Return to Transcripts main page
Future of Iran-U.S. Relations; Interview with Mohammed ElBaradei
Aired November 8, 2009 - 14:13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Iran and the US, first a breakthrough, now another impasse. Can they salvage a nuclear agreement? We have an exclusive interview.
And later, where this particular Cold War all began, 444 days that shook the world.
I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to this program.
Just last month it seemed that Iran and world powers were close to a historic agreement to diffuse years of nuclear tension and inch towards detente. Tehran would ship out much of its low enriched uranium in return for nuclear material that it wants for medical use for cancer treatments. The agreement was supposed to buy time and build trust between Iran and the United States, but now mistrust and Iran's internal politics could scuffle the deal.
At this point the two sides are talking only through our exclusive guest, Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the UN nuclear watchdog, the IAEA. So what it the holdup and what did his inspectors find at Iran's secret home facility?
Later, we have a remarkable reunion, three key players at the heart of the hostage crisis 30 years ago which started this era of confrontation. An Iranian hostage taker, his American captive and the US official caught in the middle.
We start with Mohamed ElBaradei, but time is running out on him too. He steps down at the end of this months. Can he still pull of a deal?
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
AMANPOUR: Thank you very much for coming into the studio. It's your last round of interviews before you depart, but it's no easy slowing down right now.
MOHAMED ELBARADEI, INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY: Christiane, it's a pleasure to be with you here again. No, it is not easy slowing down, but I hope if we can, you know, come to an agreement on this Iran issue, that would be a - a wonderful exit for me.
AMANPOUR: And it would crown - crown your tenure.
ELBARADEI: More than that, it would be the opening for a detente, as you mentioned between Iran and the international community, some said (ph) which is absolutely needed for stability in the Middle East, for, you know, for - for peace and security in that - in that region.
AMANPOUR: So what on earth has gone wrong? Just a month ago there were smiles, there were apparently agreements in principle. Everybody thought this was going to work. The Iranians were seeming - seemingly thrilled at what was going on.
ELBARADEI: They're still - well, as always, you know, we - we are dealing with 50 years of mistrust, pride, and to take the first step to build confidence, Christiane, is - is a very rocky, rocky road. We still have an agreement, you know, that Iran will ship its low energy uranium, its material, to the west to be - to be manufactured into fuel and sent back.
The major issue, the rocky issue we're still facing with is the sequencing, when they should ship that stuff out of Iran and when, you know, when do they get the fuel? I mean, the Iranians basically want a swap. So when...
AMANPOUR: You mean a simultaneous swap?
AMANPOUR: Ship out low enriched and get the high enriched? Well, there you are. Well, there's Mohammed - Mahmoud - Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and you in Tehran. What are they saying, and what are you saying to them?
ELBARADEI: Well, I'm basically saying this is a unique opportunity. This is the first time I've seen a US president genuinely committed to engage Iran fully, in every aspect of - of the relationship after 50 years of - of animosity. And I've heard the same from Ahmadinejad, that he also is really interested to fully engage the US. It's an opportunity that, as I said, will have a positive impact in every part of the Middle East and we need - people need to look at the big picture.
AMANPOUR: OK, let's look at the picture which is the deal. All of this LEU, what is the precise nature of their complaint right now?
ELBARADEI: The precise nature that you should trust us or why should we ship our stuff before we receive the - the fuel? So...
AMANPOUR: Is that a nonstarter?
ELBARADEI: For - for - I think for the US, you know, the whole symbol is that we need to ship the stuff out because that will diffuse the crisis, the perception that Iran is accumulating materials that could be used in a weapon. That perception will completely be eliminated if we - if we moved the stuff out of Iran and then would give Barack Obama and his - and his administration the time that he needs to negotiate with Iran in a calmer environment. So...
AMANPOUR: And how long was meant to be the time between shipping it out and getting back the enriched material?
ELBARADEI: Well, it usually depends on how - how fast you can get the fuel. It's a - it's a technical issue. It would be probably within - we will make sure that the - the reactor will continue in operation all the time, but they will get the whole fuel by the end of 2010.
AMANPOUR: So it's about a year, this...
ELBARADEI: Right about a year, but the reactor will never stop. It's a question of technical manufacturing, technically.
