This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," April 4, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," President Obama hails an historic agreement with Iran, but is the framework likely to lead to a nuclear-free Middle East? And can the administration get Israel and Congress on board?
Plus, the furor over Indiana's religious freedom law offers a preview of the culture wars heading into 2016. Are Republicans ready for that fight?
And a brutal massacre in Kenya this Easter week reminds us once again of the grim reality facing Christians in Africa and the Middle East.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: As president and commander-in-chief, I have no greater responsibility than the security of the American people. And I'm convinced that if this framework leads to a final comprehensive deal, it will make our country, our allies, and our world safer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GIGOT: Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.
That was President Obama Thursday announcing that the United States and its negotiating partners had reached a, quote, "historic understanding with Iran," agreeing on the framework of a deal meant to block the Islamic republic from developing nuclear weapons in exchange for the lifting of Western sanctions.
Joining me now with a look at the details of the accord and what's left to be accomplished before a final June 30th deadline is Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; and foreign affairs columnist, Bret Stephens.
So, Dan, a lot of details that we're going to talk about. Big picture, the president said a good deal. You agree?
DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST, DEPUTY EDITOR: No, I think it's a weak deal, Paul. Let look at the big picture. When they began these negotiations in early 2013, the goal was to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
GIGOT: Still is, the president says.
HENNINGER: Well, halfway through, they decided, and they claim they saw this coming, Iran was not going to dismantle its nuclear infrastructure. What we have ended up with is a country that has one year, called the breakout period, to build a nuclear weapon. So they still remain with the ability to do what they wanted to do from the beginning. This is what's known as a threshold nuclear state. And because we have a threshold nuclear state in Iran that puts in motion the other dynamics we have been worrying about, about proliferation around the Middle East, among other countries.
GIGOT: All right, Bret, let's talk about some of the specific weaknesses, holes in this framework agreement. Even the president concedes they have a lot of work to do, which is odd considering how really cheering he was about the broader deal. But where are the big holes in your view?
BRET STEPHENS, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST: Well, the biggest hole has to do with the inspections process. The president trumpeted the fact that the deal would include something called the additional protocol to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which is a tougher set of inspections rules. But the deal does not include what you might call anytime, anywhere inspections, which are the thing that you have if any kind of deal is going to be honored.
Look, the terms of this deal could have been even better at least on paper. But if you can't inspect it, our experience from past episodes of inspection like North Korea, is that these types of regimes will cheat. And this deal provides Iran with ample opportunities to cheat and to rely on the Russians especially to cover for them at the U.N.
GIGOT: There's -- also Iran is retaining the nuclear infrastructure in reduced form. I mean, the facilities are essentially going to remain there. I guess the one exception is the plutonium facility at Arak, A-R-A- K, will be dismantled. And --
STEPHENS: No, no --
GIGOT: It's basically being redone.
GIGOT: But it will be a research reactor instead of a plutonium reactor.
HENNINGER: Now the second big element that remains vague is the lifting of economic sanctions. For all the pages of detail they listed in the parameters, the sanctions piece is very unclear. The Iranians said in a news conference, their negotiators said we expect the sanctions to be lifted when the final agreement is signed.
GIGOT: Immediately. Immediately.
HENNINGER: Immediately, in June. The Obama administration has always insisted that that was not going to happen unless Iran was in compliance. But once those sanctions begin to break apart and Western commercial interests go in there, it's Katy bar the door.
GIGOT: Yeah, the president said that the sanctions will be phased out. I think he's being slippery there. The toughest sanctions, which are the financial -- the ones at the U.N. -- those are the ones that are going to be -- seems to me, as I read the agreement, will go as the Iranians suggest immediately.
STEPHENS: Let's recall, Paul, this is still an outline of an agreement, details to be worked out presumably by the end of June. With any of these agreements, you know, the proper -- the devil is in the details really does apply. Here the question is what -- the Iranian method of cheating and also the Iranian method of negotiation hasn't been to sort of flagrantly flout terms of any agreement. They have basically kind of worked their way out of it, step by step, so no one particular violation is enough to trigger a major international response. And by the way, let's remember, we have been here before. I mentioned the additional protocol earlier. The Iranians agreed to the additional protocol in --
GIGOT: Once before.
STEPHENS: -- and then walked out it a couple of years later.
GIGOT: Yeah, so this also raises the question of what happens if they do cheat or are suspected cheating. In the summary of the agreement, it looks like they are going to have to go to a process in the United Nations.
