Return to Transcripts main page
U.S. Braces for Iranian Retaliation; Iranian Mourns for Soleimani for the Fourth Day; Mark Esper, U.S. Defense Secretary, is Interviewed About the Iran Airstrike; Iraqi Parliament Voting to Designate U.S. Forces as Terrorists; Massoumeh Ebtekar, Iranian Vice President for Women and Family Affairs, is Interviewed About Iran; Interview With Former Saudi Ambassador to the United States Prince Turki Al-Faisal; Interview With Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI). Aired 1-2p ET
Aired January 7, 2020 - 13:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what's coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF, FOREIGN MINISTER OF IRAN: We will respond, but we will respond proportionately not disproportionately.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: The U.S. braces for Iranian retaliation, and I speak to defense secretary Mark Esper.
And the message from Iran, as millions mourn Qasem Soleimani for the fourth straight day. Iranian vice president, Massoumeh Ebtekar, joins me from
Plus, what action will Congress take? We hear from the former CIA analyst who served in Iraq, Representative Elissa Slotkin.
And even the Saudis are calling for restraint. We talk to the kingdom's former ambassador to Washington, D.C.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
Allies of the United States meet and call on both sides to de-escalate the crisis as emotionally charged scenes flood the streets of Iran for the
fourth straight day. The latest crowds gathered in Kerman, hometown of the slain commander, Qasem Soleimani. Iranian state media says at least 56
people have been killed in a stampede at his burial.
Meantime, the United States and the world prepare for retaliation. In Tehran, the Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, said the response will be
In Washington, the aftermath has been somewhat confused. Defense Secretary Mark Esper contradicted the president's comments on the possibility of
targeting cultural sites, vowing to abide by the laws of armed conflict.
He has also denied that U.S. troops are pulling out of Iraq after a letter that was leaked suggested a withdrawal.
And he is joining me now from the Pentagon. Secretary Esper, welcome to the program.
MARK ESPER, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Good evening, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: Can I start -- because everybody wants to know this and apparently Congress will be briefed today and tomorrow -- you -- the
administration has talked about an imminent threat, and that is what led to this strike.
As you know, many well plugged in officials, people who apparently have had access to the Intelligence briefings, even after the strike, have reported
to our colleagues that the evidence may be razor thin and the chatter was nothing out of the ordinary for what you already know about Soleimani and
his plans and activities.
So I guess, can you look the American people in the world down the barrel of this camera straight in the eye and say that there was a ticking time
ESPER: Well, thank you, Christiane.
First of all, let me send a few messages to the American people and the broader world. First of all to the American people. I want to assure them
that they have the best military in the world. And the young men and women who wear our uniform of any service are extremely capable and professional
and prepared to defend our homeland, our people and our interests in the region and more broadly.
Secondly, I'd like to say to our service members and our diplomats in the region that we have your back. We thoroughly support what you're doing,
we're proud of you, and that we are taking every necessary step to ensure force protection, as I know you ready yourself for what may be ahead.
Thirdly, to our partners and allies and directly to the Iranian regime, I'd like to say we are not looking to start a war with Iran. But we are
prepared to finish one.
As I've told my many colleagues, as I've spoke to them over the last few days, what we'd like to see is this situation de-escalated, and for Tehran
to sit down with us and begin a discussion about a better way ahead.
We think that's the best approach at this point in time.
Now, Christiane, with regard to your question about the Intelligence -- I can assure you that it's more than razor thin, and it's persuasive.
The fact of the matter is, Soleimani was caught red-handed on the ground in Baghdad -- one terrorist leader of a terrorist organization meeting with
another terrorist leader to synchronize and plan additional attacks on American forces, diplomats or facilities.
I think we took the right action to remove these players from the battlefield.
AMANPOUR: So ticking time bomb, imminent threat. Is that what you're saying?
ESPER: I think the threat was being orchestrated by Soleimani. That's what the Intelligence reported. That's what he was doing on the ground in
both Baghdad and Damascus and elsewhere, and I think it was only a matter of days, certainly no more than weeks.
AMANPOUR: So that's days, weeks, rather than the immediate.
Let me ask you this --
ESPER: Well there (ph) --
AMANPOUR: Well, presumably we'll hear more from Congress.
And I guess I want to ask you what you're picking up now, because you've seen the scenes inside Iran. You can see that that's not just a outpouring
of grief from the people there and rallying around a regime that had been unpopular, but that it's also a message.
I mean, that is a message, and you know that better than anybody. You commanded troops on the ground in the first Gulf War. And you have to know
What do you think they're going to do? And what will the United States tolerate?
ESPER: Yeah. Let me answer that in a moment here.
But let me go back one second. You know, much of this discussion about the strike we made on Soleimani has to look at context, too. Here's a person,
for over 20 years has conducted terrorist acts around the world, specifically in that region. He has (ph) the blood of hundreds of American
soldiers and service members on his hands and the wounding of thousands more.
In the last 12 months alone he directed, approved or resourced attacks on United States' forces, culminating in the late December strike that
resulted in the death of an American.
And then, of course, he was responsible for the siege of the American embassy in Baghdad. So this is no innocent man. This is a terrorist
leader of a terrorist organization, and his time was due.
