'Special Report' Panel on Iran's Nuclear Ambition

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from September 18, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: Our message will be clear. We are serious, and we will soon see if the Iranians are serious.

This is not about process for the sake of process. In New York, we will work with our partners to put Iran's choice into focus and to stress that engagement must produce real results, and that we have no appetite for talks without action.

The potential of the Iranian nuclear program being for something other than peaceful uses is obviously of great concern to us and increasingly to the international community.


BRET BAIER, HOST: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today talking about Iran and the administration's approach to Iran. This, of course, coming after a secret report was leaked, a report by the IAEA, that suggests that Iran already has the know-how to build a nuclear weapon.

What about this heading into the United Nations next week and a whole bunch of international action? Let's bring in our panel from New York tonight: Rich Lowry, editor of The National Review; conservative columnist Andrea Tantaros, and Ellis Henican, columnist for Newsday.

Rich, we will start with you. First of all, the reaction to the IAEA annex report first reported by the Associated Press. Now the administration is absorbing that as it talks about its policy. What about this?

RICH LOWRY, EDITOR, THE NATIONAL REVIEW: The level of detail according to that A.P. report is quite shocking. It makes a mockery of that infamous December, 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, which I believe and I think most people believe now was slanted by intelligence officers with a political agenda to argue that Iran had halted their nuclear program, which is manifestly absurd.

And the scandal here, Bret, is that you have the head of this international agency, ElBaradei, who has been doing all he can to suppress this information and try to smooth over the worst parts of the Iranian program because he appears to be as committed to stopping tough actions against Iran as he is to stopping Iran's nuclear program.

BAIER: Ellis, should this give the administration pause in how it handles Iran heading into these meetings next week and beyond?

ELLIS HENICAN, COLUMNIST, NEWSDAY: Bret, it is one piece of evidence, and there are a lot of other reasons that we ought to have pause about the great intentions of the Iranian government at this point.

The conversation I think quickly shifts about what are they doing to what is it, if anything we can do about it. That's really kind of where conversation is right now, right? How aggressive do we act? What help can we get from the international community? What will be effective and what will simply inflame things and make them worse inside Iran?

BAIER: Andrea?

ANDREA TANTAROS, COLUMNIST: Think a lesson has been learned over the last 24 hours, and that is before we remove our missile defense, we need to be sure what Iran has, how quick they are at getting these things before we can move forward.

I think Ahmadinejad is very cocky. I think he is emboldened. I think his comments showed he watched what happened in Russia yesterday. He saw the appeasement that Barack Obama did with Russia.

And I think, I really do, I think Ahmadinejad is looking at this situation, snubbing his nose at not only the West, Israel, even his own detractors in his own country. And I think we have to be sure before we remove these missile defense systems that we know what he has. These are not isolated incidents. We can't look at them in a vacuum.

BAIER: President Ahmadinejad did repeat his claim that the Holocaust never occurred. He also attacked Israel's existence. And Israel, of course, is looking at this through a much different prism, the threat that they face every day.

LOWRY: There is a tendency to laugh it off when he denies the Holocaust as kind of the ranting of this comic figure, but it is really central to his worldview I believe, and he says it because he believes it.

The Iranian regime thinks we have a fundamentally unjust world order partly because it was created by the Jews and the West on the basis of the supposed lie of the Holocaust. And they think it's Iran's role to revise this world order by asserting its power, and the nuclear power is part of that. And Andrea is right about the missile defense program. There is some loose speculation that maybe the Obama administration did this to get the Russians to cooperate on Iran.

Well, we saw the other shoe drop today, where reports that Russia is now backing off their threat to put missiles into Kaliningrad, right on the Polish border. So you can see what the Russians are thinking. You thump your chest. You make a noxious threat to send missiles on to the border of this other country and then, when the U.S. backs down, you say OK, we're no longer going to act on our noxious threat. Aren't we broadminded, wonderful people, and please come to us with your next concession before we think of helping you on Iran.

BAIER: Ellis, what about that. The critics are out there — including these two next to you — who say the Obama administration is starting to look weaker in the world's eyes.

HENICAN: Well, no, hold on a second. That's the easy part. We can all say he's a nut job and he's got a bunch of crazy ideas. The question is how do we shrewdly try to man manipulate the situation inside Iran, which is the only way to undermine this guy.

LOWRY: I thought that was meddling.

HENICAN: No, not if you do it right. You have to do it right. You can't launch missiles into there. You can't seem to be hugely and publicly bankroll the opposition, because that's counterproductive. That will make the opposition that we're trying to encourage and that we like and are promoting the right values...

TANTAROS: Ellis, I don't think Barack Obama is crazy. I think Barack truly believes this is the right thing to do.



HENICAN: But we had eight years, right, of saying really hostile stuff and it didn't do us any good. So we have to be a little more clever, a little more quietly manipulative, and maybe even get help from some of our partners around the world.

BAIER: There is a line where somebody looks at a report and says we're only months away. There is a line that you have to get to before they change their approach?

HENICAN: Yes, but it may not be a missile into Tehran line. And that's the dangerous part of this...

TANTAROS: I think the point is that there is a physical and psychological benefit of having these missile defense programs there. We lost the psychological benefit. Barack Obama has to get it back. I don't know that he can.

BAIER: Just to point out, the Pentagon says they have mobile missile defenses in ships and the ground-based system is not all they had.

