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Iranian President in U.S. after Nuclear Deal; The Future of a Nuclear Relationship; Imagine a World. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired December 21, 2015 - 14:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST (voice-over): Good evening, everyone. And welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London with a
special edition of the program, looking at some of the highlights of the year.
Now Iran has been at the center of global events this year, whether the war in Syria or the deal on its nuclear program. The framework for
that deal signed in July traded an end to most sanctions on Iran for guarantees that its long controversial nuclear program would not be used to
develop nuclear weapons.
The deal and the turning point that it heralds in Iran's global relations has been a victory for the moderate president, Hassan Rouhani,
and his foreign minister and negotiator, Javad Zarif, who hammered out this deal with the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. And I speak to them all.
First, President Rouhani on the nuclear deal and jailing American journalists as well as being on the wrong side of history in Syria. But he
told me, defeat ISIS now and reform Syria later.
AMANPOUR: Welcome to the program, Mr. President. Welcome back to CNN.
Mr. President, can you tell us, because it looks like a lot of diplomacy regarding Syria is going to take place this week. For a long
time the United States has said that Iran cannot be party to any political discussions with the United States and its partners.
Is that changing?
HASSAN ROUHANI, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (via translator): What was previously announced as well was that our talks with the United States of
America were strictly focused on the nuclear issue.
After having reached a conclusion and after beginning the implementation and the execution of the letter of the agreement, the
nuclear agreement, then having tested the good faith of all involved parties, we can talk about other issues.
Now vis-a-vis the joint comprehensive plan of actions, there are serious tangible steps that must be taken and verified.
AMANPOUR: It seems to be that the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia obviously, Iran obviously, are now all talking about a potential
transition that involves President Assad staying where he is for the moment.
Do you envision any time when President Assad will be moved off the political landscape, that there will be a change as many people in Syria
ROUHANI (through translator): Well, you see, when in Syria, when our first objective is to drive out terrorists and combating terrorists to
defeat them, we have no solution other than to strengthen the central authority and the central government of that country as a central seat of
So I think today everyone has accepted that President Assad must remain so that we can combat the terrorists. However, as soon as this
ROUHANI (through translator): -- reaches the various levels of success and starts driving out terrorists on a step-by-step basis, then
other plans must be put into actions so as to hear the voices of the opposition as well.
Those who are in opposition but are not terrorists must come to the table of talks and negotiations, talk to various groups, including
government representatives, and then reach a decision, make a decision, and implement that decision for the future of Syria.
AMANPOUR: Mr. President, what do you think Russia is doing?
Why is President Putin sending huge amounts of personnel, military hardware, fighter aircraft, building a new base?
What is the point there?
ROUHANI (via translator): The few times that we have met with Mr. Putin, he spoke in quite a bit of detail about this very issue. Russia has
decided to undertake a much more serious level of operations and combat against the terrorists in Syria.
And during the last meeting, he did announce that some countries, such as Iran, Iraq, Russia must form a semi- -- a quasi-coalition in order to
assist in this fight against daish or ISIS and other groups resembling it.
And I did agree in principle with that concept because I did agree that everyone's objective is to combat and defeat Daish or ISIS. And he
told me that he had even spoken with Mr. Obama about this topic and he would like to renew his commitment to the fight and the defeat of daish or
And he told me, President Putin said, that Mr. Obama welcomed that analysis and that plan.
AMANPOUR: May I ask you, sir, Bashar al-Assad has been propped up by Iran, by Hezbollah, by Russia, even before ISIS came on the scene.
Why is it in Iran's interest to support somebody who has now killed 250,000 of his own people, sent 10 million of his own people scurrying
around the country for safety, leaving the country, trying to come to Europe?
Why is that good for Iran to support that kind of man, who many people say is responsible ISIS, daish, in the first place?
ROUHANI (via translator): You do know that at the time when we were fighting against Iraq and Saddam Hussein attacked Iran, subsequent to which
we fought an eight-year war of holy defense, one of the few countries in the region that stood with us steadfastly against Saddam Hussein was
President Bashar Assad's father, former president Hafiz al-Assad.
