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State Department Official On Iran Deal

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

He withdrew the United States from a nuclear deal. President Trump several times used the first-person singular. The use of I drove home the personal nature of a decision that the president has said is vital, despite concerns of some lawmakers in both parties, foreign policy experts and all the other nations in that deal.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I am announcing today that the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. In a few moments, I will sign a presidential memorandum to begin reinstating U.S. nuclear sanctions on the Iranian regime.

INSKEEP: The president did receive some support from Republican lawmakers, Israel and Saudi Arabia. So let's work through the president's plans with Andrew Peek. He is deputy assistant secretary of state, responsible for policy on Iraq and Iran. Mr. Peek, welcome to the program.

ANDREW PEEK: Thanks so much, Steve. It's great to be here.

INSKEEP: I want to figure out what the next step is here. We know the United States is getting out, but Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China remain in this deal, meaning they still want to do business with Iran. They want nuclear inspections to continue. Does the president plan to try to push those other nations out of the deal?

PEEK: You know, I think what the president's focused on right now is both winding down the sanctions waivers that permitted investment in sections of Iran's economy, as well as designated entities under the nuclear sanctions, as well as engaging - as we have been in the past three months - our E3 (ph) partners - Germany, France and the U.K. - to think about a better deal, to think about what comes next - a deal that addresses not just the nuclear issues of Iran but the regional issues, the support in terrorism and the proliferation of missiles and others.

INSKEEP: But you say winding down business that's being done. Just to give an example - Boeing was selling, I think, 110 airplanes to Iran, which is a lot of money. You're going to tell them to cancel that deal. Is that right?

PEEK: That's right. There - no new business will be permitted. Waivers will only be for - to allow a wind-down period so that we're not unfairly penalizing our partners and our businesses.

INSKEEP: But this is the key question then. Britain is still going to be doing business. France still going to be doing business. Germany, Russia, China still doing business. Does the United States intend sanctions that will punish companies from those countries if they continue doing business with Iran?

PEEK: Well, look, we've had two decades of experience with secondary sanctions, going back to ILSA in the late '90s - the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act. The way they are employed best is through a constant iterative process where we engage those countries. We prod them in certain ways. We condole them in others. And gradually, we reduce the amount of investment going into Iran. The purpose is to prevent Iran from conducting all kinds of malign activities - not to sanction our partners.

INSKEEP: But that means - that sounds like a yes. You are going to be pushing these countries to disinvest from Iran if you...

PEEK: We certainly are going to be pushing and asking and condoling them to disinvest. Absolutely.

INSKEEP: So let me ask about the effects of withdrawing from the deal. And for all we know, it remains in place. That's what Iran is doing at the moment anyway. But this deal allowed Iran not to seek a bomb but to enrich more uranium in 10 years. There was a sunset provision, and that was one of the major concerns. So it's a concern to let Iran enrich uranium in 10 years. But if the deal falls apart, Iran may enrich uranium in zero years. Why is zero years better than 10 years?

PEEK: Well, it was no longer 10 years, as you know.

INSKEEP: It was down to eight.

PEEK: It was down to something like - yeah, eight - seven.

INSKEEP: Why is eight years better than - or why is zero years better than eight years?

PEEK: Well, because we're trying to definitively cut off Iran's path to a bomb. I think the president viewed it quite rightly as more incumbent on us now to try to get onto a stronger footing at a time when destabilizing - when Iran's destabilizing activities across the Middle East are increasing. And we can also more sustainably address the nuclear issue. It's not just the sunset. It's not just the seven or eight years. It's also the ICBM issue. You know, no country has ever developed an ICBM that didn't develop a nuclear weapon. It is inspections of military sites. These are all issues that we were concerned about with the Iran deal, and the president thinks we can better address them quite rightly in a new framework.

INSKEEP: You want Iran to give up more. You mentioned, for example, inspections of military sites - something that was, broadly speaking, off limits in the current deal. How are you going to get Iran to do that given that no other country involved in the deal is willing to play at the moment?

PEEK: Well, I think by imposing severe economic consequences. The entire problem of the Iran deal, essentially, was that it delinked the economic consequences from Iran's behavior - not just the nuclear behavior but the other regional behavior. You know, when we - when the JPOA was announced in 2013...

INSKEEP: Preliminary (unintelligible).

PEEK: ...Iran was under crushing economic pressure. And I think the president's view - quite rightly - is that we could've gotten a much better deal at that point than we eventually settled for.

INSKEEP: Nevertheless, you ended up with a deal that you have that the U.S. is withdrawing from. And there was some congressional testimony - as I'm sure you know - from Defense Secretary James Mattis, the president's defense secretary. He was questioned in October by Senator Angus King. Let me play you just a little bit of that.

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ANGUS KING: Do you believe it's in our national security interests at the present time to remain in the JCPOA? That's a yes-or-no question.

JAMES MATTIS: Yes, Senator. I do.

INSKEEP: What was Secretary Mattis missing?

PEEK: Well, (laughter) I think Secretary Mattis is more than capable of answering his own questions. I will say, it is the administration's policy that we're withdrawing from the nuclear deal for the reasons I explained.

INSKEEP: Because you want a better deal.

PEEK: Well, because - yeah, we want to see improvements in Iran's behavior across not just the nuclear side but particularly its destabilizing behavior across the region. And we think severe economic and political pressure is the way to get there.

INSKEEP: Mr. Peek, thanks very much - really appreciate it.

PEEK: Thanks so much. I really appreciate being here.

INSKEEP: Andrew Peek is the deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.