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tv   Council on Foreign Relations Iran Discussion  CSPAN  December 6, 2018 2:12am-3:37am EST

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>> from the center for foreign relations this is one hour and 20 minutes.
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as people are taking their seats i'd want t i want to respe council's request that he always begin on time. welcome to this evenings meeting. our meeting tonight is entitled what to do about u.s. policy towards iran after the jcpoa. my name is mona yacoubian and i will be presiding over the discussion. before we begin i want to say a few words in the what to do about the series. this highlights a specific issue and features experts who will provide their potentially competing analysis and policy prescription in a mock high level of u.s. government meeti
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meeting. on behalf of the council on foreign relations i would like to thank richard and hbo for their generous support in the series. with the first begin by very briefly introducing the panel. you have details so i will be brief. to my right the ambassador dobbins is a fellow at the distinguished chair in diplomacy and security at the corporation. next to jim, suzanne maloney deputy director of the policy program at the brookings institution and senior fellow at the brookings center for middle eastern policy. and to my immediate right, the fellow and managing director of the washington institute for near east policy. please note this meeting will be on the record. as the principal convening this high-level meeting on the policy toward iran after the jcp away,
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i'm going to start by asking each of you to summarize where we are with respect to iran now nearly seven months after president trump made the decision to withdraw from the agreement. so was the first turn to you and ask you to provide us a summary of where exactly we stand with respect to the u.s. withdrawal and what does it entail. walk us through the steps that have been taken and remind us please what is the underlying strategy behind the decision to withdraw what is the goal? >> thank you to the council and all of you for being here. especially thank you because i've been locked up in meetings but no one has ever been this polite to me. >> we have only just started.
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[laughter] we can characterize the administration's policy following what it considers its north korea model and that is a strategy of maximum pressure against iran in this case along with a in order to reach with the president characterized a better deal. some have characterized the policy in different ways suspecting may be regime changes the underlying objectives but i think if you take the president and senior officials at their word that is in the better deal is the objective so what the administration has done to that end is reimposed sanctions basically all the sanction that were lifted or suspended and it
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has enumerated 12 demands which they would like to see in any new deal and president trump has said he would be willing to meet with the leader of iran, the president of iran. the way that it's going so far is i think next. with the administratiowhat the e is reimposed sanctions. the united states has tremendous unilateral economic and financial power in the world and i think most of us here know that but still perhaps surprising just how those have been.
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they suspect that they might continue to be a problem and and those that are reengaged have left. the imf and world bank have predicted the consequences for the macro economics will be severe and in fact i think to the trump administration's pleasure they've managed to do this without a spike in the oil prices which is going down. that is on the economic side. another thing that has gone well is discontinued in the limits of the jcp away -- jcpoa but i can't get into that here. they've managed to have their cake and eat it as they've reimposed the pressure and it's struggling and it's not receiving economic benefits at this stage and yet they have not resumed the expansion of the program goes far and that is a
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critical addendum. what has proven challenging as this has opened up a considerable risk in the u.s. and allies around the world. the united states is isolated in taking these actions and there are a few around the world especially partners with israel, saudi arabia applauded the move to get the deal and that un security council resolution 2231 and have decided to try to support the resolution into the nuclear agreement but haven't supported the government level in the u.s. the position of sanctions and an act we have seen a european try to find a officiaunofficial ways to circut the sanctions. that hasn't been very effective but i think it is relatively unprecedented.
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it's not 100% unprecedented as some people will tell you in the past there were similar things that i would say this is the first time we are trying to raise the regime in defiance of our allies where they are not just on board but they are the resisting. i could see the trump administrations into the decisions it took on november 5 in the way that the same shins were reimposed. >> remind us what happened. >> the bulk of the sanctions were brought bac back into thiss the most important of them in some of the most onerous financial sanctions but the administration contrary to some expectations did give waivers to certain countries that rely on the imports of oil and they didn't take it as tough a stance on some of the financial issues as people suspected they might come and they were keen on disk
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as a bit of a controversial question to preserve a humanitarian carveout for things like food and medicine and so forth. .. that's the first part of the strategy, pressure. what about getting the iranian bang to the table and getting a new deal. on that score there have not been progresses yet. nor is there a clear path getting there. just today or yesterday the trump administration has asked 11 times to negotiate, and we ever said no every time said the president of iran. i think it will be difficult to get there the iranians to come back and negotiate in earnest before the elections in 2020. if there isn't that co. engagement where does the policy
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go from there. it's pressure until you get to that point there's a risk of iranians resuming their nuclear program. >> suzanne what has the impact been on this decision in iran. what's the impact on its economy, and the impact on stability of the regime, on the balance of power between hard liners, and moderates? >> suzanne: thanks mona and thank you as well and mike to debate the options on iran. i would like to thank the trump administration went through with similarly rigorous interagency debate before the decision was made in may to walk away from the nuclear deal and to lay out the reimposition of sanctions that we've seen take place over the course on it six months that are have followed. as mike said, we really are seeing the effectiveness of
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american unilateral sanctions. i think there was a real debate among those of us who watched those sorts of mechanisms about to what extent the financial measures could actually have real weight on iran in the absence of support from the international community, the conventional wisdom of course is that sanctions at large are more effective when they are more broadly supported and imposed. inn this case because of the sort of centrality of the u.s. dollar and the international financial system, what the bush administration first experimented with, under mike and others good guidance, and what the obama administration perfected was the ability to cut iran off from the international financial system, skimpily by threatening companies in countries with the choice between doing business with or inn iran, or doing business with or in the united states, and of course for most firms for most individuals that really isn't a
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choice at all. and the sanctions really are so subtle in effect that we have the ability to sort of intimidate firms and individuals who really don't have a lot of direct exposure here but at some point the transaction might fleetishly pass through the u.s. financial system. so in that sense i think what we've seen through the course of the past 6 months and within moments the president completed his speech back in may is that these measures have enormous efficacy, and there's quite a bit of muscle memory in the international financial community about the penalties that were 87 posed during the bush and obama periods that there is a recognize that this administration was serious about imposing those sanctions in a fairly robust way and so companies as mike said, began running for the hills almost immediately looking to limit
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their exposure and their liability. what thes that meant for iranians is a fairly immediate and direct impact. the impact of the sanctions preelemented the president's decision that there the value of the iranian currency began plummeting, continued the slide, it was accelerated after the president's announcement, what's interesting is -- and we should never frenetic that we assess where to go from here. the iranian government has 40 years of experience with financial pressure. we've had sengzs in place since 1979, so there's an enormous array of tools the iranians have experimented with and perfected with respect to mitigation the sanctions and evading their imposition, and continuing to do business. what we've already seen some of that mitigation has begun to take effect.