Now, with regard to the Iranian people, and the question you asked -- what you see is what you see. I will tell you that the Iranian people -- many
are upset with the regime, that for 40 years now has tried to export its revolutionary zeal.
And instead of focusing its time and attention and resources on enabling the -- the Iranian people and giving them the -- the liberties and freedoms
that they want, has rather suppressed them. And in some cases -- in this case, led by the IRGC Quds Force and Soleimani -- oppressed or killed
So we'll see what happens next. We're prepared for the worst. We hope that cooler heads in Tehran will wisen up and decide to de-escalate the
AMANPOUR: OK. So you're sending a very strong message of de-escalation.
Obviously you say the United States doesn't want this to launch into war. I asked you what would be tolerable to the United States for a response
from Iran, but I also want to read this to you, because it's news just in.
And that is even though you've answered the so-called confusion about this leaked letter, suggesting any -- a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq,
that is not the message that the Iraqi prime minister is giving to his people tonight.
He has said publicly, tonight I received a letter from the U.S. leadership speaking about the withdrawal. After four or five hours it was said to be
a mistake. The message was clearly indicating a withdrawal from Iraq. We directly sent the letter to the foreign ministry, to our ambassador in
Washington and to other parties.
And as you know, he's been quoted of saying, we interpret that as calling for a withdrawal.
Wouldn't that precisely be what the Iranians have wanted? And could an unintended consequence of this strike actually end with U.S. forces somehow
withdrawing from Iraq and from the region?
ESPER: Well, first of all, Christiane, a draft, unsigned letter that was acquired by an Iraqi official has no import. It has no value whatsoever.
So the fact that anybody would take it seriously or respond to it -- I would say this, the United States is not withdrawing from Iraq.
In fact, in my conversations with my counterpart, the Iraqi defense minister, I conveyed to him that we do want to stay in Iraq. We want to
continue the important Defeat ISIS mission that we're there partnering with them -- by helping train the system, which also has the salutatory benefit
of also helping enable more strong and more independent, a more prosperous Iraq. That's what the Iraqi people want.
In fact, in the last few days, Iraqis are still protesting their government's corruption in other parts of the country. That's not being
Also in my conversation with allies and partners, both in the region and outside the region, in Europe, I have assured them that the United States
is committed to the Defeat ISIS mission. And to do that, we need to be -- retain a presence in Iraq, to be there to enable the Iraqi government and
to enable that mission.
AMANPOUR: OK. So two points there.
One, obviously Secretary Pompeo has said that everybody will be much safer since this attack, and yet the American (ph) are being told to withdraw
from Iraq and other such places -- the American, you know, people from the embassy.
But also, you talk about continuing the fight against ISIS, and surely that's an immediate casualty. I mean, you've announced publicly that that
will be limited or suspended.
Most military people, commanders who I've spoken to, say that your forces are going to be hunkered down in Syria and Iraq. You won't be fighting
ISIS. You will be fully in force protection mode. Surely that's a victory for the terrorists there.
ESPER: Well, we continue to gauge ISIS in Syria and elsewhere. Of course, ISIS is a threat that is operating all the way from Africa across the
Middle East and Afghanistan.
With regard to Iraq, our mission there is to train, advise and assist the Iraqis. So I don't see any material impact right now in the short term on
Again, the broader message is that we are there to help the Iraqi people.
I think it's evident in the vote that was held the other day.
If you look at it, nearly all the Kurds and all the new Sunni council representative members either abstained or did not vote, because they
recognize the strategic importance of the relationship between the United States and Iraq.
And those Shia who did vote, in many cases did so because they were threatened by these Iranian-sponsored Shia militia groups who said either
vote our way or else.
And so I think, again, when you look at the broader message, the broader needs and wants of the Iraqi people, what they want is what we want -- a
strong, independent and prosperous Iraq that is free from malign, Iranian influence.
AMANPOUR: I want to ask you about the 52 sites that President Trump tweeted about once and then doubled-down on -- and you have responded by
saying the United States military will abide by the code of uniform and armed conflict.
As you know, it is illegal -- it is a war crime just to give such an order. Again, you were a commander on the ground, and you know that a general or
commander cannot even give such an order, because that would be a war crime -- even if it's not carried out.
You would have to, as the senior civilian in the Defense Department, you would have to refuse that order and make sure it wasn't given. Are you
prepared to do that?
ESPER: Look, as we always have, the United States will follow the laws of armed conflict and international law.
And I have no doubt in my mind at the end of the day that we will follow the laws of armed conflict, if we end up in a situation with Iran and that
the commander-in-chief will only give us legal orders.
AMANPOUR: So the cultural targets, the cultural sites are off the table. Is that correct?
ESPER: We do not violate the laws of armed conflict.
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you what you make of even your allies, even those who are let's say anti-Iranian, like the Saudis, like the others, like the
Israelis -- many, many allies in the region have told you publicly, privately -- and the Saudi deputy defense minister's been meeting with you,
meeting with other high officials, to call for restraint.
Your other allies -- the British, the Germans, the French, NATO allies -- are calling on you and Iran to de-escalate. You are being put in the same
boat as Iran.
I don't recall this ever happening before, where the United States and a nation like Iran, are both being put in the same boat, both being asked to
How does that make you feel?