So going back to that time, we formed a very close relationship with this country.
So Syria in the region is considered and is one of our oldest friends in the region.
But what is occurring today in Syria, perhaps there are some issues with the governance of President Assad and perhaps some opposition members
do seek a more open political environment in Syria.
But the truth of the matter is that the principal threat and danger today in Syria emanates from daish or ISIL.
Daish is extremely cruel and very savage. They do not believe in any framework, in any ideals, in any values, any human values. So we must all
believe and accept that, today in Syria, the number one objective must be the fight against terrorism and the defeat of daish or ISIL.
Our second priority must be a political reform.
AMANPOUR: Mr. President, thank you very much indeed.
ROUHANI (through translator): Thank you so very much.
AMANPOUR: After a break, the nuclear deal was forged after months of backbreaking negotiations by diplomats holed up in hotel conference rooms.
I spoke with the two men at the center of it all. Those interviews after a break.
AMANPOUR: Welcome back to our special program, looking back at some of the year's highlights.
The nuclear deal with Iran was the result of years of work and weeks with diplomats holed up at the Coburg Palace in Vienna.
I was there along the way, including at the end in July, when white smoke rose from the metaphorical chimney and they could announce a new deal
had been reached.
Now we're approaching implementation day in January. And so far, the International Atomic Energy Agency says that Iran stands in good stead,
which will in turn trigger the lifting of sanctions.
Back on that July day, though, I spoke with two men at the center of all of this, the American secretary of state, John Kerry, and Iran's
foreign minister, Javad Zarif.
First, my conversation with Kerry, fired up after many sleepless hours, he said the deal was the best chance to prevent an Iranian nuclear
weapon and he challenged detractors to come up with a better alternative.
AMANPOUR: Secretary Kerry, thank you for joining us.
Have you made history?
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, people call it an historic agreement, I guess because Iran has come to the table and on paper we have
But we don't have anything until this is implemented. We have the -- I mean, we have an outline. And so I think it's a strong one. I think
it's a great possibility. But as I said in my comments today, it's the implementation of this that will really be the measure.
AMANPOUR: What about the selling of it before even it gets implemented?
How difficult will that be?
KERRY: Well, there are people who regrettably have just already automatically politically decided I'm going to oppose this. And without
even knowing or reading the agreement, without knowing all the terms of it, they're opposed to it.
And there are people who have decided -- many of them -- that you just shouldn't deal with Iran. But they don't offer an alternative.
While we did that in the years 2000 until Obama came in, guess what?
Their program went from 164 centrifuges to 19,000. Their enrichment stockpile reached a level over 10,000 kilograms, where they had enough
fissile material to make 10 bombs.
Is that safer?
Is that what people want to go back to?
Or do they want to go just straight to war?
AMANPOUR: Do you think --
KERRY: They have an obligation. People have an obligation to define what's the alternative. You're not going to sanction them into oblivion.
They've proven that. We've seen that in the last years.
Sanctions brought them to the table to negotiate. They did the very thing everybody put the sanctions in place to get them to do, which is
negotiate. So they negotiated.
Now measure the agreement to see whether or not it achieves what we need to in terms of insight, restraint, accountability and so forth.
That's what we should be doing.
AMANPOUR: The E.U. chief, Federica Mogherini, said this is not just a deal, it's a good deal.
What do you say to those who say, well, OK. It's restricted them for 10 years and 15 and 25, depending on various issues.
What about after that?
Are you confident that they don't rush to start up again?
Or is that for a future generation?
KERRY: Well, I can't make any promise about the long-term future of anybody, including the United States' actions or choices, for any future
But in life, you have to bet on and in diplomacy and in conflict, you have to set up a structure and try to live by it and put it to the test.
We negotiated with the Soviet Union. We negotiated with Red China. We negotiated for years with people we deemed to be the archenemy.
And without any trust, we put restraints in our nuclear programs or came to understandings. Could you sit there and say you knew exactly what
would happen 20 -- no, of course not.