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the iranians have stabilized the currency. it's certainly not back to pre-may levels but they've raised it by about a third from it's absolute low this summer. they are managing a accessories of fairly tough economic shocks and shortages, domestic consumer products everything from diapers to tomatoes. they have put in place or reimpose some rationing programs so there aren't panics at the parps, and they are buckled down to try to ride out for at least they can the economic strains that the country is going to be under. in fact boasting as they have in the past that these measures enable them to begin to wean themselves off dependence, or rewean themselves said off on denies on energy revenues. so the forth coming iranian budget is only 25 percent
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contingent on oil revenues. they see it as a net positively, there is also a recognition that a number of resonations of impeachments of the economic management within the administration replacement of the central bank governor, there is a sense that in fact they're going to have to go back to state dominated policies to try to ride this out. that are not really conducive to long-term growth. they recognize that a real siege if these measures are imposed, and in fact if the trump administration if many anticipate tries to push for further reduction said that's the next six months deadline for assessing the impact of these financial and energy sanctions that that's going to become increasingly difficult to ride out. of course all of this is playing out a different political moment
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then the 2010-2013 period. i think what you have at this time is a sort of hangover of political disappointment which came in the wake of the jcpoa, and predated the trump administration, and predated this decision, the sense of frustration that there was no sort of peace dividend. it was dispersed around the economy around the country, that there wasn't the expected bonanza in terms of trade and investment in job creation. and that's been playing out in a series of fairly small scale, but widely dispersed protests over economic shoes you probably saw the headlines but they continued are after last winter, and in some places intensified. it's fair to say thee are not a threat to the stability of the system itself, but they have deeply under the leadership because what they have demonstrated is that there is a deep alienation among the core
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constituency of the system the lower middle class, the people who stood to benefit from the change in 1979, and who in many ways particularly the post revolutionary baby boomer looking and saying you asked us to wait, you promised us a better life and it simply hasn't been delivered. >> >> host: what about that balance between hard liners and moderates has the withdrawal from the jcpoa empowered hardliners in some way? or has it not had an impact on the internal power balance? >> suzanne: i'm hisitant to go too far into the system. what we've seen since 2013 is a more consolidated system than at any point since the '79 revolution, and that should ask in many ways a cautionary tale because we all looks in 2009
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after the epic unrest in the wake of the contested reelection so this regime can't possibly survive. it's lost all legitimacy, and within if you years four years, what happened is the closing of the ranks recognizing iran was in a state of real crisis. i think surely those who advocate i diplomacy, and those who are interested in reviving the prospects of the negotiated outcome have their work cut out for them under the current circumstances, but in many ways i'm not terribly concerned about the divisions within the system itself. i think the bigger divisions are the divisions between the population at large, and the political establishment. can. >> host: jim, so help us understand over the past six, seven months what the impact of this withdrawal from the jcpoa has been in terms of iran's behavior in the region.
