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Can EU allies convince Trump to stay in the Iran nuclear deal?

French President Emmanuel Macron is on what some have called "Operation Save the Iran Deal." On a visit to the U.S., Macron will try to convince President Trump that the deal is working and that it's better to confront Iran while its nuclear program is frozen. But Trump is vowing to pull out of the deal unless the U.S. and Europe can fix it to his specifications. Nick Schifrin joins Amna Nawaz.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Amna Nawaz:

    French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Washington today to begin meetings with President Trump. Tomorrow, Macron will be guest of honor at Mr. and Mrs. Trump’s state dinner, and, Wednesday, he will speak to a joint session of Congress.

    But, as Nick Schifrin reports, the pomp and circumstance comes as a major deadline looms for the Iran nuclear deal.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    With the stars and stripes and the French tricolor side by side, Macron launched what he called a critical mission.

  • Emmanuel Macron:

    This is a great honor and I think a very important state visit, given the moment of our current environment.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Macron will spend two days with President Trump on what some have called operation save the Iran deal. Yesterday, he appeared on President Trump’s chosen channel, FOX News, and said that there was no alternative.

  • Emmanuel Macron:

    What is the what-if scenario or your plan B? I don’t have a plan B for nuclear against Iran.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Macron has met President Trump three times and cultivated a good relationship. He will try to convince President Trump the deal is working, and that it’s better to confront Iran while its nuclear program is frozen.

    That argument will be echoed later this week during a visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who appeared yesterday on Israeli TV.

  • Angela Merkel (through translator):

    We believe it’s better to have this agreement, even if it is not perfect, than to have no agreement.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But the Trump administration wants to remove the deal’s expiration dates, expand inspections, and target Iran’s missile program.

    The administration also wants to confront what it calls Iran’s malign regional behavior. Iran says there will be no renegotiation. And Foreign Minister Javad Zarif warned, if the Trump administration pulls out of the deal, Iran will too.

  • Mohammad Javad Zarif:

    The rest of the world cannot ask us to unilaterally and one-sidely implement a deal that has already been broken.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    President Trump is vowing to pull out of the deal by May 12 unless the U.S. and Europe can fix it. A U.S. official calls this moment, “the last chance.”

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And Nick Schifrin joins me now.

    Nick, so the Trump administration has basically set this up as the last chance to make the deal work for the U.S. Meanwhile, the Europeans are working to try to keep President Trump in the deal. Have they made progress?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, there has been a little progress. And I think Macron will come to the White House with specific items that the two sides have been working on and the two sides have agreed in general on, not so much specific text, but in general.

    And that includes inspections. So the two sides have said, look, yes, if there is a legitimate inspection request to Iran, and they refuse it, then that is a significant abrogation of the deal, and we’re allowed to reimpose sanctions.

    Number two, missiles. If Iran tests a long-range missile, over 1,200 miles, then the two sides can also impose sanctions together. And on the larger regional concerns, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, actions in Syria, for example, proxies like Hezbollah, cyber-threats, these are the things that the two sides basically have general agreement on.

    And Macron will go to the White House and say, look, this is what we can do together to pressure Iran.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, where are the sticking points right now in that deal? I notice you didn’t mention expiration dates we have heard so much about, right?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Right.

    The sunset clauses, the expiration dates, that is the sticking deal. And that’s the most important part, because that’s exactly what President Trump and the White House want the change. So, after eight years, Iran is allowed to slowly manufacture increasingly advanced centrifuges.

    After 15 years, they can increase their uranium stockpile and enrich higher-grade uranium.

    And so what the U.S. says is, hey, if they do those things, that will lower the breakout time, under about a year, for Iran to get a bomb, and we want to impose sanctions.

    Europeans say, wait a minute, we agreed to this already in the deal. We agreed explicitly that they would have the ability to do those things after eight years and after 15 years. How can we abrogate the deal basically by saying they can’t do those things?

    And so what Macron will come to the White House and say is, look, we know we have some disagreement on sunsets, but can we take this package, can we take the things that we agree on, and is this enough? You know, President Trump, is this enough for you to say, yes, this is enough, let’s stay in the deal?

    The Europeans don’t want to do this every six months. They don’t have a lot of faith, I will say, that this is going to work, but they’re going to try.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, we’re watching closely on that.

    It’s fair to say probably Iranian officials are also watching this very closely. They have to be considering what their options will be if the U.S. backs out. What’s been the response so far?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes.

    So, Javad Zarif, the foreign minister who you saw in our story came to New York recently, met with people like me, met with a group of journalists, met with NGO types, trying to influence U.S. behavior.

    And what he says, is, look, there’s no renegotiation, so any chance of renegotiating the sunsets, for example, don’t even try. And he says, if you leave the deal, we have got a few options. One is, we will go through the process that the deal allows, which is a 45-day debate, after which presumably Iran would be allowed to enrich uranium.

    The second option is, we’re not even going to wait for those 45 days. We are going to enrich uranium immediately.

    And he admitted that there were more drastic measures, as he called it. He didn’t provide the details, but you can see this in the debate in the Parliament in Iran, in the media. These include declaring the U.S. Army a terrorist organization, and then a package of options, which are withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the NPT, enriching past 20 percent, basically, enriching higher-grade uranium, and kicking out the inspectors.

    And those options mean Iran is racing toward a bomb. And they admitted that that’s what they’re considering. Iran is not a monolith. And I think President Rouhani would be the first to say he wants this deal to work, but he’s under incredible domestic pressure to have the response to any U.S. departure from the deal to be aggressive.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, turn with me now to North Korea for a second.

    Officials there have to be watching these talks with great interest, too. How does U.S. action or inaction on the Iran deal affect the ongoing talks with the North Koreans?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes. This is really important, right, because in the next few weeks, they will get a meeting between Presidents Moon and Kim, the North Korean and South Korean leaders, and of course President Trump with Kim next month or in early June.

    And what the — what Iran says, is, look, why would the North Koreans or anyone trust you if you’re going to pull out of a deal that we took years to negotiate?

    And what — the U.S. response is interesting. So, Mike Pompeo went to North Korea secretly to meet with Kim Jong-un. After he came back, he was testifying to Congress. He says, no, Kim doesn’t care about any deal that came before this.

    So, the administration at least believes that they can pull out of the Iran deal and have it not affect the upcoming North Korean conversation.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    We will see what happens then.

    Nick Schifrin, good to talk to you.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Thank you.

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