All-Star Panel on CIA's Report That Iran Is Capable of Making Nukes

This is a rush transcript of "Special Report With Bret Baier" from March 30, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We have engaged. The door remains open if the Iranians choose to walk through it, but understand very clearly what the terms of a diplomatic solution would be.

And in the interim, we are going to move forcefully on a U.N. sanctions regime.

Now, do we have unanimity in the international community? Not yet. And that's something we have to work on. We think that we are in a much stronger position to get robust sanctions now than we were a year ago prior to us initiating our strategy. We think that we can get sanctions within weeks.


BRET BAIER, "SPECIAL REPORT" HOST: Weeks, not months, according to President Obama after meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the White House today. This as a new report from the CIA is out, and unclassified version saying Iran is keeping the option open to develop nuclear weapons.

So let's bring in our panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard, Juan Williams, news analyst for National Public Radio, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer.

Steve, first on the call for sanctions in weeks, not months.

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, it's a good sign from the president. I think it's one thing for him to call it and it's another thing for him to do the diplomatic work that actually makes it happen.

I think that's unlikely. We have already heard China say basically without qualification that they oppose the sanctions. We had Russia last week say that sanctions can be counterproductive even as they allowed that participating in the sanctions the regime was possible for Russia.

The bigger problem, though, if you take a step back and look at the policy, is that we have a de facto containment policy. The sanctions, even if sanctions are passed, let's take the White House's best case scenario here, this doesn't get us that much closer quickly enough to stop Iran from doing what it is doing on nuclear weapons development.

BAIER: What's your analysis of this report to Congress about Iran's capabilities?

HAYES: You know, it's very interesting. In the summer of 2007, you had the CIA basically saying we know Iran is producing a nuclear weapon. That fall they said we don't know if Iran is producing a nuclear weapon, but we do know they suspended weapons development, their weaponization program in 2003.

We now have this report that basically punts. It says nothing about weaponization. It omits the part that's inconvenient to its analysis, which suggests to me that we don't actually know what Iran is doing on weaponization, and that's a huge problem if we don't have that visibility.

BAIER: Juan, Representative Pete Hoekstra among others are calling for an independent analysis of the situation in Iran and saying that the intelligence community really needs to step up now as the clock is ticking. What about that as this report comes out?

JUAN WILLIAMS, NEWS ANALYST, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Why would he question the report? I mean, clearly, you can have a sense that it punts, as Steve was saying, on this critical issue. But I don't think there is any reason at this point to doubt American intelligence about what's going on there.

The International Atomic Energy group that's been in there says they really are unsure as to the extent of the development. So I don't know exactly, unless he was going to send independent agents into — and he thought had better access. I'm not sure.

Now, I will say there are additional hints in the report about chemical and biological weapons being developed by Iran. And that is equally troubling because, obviously, they would have the capacity, not only to put satellites in orbit, but to launch rockets that have biological and chemical weapons in the warheads.

BAIER: Charles, this report follows the February 18th report by the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog the IAEA in which warned of the possibility of Iran working on the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.

Now, these reports are piling on top of each other as the efforts to get sanctions appear from the administration's point of view to be moving forward, but from others, saying China and Russia don't appear signed on, at least yet.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, the IAEA report indicates how embarrassing it is if the U.S. is softer on Iran than even the IAEA, which is famously soft on Iran.

You talked about the marrying of the weapon onto a missile — that's called weaponization. Well, the U.S. report, the NIE, the National Intelligence Estimate of 2007, had said that the Iranians had stopped that program in 2003.

Now you get IAEA, as you indicated, saying in February it's probably working on it. So even that is out of date.

And the '07 report also implied — it was read as Iran stops its nuclear work, which, of course, it did not, because the two other elements of a nuclear engagement, which are the enrichment of uranium, continue and continue in an accelerated way, and secondly the development of ballistic missiles also developing.

So the NIE in 2007 was wrong on weaponization. We are now beginning to start to amend it. It looks as if the CIA report is a way to, if not punt, but at least begin to undo the damage of the 2007 report and get it right, willing to have the revised NIE that at least will get it right.

But even if we get it right, it's late in the day. This administration has wasted a year and three months in what it says is a strategy of concessions, open outreach as a way to strengthen the alliance and to strengthen the consensus.

The president announces, he said today, that even after a year and three months he doesn't even have unanimity in the Security Council. He has got nothing.

BAIER: Secretary Clinton, Steve, is saying that she believes China is going to be a part of this process in the U.N. Security Council. It was a little vague, her statement, about what kind of role China could play in these sanctions. They have been pushing back pretty hard publicly.

HAYES: Yes, look, that's important. If they get it, great. That would be wonderful if they get it.

To me, you are so focused — she is so focused on process that it loses sight of the big picture. Last week the administration was trumpeting in the middle of the week the fact that China participated in a conference call that was contemplating additional watered down sanctions through the U.N. that that might or might not have some effect. I mean this is not a serious policy.

When you are excited about China participating in that kind of a conference call and Iran is racing towards a nuclear weapon, that's not a serious policy.

KRAUTHAMMER: And there is one other aspect of this un-seriousness. What we're going to get with sanctions at most is China's acquiescence to what ultimately is not going to be effective. But it will allow us and the Europeans, it will be permissive in the sense it's not going to be China applying any sanctions. It will not.

But it will allow us and Europe to impose our own unilateral sanctions. What kind of idiocy is this? Why do we need China to give us permission to impose sanctions on a regime that is threatening us, the region, and our allies?