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it's malign activities in places like syria, yemen, iraq, lebanon, have we seen an impact on iranian behavior one way or the other. >> jim: i don't think there's any detectable change. i think to the contrary they probably now see some opportunities with yemen. it's important to recognize that among the four or five civil wars going on in the middle east, iran and the u.s. are only on opposite sides on one of them, which is yemen. we're not on opposite sides in iraq, probably the selection of the recent iraqi government was more a victory for the united states than iran in terms of the people who actually emerged. and so you could chalk that up as marginal gain for us, loss for iran and iraq and influence
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in iraq. in sear syria of course, the irn backed syrian regime continues to advance slowly so they are the movement m is with iran. and with yemen, it's clear that most americans now hold saudi arabia responsible for the human rights disaster for the perpetuation of the war, and the u.s. congress is moving to has already -- the administration's cut off direct support for -- refueling and many in congress are already voting for bills that would block arms transfers. so, i don't think that there's any detectable change in the region malign or otherwise and i
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think on balance the iranians don't see any real degradation in their position in the region. >> host: if i'm hearing you the pull back from the jcpoa has nottive affected iran's calculus. the question is does this economic pressure, can it yield a change in behavior from iran with respect to in particular it's behavior in the region? is it going to find the pressure its instead economically from the sanctions that has been laid out will that result in iran pulling back from places like syria? >> jim: i think it's unlikely. i think iran is -- i don't see a dynamic that preuzs that. i think the iranians have
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refused to respond to the u.s. administration's overtures for direct contact largely on the grounds they're not prepared to renegotiate the jcpoa. in which they're supported by all the other signatories the jcpoa of the united states. whether they would be willing to enter negotiations on yemen for instance, or somewhere else i don't think that's impossible. my estimate is that they probably are still wondering whether they have the kim jong-un option of just stringing the -- talking to the united states but not agreeing. or agreeing but not doing anything. and whether they might engage in that and if they did, then if there was such a context about their behavior in third
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countries there might be some feasibility areas where there could be some possible conversions. more likely than on the jcpoa itself. where they're pretty hardlined that they're not going to give up what commitments they got in that agreement in exchange for the commitments they made. >> host: in this very polite nfc we're having, you indicated you might want to jump in on this. >> michael: i would say that when the past when the united states has imposed sanctions on iran, especially for it's nuclear program we've actually expected in a sense that it would could make iran's behavior in the region worse rather than better. the reason for that is that i suspect that iran believes it has a comparative advantage on the ground in the middle east because they see themselves as more willing to kind of get
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their hands dirty in some places than the united states is, especially now. and i think they also see it as a way of developing leverage against the united states. so if there is a future dip lomentic they want cards of their own to play. i would say that for me, it's more realistic to think that the pressure of the sanctions might cause iran to come back to the negotiating table and have to talk about these things. i think it's less realistic that pressure alone will somehow deter iran or cause iran to crease the activities, in fact you may get the opposite effect. >> host: one area we haven't touched on, jim, would be the united states regional allies with respect to policies on iran. in particular, israel, saudi arabia, and the emirates. where did you see them right now falling on the decision to
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withdrawal from the jcpoa. is there support encountering iran solid, to what extent do we need to be concerned, in particular, with saudi arabia, and the current controversy surrounding the crown prince, how reliable will these allies be, or and-or will we continue to rely on them. >> jim: it's pretty clear trump made the decision to embrace the saudi and israeli objections with the region without real amendment so the objectives are that iran should have no nuclear program of any type forever. and iran should have no influence in any arab country at all forever. and so those were the objectives that the administration has embraced. but there's increasing degree of controversy here about this uncritical embrace of some other
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countries interests and objectives. as opposed to the more balanced approach in which we tried to assert unique american interests and the american policies. which characterize really all proceeding administrations. and the khashoggi murder certainly has been the leading source of unhappiness, but the war in yemen, which to be fair, obama was originally gave a green light. largely -- >> host: in part to compensate for the jcpoa, right? >> jim: exactly. has become controversial in its own right quite aside from the khashoggi murder. and so -- and there that implicates uae as much as saudi
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arabia. and of course, the israeli leadership is under a cloud at the moment as well. so trump's regional partners all have lost some luster particularly in this town. >> host: okay, so i think we've gotten a fairly decent level set in terms of where we are today. i think the big question going forward and i'd like to hear from each of you on this is so project out over the next 6 months to a year. where is -- are we on the right track? is the policy -- do you see the policy as it stands working, if not, what kinds of course corrections are needed, and in particular, what's our plan b if for whatever reason all of this comes to not.