AMANPOUR: So their complaint or their mistrust is about guarantees?
ELBARADEI: Correct. It's really the question of the guarantees. Are we - can we be sure that we will get the fuel? In the past we had bad experience from their perspective with the French, with the German. We never got our stuff back. But we tried in that agreement, in that proposal, to have everything guaranteed. The agency will be taken custody of that material so, in other words, the international community will be - will be taking custody of that material.
The Americans, for the first time, agreed to guarantee that that program will be - that that project will be implemented. That's huge for the US.
AMANPOUR: How? How - how does the US guarantee - ?
ELBARADEI: By - by joining - by joining in that - in that package and by signing a political declaration. And the Russian are committed again that that deal will be implemented. So there is enough guarantees. And what I'm asking my Iranian colleagues, look at the big picture. You know, you have to take a risk for peace. Don't miss that opportunity because it is - - the - the deal itself is very symbolic, but it would open the way for a huge change in the - in the Middle East.
AMANPOUR: Would Iran's worry about guarantees be alleviated if they weren't dealing with Russia but rather directly with the US? In other words, if they were to get this enriched uranium back from the United States?
ELBARADEI: Well, I think, in fairness to the US, the US is trying to be as creative as possible and looking into all sorts of different options, including possible the US's direct involvement in the - in the package. We are looking into a third country, Christiane, that we can put that material as - as a collateral until they get the fuel. We're - we are, you know...
AMANPOUR: What kind of third country?
ELBARADEI: Well, it could be - it could be a country that Iran has trust in.
AMANPOUR: Such as?
ELBARADEI: Turkey, for example. You know, we can - we can - I mean, I - we haven't talked to Turkey, but I'm sure they will be happy to - to be an agent, you know, to - to keep the material there under IA custody.
So we are - and I am looking for every possible opportunity. And I must say, the Russian are doing the same, the American are doing the same, and I'm really calling on Iran also to help in, not look at the tree, but look at the forest.
AMANPOUR: And you have said that they are talking through me now. You've been to Washington. You've talked to President Obama and other officials. You've been to Tehran. Tell me what's happening in those talks. What are you saying to each side? And what are they saying to you?
ELBARADEI: I think both of them understand the - the huge opportunity that lies ahead.
AMANPOUR: But technically?
ELBARADEI: Technically, I think that the US would like to see the material out of Iran, that any deal has to involve the material out of Iran because that will diffuse the crisis, will - would give Barack Obama the opportunity to negotiate without - without all the pressure surrounding this - this type of - this material in Iran.
AMANPOUR: You mean negotiate on a - on a bigger picture?
ELBARADEI: On a bigger picture. I mean, I think he made it very clear, you know, to me and publicly that he is ready to negotiate the whole nuclear issue, the trade, the technology, which security issues. I mean, and that's...
AMANPOUR: So the grand bargain?
ELBARADEI: The grand bargain, of course. And - and Iran is absolutely needed in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria and Lebanon and Palestine. So it's a win/win situation for everybody and I see that everybody is - understand that. But there is still this animosity, distrust, pride, if you like, dignity, and we have to - we have to overcome that.
AMANPOUR: But let me show you - we've got these satellite pictures that the whole world has seen about the Qom facility, the one that on the eve of the UN General Assembly President Obama, President Sarkozy and Prime Minister Brown say that they'd caught Iran red handed at yet another secret nuclear facility. This is the Revolutionary Guards' facility outside Qom your investigators, inspectors have been in. What have they found?
ELBARADEI: Well, that facility, of course, should have been reported to us from the day Iran decided to build that facility. So Iran, as I said, has been on the wrong side of the law by not informing us in accordance with our regulation. However, they allowed us to go there. We have got quite a good cooperation.
It's still a facility under construction. There is no - there is no equipment. There is no nuclear material. But they should - to build confidence, they should have told us in advance. Their argument that we could not have tell you in advance because we have been threatened every day that we are going to be bombed, so we had to protect, as they say, passive defense, protect our technology. Nonetheless, that was a - a violation of their obligation under - under the agency - IA regulations.
AMANPOUR: Even though, say - even though they say that their obligation was to tell you a certain number of months before they introduced the - the materials?