ESPER: Well, I guess I disagree with your premise, Christiane. I will tell you -- and I've talked to all these allies and partners -- the ones in
the region are fully, 100 percent supportive of what we've done and what we're prepared to do.
They see the removal of Soleimani, this known terrorist and head of a terrorist organization, his removal from the battlefield as a great
victory. And they know what it means -- and it's a game changer for the region. So they are fully behind us. They are saying, beyond that, much
like we are, is it's time for this situation to be de-escalated.
The Iranian government, the Iranian regime, has been escalating now for 40 years. It's peaked in the last several months. I was very clear in my
public messaging to the media and elsewhere that these attacks need to stop.
The escalation in scale and scope, many of which, if not all of which, were orchestrated or directed or approved by Soleimani. I did the same
messaging as well when I met with my counterparts in Iraq and elsewhere. So this has been -- the escalation has been driven by Iran, not by the
We have now responded in self-defense, and now what we're saying at this point in time is it's time to de-escalate the situation. Let's get back on
a different path, a path where we sit down across the negotiating table and find a better way forward in terms of how Iran can start behaving like a
AMANPOUR: With respect, Mr. Secretary, senior Americans have told me that Intelligence officials in -- you know, your own Intelligence officials --
predicted precisely this kind of Iranian escalation after the maximum pressure campaign that followed the withdrawal from the nuclear deal.
They predicted attacks on shipping in the Gulf -- it happened. They predicted attacks on Saudi Arabia -- it happened. They suggested it might
happen against U.S. bases, U.S. targets -- it did happen.
You talk about Soleimani, but what is the strategy here? I mean, you knew that this was possibly going to happen. Was it wise -- you talk about
Soleimani -- nobody is claiming that he was a good guy, no (ph) -- none of your allies are -- and everybody knows what his role in the region was.
But by the same token, previous U.S. administrations, when they could, did not take him out. Israel, when it could, did not take him out, for fear of
I guess I want to ask you, do you regret putting that extreme option on the table for the president? Wouldn't some of the other options have sufficed
in this period to send a very strong message of deterrence?
ESPER: Well, Christiane, I would say many experts, going back a few years now, predicted and were proven true, that in the wake of the JCPOA, which
did not cover ballistic missiles, which did not cover Iran's hostage- taking, which did not cover Iran's malign behavior, that such activities would pick up -- particularly when we opened up the economic spigots (ph)
and we returned to them tens of billions of dollars -- we saw this activity pick up across the region, again, spanning from Africa, through the Middle
East to Afghanistan.
And what's happened in the last few years, in Iraq in particular, in the last 12 months, is just a manifestation of an Iranian regime that is bent
on exporting its revolutionary beliefs. And so that was predicted.
But what we felt, as an act of self-defense and response to this, was enough is enough. They did not heed our warnings. It was time America
responded. So -- and it was the first time we've done so forcefully, in as long as I can remember.
So the message has been delivered. I think at this point it's time for the Iranians to step back and realize that the game has changed, and we're not
going to put up with this bad behavior.
AMANPOUR: So you stand by that advice, that sort of -- the ultra option, so to speak?
ESPER: Well, I don't characterize anything. My obligation and duty is to present to the president a series of military options that achieve an end
state -- a political end state -- and when we do that, we present him with the pros and cons, the pluses and the minuses, and we go in there fully
aware of what it may mean.
And again, in this case, given the facts on the ground, seeing the escalatory behavior of the Iranians, their unwillingness to heed our
warnings, it was time that we took an action that would take a terrorist leader of a terrorist organization off the battlefield. He is the
orchestrator of all that has been malign behavior throughout the region for two-plus decades now.
AMANPOUR: Secretary Esper, I know you have to go. Thank you for joining us from the Pentagon.
ESPER: Thank you, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: So inside Iran, parliament there is already taking action, unanimously voting to designate all U.S. forces as terrorists. Massoumeh
Ebtekar is an Iranian vice president. And she's joining me from Tehran.
Vice President Ebtekar, welcome to the program.
MASSOUMEH EBTEKAR, IRANIAN VICE PRESIDENT FOR WOMEN AND FAMILY AFFAIRS: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: You heard Secretary Esper there being very clear about standing by the advice, standing by the decision to target General Soleimani. And
at the same time, calling for de-escalation. Can you tell me, will Iran respond to that call for de-escalation?
EBTEKAR: Well, the Iranian people are now responding for the past three days. I think that it's very evident. I've seen some footage coming
through even in CNN of the millions who are marching in support and in commemoration of Commander Soleimani, who they call the Commander of the
Hearts. And this is a very clear indication of the response of the Iranian nation and the fact that the presence of the people, the huge crowds are
And even for us, we've been taking part in many of these marches and demonstrations from the beginning of the revolution, this is something
else. And from one city to another city, it is a resurrection. It's a revival of the Islamic revolution. It's a revival of the Iranian nation.
And the Iranian nation is strongly supporting its commander who they call the Commander of the Hearts. Who they call the soldier of Iran.