OK, former CIA directors have a request, ACORN is no longer a tough nut to crack, and some of the world's most unpredictable leaders coming right here to New York — the Friday Lightning Round is next.


BAIER: Welcome back to New York.

Seven former CIA directors wrote a letter to the president urging him not to go forward, urging him to tell Attorney General Eric Holder not to go forward with an investigation into CIA interrogators.

In that letter is this "Attorney General Holder's decision to reopen the criminal investigation creates an atmosphere of continuous jeopardy for those whose cases the Department of Justice had previously declined to prosecute.

Moreover, there is no reason to expect that the reopened criminal investigations will remain narrowly focused."

We are back with our panel. It's the Friday lightning round. Ellis, you're first.

HENICAN: These guys are playing to their constituents, I understand that. But it's a big jump of the gun. Who should be fearful of the facts here? We're talking about a preliminary investigation. Nobody is being indicted. Let's gather the facts and find out where they lead.

BAIER: Andrea?

TANTAROS: I think this is a lot of pressure for Barack Obama. He has to decide, does he call off the investigation? Bill Clinton, does he have the guile like Clinton to pivot from health care reform to welfare reform?

I think he's not going to do it. I think he's going to drag this out, but he's got to make a decision quickly, because if he drags it out and then backpedals and tells Holder to back off, he will look weak, and he can't do that.

But this was clearly a political move, and we will see how bound Barack Obama is to his base.

BAIER: Rich, isn't the cow already out of the barn, or whatever you want to say? Isn't it already down this street?

LOWRY: If Obama really wanted to cancel it, he could. This is an extraordinary statement, he CIA directors across four administrations including the Clinton administration, and they make a very strong case.

This is basically double jeopardy. No one fears the facts Ellis. Career prosecutors have already examined them. So there is no reason to go back unless you're pursuing and political or anti-CIA agenda.

BAIER: Another investigation possibly on a federal level, definitely on a state level in a number of different states — ACORN. This story continues to blow up, and now the CEO of ACORN is going to appear on "FOX News Sunday" with Chris Wallace this weekend.

Rick, where does this go, and what about this story?

LOWRY: This is the most effective investigative reporting we have seen in a long time. It is incredible.

You have a couple 20-somethingings with a lot of gumption and pluck and dressed basically like they're going to a bad costume party exposing this organization and leading to immediate, within a week, votes in both chambers of Congress to cut their funding. Now, there's still some procedural things about getting these bills to agree in the House and Senate, but I think unless ACORN pulls some miracle out of a hat and changes the trajectory of the story, they're going to lose their federal funding. And then the focus should be on the corporations and foundations that have been giving this group money.

BAIER: Andrea, even traditional supporters have voted against this federal funding.

TANTAROS: That's right, Bret. I think this is the news of the week. The biggest story to come out of this is that if there was something we're saying about ACORN, Pelosi, Reid, Emanuel, they all would have done it.

They realize that this is an organization this has been corrupt a long time and it is in freefall and even they can't save it. And I think with all these discussions of corporate greed in Washington, going after the for-profits, we need to look at some of the other organizations, the non-profits, and see what the others are doing as well.

HENICAN: I understand Andrea wants to hit on every group that promotes Democrats and tries to get voter registration, I get that.

It is very smart of Bertha Lewis to go on FOX on Sunday. This is her chance to try and save this group. It is clearly a damaged brand.

I would remind you that other groups have exploded. Remember once the moral majority was a very important political group, and then that imploded. Life on these issues will go on one way or the other.

BAIER: Last topic of the lightning round, the U.N. meeting of the General Assembly next week in New York, where "Special Report" will be at the United Nations next Wednesday night, promises to be interesting with all these leaders coming here every year, and Ahmadinejad will be here.

HENICAN: That's right, and one of the responsibilities we have here in New York — welcome to town, by the way.

BAIER: Thank you.

HENICAN: — is that the U.N. is here. There are 190 nations out. There some of them at any moment are going to be run by rats, and we have to provide basic hospitality to them. That's part of the burden of being New York.


HENICAN: I'm not going to all those parties, but there are inevitably going to be people we don't like coming to town.

BAIER: Do we expect something to come out of this — Andrea?

TANTAROS: Besides rhetoric, I don't think any seminal moments.

But, look, I think Obama's foreign policy this week that he's released, it's not the kid that says here is my lunch money, come and take it from me. It is the kid who says, here is my lunch money, take it.

And I think he is going to have some problems next week. If I were our allies, if I were neighbors of Chavez, members from South Korea, if I was Israel, and I think that's what he faces symbolically next week.

LOWRY: Bret, you're going to be there Wednesday — better you than me. This is the longest running farce in New York.

And Obama is breaking ground. He will chair this meeting of the Security Council.

And this goes to what we were discussing in the first segment. He is doing everything he can possible to demonstrate he is not Bush. I think the world gets it. He's not Bush.

And he won't get anything. In fact he will get run over by a bunch of malign actors unless he demonstrates toughness, which he hasn't up until this point.

BAIER: Do you expect a handshake with Ahmadinejad?

HENICAN: I might hold off on the handshake with Afghanistan.

LOWRY: Maybe a little fist bump?

HENICAN: But he will try and make some efforts with more of our traditional allies. Even that will be a big challenge from the past eight years.

LOWRY: Like Poland and the Czechs, our traditional allies.

HENICAN: No. How about Europe, how about Latin America? We used to have friends in those places. It might be nice to have them again.

BAIER: I see how New York works right here. This is it.


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