ELBARADEI: That's their interpretation. We disagree with that. I mean, I think every country, without exception, now have agreed after the Iraq '91 that they should tell us from the day they decided to build a facility.
AMANPOUR: OK. What did you find? You said, I think, it's a hole in the mountain. What do you think it's for?
ELBARADEI: Well, they said it's for enrichment. It's for enrichment and to protect their technology. I mean, they - what they told me, that this is a - a passive defense, as they say, in case we were bombed we need to protect our technology. So this was meant to be a - a small enrichment facility.
AMANPOUR: You've talked about bombings, we've talked about other disincentives like sanctions. We're going to talk about that with you right after a break.
Iran is not the only challenge that ElBaradei faces, so is North Korea. I witnessed Pyongyang blowing up its cooling tower at its nuclear reactor more than a year ago. But now North Korea says it's produced more plutonium that can actually make nuclear weapons.
All of that when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: There's something profoundly disturbing about being forced to face a threat that we believed had faced along with the Cold War. What India and Pakistan have unleashed could slow the process of global nuclear disarmament and damage the decades-long effort to stop the spread of these weapons of mass destruction.
In the United States, the doomsday clock which tracks the dangers of the atomic age has just been reset from 14 to nine minutes before midnight. Midnight signifies a nuclear holocaust.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And that was from our documentary "Ground Zero" back in 1998. The nuclear clock is now five minutes until midnight. So how close is the world to a nuclear catastrophe?
Joining me again, Mohammed ElBaradei, the outgoing director-general of the IAEA.
You have won the Nobel Prize, along with your agency. You have said in one of your farewell speeches that, actually, the nonproliferation attempts, you said, are in tatters.
What did you mean by that?
ELBARADEI: Well, the system is facing a lot of challenges, Christiane, that we have not really had the tools to address the new challenges. We don't have the technology we need, the satellite imaging we need. We don't have the labs that allow us to do environmental samplings which are modern day tools for certification.
We don't have the legal authority in many countries. There is a sense of cynicism that, why should we continue not to develop nuclear weapons, why the nuclear weapons states continue to modernize their weapons? That, however, has -- that technology is out of the queue (ph).
AMANPOUR: I'm truly -- my mouth is hanging open. You're telling me you don't even have the technology to do this work?
ELBARADEI: In many cases we don't. I mean, if you -- for example, you mentioned Qom. I mean, we didn't have...
AMANPOUR: There was a satellite picture we saw.
ELBARADEI: We only got that satellite picture, you know, a couple of weeks ago. I mean, we have a problem sometimes of having the satellite pictures inside. We have to rely on suppliers of satellite images. That is part of the problem we face, is we don't get the information in time.
I mean, you take the Syria bombing -- the Israeli bombing of Syria.
AMANPOUR: It was a couple of years ago.
ELBARADEI: Yes. We got information six months after the bombing. Well, that does not empower the IAEA to do its job properly.
So, I kept saying, as I mentioned at the Security Council summit with Barack Obama last week, that we need the legal authority, we need the technology, we need the human resources. We will continue to be a sleepy watchdog if we don't have the tools that allow us to bark.
AMANPOUR: Just to be clear, does the technology and all the stuff you need, does it exist?
ELBARADEI: It does exist, but it's not available to us all the time.
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you again about Iran.
There was a memo leaked about your agency itself saying that you personally have been underestimating Iran's ability on the military nuclear front. What is your answer to that?
ELBARADEI: Well, my answer to that, that's absolute bonkers. I mean, it is not true at all.
I mean, I think every piece of information we have about Iran -- the world, in fact, knows about Iran -- has been through our consistent work in Iran for the last six years. I mean, there's a lot of hype, you know...
AMANPOUR: All from dissident organizations.
ELBARADEI: Yes, we have to distinguish between the meat and the chef. You know, we have to make sure that our reports are based on the fact and fact only. We cannot jump the gun.
Christiane, everybody needs to remember Iraq. You know, we have to give it caution in coming to a conclusion that can make the difference between war and peace.
AMANPOUR: Let me show you a sound bite -- or, actually, part of a speech you gave at the U.N. in your farewell speech there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELBARADEI: We must act within the framework of international institutions. In this case, the IAEA and the Security Council, and empower them, rather than bypass them, through unilateral action.