And I think the response is very clear. The Iranian nation, they stand very firmly. It's very clear that the American government has taken a
terrorist action against a general, an official of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Of course, before that they took a terrorist action by imposing
harsh sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran, against the people, even depriving our patients, our children from the different medicines that
they need. This is a terrorist action by all means.
And then, continuing on this level, and then this terrible assassination of our commander in Iraq. And it's also very clear that Mr. Soleimani, Martyr
Soleimani was in Iraq for pursuing what the prime minister of Iraq said that it was a political and diplomatic mission that he had and he was there
on the request of the Iraqi government, all these days, all of these years.
And his stance against ISIS, his stance against (INAUDIBLE), against terrible terrorist organization which was in a sense supported and created
by either the U.S. allies in the region or the U.S. itself, again this is very clear for the world. I think that the response of the Iranian nation,
the overwhelming turnouts of the people, the streets, from city to city, from Ahvaz to Tehran to Qom to Mashhad, today in Shiraz and Hamedan and in
Kerman, I think their response is very, very clear.
AMANPOUR: So, people have actually been astounded by the outpouring on the streets, and as you say, many people have taken note of it. It's
interesting what you say that this is the revival of the Islamic revolution, the revival of the nation. Because clearly, the United States,
even after the strike that killed General Soleimani, said that they hoped that, you know, Iran would rally against its Islamic Republic and actually
cause the republic to fall. That's what they hoped for.
And we saw in Iran many, many protests against the government just recently. We saw in Iraq many, many protests against Iranian presence in
Iraq and also Lebanon. Are you saying that that is now gone, that now people are rallying around the flag again? And what pressure will that put
on your leadership in terms of responding?
EBTEKAR: I'm saying that the American government, the American president, made a serious miscalculation. They made a serious mistake by
assassinating, by taking this terrorist action against Commander Soleimani. And I'm sure that they regret what they've done, because the response is
not only limited to Iran. We see this wave of awakening in many countries in the world, in many European countries, in the U.S., the people in the
U.S., their reactions, I've been seeing some of this on the social networks, on Twitter. This is an awakening.
The people now understand very well what has happened and the terrible actions of the American government. And this, yes, this has brought the
Iranian nation together. And this is a great opportunity for Iran today. And people are standing firmly behind Iran, behind the supreme leader,
behind the country. And I think that this is a clear indication of the fact that Iran has been righteous in its positions, in its political,
And if we have been present in Iraq, it's been on the invitation of the government. It's our neighborhood. It's our security. We're working
always for peace and stability in this region. We have fought and Commander Soleimani fought against Daesh and was successful. And the
reason that we see the demise of Daesh in Syria, in Iraq, has been the support of the people in those areas, but also the leadership and the
support of a commander like Soleimani, who was invited by those governments to assist and to help.
And I think that that is the reason. That's the main reason that he was targeted, because he stood up against terrorism. He was a symbol of the
demise of Daesh. And his strength, his charismatic personality, the fact that he was also very, very close to the people in his heart, I think that
this is very important today for us. And this has created a great new spirit in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and in many countries in the world
for all those who support, freedom seekers, for those who support the oppressed, because it's very clear that Iran is being targeted and
Soleimani was singled out because of this quest for righteousness against Daesh.
AMANPOUR: Massoumeh Ebtekar, you know, you portray General Soleimani is like a Che Guevara or a a Robin Hood. Clearly, you think that, but nobody
else in the world did. Certainly, not the Americans who were the target of many of his Shia militias and 600 or so Americans were killed in Iraq.
Certainly, many people were very upset about what happened in Syria and on and on it goes.
So, for you, he was that person. For the rest of the world, he was an enemy. I want to ask you, though, what will the proportional response be?
Well, let me -- I need to ask you this. I need to ask you this because I've just got to ask you this. "The New York Times" reports that the
supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, came to a meeting of the National Security Council to discuss Iran's response and retaliation.
And he said it needs to be direct and proportional, carried out by Iranian forces, i.e., not deniability, not proxies, none of that kind of stuff, but
an actual Iranian response. What do you think your country will and should do? And do you feel a decision has been made?
EBTEKAR: As I mentioned, the response has already begun. The presence of the people in the different cities, not only in Iran, but contrary to what
you mentioned, I think that the hearts of people, the hearts and minds of people throughout the world are with our country, are with our nation, and
they understand that this has been a terrorist act.
And I also think that the response that the Iraqi parliament had to oust American forces from this region, I think that this is the beginning of a
movement where America has to leave this region. This is a region which has been plagued by American interference from very long before and this is
time that the Americans leave and let this region to the people of this region, let them stand up for their own nations, for freedom and democracy
in those nations. This is our neighborhood.
I think that the Americans have to leave and go back to their own neighborhood, attend their own affairs and leave us. I think that this is
the important response that we see now coming and this will be into effect. And, of course, our forces, our armed forces, our security forces, they
have their plans.
And as the supreme leader indicated, and as you hear from the people, because this is an expectation that you hear a lot from the people, you
hear a lot from the ordinary people, that they're asking for some response. And I think that a response will be made and it's not going to be limited
to only the -- what you see in the streets and the response that the people have.
AMANPOUR: Finally --
EBTEKAR: But other governments in the region, I hope, will also follow the course that the Iraqi government is to ask the American forces to leave
this region. And that will create more peace, contrary to what the American government said from the beginning that they started their
interference in this region, they brought insecurity, they brought war, they brought terrorism.