But you try to shape that behavior through the choices you make and the things you put in place. We --
KERRY: -- know to a certainty what this will do. We also know -- we know, Christiane, that we have unprecedented access through this in terms
So, yes, they get to do more in the out years. That's their right as they clean up -- supposedly -- and become an NPT good standing country.
Remember, during all of this time, Iran never pulled out of the non- proliferation treaty. They could have. They could have said to hell with you; we'll do our own thing.
They've lived by the NPT. They're living by it now. And they -- well, they say they're living by it now. They haven't lived by it
completely, which is why we put the sanctions on them.
So now we're putting to task whether or not there's a change of heart, a change of mind, a change of direction and, if there isn't, we have every
option available to us, every day, that we have right now.
AMANPOUR: From there, I went straight to speak to Foreign Minister Zarif. He told me the international community was free to close four
pathways to a bomb or 40 pathways because, he said, Iran has no interest in even one pathway.
AMANPOUR: Foreign Minister Zarif, welcome. Thank you.
JAVAD ZARIF, FOREIGN MINISTER, IRAN: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Did you make history today?
ZARIF: Well, I hope so. History is made by good decisions that are implemented. I think we adopted a good decision. I think it's good for
all. It's now time to implement it.
But more importantly than that, if you want to make history today, this has to be the foundation of the city, for building on something that
can in fact break a several-year-old misperception, unnecessary crisis so that we can deal with the real crises that are affecting all of us.
AMANPOUR: Iran has always called the United States "the Great Satan." And now you're making a deal with the United States, the great Satan. Some
are already saying that it's a surrender.
How will you sell it back home?
ZARIF: Well, are we, first of all, have an agreement with P5+1 or E3+3, as the Europeans like to call it. It's not with the United States.
But the United States is an important part of this -- was an important part of this process. And it is, in our view, a good agreement.
Any agreement includes compromise. We have, in fact, accepted some limitations and in reciprocation of -- for our acceptance of those
limitations, we received quite a lot of benefit. Neither side was prepared to provide the flexibility that has now led us to this agreement.
If you look at the fact that now Iran has a nuclear program, an enrichment program, a heavy water reactor, an R&D program, a complete
nuclear -- peaceful because it was always peaceful, nuclear program that, two years ago, people thought would never be accepted by any of the major
Now I'm happy that these people have come to the conclusion that the old way didn't work, that imposition, coercion for eight years on this
issue, 30-some years on other issues, has produced nothing.
And two years of diplomacy has produced an agreement of peace.
AMANPOUR: What do you say to those who will take precisely what you've just told me about, all that you've gained under this agreement, and
they'll say, well, you know what, it's only 10 years and then they can do whatever they want. Sure, they'll go for this agreement.
ZARIF: Well, the fact is that if people were worried about Iran's nuclear ambitions, those ambitions were always peaceful. So last year it
was peaceful; 10 years ago it was peaceful. Ten years from now it will be peaceful. They shouldn't worry about that.
Iran's interest in maintaining a nuclear weapons-free region is paramount. We believe that nuclear weapons do not augment our security and
that is a very serious, sober political analysis but founded in our religious beliefs.
Don't forget that we were the victims of chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq War and we had the capability to use them. But we never did.
These are principles, fundamental principles on which we operate.
So if they want to close four pathways to a bomb or 40 pathways to a bomb, they can close them all because we do not want the pathway to the
AMANPOUR: What do you say about this is not trust, this is verify and the bottom line will be what the IAEA says?
How do you square what President Obama and Secretary Kerry say, which is 24/7, anywhere, anytime inspections? And what you say, which is no,
it's not anywhere, anytime?
ZARIF: I'll just ask them to go read the deal.
AMANPOUR: So what is it?
ZARIF: The deal is that we accepted an international mechanism that is there -- it actually provides 24/7 access to nuclear facilities. We
have had that in the past.
It's interesting that, over the past 10 years, Iran has been visited more often than any other country, probably in some years with the
exception of Japan.
But in the last 3-4 years, Iran even exceeded Japan in the times -- time of visits that the IAEA made to Iran in order to search Iran, to see
whether we had any undeclared nuclear program and they didn't find any.
