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Trump withdraws US from the Iran Nuclear Deal. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired May 8, 2018 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST, AMANPOUR: Tonight, President Trump has pulled the United States out of the Iran Nuclear Deal, making America the
only party to violate it. So, what now? We go live to Tehran for reaction from Mohammad Marandi, who was part of Iran's delegation during the nuclear
We go to Washington DC to speak to former US Assistant Secretary of State under President Obama, Thomas Countryman, who helped negotiate the deal.
And we go to Europe which now holds survival of the deal in its hands. Former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt joins me.
Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
"Today's announcement weakens our security, breaks America's word, isolates us from our European allies, puts Israel at greater risk, empowers Iran's
hardliners and reduces our global leverage to address Tehran's misbehavior." That was the stark and somber reaction to President Trump
pulling the US out of the Iran Nuclear Deal from the former US Secretary of State John Kerry who spent years negotiating it.
Earlier in the day, Trump had simply ignored his closest international partners and plunged into uncharted territory with no apparent plan B.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am announcing today that the United States will withdraw from the Iran Nuclear Deal. In a few
moments, I will sign a presidential memorandum to begin reinstating US nuclear sanctions on the Iranian regime.
We will be instituting the highest level of economic sanction. Iran's leaders will naturally say that they refused to negotiate a new deal. They
refuse, and that's fine. I'd probably say the same thing if I was in their position.
But the fact is they are going to want to make a new and lasting deal, one that benefits all of Iran and the Iranian people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So far, Iran's leaders are saying that won't happen. President Hassan Rouhani, moments after Trump spoke, told his nation that he would
work with Europe, Russia and China to maintain the current deal.
President Obama, who made containing Iran's nuclear program, his signature foreign policy achievement said that Trump was making "a serious mistake"
since Iran had not violated the deal.
He said that without the agreement, "the United States could eventually be left with a losing choice between a nuclear armed Iran or another war in
the Middle East."
Trump has put America at this crossroads even as he said that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was on his way to North Korea to try to get the regime
there to enter a denuclearization deal with the very same president who had just ripped up the one with Iran.
When I spoke with Iran's ambassador here in London, he told me that US withdrawal could mean the entire deal was dead. So, is it?
Mohammad Marandi is a professor at University of Tehran. He was part of Iran's delegation during the nuclear talks and he joins me now from Tehran.
Professor Marandi, welcome to the program. So, first and foremost, is the deal dead from Iran's perspective right now?
MOHAMMAD MARANDI, MEMBER OF IRANIAN DELEGATION DURING NUCLEAR TALKS: Well, it's almost dead. And the reason, of course, is because the United States
has officially ended the deal.
But the Iranian, I think, are giving the EU countries, the Russians and the Chinese an opportunity over the next few weeks to prevent it from
I think this serves two purposes. First, to see if there's a way out and to find a solution. And second of all, I think they want to reinforce the
fact that it is the United States, the US government, and Trump, in particular, that is the problem.
If the Iranians had immediately withdrawn, I think it would have lessened the impact of what Trump has done. But by standing back and giving a few
extra weeks, I think that they are putting greater focus on the fact that Trump is seeking escalation and that the Trump administration is showing
that the United States is not a country that abides by its commitments.
[17:05:00] AMANPOUR: So, that's the sort of diplomacy that you're outlining, but what's the actual substance? What do you think Iran can
talk to the Russians, Chinese, Europeans about to make it actually work? What would the conditions for that be?
MARANDI: Well, the Russians and the Chinese have their own policy. Both countries are now on the receiving end of US pressure and hostility. The
trade war issue with China and, of course, the ongoing problems between the United States and Russia.
Both these countries have an incentive to see a strong Iran and to improve their relations with Iran because they know that if Iran is hurt, they
could be next.
And China is a country on the rise. So, many of Iran's economic needs can be met through its economic cooperation with China.
Europe, on the other hand, has a different set of interests here. Part of it is economic, but also Trump by ignoring Europe and effectively by
humiliating the French president when he want to Washington and ignoring the German chancellor, I think not only did he humiliate Europe, but he
presented them as ineffectual and of no significance.
So, the Europeans have a vested interest in showing that they do matter in international issues. If they roll over and abide by Trump's demands, then
I don't think, in future, any international body or any global player or regional player is going to take Europe seriously.
So, for that reason, I think the Europeans will have to grow a spine. If they do and if they stand up to Trump, then there is a possibility that the
agreement could last.
If not, then I think that Iran will ultimately have to withdraw.