STEPHENS: To be specified later.
GIGOT: To be specified later. And we know what that means. That sounds like a United Nations committee, which might as well be, you know, lost in space. It's just not -- it's going to take forever to try to of settle these things before anybody could ask to stop Iran.
HENNINGER: Right. And while the world is going through these processes, the Iranians will be sitting there, albeit with somewhat restricted nuclear program, building forward to that bomb.
GIGOT: But the president I think did achieve what he wanted politically here, which is to get the appearance of momentum going forward. He's probably stopped Congress, Bred, from being able to re-impose or strengthen sanctions between now and June.
STEPHENS: There's no question he's bought time with the constituency that matters to him most, which is to say the 16 Democrats in the Senate who had signed on to a previous version of what we called the Kirk/Menendez bill on additional sanctions.
GIGOT: Tougher sanctions.
STEPHENS: He'll be able to take the case to them, look, we made enough progress but you have to give me the benefit of the doubt. I suspect that's going to be the process going forward.
By the way, don't expect June 30th to be the date when we get a final deal. There are a lot of internal politics, most of all in Iran, to take place.
GIGOT: Well, that's the only thing that will stop it at this point, I would suggest, but only if Iran walks away, because I think the president will grab a hold of Zarif's leg --
STEPHENS: No question. It will only be Khomeini's ideological fixations that will stop this from happening.
GIGOT: Yeah. I agree with that, Bret.
When we come back, the firestorm over Indiana's religious freedom law offers a glimpse into the role that culture wars could play in 2016. So is it an easy win for Democrats or are Republicans ready to respond?
GIGOT: Under growing pressure from groups inside and outside the state, lawmakers in Indiana moved Thursday to quell the furor over the Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed last week by Republican Governor Mike Pence, unveiling an amendment to ensure the law does not allow businesses to discriminate against gay and lesbian customers. The firestorm over the bill, and a similar one passed in Arkansas this week, offers a glimpse into the role the so-called culture war is likely to play in the 2016 election. So are Republicans ready for that fight?
We're back with Dan Henninger. Wall Street Journal editorial board member, Dorothy Rabinowitz; and assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman, also join us.
So, Dorothy, Indiana and Arkansas adjusted their laws this week. In Arkansas, they hadn't passed it yet, but they adjusted what they had intended to pass. Were they right to do that?
DOROTHY RABINOWITZ, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: No. I mean, in a word. Well, I give grudging sympathy to the pressure they're under. You know, this is one of those moments where we know what we're up against in force. We are here where Ferguson and all of the rest of the corruptions of reality started based on a lie and an irrational belief in the martyrdom and victimization of groups. If the Republicans were wise and had some foresight but having to deal with these things, they would, instead of making speeches about taking back our government and government overreach and government is broken in Washington, they would go to what is really broken. What is really broken is the basis of the sanity we have almost always had. We are now in a state of pathological driven bullying sensitivity, driven by the Democratic left, which has sought and will undermine the sense of our institutions as just, which leads to the police --
GIGOT: So you're saying that this law, the -- with the law that Indiana passed, was not discriminatory --
RABINOWITZ: Yes, that's right.
GIGOT: -- that it was described as being?
RABINOWITZ: That is exactly right. And in lock step, all of these brave lulling herds --
GIGOT: But if the law was not as you say, then why did Mike Pence feel -- Dan, I want to get to you here -- why did Mike Pence feel he needed to clarify it?
HENNINGER: Well, because they were under this tremendous pressure from businesses and the NCAA and so forth. I mean, they got carpet bombed. And the thing is this pushed aside the legal context in which all of this took place. Their law was simply a duplicate, as 19 other states have done, of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, passed by 97-3, which set up a balancing act between a compelling state interest, say to bar discrimination --
HENNINGER: -- versus an individual who feels substantially burdened by these things. And a judge was supposed to decide these sorts of things. As to the private interest, four appellate courts decided that private interests were covered --
GIGOT: Under the federal statute.
HENNINGER: Under the federal statute. But the federal statute only applied to federal laws. And so the states felt obliged to copy these laws.
GIGOT: There's never been a case where a court has upheld somebody denying services to a gay couple that I have --
HENNINGER: Because --
GIGOT: That I have seen. I have not found any yet.
