Will Iran's centrifuge push sink administration's nuke deal?

Insight from 'Special Report' All-Star panel


This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," December 27, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ, D-N.J.: The Iranians are showing their true intention, which is to ultimately try to achieve nuclear power for nuclear weapons.

If you are talking about producing more advanced centrifuges that are only used to enrich uranium at a quicker rate, you are really not thinking about nuclear power for domestic energy. You are thinking about nuclear power for nuclear weapons.


SHANNON BREAM, GUEST HOST: Which the Iranians have publicly said is not their goal. 

Let's talk about it with our panel, see what they have to say. Jason Reilly, editorial board member of The Wall Street Journal, Kirsten Powers, columnist for The Daily Beast, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Welcome to all of you. Good to see you today.

Senator Menendez usually an ally of the president, he is a Democrat. Jason, how much trouble is it for this administration that Democrats are increasingly signing own to sanctions and other measures against Iran that the White House doesn't want?

JASON REILLY, WALL STREET JOURNAL: In this case you have a bipartisan group of senators, the 13 initial Democrats who cosponsored the bill with 13 Republicans. And they are trying to make sure that the Iranians will bargain in good faith. That is all they are trying to do here.

The president is out saying he will veto it. He will side with the Mullahs essentially against Congress and against our allies in the region.  And the real problem here as I see it is that the administration is pretending their policy is to stop the nuclear program, when really their policy is to contain the nuclear program. And that is the problem they're running into. There is sort of a trust deficit here.

BREAM: Well, I want to play a little bit of what president had to say in the year end news conference that he had. Here's what he had to say about the situation last Friday.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I'm keeping all options on the table, but if I can do it diplomatically, that's how we should do it. And I would think that would be the preference of everybody on Capitol Hill, because sure is the preference of the American people.


BREAM: Kirsten, the diplomatic efforts have been going on through multiple administrations, the Obama administration just the latest in this.

KIRSTEN POWERS, COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST: Yes. I mean when the president also talks about how he will not rule out peaceful solutions, he sort of sets it up that anybody not on board with what he's doing isn't also trying to look for a peaceful solution, and sanctions are a peaceful solution. It's a different way to go about it. There has been a lot of skepticism, I think, even among people who support the president's position of saying are we just being led on? Are the Iranians just sort of running out the clock while negotiations go on and they can keep building a nuclear weapon? And I think the news that came out today probably supports the sanctions side a little bit more than it supports the president's side.

BREAM: And Charles, let's talk about that. The news today, Iran's nuclear chief saying that uranium enrichment is progressing, new centrifuges are being built. He calls them a new generation of centrifuges he says are now under development. Does that square to you with what was negotiated in the short-term deal?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Yes. The only surprising thing here is that the Iranians are so confident about how supine Obama is on this that they stick their finger in his eye and announce it publicly.  There is nothing in the agreement that stops the Iranians from enriching more uranium and producing the machines that enrich the uranium. That was the problem at the beginning. That's what made the agreement a farce at the start. Unless you go after the uranium enrichment or curtail or destroy the machines that enrich the uranium, you have done nothing to stop the progress of Iran.

So at the same time there are reports of Iran using loopholes in the agreement to get all kinds of new commerce going, we know there are Japanese, Indian, Chinese, Russian, even European concerns that are talking with Iran about a wide range of relations. They know the sanctions have been weakened. And Obama speaks as if he can turn them on at will. He can't.

And for Obama to take the side of the Mullahs against the Congress, if he was really was serious about this, then why wouldn't he use the fact that Congress is being tough and say the Congress is the bad cop. You go to the Iranians and say, "I'm trying to be reasonable, but the Congress is out of control, they want to wreck your economy unless you shut down your program. I can't hold them back. So are you going to negotiate seriously or not?"

But instead of doing that, he's arguing with the Mullahs against the Congress, and that shows to me a total lack of seriousness, which is what the Gulf Arabs and the Israelis have seen at the beginning of the process.  The president is simply not serious, and the Iranians know it as well.

BREAM: How much do you think this situation could play out as we saw with Syria? The president appeared ready to move. There was strong congressional pushback and it became bipartisan, and at some point it did stop the movement that it appeared the administration was going to be taking in Syria. Do you think there is any chance this happens with respect to Iran, the same kind of thing, a Capitol Hill check in the White House?

REILLY: It looks bad. It looks bad in the region for our allies. It looks like we leave them out to dry or hanging out to dry. It is a thumb in the eye, as Charles said. It is done very publicly, and I think it sends a signal to other adversaries in the region. Everyone knows, as Senator Menendez said, the Iranians are not enriching for peaceful purposes. They want to continue to be a menace in the Middle East. And that is what this agreement allowed them to do. It is what Netanyahu and the Israelis pointed in the beginning. This is what the critics of the deal said at the beginning, and it is what is coming to fore here.

BREAM: And speaking from Israel, the embassy today really pushing back and saying they is what we have to do. They have to stop the enrichment, they have to remove all the enriched uranium, remove the infrastructure to enrich uranium, and remove the heavy water reactor, which is key here to the plutonium route to the bomb. That is Israel's feeling on what they heard today. Kirsten?

POWERS: The administration's position is that they think this is the only way to really get Iran to not build a nuclear weapon. Obviously the administration knows that they are not doing it for peaceful means. They know what they are trying to do. And they feel that give them six months to do this and then if you want to pass a bill with sanctions, you can do it quickly, the president could sign it, but at least you have to give the president the chance to have these six months. The argument against that, of course, is that is six months in which they can enrich uranium and they get closer to having a bomb.

KRAUTHAMMER: And the six months itself is a very soft target. If you look at the agreement, it's a floating deadline. There is nothing hard.  The administration has now had a month into this agreement and it hasn't even negotiated. Nothing is happening. There is no urgency. Everybody understands this is nothing but a fig leaf. And that's why the allies are panicked.

BREAM: We'll leave it there.

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