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John Kirby: Clearly, we still have issues with Iran

This is a rush transcript from "Your World," September 21, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: All right, well, the administration is going a long way to try to make nice with Israel, $38 billion deal to help them out over the next 10 years.

State Department spokesman John Kirby here.

John, very good to see you.

JOHN KIRBY, U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: Thanks for asking me, Neil.  

CAVUTO: I told John he's responsible for all this traffic in New York.

(LAUGHTER)

KIRBY: Yes, there's quite a bit of it.

CAVUTO: Let me ask you about that deal.

KIRBY: Sure

CAVUTO: Because, obviously, the Israelis were very upset with the Iranian agreement. And they remain upset.

How much was this a pacifying measure?

KIRBY: It wasn't at all.

This was a renewal of a memorandum of understanding that we had had already with Israel. So, it was time to renew it. And it was lengthy, lengthy negotiations, but it wasn't done in the context of trying to soothe tensions over the Iran deal.

As a matter of fact -- and we have said this, we maintain this -- that one of the great benefits of the Iran deal is, it removes that much more pressure that people in Israel were feeling from an Iran that was chasing nuclear weapons.

CAVUTO: Well, they don't feel it. Well, for some reason, they don't feel it. They don't think that Iran is going to stick to it. You have been asked this before, but you have got to wonder if there's -- they have a point when you hear that Iran building up and militarily trying to respond to provocation by the U.S.

KIRBY: Yes, well, look, there's -- clearly, we still have issues with Iran.

We believe that a Middle East with all the problems that it has is going to be that much easier to deal with an Iran that cannot get and cannot use nuclear weapons. That doesn't mean that Iran is still not a state sponsor of terrorism. It doesn't mean that they are not still capable of conducting provocative activities, even to our Navy ships the in Persian Gulf. So, we have...

CAVUTO: What do you think of that and our response? You get military types who criticize that we let this happen and we let them do whatever they want to do and we look ridiculous.

KIRBY: Well, it's not about letting Iran get away with these provocative activities. Again...

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: What is our policy on that when they threaten us in the Strait of Hormuz or they strafe our ships? What do we do?

KIRBY: We have a robust military presence in the region, as you know, Neil. That's not going to change.

CAVUTO: They don't seem to care.

KIRBY: Well, I think they're mindful of our capabilities there in the region at sea and on the ground.

CAVUTO: Do we tell people don't shoot anyone down, don't provoke anything?

KIRBY: Well, we have certainly made it clear to our commanders that they have the right of self-defense. If they need -- if they feel like they're being threatened by any other armed force, they have the ability to defend themselves.  And I think the Iranians are well aware of that. There's also a series of unilateral sanctions that we have on Iran. Now, yes, the U.N. sanctions came off, because that was part of the deal. But the United States still has the capability. And we have in place some unilateral sanctions to deal with their other provocative activities, their state sponsorships of terrorists.

CAVUTO: But do you ever wish privately, John, that we would say, we really wish they weren't doing this? It almost seems like they're rubbing it in your face.

KIRBY: I think there's not unanimity of policy thinking there in Iran, and not everybody, I think, is looking at the future the same way.

CAVUTO: It's got to be frustrating, though, because It's like they want to embarrass the administration.

KIRBY: Well, there could be that intent.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: So, there's no regret in the White House that we signed a deal with these guys and they're just flagrantly throwing it back in our face?

KIRBY: Remember, though, the deal was about getting their nuclear weapon -- a nuclear weapon capability away from Iran. It wasn't about necessarily changing their behavior or having some grand new detente with them.

CAVUTO: Well, good thing, good thing.

But I had Pastor Saeed Abedini here yesterday, John, and he, of course, was one of the freed hostages, and very grateful to be out. But with the best of intentions, he felt the administration got snookered on this deal, that we are still going to see the Iranians cheat and that they still want to destroy Israel, and it's just a matter of time before they do.

KIRBY: Well, look, so far, they're complying with every aspect of the deal. If they cheat, we're going to know it. Why? Because this deal puts in place the most stringent inspection regime ever put in a negotiation like this.

CAVUTO: How quickly can inspectors get in there if they suspect something bad?

KIRBY: The IAEA has constant access and monitoring, in some places 24/7.

CAVUTO: But the Iranians don't want Americans part of that. Right?

KIRBY: Well, it's up to the agency in terms of who their inspectors are. And we're comfortable with the agency choosing their inspectors.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: That's sort of like me policing me in my house to make sure I don't raid the refrigerator. Good luck. Right?

(LAUGHTER)

KIRBY: I can't speak for that. If you want us, we can put some monitors at your house.

CAVUTO: I'm just saying.