The agency, for its part, must draw conclusions justified by the facts only. It must not jump the gun or being influenced by political consideration. Force should never be used unless every other option has been exhausted, and then only within the bounds of international law as defined in the United Nations Security Council.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So you have said over and over again that you disagree with the use of force, except under those conditions that you mentioned, and you don't even agree with sanctions. The United States, particularly Hillary Clinton, has talked about crippling sanctions on Iran if it doesn't come up to the plate on this deal.
Why don't you agree?
ELBARADEI: Well, I agree -- because my experience tells me that the only way to resolve issues is through engaging in meaningful negotiations. When the U.S. decided for three years not to talk to Iran because they are part of the "axis of evil," I mean, the situation got from bad to worse. When they then, for the next three years, adopted impossible conditions for Iran to accept, to suspend all its activities, which should come as an outcome of negotiations and not as a prelude, we didn't -- we went from Iran having an R&D enrichment to Iran having 6,000 centrifuges with a full-fledged program.
Sanctions, of course you can apply sanctions. But our experience with sanctions, (INAUDIBLE). It never really helped a regime. In fact, the same with Saddam Hussein, the same with Milosevic. And it makes them sometimes even more popular.
So I need to focus more on the meaningful dialogue in Iraq, in Iran and North Korea.
AMANPOUR: And you're about to step down after 12 years, a very, very difficult 12 years. And some have said that you may be a candidate for presidential elections in your home native land of Egypt.
Yes or no?
ELBARADEI: Well, there's a lot of writers (ph) saying that I should be an agent for change. Egypt needs a change politically, economically, socially. But I was obviously -- I'm just about to step down from 12 years of the most stressful job, Christiane.
However, I would only consider that if there is written guarantees that there is a fair and free election.
AMANPOUR: So you're not closing the door?
ELBARADEI: Well, I will never -- you never say "never," but there are clearly conditions. I would only consider it if it is free and fair elections. And that with a question mark (INAUDIBLE).
AMANPOUR: On that note, thank you very much indeed for joining us.
Next, the stand-off between Iran and the United States has lasted for decades. We'll look in-depth at this 30-year drama from another angle, when we come back.
AMANPOUR: As we focus on the tortured nuclear negotiations with Iran, it's worth looking again at the promise that President Barack Obama held out in a New Year's message to the government and the people of Iran last March.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So in this season of new beginnings, I would like to speak clearly to Iran's leaders. We have serious differences that have grown over time. My administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us and to pursuing constructive ties among the United States, Iran, and the international community. This process will not be advanced by threats. We seek instead engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Since that speech, Iran has violently cracked down on the opposition that exploded after the disputed June 12th election there. And just this week, Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini said of Obama, quote, "they have made some conciliatory remarks in recent times, but whenever they smile at Iranian officials, we notice a sword hiding at their backs."
Despite the mistrust between government, restoring relations with the United States would be hugely popular with the majority of the Iranian people. In a moment, the lowest point in Iran/U.S. relations. We have a fascinating conversation with those who were caught in the middle. They see a way to escape the shackles of their shared history.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Here are the top stories this afternoon. President Obama praised the House for passing a health care reform bill, and he's calling for speedy action in the U.S. Senate.
OBAMA: On the United States Senate to take the baton and bring this effort to the finish line on behalf of the American people. And I'm absolutely confident that they will. I'm equally convinced that on the day that we gather here at the White House, and I sign comprehensive health insurance reform legislation into law, they'll be able to join their House colleagues and say that this was their finest moment in public service.
WHITFIELD: The more than $1 trillion bill squeaked by on a vote of 220-215 in the House last night. Thirty-nine Democrats voted against the legislation. One Republican voted for it.
U.S. military officials at Ft. Hood say some of the shooting victims hospitalized since Thursday's attack are improving. The alleged gunman Major Nidal Malik Hasan who was shot by police has been taken off a ventilator but remains in intensive care. Thirteen people were killed and dozens more wounded in that shooting spree.
The Taliban is claiming responsibility for a deadly suicide bombing in northwest Pakistan. Officials say a car bomber detonated 22 pounds of explosives outside the home of an anti-Taliban mayor. He and 11 others were killed.
