operation as a solution, or, as what some people would say, well, we have got leverage in sanctions, take down the whole economy, look, there are 77 million people in Iran.
I think they deserve more than take down the whole economy. Sanctions generally hurt those who can’t afford a better way of life, and they’re not a long-term answer, I believe.
So, I think we’re on the cusp of something that can be workable. I think the key is the 20-to-25-year surveillance inspection period and the changes that have been made. Obviously, it’s a compromise, but that’s to be expected.
And I think this kind of absolutist, well, no deal is better than a bad deal, but we don’t know what a good deal would be, no, we have no suggestions, is not very helpful, candidly.
ACOSTA: Congress is going to want to have a say in all of this.
And, Senator Corker, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he has a bill that says that the Congress would have a vote on this final deal that will be reached on — or could be reached on June 30. I guess it’s not a done deal yet. How would you vote on that bill today?
FEINSTEIN: Well, today, I would vote no on that bill.
FEINSTEIN: Having said that — because this is essentially a presidential agreement.
And the agreement — the Corker legislation, as I understand it, is going to have a hearing, I think on the 14th of April. And then it will be marked up in the Foreign Relations Committee. My understanding is, there may be changes. So I want to be cautious and wait and see what actually comes out of that committee onto the floor before I really cast my vote.
ACOSTA: And, Senator, you’re coming to us from the great state of California, which is always just a beautiful place to visit, but, sometimes, that can come at a price.
You haven’t had enough rain lately. And, as a matter of fact, you’re in the grips of a massive, historic drought. And I just want to run through some of the numbers, because I — I don’t know if our viewers across the country have — really have a grasp of this. This is the amount of water that California would need to recover from the drought that currently is in that state right now, 11 trillion gallons of rain, enough to fill 17 million Olympic swimming pools, more than 14,000 times the amount of water needed to fill the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium, no offense to the 49ers, and 170 days’ worth of water flow at Niagara Falls.
I suppose that answer the question, how big a problem is this? What can you do about it?
FEINSTEIN: Well, I think our snowpack, which is a big source of spring runoff for the state, is at 8 percent of what it should be. That is an historic low.
I think it’s very serious. We have, you know, close to 38 million people in this state. It’s going to mean mandatory rationing. It’s going to mean the fallowing of large amounts of agricultural land. It’s going to mean being able to try to work our systems more efficiently. And it’s a very, very serious problem.
ACOSTA: And we…
FEINSTEIN: We’re trying to put together a bill now…
FEINSTEIN: … that would deal with working the system more effectively and efficiently. And that’s a very difficult thing to do. So it remains to be seen if we can do it.
ACOSTA: Are we talking about federal relief that will be needed, funds that will be needed for California? Are we talking about a drought bailout?
FEINSTEIN: Well, the governor has just put forward some portion of a billion-dollar drought bailout in terms of supplemental commodities, foodstuffs, purchase of water, that kind of thing.
ACOSTA: I want to switch very quickly, with the time that we have left, to Senator Reid, who is stepping aside as the minority leader of your party, was the majority leader. And he’s going to be leaving Congress.
And it turns out that Senator Schumer, it appears, will be stepping forward as the new leader of your party in the Senate. But there seems to be this disagreement as to whether or not Senator Durbin will remain the whip. How do you think that situation should be resolved? We know Senator Reid said…
ACOSTA: … that these two men should chill out a little bit, I guess.
FEINSTEIN: Well, I think chilling out is a good thing to do.
FEINSTEIN: This is a year-and-a-half away.
And one of the things that members take very seriously is their seniority. And once that’s broken, it’s broken for all time. So, this is a year-and-a-half away. I think chill out is a good motto for the day.
ACOSTA: And how do you think Harry Reid should be remembered as the majority leader and then minority leader of the Senate?
FEINSTEIN: I think he — I think he should be remembered as a strong, tough leader who was a master at the inside game, who…
ACOSTA: Was he part of the problem, though, do you think, in the Senate, in terms of not getting things done, the gridlock that is there? He blames Mitch McConnell. Mitch McConnell has blamed Harry Reid. Doesn’t he bear some responsibility?
FEINSTEIN: Well, yes, I think this. The majority has the votes.
Prior to, oh, about four, six years ago, we did not require 60 votes for virtually any major measure to pass the Senate. Cloture was rarely used. Since that time, it’s been used dozens of times by the minority, which were the Republicans, to stop the majority from passing a bill.
[09:25:17] ACOSTA: All right.
Well, we hope for a break to the weather gridlock out there in California and bring some much-needed relief and much-needed rain to your state.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, thanks very much for joining us.
FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Jim.