AMANPOUR: And if it withdraws - let me put this to you - the Iranian ambassador to Britain told me that this is what might happen when I asked
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HAMID BAEIDINEJAD, IRANIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE UK: When the United States is out of the deal, it means that there is no deal left. The consequence
would be that Iran would in fact - would be ready to go back to the previous situation.
AMANPOUR: That means enriching uranium at a vast speed and capacity.
BAEIDINEJAD: It could be enriching uranium. It could be redefining our cooperation with the agency and some other activities that are under
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, do you think that's likely, Professor Marandi, that they would go back to the status quo ante? And even the ambassador sort of
hinted that the hardliners would be more empowered and they could even encourage a total withdrawal from the NPT, the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
MARANDI: Well, let me put it this way. I think that what Trump has actually done is that he's created a united front in Iran because those who
were critical of the agreement from the beginning, they were saying that the United States is simply untrustworthy.
And they've been proven to be correct. Obama, we must be fair, was not abiding by the agreement either. He was violating the agreement on many
occasions. Trump, of course, took this forward at a much more rapid pace.
But what we basically saw is that inside Iran, those who were against it, they now feel vindicated. They said the United States is untrustworthy and
that they showed themselves to be untrustworthy.
Those who supported the agreements said, look, we gave it a shot, we showed the international community that we are willing to give concessions, we are
willing to solve the problem and to lead the region towards greater stability.
So, at the end of the day, I think they've united all the political factions in the country in the sense that they have shown Iran to be the
side that is willing to ease tensions, to solve the problem and it's the United States that's unwilling to do so.
And I think also the Iranian population, even though they will be facing economic difficulty for a period of time at least, I think they all they
recognize that this is the doing of the United States and that the Iranians have, over the past few years, attempted to negotiate with the United
States and to prove that it's not Iran that's the problem.
So, again, even at the national level, Trump has hurt the United States inside Iran. And at the international level, he's done so as well.
AMANPOUR: So, just let me ask you this then, given all that you've just said, obviously, when it come to the nuclear issue, you can make a case for
at least some lessening of tension with this nuclear deal.
But you cannot say that Iran has no intentions around the world because of its activities in Syria, because of the whole missile testing and Yemen and
all that. Syria, everybody knows what's going on in Syria and what Iran's role is there.
[17:10:14] So, my question to you is, President Trump has said tonight that he is going to wait for Iran to come almost begging to make a good deal, a
better deal that would involve all these other issues. And he said that he would be there ready and waiting when the Iranian regime came to make a
deal. What do you think? Is it likely?
MARANDI: Well, first of all, when it comes to Iran's missile defense capability, that's not up for negotiation simply because that's one of the
reasons why the United States doesn't attack Iran.
Second of all, when it comes to Syria, if we look at 2012 Defense Intelligence Agency documents of the United States, we know that the United
States and its regional allies were funding the extremists in Syria.
And the reason why Iran is in Syria is to battle ISIS and Al Qaeda. In fact, Trump previously said that Iran and Russia were fighting against ISIS
and that is a good thing. So, he's contradicting himself because tonight he was saying something quite different.
But, again, I found that the most important thing is that if - when the United States cannot be trusted at the negotiating table, when the United
States is not able to fulfill its own commitments when it comes to our nuclear deal, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever why Iran should
negotiate anything else with the United States because the United States has shown itself to be unreliable.
AMANPOUR: On that note, thank you so much for joining us from Tehran. And we are now going to go and get the perspective from Washington.
President Trump backing out of the deal potentially puts him in an even tougher position to make a deal on North Korea, but he said that he's still
hopeful that he can make that happen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Today's action sends a critical message. The United States no longer makes empty threats. When I make promises, I keep them.
In fact, at this very moment, Secretary Pompeo is on his way to North Korea in preparation for my upcoming meeting with Kim Jong-un. Plans are being
made, relationships are building. Hopefully, a deal will happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, Thomas Countryman worked on crafting the Iran deal as former acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security
under President Obama and he's joining me now from Washington.
Welcome to the program. You just heard Professor Marandi from Iran talking about one of the things President Trump said, which was that, I know
they're going to be kicking and screaming, but they're going to come back and want to make a better deal.
What do you think is the likelihood of that? You just heard Professor Marandi say why should they if even the one they have done has been
THOMAS COUNTRYMAN, FORMER US UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR ARMS CONTROL: I think Professor Marandi is essentially correct.
The President by deciding that the US would be the first of seven countries to violate the JCPOA has immediately damaged United States' credibility,
whether it's negotiating with Iran, with North Korea or with any other country on earth.
And that's the most immediate effect of the crisis that has been initiated by the United States government. It is a crisis that will develop slowly
until it develops rapidly.