And those are the headlines. We'll return to AMANPOUR in a minute.
AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program, I'm Christiane Amanpour. The tone for U.S./Iranian relations was set back in 1979 with the Islamic revolution. In January that year, street protests drove out Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. And then Ayatollah Khomeini, the spiritual leader for millions of Shia Muslims, returns from decades in exile to found the Islamic Republic of Iran.
And on November 4th that year radical students climbed the wall of the U.S. Embassy and paraded its' employees before the world. They were furious that U.S. President Jimmy Carter had allowed the Shah into the United States for medical treatment. The U.S. broke off diplomatic relations and they have not yet resumed, as I find out in each of my reporting trips there to the U.S. Embassy.
This is where America first tasted Islamic fundamentalism. When Islamic revolutionary students stormed the embassy and took American diplomats hostage for 444 days. And this set off a wave of Islamic fundamentalism throughout the Muslim world.
So can the relationship recover? For that, and a look back, I am joined from Tehran by one of the masterminds of the hostage taking, Embrahim Asgharzadeh. He later became a reformist member of Parliament and has also spent time in jail. And with me in the studio here, former American hostage John Limbert, author of "Negotiating with Iran, Wrestling the Ghost of History" and also former U.S. President Carter's point man on Iran, national security official Gary Sick.
First to you in Tehran, Mr. Asgharzadeh. Tell me what you remember about that crucial fateful day November 4th, 30 years ago?
EMBRAHIM ASGHARZADEH, IRANIAN STUDENT LEADER 1979 (through translator): Well what I remember was everything was very heavy. There was significant psychological pressure on our society, especially on students. We were not radical students. We were revolutionary students, in the sense that we were defending our country, our people, our nation. But once the Shah was expelled from the country, no country accepted him because the world public opinion could not accept the behavior of a dictator. That meant they recognized the Iranian revolution, however, step by step the Shah brought himself closer to the United States.
And once he entered the United States of America we felt threatened. We felt insulted, our revolution, our people, and so there was a rebellion and a measure was needed to be taken that was effective, that could impact the world public opinion. We needed to do something that could simply affect the world public opinion.
AMANPOUR: So let me ask you, John Limbert. You've heard what -- the person who masterminded and held you captive for 444 days, his perspective through the prism of history. What were you thinking? What happened to you that day?
JOHN LIMBERT, FORMER U.S. HOSTAGE: Well, that day, whatever they thought they were doing, whether it was a 1970s-style student sit-in, the results of it were very -- were very different. They brought misery to the Iranian people.
AMANPOUR: But to yourself, to you and the hostages that day.
LIMBERT: To -- to -- to us, what happened to us was difficult. It was frightening. It was -- it was uncomfortable. But it lasted 14 months and was over. But what...
AMANPOUR: Did you think it would last that long?
LIMBERT: Of course not. We thought...
AMANPOUR: What did they say to you?
LIMBERT: We thought this was a 1970s-style student sit-in.
AMANPOUR: As they say.
LIMBERT: As -- as they have in retrospect presented it. What happened - - I don't think -- we certainly didn't expect it to last that long. They have said they didn't expect to last that long. But what they did, in effect, was to create a climate of lawlessness and mob rule that they and their -- and their compatriots are today the greatest victims.
AMANPOUR: And, Gary Sick, there you were in the White House with President Carter trying to figure out what to do about this. What happened that day when this happened?
GARY SICK, FORMER U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY OFFICIAL: Well, the -- as you know, the time difference is seven-and-a-half hours with Tehran, and so this was absolutely the middle of the night, so I was awakened, went in, and not to the White House, actually. I went to the State Department, where up on the seventh floor they set up a special room to follow the events. And that room remained, in effect, dedicated to the hostage issue for most of the rest of the time that they were being held.
AMANPOUR: And what was going on through your mind? Did you think that it would be so long?
SICK: We honestly believed, as John said and Mr. Asgharzadeh said, that this was going to be a sit-in, that they were going to make a point about their relations with the shah and so forth, and that then the hostages would be let loose. The people in the embassy had been taken hostage in February and had been released very shortly thereafter.