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and we see iran in fact look like it may begin to start resuming its nuclear activities. where would we go from there? mike? >> michael: it's a tough question. as i look at it there's two big risks right now for the trump administration strategy going forward. one is that iran will decide to exit the jcpoa and resume the expansion of its nuclear program and that could bring on a crisis and it could be an acute crisis depending on how fast iran decides to ramp up it's nuclear activities. i think from my point of view from a technical perspective there's no reason iran couldn't do that quite quickly. the second risk is that nothing happens. that iran simply tries to wait out the pressure because suzanne has said they have a lot of experience enduring pressure and they're not terribly responsive to the concerns of the ordinary people of the country. and they may figure well let's wait to see what happens in the
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next american presidential election. let's maybe wait beyond that to see if this policy can be sustained. and i think that as you look at this from tiran you see certain american liabilities. i think one liability is clearly the gab between the u.s. and our allies. another liability is the gap in washington because this is an issue that has become very partisan, and president trump's policy has little support from the democratic side of the aisle. and then third, the u.s. clear reluctance to become more engaged on the ground in the region, i think is also a liability because from my point of view there is really only so much you can accomplish through sanctions. one tool will only take you so far. you are going to need a policy which is more comprehensive. you are going to need some answer to what iran is doing in places like syria for example. if you're really going to put more comprehensive pressure on the regime. i think that what the trump
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administration really needs to do is to overcome those weaknesses. so it should try to the extent it can to reach some sort of -- with the europeans. we won't agree on the jcpoa but perhaps the is agreement on iran's missile program where you had nato condemn the missile launch and other allies. where you've had terrorist plots uncovered in denmark, and france and other places. i think there might be consensus on the state of human rights in iran. i think there are points of consensus and if we can get the europeans -- i should say if we can get ourselves more aligned with our allies then there is the possibility for the united states to be imposing pressure while our allies try to start to cajole the airanians back to the table using the pressure. so -- the other think the administration will have to do
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is to try to seek some kind of bipartisan support for the policy. if you do those things i think that number one, you have more of a deterrent effect on iran because iran won't feel it can use the wedge between the u.s. and their allies as a strategic asset for itself, and it may feel though the policy might be more sustained than it suspects right now because i think right now they're banking on the fact the policy will end when president trump's tenure ends. so i do think that these are the kinds of steps the trump administration will need to take to identify those liabilities. even then i do think we need to perhaps get away from the idea that there is some kind of grand final solution to this problem, a grand bargain, an agreement, regime change, and maybe accept it as more of a long-term problem we're going to have to practice deterrence, containment of the threat and so soforth and gear our policies so they are
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sustainable over the long-term. the good news to me is many of the policies you would put in place to try to reach a grand bargain or the same types of policies you put in place for a deterrent strategy, but they need to be sustainable over time. i think they need to be the types of things you don't need to back away from in six months or one year. >> host: suzanne, what's your sense. >> suzanne: i agree with everything mike said but i want to emamplify it in a couple of places. under the current circumstances i think the likelihood is there will be additional energy supplies that come on to the market in the spring that enables the trump administration to push for even more significant reductions to iran's oil exports that will in some places conceivably exacerbate some of the frictions with allies and partners around the world. it will certainly result in a higher degree of economic pressure for iran.
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and so, i see additional vulnerabilities in addition to the ones that mike has suggested. one is that you have an already historically paranoid leadership feeling the pinch even more than ever, both across the world, but certainly at home as well. and they will be looking to arrest, as we've seen over the course of the past few months. journalists, expatriates, dual nationals, they'll be looking to strike back and as the attacking in denmark they're very skiddings about what they believe to be orchestrated conspiracies by the united states and/or its allies to try to create unrest from within iran to the extent they're being relatively pragmatic in the way that approach u.s. forces in the gulf for example, since the trump administration came into office they're going to be less pragmatic and much more determined about trying to take
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out potential adversaries even if that means risking additional terrorist activity on european soil or elsewhere around the world, that's obviously something none of us wants to see. and another vulnerability is around the oil price because for the iranians, anything that raises the oil price helps their bottom line, hurts the president's domestic political prospects at the time when he's going to be highly focused on reelection run. president rouhani said this week, this has been the strategic doctrine since the irani rock war. if tiran can't import then it's neighbors can't export the oil. i don't think they could attempt to or sustainably try to close the strait of hormuz but they could take action to try to disrupt production for their neighbors. there are a host of vulnerabilities to continuing our current policy even if on the face of it in terms of the
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departure of business economic chaos within iran one can deem it a success. so like mike, i think we need to be looking for if not an exit ramp, a sustainable way to redirect the course that we're on at this time. and i think back to my experience and mike's probably has a different vantage point on it during the bush administration second-term and how hard it was and how long it took to make the case internally and to find a way to make the case externally for changing the way we thought and talked about iran. at that time there had been a period -- the only period in post revolutionary history where the united states refused to take to tiran for most of the 30 years that proceeded it was tiran that refused to talk to washington. the bush administration thought no contact was the way to go, and they realized the nuclear
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issue was only going to escalate, it took a lot of effort and compromise, brought us to the p5 plus 1 and that's why we need to return again. the one time we've been able to if not solve the problem with iran at least provide a real fix o on a short-term period of time to one of the most urgent issues that was facing the u.s. national security community at the moment the nuclear crisis was when we were able to create this trans-atlantic partnership and build upon it to bring in other world powers, russia, china, in a way that was durable, serious and it forced the iranians to negotiate in a way they weren't prepared to do without that kind of consensus. i think that's exceptionally difficult for this administration to contemplate but with i see almost no prospects for a go it alone