And it will have the effect not only of damaging the prospect for talks with North Korea, but of setting up an unnecessary fight with our best
allies of giving the Iranians an incentive to resume the enrichment of uranium, the very practice that the world united against four years ago,
damaging our ability to see what Iran is up to and increasing, in the long run, the risk of further military conflict in the Middle East.
So, an immediate damage to our credibility and a long-term damage to several other goals that the US used to share with the rest of the world.
AMANPOUR: Now, on the issue of Iran saying that it wants to enter serious discussions with Europe, with China, with Russia to see whether this is
salvageable, you were very technically involved in this. Could it be salvageable even without the United States?
COUNTRYMAN: The short answer is that this is a seven-part deal, seven countries. The US cannot kill the deal all by itself. But without
question, the president's actions have wounded the deal severely.
[17:15:05] It will be difficult to preserve the deal if the US is the only one in violation, but it is crucial that an attempt be made to keep the
deal going. And that's why I hope to see Iran and Europe, as well as Russia and China, take a deep breath, not respond as impulsively as the
White House does and see if there is something that can be done to salvage this deal.
At the minimum, I would hope that the European Union would respond as strongly to an American violation of the deal as they would have responded
to an Iranian violation.
AMANPOUR: What does that mean? What are you suggesting Europe does?
COUNTRYMAN: I suggest that Europe should take action, to make clear first that it continues to support the deal.
Secondly, to give Iran whatever it can give in economic incentives - that is continued trade and investment between Europe and Iran.
Third, to make clear, as Europe has done on previous occasions, that it does not accept the US right to punish European firms for acting in
consistency with a multinational deal. That may not be enough to save this deal in the long run, but I think it's important for Europe's future
credibility that they make the effort to do so.
AMANPOUR: Well, we'll put that to former Prime Minister Carl Bildt in a moment, but I just want to continue to ask you, this notion - President
Trump received questions about, will this make America safer, how will it make America safer.
He keeps saying I fulfilled a campaign promise. But a CNN poll shows that actually 63 percent of Americans want America to stay inside the deal.
But, I guess, the question is what about again Iranian complaints over the years that, even under the Obama administration, there wasn't enough energy
expended to get financial institutions and the others to do business with Iran.
This is what Secretary of State Kerry, at the time, in 2016, told me when I asked him about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KERRY, FORMER US SECRETARY OF STATE: As part of this agreement, Iran has a right to do certain business that has been defined and they have the
rights to the benefit of a deal that they've agreed to.
They have undone their centrifuges. They have lived by every component of this agreement and, therefore, the banks and the world community needs to
live by its part of the agreement.
But let me be clear, European banks can open accounts, can make loans, can engage in business, can travel. There is no reason for them on a non-
designated entity for any legitimate business not to do business.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, Thomas Countryman, that's kind of what you're saying, right? I mean, even right now, that's even more important to tell Europe and
others who want to do business.
COUNTRYMAN: I think it's important for Europe to stand up for international agreements even if the US pulls out, whether it's the Paris
Agreement or this agreement. It's important, as I said, for Europe's future credibility.
Iran has some justification - some - for complaining that, in the Obama administration, they did not get all the benefits they were hoping for.
Part of that is our law and our political situation in Washington. Part of it is that Iran has a lot to do to reform its economy, to break the hold of
oligarchs before it becomes a fully attractive place to invest.
Now, it faces even greater obstacles as a result of the president's decision. And I think Professor Marandi was right that, in Iran, many
different factions, so-called moderate, so-called hardliners will be unified in opposition to the president.
I don't think many Iranian citizens are going to take with any sincerity President Trump's appeal to them that he is doing this for their benefit.
AMANPOUR: Thomas Countryman, thank you so much for that perspective. Now, to Europe, ever since Trump's election, European allies have been furiously
working behind the scenes with the administration and Iran to save the deal.
Now, France, Germany and Britain trying to charm and flatter Trump, but today the tone changed. They issued a joint statement expressing regret
and concern. And the EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the bloc remained committed to the deal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[17:20:01] FEDERICA MOGHERINI, EU's HIGH REPRESENTATIVE FOR FOREIGN POLICY: The nuclear deal with Iran is the culmination of 12 years of diplomacy. It
belongs to the entire international community. It has been working and it is delivering on its goal, which is guaranteeing that Iran doesn't develop
nuclear weapons. The European Union is determined to preserve it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, joining me for more on this is the former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt. He is co-chair of the European Council on Foreign
Relations and he joins me now from Stockholm.
Welcome to the program.
CARL BILDT, FORMER SWEDISH PRIME MINISTER: Thanks.
