All-Star Panel: Debate over diplomatic potential with Iran's new leader

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," September 24, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We are encouraged that President Rowhani received from the Iranian people a mandate to pursue a more moderate course. And given President Rowhani's stated commitment to reach an agreement, I am directing John Kerry to pursue this effort with the Iranian government.

The roadblocks may prove to be too great, but I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested.        

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Iran thinks that soothing words and token actions will enable it to continue on its path to the bomb. Like North Korea before it, Iran will try to remove sanctions by offering cosmetic concessions while preserving its ability to rapidly build a nuclear weapon at a time of its choosing.       


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: President Obama at the United Nations today speaking about Iran's new president, a major focus of that speech. For a number of days, administration officials had said that the U.S., that the government was ready to have this pull aside, this possible handshake between the two presidents. But today a senior administration official said this, "We have said publicly and we've also said privately to the Iranians that we're open to having discussions on the margins of the UNGA [the United Nations General Assembly], informal discussions, not a bilateral meeting. That proved to be too complicated for the Iranians to do at this point." We're back with the panel. Charles?    

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Too complicated? What he means is the Iranians refused. Here's the President of the United States, the strongest democracy on the planet, offering a handshake, and Iran, the country that our own State Department says is the largest spreader of terror on the planet, the country that Obama himself in his own speech said is conducting terrorism and killing Americans in Afghanistan and elsewhere, Iran turns us down. I mean, talk about the ham-handed diplomacy Obama has conducted in Syria and over this. It's not a big issue, but it's a symbol of how unplanned and sort of desperate as Obama's attempt to appear to be the statesman. So his handshake is offered. A handshake is refused. But on substance there is nothing in the speech that Rowhani gave – nothing -- that gave any indication of willingness to compromise on the nuclear program. And he once again said in a bold-faced lie that everyone knows is a lie that Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons and never has. How do you start a negotiation from that point?

BAIER: Here's a piece from the speech from Iranian President Rowhani.


HASAN ROWHANI, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (via translator): I listened carefully to the statement made by President Obama at the General Assembly. Commensurated with the political will of the leadership in the United States and hoping that they will refrain from following the short-sighted interest of warmongering pressure groups, we can arrive at a framework to manage our differences.


BAIER: Chuck?

CHARLES LANE, EDITORIAL WRITER, WASHINGTON POST: Well, who might those warmongering pressure groups be?

KRAUTHAMMER: It starts with a "J."

LANE: Yes. And ends with "e-w-s," I think. You know, that was one of many points in Rowhani's speech where I thought about sort of how little has changed, really, in Iran. Of course, I think it's wise to pursue diplomatic openings, but this one, let's make a quick test of this but not let it go on beyond the point where there's any real progress.

You know, this is a guy -- Rowhani stood there and described Iran as an anchor of stability in the region, which I think will come as a surprise to Iraq, the Saudis, the Sunnis in Lebanon, pretty much everybody. So there was a kind of Orwellian quality to what he was putting forward there.  And again, the tone has changed, there's a sort of softer, more moderate tone, which is worth testing. But there's plenty of evidence right there in his own words that not that much has changed.

BAIER: Steve?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes, I mean, you've got the foreign policy establishment and official Washington practically giddy because Rowhani's on Twitter and he says nice things about women. That's not enough. It doesn't signal any kind of change in the nature of the regime. And as we've said countless times, what matters is the nature of the regime.

What struck me is President Obama's language today was remarkably similar to the language that he used in his first inaugural address and in the opening months of his presidency. It's as if nothing has changed. Like the past five years haven't happened. And while Charles is right, he made a passing mention of terrorism, there was no discussion of the State Department report -- harboring Al Qaeda, targeting Americans.

BAIER: Meanwhile, the centrifuges continue to spin.

KRAUTHAMMER: And that's exactly the point. If you want to talk, and I'd be in favor, let them show their willingness by stopping enrichment today.

BAIER: That is it for the panel. But stay tuned for different efforts to wrap up summer. 

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