BAIER: Juan, quickly.

WILLIAMS: I think you guys missed out on some recent history where we did not have acclimation in terms of our reactions in Iraq. We are looking for a world that will say to us, this is necessary. The world is condemning what Iran is up to and the world wants to stop.

And the idea that the START treaty with the Russians looks to be in place and the Russians now are putting in place some kind of model for limits of nuclear expansion and proliferation, and saying Iran, you have to play by the rules, too, the administration regards that as a triumph and the first step to getting that kind of worldwide support for taking potentially either by Israel or the United States military action against Iran.

BAIER: Juan, you can appreciate the skepticism on both sides of view.

WILLIAMS: Yes, I do. But I think at some point in the very difficult and ticklish negotiations going on, what good does all this cynicism do unless you say let's send the troops in now?

KRAUTHAMMER: It's not a matter of the troops. Where is the triumph? We're been waiting a year and three months to get a permission slip from China for the U.S. and Europe to engage in their own unilateral sanctions.

HAYES: And, look, the president said today with President Sarkozy that this proliferation of nuclear weapons was the most important, the greatest global threat.

I think by punting on Iran, by basically not having Iran policy or a de facto containment policy, he makes it far more likely that Iran gets a weapon and we do see this nuclear arms race in the region, which in fact, undoes what he has as a central goal of his presidency.

BAIER: We will have much more on Iran, I guarantee you. And you can get more on sanctions and Iran's nuclear efforts on our homepage,

Next up, Congressional Democrats challenge companies trying to deal with the downside of health care reform.



ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There are been countless studies, one by the Business Round Table, on the effect that business will see in lower premiums as a result of health care reform.

JAMES KLEIN, AMERICAN BENEFITS COUNCIL: This is the worst time imaginable to put this kind of a hit on corporate balance sheets, and we certainly don't want to encourage companies at some point in the future to have to move their retirees over to the Medicare program, which will end up costing the federal government more money.

So they shouldn't be so defensive about it. They should plan on fixing it.


BAIER: There is a growing list of companies, AT&T, Verizon, Caterpillar, Deere, saying that they in 2013 because of the new health care law will have to start paying more for prescription drug coverage for retirees because the law is in place they won't be able to get a tax break.

The White House says that the government will continue to subsidize that, but you can't take the tax break as well. In the meantime, Congressman Henry Waxman has called the CEOs of these companies to Congress to talk about their matters of concern and bring any documents and email messages related to this write-down.

We are back with the panel. It's a bit complex, Charles, but essentially the CEOs are getting called on the carpet.

KRAUTHAMMER: And that's what's amazing here. Democrats enact Obama- care with a zillion new taxes and then are shocked, shocked when corporations disclose what it's goods to cost them.

Look as The Wall Street Journal pointed out, financial regulations require, require that a company immediately restate its earnings when there is a change in the status of the present value of its medical liabilities, which is what these guys have done. If you don't, you go to jail.

Now, what's troubling here is not that the administration is only trying to get companies to sort of hide the fact that this is going to cost, it's not a free lunch as it has been pretending, but it's the attitude of the Democrats in Washington.

It takes over businesses, Chrysler, G.M., it takes over student loans, it nationalizes it without a debate at all. And then there is also this attitude that Chairman Waxman will call on the carpet a corporation CEO to explain its actions as if corporations aren't independent entities who produce a product to make a profit but agents or wards of the government who have to answer for every action.

It's a kind of corporatism you see in Europe. We have never had here, and it's an attitude that I think is truly alarming.

BAIER: Juan?

WILLIAMS: I don't understand this. People should pay their taxes and it looks to me these guys have seen in the health care bill a ripe opportunity for all their accountants to yell, hey, give us a tax break. We want the tax break.

And I don't see that there is any problem with Henry Waxman saying explain to us why you feel you deserve suddenly this tax break. You weren't raising this as a concern during the year-plus long deliberations and debate over health care in this country.

In fact what we have a plan that will still cover the prescription drug benefits, just you can't take the tax break. In fact, some of your employees if they are in need of additional services are now eligible if you want to send them over there to participate in the exchanges and to get benefits in other ways.

Explain to me why all of a sudden you are eligible for these billions of dollars in tax breaks.

KRAUTHAMMER: What they are saying is if you remove the break it costs us more. Waxman says that's horrible that you have actually announced that.

HAYES: Look, if they were going to make a political move, they would have done this before the bill passed. The suggestions from Democrats that this is all about politics and they're trying to embarrass the administration.

BAIER: It's the law.

HAYES: They have to do it both on internal accounting practices and because the SEC requires them to do this, which is a key point.

But this is part of a pattern. You had Nancy Pelosi within a day or two of the passage of this legislation say that if insurance companies raise premiums, something some insurance companies will surely have to do because they will be covering more people, if they raise premiums she might not let them in government exchanges.

How can you possibly say that? She said unless they do the right thing, they should know that they're not automatically allowed in. This is scary rhetoric.

Sometimes I think people who believe what I can believe can be over the top or over the top with apocalyptic language or get too worried about it. But this is really big brother stuff. This is scary.

WILLIAMS: Look at Wall Street. The insurance companies, their stocks are up. The pharmaceuticals stocks suspect. Wall Street is on a winning streak. If they thought this was typical, believe me, they would not be there.

BAIER: OK, I can promise you this is not the end of this discussion either.

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