That's what we expected. And where it changed was when the son of the ayatollah, Khomeini, came to the embassy, climbed over the walls himself with his turban falling off, and pronounced himself in favor of what the -- of what the students were doing. And at that point, it became a government process, not a student process.
AMANPOUR: And it took on a whole life of its own.
SICK: That way it became actually an act of the Iranian government, rather than a group of students who were acting potentially outside the law. Even if people liked what they were doing, they were acting on their own. After that moment, it was then a government process, and the whole rest of the hostage crisis revolved around trying to get the Iranian government to take responsibility for his own actions and end the process.
And John is absolutely correct that this -- the fact that the Iranian government was unwilling and unable to take action meant that the process has cast a shadow on U.S.-Iran relations for the -- for the 30 years since that time.
AMANPOUR: Indeed. Let me ask you, Mr. Asgharzadeh. You since became a reformist, a member of parliament. I interviewed you in Iran several years ago. Where do you think the relationship between the United States and Iran can go now?
ASGHARZADEH: I'm glad that Mr. Gary Sick and Mr. Limbert are sitting on this panel with me. I have said many times that if the members of the American embassy were people like Limbert and if the American embassy in Tehran was not so militarized, perhaps the American decision-making in the first few months after Iran's revolution would have been far more positive and better.
Unfortunately, America became too frightened. Mr. Carter defended the shah until the last minute, even on Shahrivar 17th, which was around September before the revolution, when people were being killed on the street. Mr. Carter kept defending the Pahlavi regime. And after the revolution happened, he saw that the revolution is principally a very bad thing for America, whereas the religious revolution under no circumstances would have made it towards the Soviet Union, but the White House couldn't understand that. And so the American behavior, the U.S. behavior, especially that adopted by the American embassy, created a chasm, a wide chasm between Iran and the United States. And once the shah entered America, as Mr. Gary Sick and Mr. Limbert said, that complicated things.
Student activity that was not calculated to run a very long course became very long and prolongated because of two reasons. One was that there was a provisional government in place that fell, a government that held Iran's seat abroad in the United Nations and international forums. It was unable to stay in power.
And, secondly, people came in waves towards the American embassy, which was backed by the leader of the revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini. And as a result, the situation got out of the hands of the students. And every day that passed on, things got more complicated. The analysis got more complicated in the White House. They lost their cool. They didn't know what to do. And they faced a challenge by the Iranian revolution and this revolutionary thought. And it reached a point where nobody felt prepared to deal with it.
And it seemed like it was tying their hands up. And so after a while, both America and Iran were looking for a solution, because both their hands were tied at that stage, but the solution needed to be such that no country would be seen as the loser. That was essential to us, as well. It could - - we could not come across as taking a measure, but then giving up and seeming so...
AMANPOUR: Mr. Asgharzadeh? Mr. Asgharzadeh? Mr. Asgharzadeh?
ASGHARZADEH (through translator): ... became so long that it just basically took 444 days...
AMANPOUR: You just said that no country could be seen to be the loser. This seems to have been the dynamic that has ruled Iran and the United States for the last 30 years, and we're going to discuss that when we come back from a break, so stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, HOST (voice-over): Masoumeh Ebtekar would eventually become Iran's first female vice president, pushing for more democracy. But back in 1979, she was the voice of the revolution.
MASOUMEH EBTEKAR, IRAN'S FIKRST FEMALE VICE PRESIDENT: These people are spies working in the United States embassy.
We were not terrorists. We were not militia. We had no training, no military training. This was a student movement, a genuine student movement. But they knew that they had to take some sort of unconventional step.
AMANPOUR (on camera): Unprecedented in the history of global diplomacy.
EBTEKAR: Unprecedented. Exactly.
AMANPOUR: That unprecedented act was the takeover of the American embassy in the heart of Tehran. The relationship between Iran and the United States has never recovered.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: And that was from my documentary, "God's Warriors," two years ago.
And with me now to continue this discussion, John Limbert, the former U.S. diplomat who was one of the hostages in Tehran, and Columbia University professor, Gary Sick, author of the influential blog on Iran and also in President Carter's National Security Council. And joining me again from Tehran, Ebrahim Asgharzadeh, one of the masterminds of that hostage- taking.