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policy that today is going to succeed. >> jim: i agree. i think the iranians probably will bet on regime change in washington. and therefore stick with the jcpoa for the next two years. i can't guarantee it obviously, and -- but i think the midterm elections give them a reasonable hope there will be a change in administrations and a change in policy. in that regard. and they'll be watching closely domestic debate and how the democrats position themselves on the jcpoa over this period. i don't see in i iraq, there is no particularly reason why iran can't operate autonomously but not in direct conflict. there is no particular reason
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why that should precipitate a crisis in the relationship. slarl in syria, we have said we're going to stay as long as the iranians do, the iranians are going to stay forever so it's a time of if the united states is willing to stay forever also. that could become more controversial over the next couple of years if there's no change. i think yemen does offer some possibility for change, even positive change. because of the restruggles against the war in this country in particular but more generally in the world, and because of the delegitimization of the saudi leadership that's taken place. if you're looking for a crack, an opening where there would be
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sufficient interest to have a dialogue, not presumably bilateral one in some multilateral format, that would seem to be the one where there's enough dynamism in the situation to allow for it. i don't see it occurring anywhere else. >> host: so very quickly before turn we turn to members and bring them into the conversation and this is a hard question to answer in a lightning round but i'm going to ask you all to oblige me. what's the wild card scenario that we are not thinking about? what the is either the catastrophic, not catastrophic but what's the wildcard scenario of concern or is there something that could really surprise us from a positive perspective that really shifts things dramatically within the span of the current administration? >> i would say all scenarios in
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the middle east are areas of concern. i would point to two things in particular. and i imagine there's far more. these are the two that come to mind. one would be a war in the region between iran and say israel. you look at what's happening in recent days in the news with attacking tunnels that have been discovered by israel, as well as efforts to get precision missiles. israel has been clear they view these things and you could find a conflict breaking out. if a conflict breaks out hopefully it would be limited in duration and scope but i don't think we can count on that, especially now because hezbollah's arsenal is more sophisticated and larger than it was in 206, and they've said their goals are more expansive in than in 206. you could see a region conflict
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with the saudis but i think it's the israel iran conflict that is more concerning. suzanne said the protests are not a threat to the regime. it's one of those things that is tough to gauge. we've gaunt it wrong consistently. none of us saw the arab spring coming. i'm not predicting there's going to be instability in iran but i think it's the type of scenario that might take us by surprise if there were real instability in iran. that would be a difficult scenario for the u.s. government to respond to. it's something the u.s. has hoped for there be a regime change in iran. that doesn't mean it would be easy or straightforward in terms of u.s. policy. >> suzanne: i think the wild 'card is that they shoot off a missile that hits something and kills civilians, conceivably given the populations of the target sites, ex-patriots,
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westerners, americans or others, that essentially precipitates some kind of an escalation and even a u.s. response. i think that's obviously very negative wild card. but one the longer this crisis goes on the longer this war goes on seems almost inevitable. i was going to give the sort of upside although i don't think it's a clear up side wild card of some kind of sustained unrest that begins to truly fray the seams of the leadership of the islamic republican rep. we are at a stage where concession for the second time in the state's history is a short term or inevitable. we have reason to believe in 209 and other episodes that while iran has massive levers of repression it uses incredibly effectively to it's advantage it's not entirely clear if
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massive nationwide civil diso beadians or popular protest movement could be effectively repressed whether or not the internal security forces would be prepared to fire on large groups sustained groups of iranians, and i think as mike said we've consistently failed to anticipate changes in iran's domestic politics. we've always almost uniformly failed to respond effectively to those changes even after we realizeed they're upon us. so we have to assume that's not a wild card something is going to happen internally in iran either the leadership level or the stability of the state itself that's going to surprise us and we're going to be flat-footed in our response. >> jim: i believe with what both mike and susan have said.
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i do think on the regime change in iran, we should be cautious ability what we ask for. our experience with iranian revolutions have been two so fad regimes that were more oppressive than their predecessors. the middle east had six revolutions in 2012, five of them turned out to be much worse than their predecessors. so the record for iranian regime changes, and middle east regime change and revolutions is not one that should encourage you to think the next regime is going to be an improvement on the current one, at least in the short-term the force most likely to prevail would be the revolutionary guard. which is the most popular element of the regime. and so, well i think it's -- i think that iran probably is in a
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prerevolutionary state and it's quite possible there will be a change in the nature of the regime one year, two years, five years, don't know, but the longer you project out the more likely it becomes. but if we were concerned f our objective was to get a better regime in iran we would be doing the opposite of what we are doing now. inviting iranian students to visit the united states. we would be opening an embassy and doing all kinds of things designed to make more likely that the next iranian regime would be more open, more cosmopolitan and more likely to deal with the united states. >> michael: i want to tack one thing on the end of this one thing we have to think about in this scenario is whether some other power might intervene before the united states does. i'm thinking of russia. this is a black swan type of scenario. we saw them intervene in syria,
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what would that happen if that would occur in a place like iran. i do think we need to think about other outside actors and the role they'll play because sometimes quietly and sometimes noisily they've become more prominent players in the conflicts in the region. >> host: okay, at this point i would like to invite members to join the conversation. let me remind everyone this meeting is on the record. when called please wait for a microphone, state your name and affiliation, please limit yourself to one question, no statements please of length. so that we can bring in as many members as possible into the conversation. >> michael: unlimited complements though. >> guest: let me start by paying unlimited compliments. i'm robert hunter i used to have