And if they leave this region to itself, we will be able to rebuild, we will be able to bring peace and security and unity among the people, the
nations in this region. So, I think that this is the most important response that we expect --
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you --
EBTEKAR: -- that West Asia will be relieved from American presence.
AMANPOUR: I have heard that message coming out of Iran from the days since this targeted killing, that the final response should be from your
perspective to remove American forces. But what I want to ask you is this: because you were and are a committed revolutionary. You were very
prominent during the early days of the Islamic revolution, but you became more of a reformist as well, and you supported the negotiations for the
Iran nuclear deal, and diplomacy to, you know, settle some issues.
My question to you now is, is that completely out of the window? Are people like you and Foreign Minister Zarif, even President Rouhani, who
took a gamble negotiating with the United States, are they sidelined?
Is it now those who believe that America can never be discussed with, for want of a better word, hard-liners, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps?
Are they more in the ascendancy? Is there any hope for any negotiations, very briefly, if you wouldn't mind?
EBTEKAR: The actions of President Trump in pulling out of the nuclear deal, which was a multilateral international agreement for peace and
security and was working very well, that actually gave the message that the American government is not looking for peace and security, is not looking
for a multilateral resolution.
And, unfortunately, what they did, pulling out of that deal and then imposing illegal sanctions, economic terrorism against our nation, and
then, after that, this recent terrible action against Commander Soleimani, this is all indicative of the fact that the time for negotiation has
And -- but as, again, we have announced, President Rouhani has announced, Foreign Minister Zarif has announced, we are always looking for peace and
security in this region. And every time we have announced that, if the sanctions are lifted, Iran is still sitting -- the JCPOA, the nuclear deal
is still in place, although we have decreased our -- the level of our commitments because there hasn't been any collaboration on this deal.
But, still, we have announced that, any time that the sanctions are lifted, they change course in American policy, then, again, it would be possible.
But I think things are changing very rapidly. And this is all due to the terrorist unilateral policies of the American government, unfortunately.
And Iran is a strong nation, a proud nation. And Iran will respond. It's very clear. And I think that this is what the people are asking, and the
state, the government has to respond to the people.
AMANPOUR: Vice President Ebtekar, thank you very much for joining us from Tehran tonight.
Meantime, back in Washington, Congress awaits a full briefing from the administration on the intelligence that led to the targeted killing of
And Democrats want to limit the president taking the country to war.
Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin has been tasked with drawing up a war powers resolution act, and she is a former CIA analyst who served two tours in
Iraq. And she's joining me now from Capitol Hill.
Congresswoman Slotkin, welcome to the program.
REP. ELISSA SLOTKIN (D-MI): Thanks for having me.
AMANPOUR: Just to get your initial reaction, you probably just heard the Iranian vice president. I don't know whether you heard Secretary Esper.
But what we have right now is calls for de-escalation, and people don't want war, and yet both sides calling each other terrorists, blaming each
other for this action that finally took place, the targeted killing of Qasem Soleimani.
Just respond to what you're hearing right now.
For me, it, unfortunately, feels like a classic case of a cycle of escalation. Right? We have had this tit-for-tat going on for about a
year. We certainly escalated with the killing of Qasem Soleimani.
And this idea that, somehow, this cycle of escalation is now going to lead to cooler heads prevailing just doesn't track with sort of normal kind of
conflict and how it starts.
And I don't actually question the secretary of defense or even the president's intent that they don't want to get into a war. But most wars
are not intended. Most wars, you get this tit-for-tat that goes in this spiral, and then suddenly each side has its back up and you can't back
down, and you inadvertently fall into war.
And that, to me, I think we are at very high risk of doing right now. So, it's not just about intent. It's our actions mean something beyond our
AMANPOUR: So, you served two tours of duty in Iraq. You're a former CIA analyst.
Secretary Esper commanded troops, infantry troops, in the first Gulf War in Iraq. I tried to ask him, how are you reading your enemy? Everybody has
to read and know their enemy in order to respond.
And you just heard Vice President Ebtekar say, the streets of Iran have already responded, and they are demanding more than just these outpourings
on the streets, but action.
How do you read, with all your knowledge and experience in intelligence- gathering, what the message from Iran is?
SLOTKIN: Well, listen, I mean, I just -- the first thing you need to think about is, what if something like this happened to us, right?
And I'm not saying that Qasem Soleimani is a good guy. That guy is not a good guy. And the idea that the vice president was putting forth that Iran
only wants peace and safety in the region, I'm sorry, that is just not factually correct.
That said, imagine if any country had the equivalent of a CIA -- head of CIA or four-star general killed. There would certainly be pressure to
respond. And, obviously, the pictures in Iran are striking.
The Iranian political leaders are going to be under tremendous pressure to do something. And what we know from Iranians' behavior is that they don't
always respond in a symmetric, sort of predictable way. They're going to take their time. They're going to think about how to get back at us, and
that, to me, is extremely dangerous.
So, even if there are cooler heads in Tehran right now, just watching what's going on, on their own streets, they're going to feel pressure to
respond. And that is dangerous.