HENNINGER: Discrimination --
GIGOT: But they make it sound -- the critics make it sound as if --
GIGOT: -- it's happening all over the country. And they're not -- I -- we can't find one where that has happened in court, that -- that's been upheld.
RABINOWITZ: You have seen the history. It doesn't matter if it's not true.
It didn't matter in Ferguson. It didn't matter at the scandals of the sport -- the sports scandals where you're accused of racism where truth does not matter.
RABINOWITZ: We're in trouble.
JAMES FREEMAN, ASSISTANT EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR: Well, to your point, when you look into individual cases, there is a situation with the photographer in New Mexico, served gay customers, didn't refuse to serve anyone. Said I'll take portraits, that's fine. When asked to participate in the gay wedding ceremony said my religious beliefs preclude me in doing that. So this is where the lunch counter, 1960s analogy really breaks down. We are not seeing people being denied service around the country. We are saying people, given that it's the first freedom, the reason this country was founded --
GIGOT: Religious freedom.
FREEMAN: Religious freedom. They have a right to say I don't want to participate in a ceremony that I don't believe in. I mean, will they be forced to photograph divorce proceedings, if they don't believe it? It could --
GIGOT: I want to read you something from Richard Epstein, the Libertarian scholar. He's written often for us. He said this week, told The Federalist website, "You believe in freedom of association both ways. If somebody doesn't want to serve somebody in a competitive market, let it be. If it turns out two people want to get married and are of the same sex, let them do it."
What do you think of that?
RABINOWITZ: This -- of course, this thought is anathema to -- we have living in a Taliban-like driven world now where utter Puritanism prevails. And any deviation -- I'm surprised they didn't take the governor of Indiana and put him in the stocks, which they would have.
GIGOT: What does of this tell you about the cultural argument we're going to have going into 2016, because I would predict, James, we'll have one of the fights every two weeks --
FREEMAN: Oh, sure.
GIGOT: -- between now and 2016. Why? Because Democrats feel they're on the offensive. They can stigmatize Republicans who are acting very defensively here. And they're going to have these fights, real or imagined, going right up through 2016.
FREEMAN: Right. For a lot of people, it's a free shot to show how enlightened they are. The NCAA is just thrilled to be asked to comment on a controversy they didn't create.
And it's -- and as for Apple CEO Tim Cook, you know, he is probably happy to pound -- go through Indiana trying to get every last person in the state to agree with him, ignoring the fact that he does business with people all around the world who have horrible human rights records, including toward gays. So I think that you're going to see more of this. But I do think that Mike Pence has probably taken himself out of the presidential conversation. This was an opportunity for him to get into it, and he dropped it.
GIGOT: All right, James, thanks.
When we come back, Islamic terrorists target students for their faith, leaving scores dead in a college in Kenya. It's a grim reminder this Easter week of the fate facing Christians in Africa and the Middle East.
GIGOT: Five masked gunmen from the Somali-based al Shabaab terror group stormed a university in Kenya early Thursday, separating out Christian students before shooting and beheading them. Up to 150 were dead by the time the 13-hour siege ended. It is believed to be the worst terror attack on Kenyan soil since the bombing in U.S. embassy in Nairobi in 1998. And serves as a grim reminder this Easter weekend of the fate of Christians throughout Africa and the Middle East.
We are back with Dan Henninger and Bret Stephens. And Wall Street Journal columnist and editorial board member, Mary Anastasia O'Grady, also joins us.
So, Mary, horrific episode. If you couldn't recite an Islamic prayer, they'd kill you.
MARY ANASTASIA O'GRADY, COLUMNIST, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Yeah, it was heartbreaking. The stories of the survivors are that they came in around 5:30 in the morning, they went in the dorms, they threw people on the floor. They asked them if they were Muslim. If they said yes, they told them to recite the Muslim creed. There was one individual actually who was interviewed who did that and escaped. And he said, as he was running out, he heard these bloodcurdling screams. And they just finished off anybody who didn't pass the test.
GIGOT: This is becoming a pattern every Easter. We see this with attacks seeming to be aimed this week, in particular, at Christian churches. We see it every year in Nigeria. Boko Haram seems to blow up a church on Easter. It's a time to target Christians.
O'GRADY: Right. Radical Islam wants to eliminate all infidels but the first step is to get rid of all Christians because they're the biggest barrier to their total control in these countries. And, you know, there's quite a large Christian population in places like Nigeria. There's a large Catholic population. And obviously, we know that the Coptic Christians in Egypt have been under assault for a very long time now. And are -- the numbers are shrinking considerably.