I want to ask you, John Limbert, since you just saw Masoumeh Ebtekar, who was the spokesman for the students there. What was your reaction when you heard her just now -- personally?
JOHN LIMBERT, FMR. U.S. HOSTAGE IN TEHRAN: Well, I never had a pleasure of meeting her, actually, until the very -- until the very end. I understand her name is actually Nilofar and not Masoumeh. But after the revolution, of course, people did make some -- did make some changes.
Now, whatever it is, what I'm hearing, Christiane, is an awful lot of rationalization for an act that people know was -- was an ugly act, and a very -- and an act with very negative consequences for Iran -- for Iranians. And as much as they rationalize it, as much as they say, "Well, we were young, we were this, we were that."
AMANPOUR: But you've just written a book called "Negotiating with Iran and the Ghosts of the Past."
AMANPOUR: These are the ghosts of the past. Can you get over them?
LIMBERT: Of -- of course. You need to call in the "ghost busters." And bring the "ghost busters" in. You know, they put the ghosts in the can and put the can away. And somehow you've got to do -- you've got to do that.
You don't forget them. You don't necessarily even ask for an apology. But you look them in the face. You know them for what they are, which is a very ugly and negative act. And then you put them in their proper compartment.
AMANPOUR: Well, we've got some pictures of you during 1981 when finally you came out of that situation and made a first stop in Germany before coming back to the United States. I believe that's you there with the glasses on. Do you recognize yourself?
LIMBERT: A lot younger.
AMANPOUR: And do you remember what was going through your mind then?
LIMBERT: Very happy to be out.
AMANPOUR: Let me also play -- and I'll go to Gary Sick after this - - my interview with then-reformist President Mohammad Khatami in 1998 in which he, for the first time, addressed the issue of what the hostage- taking had done to the American psyche.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THEN-PRES. MOHAMMAD KHATAMI, IRAN (through translator): With regard to the hostages issue which you raised, I do know that the feelings of the great American people have been hurt. And, of course, I regret it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So trying to put the ghosts back into the can there, you are really on top of the Iran/U.S. situation. What do you think now? Can you get over this and all the current obstacles in the way to fulfill what President Obama has said? And that is a new engagement he wants with Iran?
GARY SICK, FMR. U.S. NATL. SECURITY OFFICIAL: I think we can. But, you know, it is not a one-way street. Basically, just as the hostage crisis had multiple dimensions, and I'm willing to accept that a group of students could go in and take over the embassy, but I'm also aware that the government then intervened and became -- and became committed to that, which, in fact, has affected our relations. And then I was very much part of the negotiations that went on with Iran after that.
And the hostage crisis was extended probably eight months beyond what it should have been. No matter how you look at it in terms of Iran's interests or what-have-you, they simply couldn't make up their mind. And it has left the impression that, one, Iran can't be trusted; two, that when they negotiate, they negotiate in bad faith; and, three, that they are paying only attention to their own internal circumstances and ignoring everybody else.
That is a legacy that we live with, and even people who don't remember the hostage crisis at all still have that image of Iran that was created in those days that has not gone away.
And it's not enough just to say, "Well, that's over. We had different ideas at the time. Let's forget about it and go on."
AMANPOUR: But yet, you are also...
SICK: You've got to come to grips with it somehow.
AMANPOUR: Right. You are also though amongst the group of people who believe that you actually -- you do have to get over history and move forward.
SICK: I agree completely and I believe that very deeply. But I also believe that it's not going to be just the Americans saying, "Gee, we respect Iran." Iran is going to have to quit saying "Marg bar Um-rikaa" every...
AMANPOUR: Which means "Death to America."
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, Mr. Asgharzadeh, we have heard Mr. Sick and Mr. Limbert talk about it must be a two-way street to move forward. What is your opinion? Can one move forward, and do you think there's any hope for a grand bargain to put this history aside and to actually restore relations? Is Iran ready for that?
EBRAHIM ASGHARZADEH, IRANIAN STUDENT LEADER 1979 (through translator): I understand Mr. Limbert's feelings -- especially I know that he went through hardships. But if we're to recount ugly events, I think it's far uglier to hate a passenger airline or hate Iran's oil rigs or support Saddam Hussein to attack Iran. I don't need to create a long list and bring everyone before a court.