AMANPOUR: You, as I said, spent time in Iraq under fire on some occasions. You were the direct recipient -- or you knew about Qasem Soleimani and his
militias and the Iranian-backed Shia militias there.
Describe what it was like being there, knowing that these attacks were coming towards you, and the decisions that were made. Why, in other words,
wasn't this personality taken out before when he was within sight of the United States or Israel?
SLOTKIN: Yes, so I actually did three tours in Iraq with the CIA, alongside the military. And I'm actually a Shia militia analyst by
training in Iraq.
And, I mean, my entire career, we knew who Qasem Soleimani was, and we watched his star rising, largely because of the destabilizing -- the, like,
actions that he was the sort of architect of. So we have known about him for a long time.
And under both the Bush administration, when I was working under Bush, and when I was working under Obama, both administrations are -- were trying to
struggle with how we deal with this man and with the Quds Force that he commanded, given what they were doing in the region.
But whenever we got to the point of thinking about him personally, for various legal reasons and policy reasons, we decided not to move forward.
And it was like -- it was almost always because, you know, the impact and the results of taking that action would create this spiral of escalation,
that it would lead to something we could no longer control, and it would push us into conflict.
And we were very worried, as we all should be, about Iran's nuclear intentions. And the idea of getting into a war with a country that's been
obstinate about their nuclear program in the past was always something that said, you know, it's -- this is not the moment to get into war.
You fast-forward to now, when we have all been living with protracted war in the Middle East.
I mean, I represent Michigan. I don't know anyone who is looking to get into another long, protracted war in the Middle East that we can't predict
how to get out of.
And I think that's what really on the minds certainly of my constituents back home and that always kept us from taking such an escalatory step, such
as killing Qasem Soleimani.
AMANPOUR: I want to ask you about this current phase of escalation. We could go back 40 years and talk about Iran against the United States, the
United States against Iran.
You know, this could go on and on as a conversation for a long time. But this current round of escalation, by general consensus among certain
people, seems to have started when the president not just pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal, but started this policy of so-called maximum
And as I put to Secretary Esper -- and he didn't really buy into it -- I have been told that your intelligence agencies actually told the Cabinet,
told the president that this is precisely what they predicted Iran would do, from the attacks on shipping in the Gulf, from the attack on Saudis,
some kind of attack, and also targeting Americans potentially in Iraq or elsewhere.
I mean, I guess the question is, why weren't precautions taken? Did people understand that there was this escalation coming? And are you concerned
that this administration hasn't thought through steps two, three and four, beyond the targeted killing?
SLOTKIN: Yes, I mean, certainly, if there's a strategy behind all of this, it is hard to interpret.
And if it's hard to interpret for me, as an American who has a national security background, imagine how hard it is to interpret for the Iranian
And I want to say, I mean, I think, of course, I have to assume that the administration understood, if they were going to ratchet up pressure on
Iran over the past year-plus, then there was going to be an escalation.
I think it's clear from Secretary Esper and others that their hope and their intent was that that ratcheting up of pressure would result in them
coming back to the negotiating table.
And this is where I think they're missing a big piece of the story, which is just understanding Iran. Right? Anyone who studied the Iranians for
the past 40 years could say clearly that, if you're going to ratchet up pressure, that's actually not going to bring them back to the table.
That's actually going to force them into a corner.
It's going to empower their real sort of strong sort of anti-American leaders, and we're going to have the opposite effect. And we have data and
history to sort of prove that.
So I don't question their intentions. What I question is their knowledge and understanding of Iran as a player, and, unfortunately, these are issues
of major consequence. You're talking about people like my stepdaughter and my son-in-law, who are in the military, who are potentially going to have
to be engaged in conflict with Iran.
So this is the most grave conversation we can have as a country. And I'm not sure that the strategy really supports what they were hoping to do.
AMANPOUR: Well, interesting, because you just said you supported Michigan. Michigan voted for President Trump. You have said your constituents fully
do not expect to be going into another Middle Eastern war and didn't sign up for this.
And, obviously, President Trump campaigned on ending endless wars. So I wonder what you make and what the American people will make of what
Secretary Pompeo said today, talking about America's strategy to confront and contain Iraq.
Let me just play you what he said in -- at the State Department.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The previous administration made a difference choice. They chose to underwrite and appease. We have chosen
to confront and contain.
Those are -- those are different strategies. We believe ours is successful. And we ultimately believe it will be successful making Iran
behave like a normal nation, will deny them the capacity to build out their nuclear program and threaten not only Americans and our lives, to keep
Americans safe, which is our mission set, but also to create and enhance stability throughout the Middle East.
We're confident that that's the case.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Confident that that's the case, I mean, basically saying that Obama administration appeased and underwrote them.
And, again, confront and contain, do you think that this squares with what the president's campaign promise was? And, also, do you believe that this
will be a deterrent?
SLOTKIN: Yes, I mean, usually when we talk about confronting a country, it's different than containing a country, right?
Containment means you're just trying to keep everything calm, you're trying to make sure they don't project violence onto you, but you're just trying
to keep the situation kind of quiet.
Confrontation is confrontation. And so I think what he's talking about is sort of at odds with each other. I'm not sure I understand what that
strategy is, because Iran gets a vote in this conversation. We don't get to just decide what happens.
