Analysis & Opinions - CNN

Will Trump Pull Out of Iran Nuclear Deal?

| Apr. 30, 2018

[15:00:02] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump is signaling that he's leaning toward pulling out of the accord after a call with the leader of Israel over the weekend. 

And in this news conference earlier this afternoon, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel has Iran's secret nuclear files, 55,000 pages, disks and has proof that Iran is lying about its part of the deal. 

The prime minister says, in reality, Iran is expanding its nuclear program. However, despite this news, President Trump stopped short of saying the U.S. is definitively dropping out of the agreement, which aims to reduce Iran's nuclear weapons. 


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That is just not an acceptable situation. And I have been saying that is happening. They're not sitting back idly. They're setting off missiles, which they say are for television purposes. I don't think so. 

So we will see what happens. I'm not telling you what I'm doing, but a lot of people think they know. And on or before the 12th, we will make a decision. I think, if anything, what's happening today and what's happened over the last little while and what we have learned has really shown that I have been 100 percent right. 


BALDWIN: With me now, our CNN senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny. 

And, Jeff, the president made that comment at his joint news conference with the president of Nigeria just a little while ago. But watching that press conference of Netanyahu's it certainly seemed like, as spoke first in English, that he had an audience of one. 

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, there's no question, the president was indeed watching that, I'm told, from just off the Oval Office.

He was certainly watching that speech. He agrees with Benjamin Netanyahu about this entirely. They had a phone call over the weekend. On Saturday, they spoke. This is something that the prime minister is simply doing to amplify the message here.

The president stopping short of saying exactly what he was going to do, but, boy, listening to him in the Rose Garden certainly, certainly seemed that all signs are pointing to the fact that he does plan to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. 

BALDWIN: What about quickly the headlines on North Korea, and how he actually floated again the notion of meeting Kim Jong-un at the DMZ?

ZELENY: Well, certainly, the president is focused on the optics of what that would look like. The history of the fact that the meeting, should it happen, will be history-making on its own, right, regardless of where it is, but the president is certainly not satisfied with the idea of having this in some random hotel someplace. He wants that picture at the DMZ. 

But, Brooke, this is interesting. Just a couple weeks ago, U.S. officials were telling us they did not want it at the DMZ. They want it at a neutral third-party site, so it didn't look like the president was sort of giving in and essentially on the doorstep there.

But he may have the final say here. He said he was just floating the idea. But it certainly seems like it's a picture that he wants. He's very focused on images, and if it would happen, it certainly would be an amazing meeting there at the DMZ, Brooke. 

BALDWIN: Jeff Zeleny, thank you, at the White House.


BALDWIN: With me now, CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger, and Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, who served as the White House coordinator for defense policy in Obama White House.

OK, welcome to both of you. 

And, Gloria, just...


BALDWIN: Thank you. 

Just to you first, Gloria, on we know that President Trump had spoken to Benjamin Netanyahu over the weekend. We know that Mike Pompeo -- thank you -- we know Mike Pompeo had met with Netanyahu on Sunday. Does this mean that the president essentially green-lit what Netanyahu presented to the world, and thus does this mean that the president's leaning on pulling out? 


I think there's no way that Netanyahu would have done this, as you pointed out earlier, in English first, which means he was speaking not only to Trump, but to the American people, and that he got the go- ahead from Trump and Pompeo to do this.

I think if I were Macron or Angela Merkel or Theresa May, I might be a little upset about this, if they were not clued in on this, because, don't forget, they were all lobbying the president last week to kind of don't end it, mend it, to renew an old Bill Clinton phrase. 

And I think that Netanyahu got to the president and showed him all of this intelligence, an. i must say, Brooke, that it was stunning to me, the intelligence that he presented. 


BORGER: I mean, it was highly sophisticated, and you kind of -- you sit back and you wonder, wow. how did they infiltrate that way? Who did they have working with them on the inside in order to get this? It was quite remarkable. 