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to deal with these things at the nfc a long time ago. i appreciate what michael singh just said, it was leading into the question i was going to pose. you mentioned the surprising question involvement in syria, i would argue a lot of it came back because of a couple of very bad miscuse by the united states, red line on chemicals, whether it was right or wrong not to follow through is another matter, and seeing assad had to go, and assad didn't go russians had a chance to play question. as we look at the things that could know wrong for the united states not only in the region but more broadly, does our, in effect taking very seriously the interest of local powers maybe beyond what our own interests are in some cases dually open up
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the whole ball of wax for russian and chinese, and maybe others taking and stealing a march on us strategically in the area and does that make us think maybe a different kind of balance of plus and minus and as we think about our overall iran strategy? >> host: do you want to direct that to anyone plar or the entire panel? >> guest: the entire panel because i'm paying compliments to all four of you. >> host: this is one of the most courteous meetings i've had the pleasure to attend. >> michael: there was a time when we worried a lot about external powers and relations with them in the middle east. the creation of cent com has created worries about soviets and the arab gulf. we're not really at that stage now and i think now you could say there are plenty of external powers both friendly and
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unfriendly to us that have lots of interest in the middle east but it would be hard to identify one that has more. maybe china is heading in that direction in terms of its energy consumption but china still hangs back quite a bit from middle eastern conflicts. i would say as a broad poind that i think that is going to increase over time. the involvement of other external powers especially frankly china i would point to more than russia because i think russia's capabilities are more limited and will be more limited ten years from now. that's going to increase and we will start having to think again about what we think about other external powers becoming involved and whether we think that's a zero sum equation, or whether there's prospects or danger of conflict. are. >> suzanne: i don't have a lot to add other than to double down on mike's point about russia vs. china, and with respect to iran comes back to the history. the capacity of the russians to
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intervene in i roon in the same way they have in syria is almost inconceivable, given the way that iranians remember that history. i don't see any appetite on the part of the chinese to intervene in a dedestructive way in the region but the reality is this is no longer a uni--polar intervention and this is a region that is deeply contingent upon other world powers, and we are no longer the seoul and dermtive super power there. >> jim: i find it remarkable that we're more concerned about iranian presence in syria than russian presence. we're hoping the russians will help us get the iranians out. we don't seem to be demanding the russians leave. the southwest spent several
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hundred years trying to keep the russians out of the middle east, and now you never hear this. this is an objective and we're concerned about the iranians a third-rate power that presents no threat to the united states it's remarkable. >> host: let's go to the back and make our way back around. >> guest: hello. i spent a lot of my life in or around that part of the world. recent news, i think there's a real likelihood this wouldn't be a black swan but maybe a light gray one you could have serious instability in saudi arabia. how would that affect our ability to implement our policies in iran and what would we do if there was civil war in saudi arabia broke out? >> jim: well it would certainly shift our interest, and perhaps
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lead to some relaxation of our obsession with iran. depending on how the iranians handle it. >> suzanne: i think any realistic assessment of the region today would have the incorporate some note of anxiety about the future of saudi arabia, there are -- there's a range of opinion about how stable the system is, and how coherent the family is. but clearly, this is if not unprecedented quite a different moment and quite a different balance of power within the system, and quite a different again political context in terms of the demographics and the economics of the country than we've seen in -- at any point in contemporary history, and so i'm not holding my breath for the next revolution, in saudi arabia but i do think the question of the stability of the system and
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the reliability of the saudis as a partner or even a cut-out for the united states, which is how the trump administration seems to be determined to use them, realistically, saudi capabilities are limited to begin with. and so i think the loss of capabilities wouldn't impede us but it would certainly change the perception of american relationships in the region, and of american power. >> on this question i'm going to disagree with jim. i don't think it would relax our focus on iran i think it might heighten our focus on iran. i do think we are already now seeing a bit of this scenario. i think there is internal turbulence inside saudi arabia. that's not a radical statement. you've seen those that have watched the middle east two factors that might destabilize saudi arabia. one would be a significant dislocation in the energy
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markets, since it's so dependent on oil exports. second was this idea of generational success from the line of half-brothers down to the next generation. and you certainly are seeing some turbulence, companying what is the passing of power to one generation to the next. it's not severe or civil war, but we're seeing it play out in saudi region policies as well as in saudi arabia itself. and i think that it's important to remember in the context of this discussion we're having about saudi arabia and recently events that part of the american interest in having such a strong partnership with saudi arabia is defensive in nature. we don't want to see saudi arabia be destabilized because of the implications for the region which is why we want to have influence and leverage there. i don't think it would be good for iran, frank legislate, if saudi arabia was destabilized i think the u.s. would worry that
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iran might sees an opportunity to get involved in internal instability that was taking place as they have in other theaters, iraq, syria, yemen and elsewhere. i don't think it would decrease our focus on iran. i think strong resilient stable allies is our best asset against iran because iran thrives in situations which are destabilized. >> guest: i have a question but also if i might a couple of comments. very, very brief. more than anybody else in here i have spent my life studying and writing about iran. i think that one of the things that to me particularly of what mike sine said that if i'm also known for being blond, it hasn't
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helped me but in a way it's my strength. i think the scenario yew saying about dealing iran in nature of iran to me it seems the perception is based not so much on the regime but the perception that iran as a country culture, is intrinsically imperial and expansionist, whether it is an iranian empire or a -- or whatever. and so the only alternative that i can see to this is some sort of dismemberment of iran. and a war will definitely would arrange that. but on the other hand, this view of iran is very well known inside iran. i think that we tend to see our wishes regarding iran for reality including that the massive o prizing -- in fact the more external pressure, the