For the past 10 years, the IAEA has looked everywhere in Iran. Of course, we were not a member of the initial protocol; two years of that, we
were. But eight years we were not a member of additional protocol.
But IAEA has inspected and inspected and inspected and they didn't find any indication of nuclear weapons activity. And we believe that
another 10 years of inspection by the IAEA will produce the same result because we are not interested in nuclear weapons.
AMANPOUR: And what about the military sites?
ZARIF: First of all, it's not military sites. It's undeclared facilities. Undeclared facilities can be anywhere. Managed access is a
term used by the additional protocol and we are working within an international mechanism. And we have agreed to a certain procedures in
order to address disputes arising --
AMANPOUR: Including what you may have done in the past.
ZARIF: That is a different deal. We already agreed with the Secretary General Amano and the IAEA to have an outline of what we need to
do together in order to address those.
We believe those are basically groundless allegations that have been made against us, primarily by Israel, which is the most -- the single most
important threat to the non-proliferation regime in the world because it possesses many, in some estimates, 200 nuclear warheads.
AMANPOUR: Foreign Minister, thank you very much indeed.
AMANPOUR: Now if that deal leads to Iran opening up to the world, it would also mean access to a rich culture of arts, past and present. Our
Fred Pleitgen speaks with one of those legendary Iranian artists after a break.
AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, the landmark accord with Iran means not only the lifting of economic sanctions but many cultural ones as well.
Last month, the unthinkable happened: a treasure trove of some of the world's most important works from Rothko to Pollack and Picasso, curated by
the last queen of Persia, opened up to the public in Tehran after more than three decades locked up in the vaults.
Earlier, as the ink was being readied for that nuclear deal in Vienna, my colleague, Fred Pleitgen, traveled to Tehran and met one of the
country's most legendary artists.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is what it looks like when modern expressionism meets Persian tradition. Monir
Farmanfarmaian's works have been a fixture of the international art world for decades.
And now she's the first Iranian artist to have a solo exhibition at New York's renowned Guggenheim Museum.
MONIR FARMANFARMAIAN, IRANIAN ARTIST: And I never believed that I will have such a chance because I -- at my always Guggenheim Museum since
I've been to United States to New York.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): Born into a wealthy Iranian family, she moved to New York to study art in 1945 and became a mainstay of the evolving
scene of the '50s and '60s, one of her friends, a young artist named Andy Warhol. She created this for him, called "Nearer Ball." Like many of her
pieces, it relies on geometric shapes.
FARMANFARMAIAN: I have shown the possibility that how much possible to do different design in triangle or in hexagon or in pentagon. That is
the reason that I create in this shape, in this floor, of the hexagon, many different designs.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): At 91 years of age, Monir Farmanfarmaian works out of her studio in Iran's capital, Tehran, still very much in charge of
Like her artwork, her life's story is a symbiosis of U.S. pop culture with the traditions of her native Iran. She traveled through Iran
extensively, discovering her homeland's rich and diverse culture.
FARMANFARMAIAN: I traveled so much in 1960s, '64 and so on. All over the world, living with the tribes, sleeping in a tent, eat with them and so
on. And I loved the landscape. I loved the attitude of the people and I loved the history.
This is how I discovered that all the mosques and all the tile work of the mosques and the carpets of Iranian, Persian rugs and all this is
designed on geometry. And geometry is very important in Iranian architecture and also in art.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): Farmanfarmaian left Iran after the Islamic revolution in 1979, returned there in 2004, feeling that the delicate
craftsmanship needed to construct her mirror art is only available here.
FARMANFARMAIAN: I cannot work any other place except Iraq because I have these gentlemans that they say are left over after old masters. They
can help me.
PLEITGEN (voice-over): And while the exhibit at the Guggenheim is a culmination point in Monir Farmanfarmaian's career, even at 91, she isn't
thinking of slowing down, constantly coming up with new ideas and designs merging American and Iranian culture into glittering artworks -- Fred
Pleitgen, CNN, Tehran.
AMANPOUR: That's it for our program tonight. Remember, you can now listen to our show as a podcast, see it online at amanpour.com and follow
me on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you for watching and goodbye from London.