• With: Scott Gottlieb, Bret Stephens, Matt Kaminski, Dan Henninger, Collin Levy

    This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," November 30, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

    PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," the White House launches a push to sell its Iran nuclear deal to a skeptical Congress and angry allies in the Middle East. Is it a first step towards peace or a historical mistake?

    Plus, with all eyes on the healthcare.gov re-launch, another ObamaCare crisis is waiting in the wings as thousands of Americans discover you really can't keep your doctor.

    And a life-saving court decision now being undermined by the Obama administration. Should the feds ban payment for bone marrow donors?

    Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.

    Facing sharp criticism from allies in Saudi Arabia and Israel and deep skepticism from some members of Congress, President Obama this week defended last Sunday's deal with Iran, praising the diplomacy he says is responsible for halting the progress of their nuclear program, calling the accord an important first step towards peace.


    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Huge challenges remain but we cannot close the door on diplomacy. And we cannot rule out peaceful solutions to the world's problems. We cannot commit ourselves to an endless cycle of conflict. And tough talk and bluster may be the easy thing to do politically but it's not the right thing for our security.


    GIGOT: Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; foreign affairs columnist, Bret Stephens; and editorial board member, Matt Kaminski.

    So, Bret, the president says this plan freezes the enrichment. It reduces the stockpiles that they have that are capable for nuclear weapons. Freezes the plutonium reactor. And subjects all of the program to inspections. What's wrong with that?

    BRET STEPHENS, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST: None of that is really true. Construction at the plutonium reactor at Iraq continues. It's just that they're not allowed to operationalize the reactor. Iran continues -- has the right to continue to enrich uranium to a low --


    GIGOT: Five percent instead of 20 percent.

    STEPHENS: Five percent grade. But the tough part of enrichment is actually the early stages of enrichment, not the later stages of enrichment. And, by the way, the West still doesn't have access to some of the most critical sensitive Iranian military sites where we suspect they have been conducting tests relevant to creating a nuclear weapon. So just the very terms on which this deal is being sold is misleading. The real problem with this deal is it allows Iran to keep its nuclear infrastructure intact and even continue to grow it while we enter into a process of endless negotiation with the Iranians that will --

    GIGOT: But here's their response to that, Bret: At least this slows it down. They were making hell-bent progress to getting the bomb. This slows them down, right? We have six months to negotiate a final deal.

    STEPHENS: The way I see it, Iran is at mile 23 of its nuclear marathon and we're saying, you know what, guys, don't sprint to the finish line, let's bring it down to a jog. If you really wanted to halt the nuclear program, you would actually ratchet up sanctions. You would increase the pain on the Iranians. People keep talking about how much they're hurting but there's more that can be done in terms of freezing Iran's access to currency reserves, blocking their oil exports.

    By the way, U.N. Security Council resolutions insist that Iran cease enriching uranium. This deal essentially violates those very Security Council resolutions.

    GIGOT: Matt, is there a better argument to be made than I'm trying to make on behalf of the administration, playing devil's advocate?

    MATT KAMINSKI, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: I think to see what happens in the next six month. There is a deal that I think we can live with if they do close at least one of these enrichment plants, really do dismantle a significant amount of centrifuges, and allow inspections of the military sites. This regime has given no indication over the last 20 years that it is ready to do that, nor by the price that it paid by this deal that it will be forced to do that. That's the real danger here is that we've given away a sanctions regime -- started to unravel a sanctions regime --

    GIGOT: Right.

    KAMINSKI: -- that took years to put together and has been very effective.

    GIGOT: But here's the other argument the administration makes, Dan, which is, well, what's the alternative, you critics? There isn't one. It's only war. You've got to take this or you get nothing at all.

    DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Well, two things. One, Bret has already mentioned the sanctions regime, which took 10 years to build and was working. They were in a lot of economic pain. So the president is wrong on that score.

    On endless conflict, the president is doing something very unique here. He is essentially taking the military option off the table and saying he's going to pursue diplomacy only. That is almost a unique circumstance in our relationship with countries like this, that they do not have to worry any long that the U.S. might take military action. That is going to have implications for alliances all over the Middle East because they've always relies on the U.S. being there when they need them. If it's diplomacy only, we're in a new world.

    STEPHENS: There's also -- by the way, I think it's important to stress, I actually think taking the military option off the table makes a conflict in the Middle East more likely, not less.


    GIGOT: To Israel principally?

    STEPHENS: That's exactly right. Because the Israelis for a long time were biding their time, thinking when the chips are really down, this president is not going to allow Iran to become a nuclear weapons state. The president has said that many, many times. After the capitulation in Syria, the Israelis are looking at this in a whole new way. I've been having conversations with Israelis. They simply don't think that America is a credible security guarantor.

    GIGOT: But there's an argument that the Israelis are boxed in now. They can't do anything for the next six months because they would isolate themselves if they acted.

    KAMINSKI: That's true. I think things are much harder now for Israel to act. But Israel has acted in the past when the whole of international opinion was against it, including to bomb the Iraqi nuclear sites 33 years ago.

    The element other element here not only Israel but the Sunni Arab states, principally Saudi Arabia but also Turkey and Egypt.

    GIGOT: Right.

    KAMINSKI: We have essentially, through the capitulation in Syria and this move, said, Iran, you are now the regional hegemon. We are ceding to you this Shia cresent --

    GIGOT: And they -- the Sunnis will react by getting the bomb themselves?

    KAMINSKI: By getting the bomb and doing more freelancing on foreign policy by themselves because they cannot trust the U.S. to be engaged.

    GIGOT: Dan, briefly, what about the U.S. domestic reaction? Is Congress likely to do anything to intervene here, to counteract this deal? Or does President Obama have a free hand?

    HENNINGER: I think he has largely a free hand. Paul, they've taken polls that show that the people are -- the American people are tired of these engagements. I think the Senators themselves read the same polls and that is going to make them be very reluctant to push hard against what the president is doing.

    GIGOT: All right, Dan. I'm afraid I agree with you.