HH: I begin this program with former Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton. Mr. Ambassador, Happy Thanksgiving, welcome back, it’s great to have you.
JB: Happy Thanksgiving to you, too, Hugh, glad to be back.
HH: Well, I am reading today from the Iranian News Agency just hours ago. “The Iranian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday called invalid a press release by the White House alleged to be the text of the nuclear agreement struck by Iran and the group of five plus one. ‘What has been released by the website of the White House as a fact sheet, is a one-sided interpretation of the agreed text in Geneva. And some of the explanation and words in the sheet contradict the text of the joint plan of action, and this fact sheet has unfortunately been translated and released in the name of the Geneva agreement by certain media which is not true,’ foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzaya Afkam said today” What do you make of that, Ambassador Bolton?
JB: Well, the fact sheet indeed is inconsistent with the joint agreement that they actually signed in Geneva, or at least that they say they signed. And this is no surprise. This is how Iran negotiates. You know, in the West, we tend to think when you sign the deal, the negotiation is over. But for this regime in Tehran, this is just the beginning of the negotiation. So we’re going to see Iran take this deal which for those of your listeners who haven’t read it, which I assume is most of them, I can tell you, is very badly worded. It’s a poorly written agreement. Forget that it’s lousy as a matter of substance. It’s poorly written. It’s filled with ambiguous language. The Iranians are going to take this word by word and slowly rip it apart. And this is just the opening salvo.
HH: Was Secretary of State Kerry duped? Is he a dope? Or did he knowingly enter into an agreement that could go very wrong for the United States?
JB: Boy, it’s a very tempting question. Let me say this. I think that the Obama administration felt under great pressure to cut a deal with Iran for two reasons, basically. Number one, they fear and Israeli military strike against Iran more than they fear an Iranian nuclear weapon. And they wanted a deal to pressure the Netanyahu government not to strike Iran’s nuclear program. And number two, under the terms of the existing U.S. sanctions legislation, countries that import Iranian oil have to continuously reduce their imports or face sanctions themselves. And what the administration was coming up against was statements by China, India, South Korea, Turkey and others that they had cut their imports of Iranian oil about as low as they were going to go. And indeed, there were some indications South Korea might actually increase its imports. So the Obama administration would soon be faced with a very unattractive alternative. Either sanction the likes of India and China, or waive the sanctions against those countries and risk the political heat here at home. So I think the administration wanted a deal. I don’t think it had anything to do with Obamacare. But I think there was a separate dynamic to show quick progress on the Iranian nuclear front. And I think that was one of the reasons why they were willing to give away so much.
HH: Now Mr. Ambassador, you represented the United States at the United Nations, and so this question is uniquely in your wheelhouse. By signing an agreement that abrogates United Nations resolutions prohibiting the enrichment by Iran of uranium, and in fact acknowledging that it exists, and concurring that it continue, has the United States violated its obligations to the U.N. under the U.N. charter?
JB: No, but it has shown how weak the Obama administration position is. Look, this idea of requiring Iran to suspend all uranium enrichment-related activity started ten years ago when the Europeans decided they wanted to try to negotiate Iran out of its nuclear weapons program. I’ve been at this for a long time going back to the early days of the Bush 43 administration. I thought the European position then was too weak, because it allowed Iran to do a lot of other things, particularly develop its ballistic missile program, which were part, really, of the nuclear program. The missiles are just a delivery system. But the Europeans went ahead and eventually, as you say, that idea that Iran must cease all enrichment-related activities was embodied in multiple Security Council resolutions, endorsed even by Russia and China. So what the administration has done is take a weaker position than the Europeans did ten years ago, which I thought was a weak position back then, and weaker than the U.N. Security Council. This shows how much Iran has gained in terms of this deal, which probably in due course, since the five permanent members of the Council cut the deal with Iran in Geneva, they’ll put it in the form of a resolution, which will resolve the apparent problem of this deal contradicting what they said six years ago.
HH: Okay, that’s what I’m getting to, because I am not an international lawyer, nor did I stay at a Holiday Inn. But the U.N. resolutions prohibiting any enrichment are presently on the books. This deal violates them. But you’re saying prospectively, since it involved every member of the Security Council, they were in effect meeting in Geneva concurrently.
JB: Right. It is, I think the real point is less the legal point about whether this violates the Security Council resolutions than the political point, the weakness that it showed, the ratification of the critical fact of Iran’s uranium enrichment capability. Forget all of the technical aspects of this, and believe me, we could talk about them for hours, because this deal is just that poor. The central fact of a nuclear weapons program is the capability of enriching uranium. And that is why the Europeans ten years ago demanded that Iran suspend its activities before there were any further negotiations. Iran has won that crucial point. They’ve won it during this six month interim agreement. And if you look at the terms of the deal they cut in Geneva, in effect, they’ve won it on a permanent basis. This is a huge change in the negotiating dynamic. It’s a huge political win for Iran. Forget everything else, although I’d be happy to talk about it, as I say, for a long time. This represents a victory that Iran has wanted for over ten years, and now it has it.
HH: Now Ambassador Bolton, I’m trying to be fair and give to the Obama administration credit for anything. If they got any points on the board at all, even if they got completely blown out of the game, I want to give them credit for their touchdown. Did we get anything out of the deal?
JB: No. As far as I can see, what Iran has done is make tactical, superficial, easily reversible concessions in its nuclear program that doesn’t impede its ability to continue to make progress. And in exchange for that, we gave up the economic sanctions, because psychologically, the Iranians have gone over an inflection point here. Instead of the sanctions being increased, now they’re being decreased. And you can see across Europe already the rush of European businesses again to start doing business with Iran. I think the sanctions regime is about to crumble. I think the Iranians sense that. I think that was what they wanted. And I think it’s a very bad signal around the region that Iran has blown past the United States, and it now has what it’s wanted for some time, which is relief from the sanctions. I don’t think the sanctions were slowing down the nuclear weapons program. But obviously, if Iran can get relief from them, it’s something that a sensible person would want to do, and I believe they’ve now achieved that.
HH: And a last question, Ambassador Bolton, did the deal increase or decrease the likelihood of Israeli military action in the six months the deal purports to cover?
JB: Well, I think Israel doesn’t have much time. If I were Israel, I would have done this a long time ago. I think they’ve got to face the reality now that nobody believes Obama when he says all options are on the table. If anybody’s going to take military action, it will be Israel. And if Israel doesn’t take military action and take it soon, the inevitable outcome is that Iran will get nuclear weapons at a time of its choosing.
HH: Ambassador John Bolton, dire and sober, but I appreciate the candor, and I hope you have a great Thanksgiving. Thanks for joining us.
JB: You, too, Hugh. Thank you very much for having me.
End of interview.