Broadcast Appearance - CNN

Ash Carter talks Iran Deal, North Korea on CNN New Day

| May 11, 2018

Belfer Center Director and former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter talks about pulling out of the Iran Deal, North Korea, and more on CNN New Day with Chris Cuomo.



Joining us now, former Defense secretary under President Obama, Ash Carter. The author of the forthcoming book, "Inside the Five-Sided Box" to be released next year.

Always good to see, sir.


CUOMO: Thank you for your service to the country. Thanks for helping us out here --

CARTER: Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: -- this morning.

Now, of course, Winston Churchill there -- talking in the context of coaxing America to understand its responsibility to get involved in the world war. Now, we're in a very different dynamic but it does seem as though the stakes are heating up about what America's inaction could mean.


CUOMO: How do you interpret what President George W. Bush is referring to?

CARTER: Well, I think he's right and he speaks in terms of duty.

But there's another side to it, which is Americans shouldn't think that alliances and partnerships around the world are a gift we give to foreigners. Those are -- those are one of the ways we get what we want. And as Defense secretary, it was important to me to have others who would fight on our side as we destroyed ISIS in Iraq and Syria, which was necessary to destroy the fact and the idea that there could be an Islamic state like that. They did -- our allies did help us.

As we stand strong against Russia, in Europe. As we stand strong against China, especially economically -- and, North Korea and the Asia-Pacific. And, Europe and Asia are regions that are far more consequential for our children, fundamentally, than is the Middle East, as much attention as that gets.

So, we get something back. It's not just a favor or a duty. It's one of the ways we get what we want and don't have to do it all by ourselves.

CUOMO: So, the president's -- the current president -- President Trump's argument is this.

"America First" means what it should mean for every country. We're thinking about ourselves first. So should Italy, so should France, so should the U.K. We're not about not being with them.

But then, he pulls out of the Iran deal with all of those same allies saying -- obviously, Italy not involved but, you know, the five signatories who are involved -- saying don't do this. This is going to be destabilizing. 

And he says no, I'm doing it anyway. It was a bad deal for us.

What does it mean?

CARTER: Well, again, on his first point, we should think about ourselves first. And as Defense secretary, protecting our people and our interests, that was job one. But working with others was one of the ways I got that done, so there's not really a conflict there.

Listen, I would not have advised pulling out of the Iran deal but we have, and so let's look ahead to what's next -- again, thinking as if I were Secretary of Defense.

The Iran deal, Chris, was not and could never have been a grand bargain with Iran. It did not take off the table all of Iran's many maligned activities in the region. 

It did take off the table, in a verifiable way, the near-term prospect of them getting a nuclear weapon. From a defense point of view that was important. 

And remember, this was not an arms control agreement. It placed no limits on me or on the Department of Defense so we could continue to do what we were going to do.

Now, if the deal unravels and they begin again, it creates for us the prospect of having to have more forces to deter, more defenses to defend in the region which inevitably brings forces away from Asia, from Europe, and from -- we've already had three wars in the -- in the Middle East in the last 15 years. We've waged them very effectively and very successfully but it's a big burden.

I worry that the Iranians in the nearer term are going to start, once again, doing things. They've conducted Internet attacks on the United States, harassing, using proxies to attack Americans, to attack Israel.

CUOMO: Israel says they just dropped missiles in the Golan Heights.

CARTER: So they may start doing things that they wouldn't have done and we need to protect ourselves.

CUOMO: The president says that according to the Israelis -- and he does -- I want your comment on that. He seems to cite their intel much more than his own here in the U.S. 

That they're breaking the deal. They're not honoring it in Iran. They're still doing bad things and they were going to be able under the current deal to get back to the nuclear business really soon and that's why he has to get out.

Why so reliant on what Bibi Netanyahu said instead of what his own secretary of Defense --

CARTER: Well, I --

CUOMO: -- says and his own intel says.

CARTER: Well, I can't speak for the president in that regard. But with respect to those issues, Israel's right and Netanyahu's right. We've got lots of problems with Iran, as I said.

But in the matter of nuclear weapons, what the Iran deal did was allow us to see enough of what they were doing to understand where we stood and to make sure that it wasn't that they never get a bomb, but we would keep that in the future -- at least a year in the future.

[07:35:15] That's not everything but it means that for a secretary of Defense, that's one less problem with Iran you need to be prepared for.

CUOMO: Good enough?

CARTER: It was -- yes, I supported it. I thought it was -- it did effectively and verifiably take that off the table. But remember, it placed no limits on me. 

The next morning after that agreement was signed I sat down with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and he said what are your instructions? 

And I said, don't change anything. This isn't a grand bargain. It's a good thing but we have to make sure it is implemented. 

It certainly takes a big headache away that we were more worried about, at least in the near-term, but it doesn't change everything else we need to do with respect to Iran. So I would not have made that move because it has that benefit, but we are where we are now.

CUOMO: So, we get three Americans home from North Korea.


CUOMO: That is an unqualified plus --

CARTER: Yes, absolutely.

CUOMO: -- for them and their families. And the president says good on Kim Jong Un -- he was excellent here with these men. 

And now, we're going to have our historic summit -- June, Singapore. I believe that Kim Jong Un really wants to do something here in peace.

What are your thoughts?

CARTER: Well, I certainly hope so, but I've been dealing with the North Koreans for 25 years and remember, they first made the promise not to have nuclear weapons to George Bush one in 1992. So I think we need to wish the president well in these negotiations but a new promise by North Korea isn't going to really be anything new.

What we need to get is a plan where we can see, like the Iran agreement, step-by-step and we can watch them dismantle what they have and the facilities that make them. That will take some time so it's not just going to be a one-meeting thing. There has to be a specific plan.