BALDWIN: Also remarkable, some of the claims, Elizabeth, four claims from Netanyahu that Iran lied about never having a secret nukes program. After the 2015 deal, they say Iran continued to preserve and expand its nuke weapons for official use. Iran lied again in 2015 when it didn't come clean with the nuke deal. And, lastly, the Iran deal is based on lies, obviously, an opinion, although it was presented as fact.


Do you -- what did you make of those claims and how the prime minister laid them out? Because I was speaking with Fareed Zakaria last hour. And he was saying much of what Netanyahu said is already out there, it's not a secret. 

SHERWOOD-RANDALL: So while Israeli spycraft is impressive, I actually didn't hear anything that surprised me.

The reason we negotiated an Iran nuclear agreement is because we knew Iran was determined to have nuclear weapons. And we needed to put a stop to their developmental program. And what we did in the agreement that was achieved with Russia, China, the Europeans and the United States, and Iran, was to stop the two pathways to the bomb, their acquisition of sufficient uranium, enriched uranium, to build a bomb, and their acquisition of plutonium to build a bomb. 

With those two dimensions arrested, set back for many years, then we knew that there would be sufficient time, were the Iranians to proceed again to try to build a bomb, for us to intervene.

When we came into office, we learned how close the Iranians were to be able to build a bomb, and when we left office in the Obama administration, we had set that back significantly. We knew there was never no risk. What we did was put time on the clock. 

BALDWIN: Elizabeth, would the U.S. put out its own evidence?

SHERWOOD-RANDALL: I can't speak for this administration, but I think we have ample evidence of what we have accomplished thus far in setting back the Iranian nuclear clock. 

And we also knew well about what the Iranians were up to before we negotiated the agreement. 

BORGER: Brooke, so the one thing that did surprise me was Netanyahu's charge that in 2015 the Iranians lied to the IAEA, in other words, the inspectors, and that that would be a real problem in terms of the agreement, wouldn't it, if they were lying to those inspectors, because this was going on during the time it was supposed to...


BALDWIN: Right, if they were inventorying -- if they lied then and if they had lied since, to mean that would be significant. How, Gloria, would Mike Pompeo or John Bolton play into the president's decision when it comes to Iran on May 12?

BORGER: Well, I think usually. And I think both of them are singing from the same songbook, as is the president, which is, it's got to be ripped up.

Now, maybe, maybe, and we don't know the answer to this, maybe there's a way to please the president and Netanyahu and not rip up the entire deal, as Macron and Merkel say. We don't know what is going to happen next. All we do know is that there's not a lot of time between now and May 12. 

BALDWIN: Right. 

BORGER: And so the question is how do you validate this intelligence in such a short period of time? The Israelis have it. The U.S. has been briefed on it, I'm assuming, and I'm assuming others will be.

But don't our intelligence agencies -- and other intelligence agencies have to validate it? 

BALDWIN: What about -- Elizabeth, if you can answer that, I certainly -- I don't know the answer to that. 

I'm also wondering too the Israeli perspective. Obviously, based upon what Netanyahu said and what he put out there and the word lie he used over and over, he wants to kill the deal. But why do the Israelis think that they would be better off without this deal?

SHERWOOD-RANDALL: It's mystifying to me, because Netanyahu previously indicated that he recognized that Israel was more secure as a consequence of the Iran nuclear agreement. 

We will have to look at the facts, but what I would emphasize is the importance of our recognition in the negotiation that the Iranians had lied before. We weren't basing the negotiation on lies. We were basing negotiation on our technical assessment of what we needed to do to significantly set back the Iranian nuclear program.

And that didn't set it to zero, but it gave us many more years than we have otherwise today. And what I can't understand is why we are facing so many challenges around the world, we would want to essentially restart the Iranian nuclear program, rather than keep it constrained for the many years that it's constrained with intrusive verification and inspections that are part of that nuclear agreement. 

BALDWIN: Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, Gloria Borger, thank you.

Again, the deadline May 12. Ladies, thanks. 

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For Academic Citation:Will Trump Pull Out of Iran Nuclear Deal?.” CNN, April 30, 2018.