If we're going to confront them, there's no reasons why the Iranians would just stand there and say, well, OK, I will be contained and I won't
So I'm missing the strategy. And I'm having a hard time understanding it. And I really believe that the president does not want another long,
entrenched war. I believe that. I just think the folks that are advising him are maybe leading him to a place that he does not intend.
And the problem is, when you're the president or you're the secretary of state or secretary of defense, your decisions matter deeply for those of us
on the ground. I mean, think of everyone who has fought since 9/11. Right now, they're looking at the situation and saying, what's going to happen?
Am I going to get called up? Am I going to have to go back to the Middle East?
And words have consequences, and I'm not sure they're thinking all the way through this.
AMANPOUR: And, again, you talked about people advising the president. As you know, the Republican Senator Tom Cotton has talked about an easy war
with Iran. There will be two strikes, the first and then the last strike.
President Trump has said the United States has just spent $2 trillion on military equipment. We're the biggest and by far the best in the world.
If Iran attacks an American base or an American, we will be sending some of that brand-new, beautiful equipment their way.
For the American people, from your experience, can you just game-plan what a war with Iran would look like and how easy or difficult it would be?
SLOTKIN: Well, listen, my husband was in the Army for 30 years. I have no doubt that we are the most capable military in the world. I worked at the
Pentagon and the CIA, and I have extremely strong faith in our military.
That's not the question. The question is, do we, as a country, want to get into another war?
And I have got to tell you, when senators who aren't in uniform start talking about how easy war is going to be, it reminds me of, what, 20 years
ago, when we thought we would be in and out of Iraq in, what, a couple of months.
And as someone whose husband did tours over there, it was not an easy thing. The invasion is easy. Right? The first part is easy. It's
finishing it that we can't seem to really do in an effective and efficient way.
So I have got to tell you, when I hear senators talking about easy war, it sounds like a drumbeat, a drumbeat that we hear and hear when people get
their backs up. And I just want people to think for a second about what it means to the potentially sliding into war.
AMANPOUR: Well, in that case, you, as I said, have been tasked withdrawing up a war powers resolution act.
What do you hope to be able to achieve? What is it going to say? You know you have a Republican-dominated Senate. What can be achieved in trying to
limit any possible war?
SLOTKIN: Yes, so we're still working right now through the language.
I think the intent of it is that we just abide by the Constitution, and the Constitution was very, very clear about authorization of military force.
Right now, as the secretary of defense said in testimony in December, the Pentagon does not have authorization for military force against Iran.
Right? That has not been provided by Congress.
So if we're going to do this, then the president has the responsibility to come back here and have a real conversation with the American people out in
the public, with the U.S. Congress, as our founders intended.
Now, the president always has the right to self-defense. Any president does. If we are in trouble, the president can authorize military action
without coming back to us.
But the truth is, Secretary Esper, who you just had on, would not say that there was an imminent, pressing threat that caused this attack. He would
not say the word imminent.
So, for me, I think we need to understand -- and we're going to have a briefing tomorrow from Secretary Pompeo and others -- what is behind the
threat that they see -- that they saw that prompted the attack on Soleimani and where do they see this going, and under what legal authority do they
seek to pursue it?
I think those are just basic questions that we want answered. And, for me, if they won't answer them in person, that's the reason we're putting
together a resolution to try and deal with it through legislation.
AMANPOUR: And, finally -- I know you have to go.
Finally, having served in Iraq, and Iraq being such an important base for the United States, you have heard what the prime minister there believes,
that there has been an official letter talking about a withdrawal.
Secretary Esper says, no, it's just a draft, and how could they take it seriously?
What do you think is going to be the fallout? And do you believe -- because this is what I'm hearing, the drumbeat from Iran, from everybody,
saying, the retaliation will be the U.S. out of Iraq and out of our region.
Do you foresee that, and what is the danger of that?
SLOTKIN: Well, listen, I'm a big believer that it's important that the United States be in Iraq in small numbers in order to keep the pressure on
ISIS, which is the original reason we're there, but also, importantly, to counterbalance the Iranian influence on the Iraqi government.
So I hope that the Iraqi government does not decide to kick us out of Iraq. Obviously, their Parliament had a nonbinding vote. This is up to the prime
minister. And he's going to be meeting with his Cabinet.
I think it would be a strategic loss, and I think it would be iconic, because Qasem Soleimani is the architect of the idea that, if you just
punish the United States and threaten the United States in Iraq, they will feel like, you know what? The juice isn't worth the squeeze, and we will
run out of Iraq with our tail between our legs.
That's what he wanted in life. And I hope that he does not get it in death, because, right now, the Iraqi government is in a very, very tough
spot. Their sovereignty was violated. And they have the right to decide what happens in their country.
I hope cooler heads prevail again and everyone just takes a breath. But, to me, I don't want the results of Qasem Soleimani's death to be that we
cede the country of Iraq to Iran.
AMANPOUR: Elissa Slotkin, Representative, thank you so much, indeed, for joining us.
SLOTKIN: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: Now, both Iraq and Iran, as you heard, claim that Qasem Soleimani was in Iraq, where he was stuck and killed, to discuss easing
tensions between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, the heart of so much conflict in the Middle East.