AMANPOUR: Well, you heard it all being flung at you from the Iranian perspective, from the US perspective. It's really up to Europe to really
hang on to this and make sure you don't violate it and you keep it together. Is that something that's doable?
BILDT: It is clearly something that Europe must look very seriously into all of the possibilities of doing, to stand up for, well, our interests.
So, stand by our words to defend the interest that we have in preserving - preventing further conflicts in the region.
So, I'm quite certain that all of the European leaders, when they get together, the prime minister and the president in Sofia next week. This
will be very high up on the agenda. I think there's no question whatsoever in support for the deal form the European side.
Then the critical thing will be, we're dealing with fairly brutal policies in the White House. I mean, this was hard decisions by the White House
that I think anyone had anticipated.
So, there will be sanctions against Iran immediately, they're saying, but I guess there will be sanctions against Europe as well and against European
enterprises and European economies that are involved with any sort of trading relationship with Iran.
And that is something that is extremely serious from the European Union point of view and needs very serious policy reforms.
AMANPOUR: And that is really back to the bad old days from Europe's perspective. But can I ask you this, prime minister, the Israelis, the
Saudis, the Emiratis, they are all thrilled about this. They think this is absolutely the bee's knees, that this is the way to pressure Iran, this is
the way to change the regime, this is the way to get everything they want.
And, of course, we've been asking, well, what's your plan B? What is your plan B if you want to get everything you want? And we're just hearing from
the State Department, which has just told CNN, that the reason there is no plan B is because they were so busy trying to get a supplemental agreement
that they didn't get. How true does that ring to you?
BILDT: Well, I think that the plan B or the plan A by some of the people that are behind this particular decision goes well, well beyond the Iran
nuclear deal. They are aiming for policy of regime change in Tehran, which I think would be very destructive, if they try it.
Because what they will do is that they will significantly strengthen the hardliners in Iran, which would be negative, and that will have a
destabilizing effect on the entire region.
That I fear is the hidden plan B from the White House. And I think that has been borne out by some of the rhetoric that we've heard from some of
them before they entered office, but also by some of the things that we have heard now. And that makes the decision today even more difficult in
its consequences than it looks on the surface.
AMANPOUR: And again, there are these very - I don't know it's wishful thinking or facile glib statements that if we just hold out for longer and
we show Iran that we mean business, they'll come to us because they want a better deal.
But this is what the Foreign Minister Javad Zarif basically said about additional supplemental and all of the rest of the conditional deals that
were being proposed. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: It now appears that the response from some Europeans has been to offer the United States more concessions -
from our pocket. This appeasement entails promises of a new deal that would include matters we all decided to exclude at the outset of our
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, very briefly, because I want to ask you a follow-up question, I mean, he's right, isn't he?
BILDT: Well, yes and no. I would say that the basis for the European approach has been to preserve the Iran Nuclear Deal, no change in that
But then, Europe has never said that this is the end of the story. We have a lot of other concerns with Iran. But on the basis of trust established
with the JCPOA, the intention was to move forward. We have an interest in talking about Syria, obviously.
[17:25:00] There is UN-sponsored peace process in Yemen that we have an interest in. There could be regional arms control issues on ballistic
missiles that needs to be addressed.
Another set of issues that needs to be addressed when it comes to funding terrorists and terrorist organizations throughout the region.
So, engaging with Tehran on these particular issues has always been on the European agenda and I would hope also on the Tehran agenda whether this
could be preserved.
AMANPOUR: And very finally -
BILDT: In this particular atmosphere, it remains to be seen.
AMANPOUR: Very finally, I want to ask you because President Trump himself referenced Bibi Netanyahu's presentation to the world last week.
And so, I just wanted to ask you what you thought of what Netanyahu had told Congress back in 2002 about the wisdom of various interventions and
adventures in the Middle East. Just listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, THEN FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: There is no question whatsoever that Saddam is seeking and is working and is advancing
towards the development of nuclear weapons. No question whatsoever.
If you take out Saddam, Saddam's regime, I guarantee you that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Your reaction?
BILDT: Well, I mean, you can't accuse Prime Minister Netanyahu not being consistent in his approach anyhow. He was very vocally advocating that
particular policy towards Iraq. We know the basis for that.
He was equally vocal advocating that policy towards Iran. As a matter of fact, what he presented the other day was something that confirmed that
Iran closed down its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and there was nothing in what he said that indicated that they were violating the agreement now.
But his agenda is a wider one and I would say even more dangerous.
AMANPOUR: Carl Bildt, thank you so much for joining us from Stockholm on this fateful day.
And that is it for our program tonight. Thanks for watching. And goodbye from London.