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iranian nightmare of foreign powers wanting to dismember it is remergant and this has been -- and a lot of countries in the region iran is not just -- if you look at the caucuses mona maybe knows but if you look the way the -- every time they invade iran or excessively pressuring iran i think that external pressure is going to bring majority of iranians together. the other thing i have to say is that we seem to see that there is no defensive element in iran's behavior. yet if you look at the middle east recent history, it was iran that was subject of a massive attacking, which frankly was green lighted by the great powers when iraq invaded iran. so this is another thing that almost the perception is that
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iran doesn't have security concerns or that iran does not face any threats. which then of course believes no room for compromise. but the other thing also is if the purpose had been really to change iranian behaviors, i would submit and i would state my professional reputation on this that the option of actually engagement and compromise was never sincerely pursued. including that president bush. since president bush passed away. when he said good will, will we good good will, the next thing they did was policy of containment of iraq which started at the -- thank you. >> host: unless anyone has a particular response to this statement i think i'd rather
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let's move on so we can get more discussion in. >> guest: thanks. doil mcmanus from the "los angeles times." the declared policy of the administration is not regime change but a better deal mike sine says, and suggested that one of the first ways to do that would be to find points of consensus with european allies, human rights, ballistic missiles and sunset provision. two questions. one is in the evidence that the administration is pursuing any of those steps owner is it too early in the timetable of maximum pressure. second, one contrast with the case of north korea is that at a quite early stage almost unremarked the administration foreswore publicly the aim of regime change would that be a enters condition to getting the track you propose on track? >> michael: good questions. i'll say i think in this case when my senses when the
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administration has asked about their aim they try to make clear it's a better deal is what they're aiming for in the in the north korea case there were threats of war so i'm not sure how you square the two situations. in any case they're not comparable. between iran and north korea, and i think you'd probably aee. when it comes to the question about what did they have to do to make the better deal happen, i think the answer is right now yes, you have this kind of offer from president trump at the highest level to sit down with ruhahny, i'm conceptcon that will happen. unlike kim jong-un who saw a summit as a kind of legitimizing step, i don't think iranians see it that way by any means. i think it will be much more difficult in this case. i think the attitude i sense from the administration is that the phase they're in is to let pressure work in a sense. because one of the criticisms from the right and critics of
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the jcpoa of the obama administration's approach was that they were too quick essentially to make a deal having put in place this tough pressure and didn't get the pressure time to work. i suspect there is a sense we need to be patient. >> host: suzanne and jim do you have a comment? >> suzanne: i think that very much as mike has said that they put out those sort of twelve demands that secretary pompeo articulated back in may at the heritage foundation, and they've repeated again they're very expansive. when you talk to people in the white house and the state department they take pains to emphasize that impact that they recognize that those demands are not necessarily going to be the outcome and certainly not the precondition to negotiations but that unlike the obama administration they don't want to effectively negotiate with ourselves and put in a low bid
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to the iranians, they want to put in a maximal bid. the difficult is that maximallest bid the political pressures with iran even more difficult to imagine any kind of meeting. i will say i am actually more -- i don't know whether it's i think the iranians are actively talking in the press -- and within the political establishment about whether there is some way to thread the needle through negotiations. and i think that reflects a recognize on their part that holding out until 2021 is not a good bet for this regime given the political milestones they have to pass through in terms of elections which have not prospect of political change but do mobilize people in a way to engage in political participation and political voice in a way that's as we saw in 2009 can open up opportunities that this system
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doesn't want to empower. and of course concession looms large. in addition to that, this is real pressure. this is real constraint the regime is under. they have a lot of tools to deal with it u but to try to muddle through for two plus years and then, only then you might get a different administration or you might not. even if you got a democrat you might get a democrat of hillary clinton who i think would have been prepared to apply more pressure to iran. there's really no guarantee that you're going to have a new president who is willing to take on a congress which will always be skeptical of removing sanctions and go forward with a wholly different policy. i think there is an active debilitate within iran about how to deal with these -- this current set of circumstances and i wouldn't rule out the prospect that some kind of negotiation or engagement is part of their own tool kit for trying to manage
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this crisis. >> guest: my name is tom miller. just following up on doil's question about north korea, and i understand michael that the iranians the big difference is they don't need this president to legitimize themselves. but, if one looks at what has happened since the meeting in singapore, the north koreans are doing all kinds of stuff that we find objectionable, and nothing's happening. the president doesn't say anything -- so my question is why -- and all three of you have said the iranians follow our situation and internal political situation pretty closely. why wouldn't they take up a conversation with the president, given what has happened with north korea?
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i think if i was in tiran, i would say there's nothing to lose other than you know some of the hardliners saying you shouldn't talk to the crazy delves, but you know they could do all they wanted to do if they look at the northeastern situation so why not? >> michael: i would point out there are key differences to other situations. i'll leave to it to others to talk about what the iranians think about negotiations with the united states. iran doesn't have nuclear weapons, the deal we reached with the north creeps for now, document a sort of freeze for freeze that we've worked out with north koreans. there was a crisis looming with north korea getting closer to and potential somewhat achieving a nuclear comment. capability.
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there was quite severe pressure against the north koreans, against un security resolutions and even the chinese from what i understand implements though resolutions quite strictlily, and you have the other issue of the north really for a long time having looked for that kind of legitimization they felt would come from these types of summit level talks within the united states. so i think it's difficult to really put the two situations on par even though they superficially might look like they're similar because these are two nuclear crises in a sense. the other of course, x-factor is that in the middle east you don't have china and east asia. whrve you talk about north korea in a in essence its a question about our larger strategy towards china and east asia in particular. and so, i would just point to those differences and say it's tough to really spend too much time talking about the comparison between the two.