Saudi officials and the U.S. secretary of state and Secretary Esper reject that claim. But the kingdom is leading the effort for a de-escalation of
tensions, and their deputy defense minister flew to Washington to press that case with the White House and the Pentagon. As you heard, that is
what U.S. wants as well.
And I discussed Saudi concerns with Prince Turki Al-Faisal, the former ambassador to the United States.
AMANPOUR: Prince Turki Al-Faisal, welcome to the program.
PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL, FORMER SAUDI AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, Ms. Amanpour, for receiving me tonight.
AMANPOUR: Well, it's a very, very tense situation, especially for your region and your nation.
A very senior Saudi defense official has been to the White House, to the Pentagon, to try to talk to the U.S. about this escalating crisis.
Have you heard anything back, and do you believe...
AMANPOUR: Do you believe that Saudi Arabia can get this de-escalated?
AL-FAISAL: Well, I hope so. I'm not in the government loop, of course.
But the king has been in touch with the president of Iraq. And Prince Mohammed has been in touch with the prime minister of Iraq, calling for a
de-escalation. The kingdom does not want more conflict in the area, as has been shown consistently in the past few years.
And if I can just remind you, that when Iran attacked the Aramco oil field, the kingdom kept its cool and did not respond in kind. So we are not
looking for war. We want to de-escalate, and we want people to be in a peaceful mode.
AMANPOUR: Do you believe that you will have any success with that message, given the fact that we all know that you tried to have the same influence
on President George W. Bush before they launched the war in Iraq in 2003?
I was in Riyadh. I covered yours and the kingdom's efforts to de-escalate before that war.
AL-FAISAL: I really can't say. I wish I had a crystal ball to tell you what the future will hold.
But I think the kingdom's word is heard, not only in the White House, but throughout the area as well.
AMANPOUR: Do you think that it will come to war? Do you think, either accidentally or by a cycle of tit-for-tat escalation, that it could tip
over into the worst-case scenario?
AL-FAISAL: I hope not.
I think, if the Iranians keep their cool and not -- you know, not be bombastic and increase the tension and so on, that maybe, maybe we can get
over the situation. But it's a long-running thing.
Let me just remind you, Ms. Amanpour, since the start of the Iranian Revolution, Iran has been the provocative entity in the area, with the --
remember the hijacking of the embassy in Tehran and other activities, culminating in the bombing of the Aramco oil fields in Saudi Arabia.
So it is -- they have to show a bit of wisdom and reticence to adhere to the bombastic attitudes that they have taken over the years.
AMANPOUR: Yesterday, I spoke to Stephen Hadley. He was the former national security adviser for President Bush, and during 9/11 and the war
in Iraq, he was a deputy.
But he told me that he believed -- at least he thought the Trump administration was aiming for deterrence. Just listen to what he told me.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN HADLEY, FORMER U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I think the administration wanted to send a message to the Iranian regime that this had
to stop, or there would be consequences.
So, I think it was to prevent an imminent attack and I think it was also to try to send a broader deterrence message to try to halt an escalating set
of attacks on American forces in Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Do you agree with that? I mean, will it have a deterrent effect, do you think?
AL-FAISAL: I hope so.
I believe, as I said, if the Iranians are wise enough to appreciate the consequences of any retaliation by them, then they will not be provocative.
But if they let their passions override their brains, then that might be another situation altogether.
AMANPOUR: If, indeed, this results in the United States' forces being expelled from Iraq or somehow being withdrawn from Iraq, and other
international forces, the coalition fighting the terrorists that are ISIS and others, who are the winners out of these kinds of, you know,
AL-FAISAL: I don't know if there are any winners.
But, definitely -- I remember when I was ambassador in London, after the American invasion of Iraq. I remember telling American counterparts at
that time that my hope was that the Americans would not leave Iraq as precipitously as they had entered it at the start of the war.
Unfortunately, the withdraw of troops from Iraq was precipitous, if you remember, under Obama. And it led to the ISIS rising and the subsequent
return of American forces, et cetera.
So, it's an ongoing situation. And I really cannot predict what's going to happen there.
AMANPOUR: Would you agree with the analysis that the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 actually empowered Iran by taking away their archenemy, Saddam
Hussein, and linking them up with the huge number of Shia across the border in Iraq?
AL-FAISAL: Most definitely.
And you see it in every day. And the reflection of that is that the Iraqi people, if you remember, since a few months back, have been demonstrating
in the streets. And their demonstrations, they're shouting slogans like "Iran, get out, get out," because they feel the Iranian control over them.
And that is to be expected. And the same is happening in Lebanon now in the demonstrations there. They also want to be rid of the Iranian
influence over them through the Hezbollah there.
AMANPOUR: That, of course, was before everyone started rallying around in the aftermath of this assassination -- unintended consequences, as we
Prince Turki Al-Faisal, thank you very much, indeed, for joining us.
AL-FAISAL: Thank you, Ms. Amanpour. Thank you.
AMANPOUR: So, the clear message from all our interviews tonight is that the U.S. wants de-escalation. We will see how this plays out.
That is it for now.
Thanks for watching, and goodbye from London.