STEPHENS: This not a recent phenomenon, Paul. A century ago, about 20 percent of the Middle East was Christian. Towns like Bethlehem were Christian towns. Iraq had a huge Christian population. And there has just been a massive exodus that predates 9/11, the war on terror, the rise of groups like al Shabaab. Now it's really accelerated. And it's not just the phenomenon with Islamist rampages of the kind that we saw, but also discriminatory laws, even in Muslim states that we consider quite moderate. In Malaysia, for instance, Christians are not allowed to use the term "Allah." There are systematic, informal discrimination in Indonesia, which is held often up as a moderate Muslim state.
GIGOT: It is moderate --
GIGOT: -- Muslim state.
STEPHENS: Only in the context --
GIGOT: The context.
STEPHENS: -- of the context of sort of the broader Middle East. So this is -- this is a much wider process than people --
GIGOT: You have some of the statistics of that to illustrate Bret's point about how they have been purged, Christians have been purged from the Middle East.
HENNINGER: Yeah, I mean, there were well over a million Christians in Syria. At least 700,000 have fled. Iraq had 1.5 million Christians. And let's understand these are not immigrants. These people have lived there since the time of Jesus in coexistence there.
HENNINGER: And they're down to about 300,000. I think what we have to make clear here is this not only real, but symbolic. Islamic jihadist, these Islamic armies, are targeting the groups for extermination. They want to eliminate them. And their fight is -- is everybody's fight, including, of course, Israel, which has been targeted from the beginning.
GIGOT: For centuries.
HENNINGER: Exactly. So, I mean, what we are going to need is coalitions as these Egyptians now and the Saudis are going up against the radical Islamists in Yemen. It's going to take armies to fight their armies.
GIGOT: Mary, has there been enough push back, in your view, on the part of the pope, Pope Francis, or Western leaders against the systemic extermination?
O'GRADY: Absolutely, not. I think one of the big problems is, as you have seen with our president, you know, people don't want to draw a line that this has to do with the Muslim religion. And obviously we know that there are modern moderate Muslims, many, the majority. But this is a radical Muslim movement. And step one, really, is to call it that and to define what that entails, which means, as Dan says, eliminating other religions that they consider infidels. We are not hearing that language from the leadership anywhere in the world.
GIGOT: -- Francis, Bret?
STEPHENS: Well, Pope Francis I think has been weaker than his predecessor, Benedict, on the subject. I'll tell you where we are getting some language, which is the president of Egypt. President Sisi called for reform in the heart of the Islamic religion. This is -- again, it's just about a few radicals. This is deep-seated reform about the way that Muslims historically treat minorities.
GIGOT: All right, thank you all.
We have to take one more break. When we come back, "Hits & Misses" of the week."
GIGOT: Time now for "Hits & Misses" of the week -- James?
FREEMAN: Paul, this is a miss to the U.S. Department of Justice. This week, they declined to prosecute Lois Lerner, former IRS official at the center of the targeting scandal, on contempt of Congress charges. Now, reasonable people can disagree on whether this particular charge could have stuck, but the lack of interest, lack of resources that the Justice Department has put into investigating what is really the political crime of the century is to their eternal discredit.
GIGOT: All right.
O'GRADY: Paul, this is a miss for the DEA. As you know, the war on drugs, which is 40 years old, isn't going so well. And maybe this inspector general's report gives us a hint as to why. Apparently, a report released last week from the DEA says that the DEA agents were having sex parties with prostitutes in Colombia and that the prostitutes were hired by the drug cartels. 10 of the agents said they attended some of the parties and, surprisingly enough, the inspector general says the DEA did not totally cooperate with the probe.
HENNINGER: Paul, a big hit for the world's oldest person, who died this past week. The lady, named Misao Okawa, died at the age of 117 in Japan. She said on her 117th birthday that she felt her life actually had been kind of short. And I think it's also worth noting --
-- for whatever it's worth, her husband died in 1932. So --
GIGOT: That may explain it.
HENNINGER: Yeah. Who knows?
GIGOT: All right.
HENNINGER: Watch your back.
GIGOT: And remember, if you have your own hit or miss, be sure to tweet it to us at JERonFNC.
That's it for this week's show. Thanks to my panel and to all of you for watching. I'm Paul Gigot. Hope to see you right here next week.
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