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>> jim: you know -- the iranian foreign minister tells a story that when after the jcpoa was signed, his popularity significantly outstripped -- and after the u.s. withdrew from jcpoa sued mony's popularity in opinion polls far outstrips his, his concludes was after the jcpoa was signed the iranian unbalanced supported engagement and that after u.s. withdrew from the jcpoa, they support resistance, not engagement. now there's some self-serving elements to that story and i tend to agree with susan that this is an option they're still mulling over, but they have a history of refusing to talk to the united states of 30 some years duration, which has to be overcome and overcome under extremely adverse circumstances
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given the way that their public views trump and the trump administration. >> guest: arms control association, we have consistently overestimated iran's ballistic missile capabilities for more than a decade we predicted that iran would test its first icbm by 2015, and shortly thereafter have nuclear warheads for it. we also seemed to overestimate iran's willingness to curtail this ballistic missile program, and my question is, what's in it for iran to remove the only weaponnens that it can use to reach its two principle enemies in the middle east? >> michael: i think that greg
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the bottom line is iran has a significant missile arsenal, these medium and short-range missiles, and there's no doubt iran considers that to be one of of its strategic assets. i think the u.s. has three concerns which to me are valid concerns. one is what we've seen recently, the worry about the destabilizing risk of missile tests and the kind of any veaments you might see in the capability of those missiles, in terms of i'm not an expert and you are, but the types of warheads they can carry and so on. the second concern is the proliferation of those missiles because what iran has tended to do is develop missiles and not keep them for themselves as a defensive measure but to proliferate them to hezbollah and so on, and it's that's proliferation in a way that's more dangerous than iran's possession of those missiles and the third element is the icbm's
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and i think you're right the predictions about the timelines for iran's icbm development has been wrong but i will say in defense of the ic analyst that come up with the predictions it's in part because we heard the predictions and tried to take policy actions to stop them. .
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you need to break it down to those individual threats that we face. >> other comments on this question lacks a hispanic american policy should have a military edge in the region. in terms of the american policy. >> let's go back here. >> i'm richard johnson with the nuclear threat initiative running the office of department implementing a jcpoa. it's a demand on the part of iran and bought a starting point for the negotiation and also recognizing despite what the panel says that would have dealt
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with some of these questions is a realistic approach and what the actual set of issues can be because it seems as though this is tried and either not pursued in good faith or fails. this panel is titled u.s. policy towards iran. they think it is still in place. we have less than five minutes but it's a good set of questions to pull together some of the various string of this
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discussion so why don't we very quickly good on the fox. >> i think that yes there's 12 of them that they are not so different than a president obama used to say in the term about what he was looking for and not so different from the types of grand bargain in the united states in the early part of 2000 in the united states would rebuff these ideas because we were not in favor to criticize for dismissing the purported offer to deal with these different issues. the question for the negotiators past and present and future is to seek one issue and you try to get off the table and set the stage for further negotiations or is that not attainable and do
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you need to solve all of the issues in one grand bargain and is it not possible to do any of this in a formal agreement instead you need to run the agreement. i am in the third camp myself. it wouldn't be sustainable over time if another part party didnt withdraw because it is based on the premise you can isolate the issue and lift sanctions on the one while continuing to engage in hostilities and others. this may be true between the two powers of the relative peers like the u.s. and another superpower. to say we are going to hold back on the most effective military tools to counter all this other behavior because we have agreed in this one area that is just an analytical judgment on my part.
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the obama administration had a different take on the issue and we used to say it is a shift before you have any sort of de deal. it would be closer to the suns sunset. >> i want to thank you for putting these larger issues on the table and i come out somewhere similar which i think is notable because i am not sure but you are not a fan of the original deal or supporter of the deal.
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i say that as a long-term skeptic of any process of the grand parad part in or even of e validity of the purported facts in 2003. but i do think the experience that we saw that the iranians being deeply frustrated with the extent it was incomplete as holy appreciated by the negotiated parties. it's a huge vulnerability in standing over the long term and from our end the extent to which
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it is to briefly become champions for other countries it would be against our own companies was also really problematic because it didn't enable with president obama was doing. while we continue to manage through the pressures for all the tools of national security and all the other difficulties that we have and frankly we come back to the realization that my good friend and the american citizens were detained on the very deal the day that it was concluded so we have all these limited tools to deal with those issues and a more limited at the
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time that we were trying to essentially appease. it's almost insurmountabl insure inconceivable difficulties under the current political circumstances with a transformational approach i think managing the problem with the anti-solution is some for the colleague of mine. as long as this remains in place with me go back to the central premise of how much this administration the current administration really wants in the new deal. it is putting too much credence
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in his tweets. he sees himself as a dealmaker. he really does have this sense and campaigned at the time that all these republican rivals were only talking about this. he does want to get across the table. the national bureaucracy. it's the premise that they walked away from the jcpoa. whether i like that or not is water under the bridge and where do we go from this point. congress was consulted with the agreement was concluded in a backhanded way.
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it's what will be going on i think it is a viable option is going to have to articulate a position on that and it will be a major issue in the election. it's a position that will be closer to what obama was and ans a willingness to engage.
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it's been an extraordinarily rich discussion. please join me in thanking our excellent panel. [applause]
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