What I would not do, Chris -- I would be very cautious about trading away U.S. forces or U.S. readiness on the Korean Peninsula. That kind of thing may come way down the road but --

CUOMO: But not early on.

CARTER: -- not up front. So don't give things up front for promises --

CUOMO: Stay there.

CARTER: -- sometime in the future.

CUOMO: They're the right -- they're the right message you have on the ground.

CARTER: Yes, step-by-step. We can do things for them, and the Chinese, and the Japanese, and the South Koreans, too, but only in return for specific steps. So we need more than one meeting. If it leads to a plan and a program, that's all good. 

If it leads to another promise by North Korea, I think we've had them.

CUOMO: Cause for optimism?

CARTER: There's certainly cause for hope. You can't be optimistic about North Korea on the basis of their --

CUOMO: You don't think we've seen that Kim Jong Un is in a different mind space, that he's changed. That he wants peace.

CARTER: Well, he -- I've dealt with him, his father, and his grandfather. They were all different but they all had in common the determination to make North Korea able to stand on its own. 

That, he has intensified. He's the one who has intensified missile launches. He is the one who has intensified the nuclear program.

So it's hard to say that in his behavior you see a change of heart. Now, certainly we can hope for that but again, I'd like to see concrete steps. I've heard promises from the North Koreans before.

CUOMO: I often come to you to help me understand complicated things. This is a good example of that.

What is a five-sided box?

CARTER: That's just a reference to the Pentagon. And I -- for 36 years, I was in and out of the Department of Defense. I loved the place but for many people, it's a mysterious thing.

And -- so how do we spend $700 billion dollars a year? How does the process by which commands are given and war is waged? How do you deal with Congress, how do you deal with the White House and Secretary of Defense? 

And I think people are curious about that. I happen to be uniquely positioned to do that because I've had almost every job in the place over the whole arc of recent history and that's a story I want to tell.

CUOMO: And especially now because there's so much intrigue about what's going on in our government, from the procedural side to the decorum side. 

I'm not going to get into how we discuss McCain. We all know he's a war hero.

CARTER: Yes, we do.

CUOMO: We all know that politically, he stakes out his own claims.

But how do we get away from how ugly it is down there right now? You've dealt with a lot of hard situations. 

No matter who I talk to about you they'll say Ash Carter will be straight with you -- he's always decent. You may not like where he is on it, he might not like where you are on it, but the conversation's going to be productive.

We're not -- you know, look where we are now. Could you have ever imagined this? CARTER: It was important to me, not only for myself and my own conduct but to set an example for the troops. And you know, Chris, one of the things I was so proud of -- I'm always proud of our people.

[07:40:02] But I would go and meet foreign leaders and they'd always say our military likes working with yours.


CARTER: And it's not just because they're awesomely capable, which is true, but it's also the way they behave -- the way they conduct themselves. That's very important and you have to set an example from the top, and so I always did. And when people didn't meet that standard they needed to be fired.

And so the profession of arms, especially, is about honor and it's about trust, and you have to set the example at the top so a mom whose son is in harm's way looks up and says that man is exhibiting the kind of behavior that I can have some confidence in because my son or my daughter's life is in the hands of decisions he makes.

CUOMO: What you do, you encourage. What you ignore, you empower. And that's what we're seeing play out in real time.

Now, I want to tee up a discussion that has to just be a beginning point because we don't really know enough to figure out where to go on this.

Zuckerberg goes down there and talks to Congress. I don't think they knew what the heck he was talking about and I don't think he came there to give them any bold ideas about what to do with a really big problem. 

How Americans and really, global citizens -- their personal information is protected or exploited, what the regulation is, what the protection is. What's done self-starting by the industry versus by legislators. 

This is a huge topic and a national security concern. You're concerned about it as well.


CUOMO: Take us into the first step here.

CARTER: It is the issue of our time that tech -- disruptive technological change, whether it be in digital --


CARTER: -- cyberattacks, hatred, darkness, lies on social media. Whether it be the loss of jobs from say, driverless cars -- which they are a good thing but they're going to be human beings that are affected by this and we can't have a cohesive society if our people don't feel like they and their children have a future. There's a biosciences revolution coming which will allow us to manipulate human beings. We can't replay the digital experience where things have just been helter-skelter in the bio area.

I think the Zuckerberg hearing was a great missed opportunity for both sides. You're right, I think the members of Congress didn't seem prepared and Mr. Zuckerberg wasn't giving any plan. 

It seemed to be understood that some mixture of self-regulation by companies behaving morally and government regulation was needed but no plan came out and it just disappeared into the air. It was a huge missed opportunity.

So I believe, and my experience, Chris, is I was brought up by the Manhattan generation of physicists. I'm a physicist. 

They taught me -- and this is how I got into defense -- that with knowledge and the ability to make amazing change in human life, came responsibility. To bend the arc of technological change in the direction of human good. We need to do that and you're not seeing that happen now. 

I think scientists, and technologists, and Mr. Zuckerberg and his people need to be a part of that and help those members of Congress not only to understand but to put together a plan, and it was a big missed opportunity. I was very disappointed.

CUOMO: We know that you're getting involved in that. You're bringing minds around you to research this and what the capabilities are. 

You have to come back and we have to keep talking about this as we get more meat on the bones --

CARTER: I would love to.

CUOMO: -- of a situation in that area.

CARTER: It's very important.

CUOMO: We're going to deal with it, so will my kids, so will their kids.

CARTER: Indeed. Thank you, Chris.

CUOMO: Secretary, thank you so much. The pleasure is mine -- Alisyn.

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For Academic Citation:Ash Carter talks Iran Deal, North Korea on CNN New Day.” Broadcast Appearance, May 11, 2018, posted by “CNN”.