I do agree it's a two-way street. Iran/U.S. talks are no ordinary talks. It is a talk between two powers, each claimant on their interests in the region.
NATO has come as far as Iran's security arena in the region. The United States knows that Iran has a stable stronghold, both in Afghanistan and in Iraq, and can have a defining role.
On a long-term basis, if you want to be a regional power, you have to understand, it doesn't understand in vacuum. And Iran understands that.
Iran's security cannot happen in vacuum. Iran must understand that international situation has changed. The bipolar world and the cold war system has collapsed. And in any case, the regional calculations have evolved.
So, Iran must take itself out of the realm of threat and that is its best diplomacy. And I believe for the United States, from the start, with the emergence of Mr. Obama and the Obama factor, is something that it has to take advantage of. I think that the Nobel Peace Prize to Mr. Obama is not so much about the past, but about the future -- allow America to look to the future.
AMANPOUR: All right, Mr. Asgharzadeh. I appreciate that and thank you for joining us from Tehran on this anniversary.
I want to ask you the final word. Can one get over the notion of regime change, all the grievances that you both have articulated, Mr. Asgharzadeh articulated? Is it possible that Obama's policy of engagement is going to work? Briefly.
SICK: You know, we've seen Mr. Asgharzadeh go from being I think a radical student, and somebody who was contrary to the law. People in the U.S. government who were opposed to Iran under any circumstances, and people like John who have suffered very deeply because of this issue, we've seen all of those people change their position and move more toward the center. If those people can, in fact, support the idea of some kind of a relationship between these two governments, I think it is doable.
AMANPOUR: Do you think it's doable?
LIMBERT: Of course, it's doable. The problem has been in the past, every time you make -- every time you start making progress, somehow, either maybe diabolical coincidence, but somewhere, someone comes along and messes it up. And you have to get -- you have to get beyond that.
This relationship, 30 years of estrangement, makes no sense. My students who are 20 years old have no memory. After six weeks in studying it, they say -- ask immediately, "Why are relations as bad as they are?" This makes no sense.
AMANPOUR: And that's a question that we're going to be asking over and over again as we see all this play out.
Thank you so much for joining us, John Limbert, Gary Sick, Ebrahim Asgharzadeh from Tehran. Thank you all for joining us.
As the leaders ponder whether there can be a fundamental policy shift, look at these stunning photos taken during the Iranian revolution 30 years ago. See how the revolution unfolded on the streets -- a photo gallery on our Website, CNN.com/Amanpour.
Also on our site, a Web cast, a more personal discussion with John Limbert and Gary sick, and photos of Limbert talking for the first time with his former captor, Ebrahim Asgharzadeh.
And next: our postscript. We turn to the war in Afghanistan. An important new documentary shows the challenges of counterinsurgency, when even communicating with the people you're trying to help becomes a problem.
AMANPOUR: And now, our postscript. On this program, we've often discussed the challenges that U.S. and NATO soldiers face in Afghanistan. Over the past couple of months, our programmers looked into all aspects of this war, the successes, the failures, and the road ahead. One of the most basic issues is the cultural disconnect between the Afghan people and American and NATO troops.
A recent PBS documentary called "Obama's War" presented the struggle of American troops in one village that's threatened by the Taliban.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "OBAMA'S WAR"/PBS FRONTLINE)
UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: Haven't gone where during the fighting?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: Haven't gone where during the fighting?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They haven't gone to, sir?
UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: Gone where? You're not telling me where. Where haven't they gone?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They haven't gone to from here.
UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: Gone from where? Gone where from here? Where?
I need you all to answer my questions. If not, then I'm going to believe right now that the Taliban does come here. They talk to you. You talk to them. And you're still on their side. All right? You need to understand that we are here to keep the Taliban out.
(PEOPLE TALKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: As we saw at the beginning of this excerpt, if it wasn't so heartbreaking, it might have been a comedy routine -- a U.S. marine struggling to understand even his own translator. Taking time, building personal relationships with the people you're supposed to be protecting, is key to successful counterinsurgency. As all the experts on the ground have told us. And that's our report for now. Thank you for watching. Good-bye from New York.