KIRBY: But the point is, though, if they cheat -- and they haven't yet -- but if they do, then the deal is off. And the international community will walk away from it.

And the sanctions will come right back on. It's call snap-back. It will come right back on.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: It's still possible and all that.

But this has come up before, John. I know you have addressed these questions. But when Abedini was here, he referred famously to the incident that got him out and that he and the other hostages in separate locations were waiting and delayed I guess in excess of 20 hours for a second plane to arrive. We have since discovered it was extra cash that was coming.

And he looked at it as ransom. I want you to react to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAVUTO: If the Iranian government never got that cash, that you would be out right now?

SAEED ABEDINI, FREED HOSTAGE: No, I don't think so. That's if they didn't get the money, they never -- you know, they let us go, so, as they told me.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: So you think in the end that it was ransom?

ABEDINI: I prefer the politicians answer to the question, but it seems like that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAVUTO: What do you think that?

KIRBY: Well, I disagree, with all due respect. We don't pay ransom for hostages. That's U.S. policy. That hasn't changed. That wasn't the case in this case.

CAVUTO: But he is saying that he was held up, his release was held up until another plane was coming, verified by other captives, and just the timing seemed odd.

KIRBY: Well, we talked about this. And we talked about it a lot.

There were two parallel tracks coming together here, and in roughly the same amount of time and space. Now, I'm not saying it was a coincidence. They were driving forward on parallel tracks.

CAVUTO: Do you think, though, that if they didn't get that cash, they still would have still released those hostages?

KIRBY: We believed that, in the endgame, in those final hours, that it would have been imprudent and irresponsible to not hold that cash in abeyance just a little longer until we knew that our American citizens were off the ground and out of the way.

CAVUTO: But they were thinking the same thing. These hostages don't go anywhere until we, in abeyance, get that cash.

KIRBY: Well, again, we wanted to make sure that our people were getting out safe and sound.

But that money, that's Iranian money. It was awarded to them.

CAVUTO: But they wanted it fast.

KIRBY: Well, they have wanted it for more than 30 years.

CAVUTO: Well, there was no quid pro quo, still?

KIRBY: This is money that has been frozen since 1979.

CAVUTO: I understand, but it was timed, it seemed, with the release of this. You say no quid pro quo?

KIRBY: I understand.

I understand when people talk about the optics of this. But, no, this wasn't a quid pro quo. This wasn't a ransom payment. This was money that they were going to get anyway.

And at the endgame, as these two tracks came together, we thought it was prudent to hold up.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: Why cash, John?

KIRBY: Well, the president spoke to this.

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: Because now they do allow wire transfers, because separate payments to the Iranian government of wire transfer were handled in the last...

(CROSSTALK)

KIRBY: Well, at the time, when this was going down in the wintertime, there was no physical way to -- quote, unquote -- "wire the money."

(CROSSTALK)

CAVUTO: But we did in the past, right? That's kind of weird.

KIRBY: Well, I'm not familiar with every payment issue. I think that's really a question better for the Treasury Department.

But, again, the president spoke to this. And at the time, there was no other better way to get them that money. And, again, it was their money.

CAVUTO: All right. I know you don't like to delve into politics at the State Department, but do you think it's proper for a president to make veiled slaps at a guy who could succeed him, Donald Trump, which he was doing with the wall comment speaking before the United Nations? Is that proper?

KIRBY: Well, I'm not qualified to speak for the president and what he can say about the election campaign. The president has a freer hand than the State Department spokesman does.

CAVUTO: I understand.

KIRBY: And we want to stay out of politics at the State Department.

CAVUTO: But he doesn't stay out of it when he's abroad and he criticizes him. Now, many candidates criticize the president when they're abroad, so I guess tit for tat. But is that a role a president should play?

KIRBY: Well, again, that's really a question for the White House and the president to speak to. Again, they have a freer hand in terms of delving into what's being said on the campaign trail.

CAVUTO: Well, what do your friends at the State Department say if Donald Trump becomes president?

KIRBY: The professionals at the State Department will serve whoever is the next president of the United States, just like our proud military will. That's the essence of the institution. That's what we do.

And what we are focused on now, between now and the time there is a new president, is implementing the foreign policy objectives of this administration, which I think the president walked through very well in his speech yesterday, which is one of engagement and dialogue and diplomacy and trying to find collective answers and solutions to some very, very thorny problems.

CAVUTO: John Kirby, thank you very much, State Department spokesman.

KIRBY: Great to be here.

CAVUTO: Few months. Just a few months, right?

KIRBY: Yes, I think so. Thanks.

CAVUTO: That's crazy goings-on.  

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