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On Iran, former George W. Bush official calls for diplomacy

The strained relationship between the U.S. and Iran has worsened with Iran’s downing of an American surveillance drone. How serious is the incident, and how should the U.S. respond? Judy Woodruff talks to Stephen Hadley, who served as national security adviser under President George W. Bush, and Gerard Araud, former French ambassador to the U.S., to discuss the likelihood of a diplomatic solution.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we reported, strains in the relationship between the U.S. and Iran worsened today with the downing of an American surveillance drone by the Iranians.

    How serious is this turn of events and how should the U.S. respond?

    For some answers, we turn to Stephen Hadley, who served as national security adviser to President George W. Bush. And Gerard Araud, he was France's ambassador to the United States from September 2014 until just a couple of months ago.

    Gentlemen, welcome back to the "NewsHour." Thank you for being here.

    First of all, to you, Steve Hadley, how serious is this incident on a scale of, I don't know, one to 10? How provocative a violation?

  • Stephen Hadley:

    It's probably a seven.

    The things that Iran has done up to this point, threatening our troops and civilians in Iraq, these attacks on oil tankers, attacks on some facilities in Saudi Arabia, these were sort of the typical pattern, in that they were — everybody knew the Iranians did them, but they were done in a way that was deniable.

    Then, of course, the Iranians denied them. And it was basically a signal to the United States that we can you if you continue this presence — pressure.

    What's different about this is that, whether the drone was in international airspace or domestic airspace, it clearly was shot down by the Iranians. There's no deniability here. So, it's a step up in that respect on the messaging that the Iranians have been sending. So I think it's a seven.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And if — and we should note, Ambassador Araud, that the Pentagon released just in the last hour has released a drawing, a map, which shows the flight path of the drone, which they say proves that it never entered Iranian airspace.

    But given that, whether it was an international airspace or over Iran, what should the U.S. do now? What is the next step here?

  • Gerard Araud:

    You know, it's a serious incident, also because it sparked of an escalation.

    But the president, Trump, has I think, reacted in a very restrained way, which means that, actually, he doesn't want to go further into this escalation, by saying it could have been a mistake or an isolated decision.

    But we have an escalation. It's a fact. So, now what we have to do, very clearly, is how to get to a de-escalation in this tension between Iran and the U.S.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And how should that happen?

  • Gerard Araud:

    You know, the Americans are waging an economic war against Iran, with the goal, and they say it, to choking the Iranian economy.

    We knew that, sooner or later, the Iranians will react. They have reacted. We have now this maximum tension.

    What we need is diplomacy. The Americans have set the objectives, their 12 demands. But the Iranians are not going to accept the 12 demands overnight. So the Americans and the Iranians have now to engage into a significant diplomatic conversation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Stephen Hadley, how likely is it, do you think, a diplomatic conversation is going to happen? And what do you think the U.S. should do?

  • Stephen Hadley:

    Well, there are about three options that are being talked about. You and your show quoted Senator Lindsey Graham.

    There are some who say that there needs to be some retaliation, some military retaliation, to these incidents against Iran to deter further behavior.

    Another option people are talking about is putting — the United States putting together, with other allies, a force to defend the tankers that come through the Straits of Hormuz, so that this doesn't escalate to the point that it threatens global oil supplies.

    I think it's less likely, but I think a third option, very much along the lines of what Ambassador Araud has suggested, and it's something the Europeans could propose, which is, look, let's stand down. Let's have a freeze on the increasing pressure that the United States is putting on Iran. Let's have a freeze on the steps the Iranians have taken to increasingly move out of the nuclear agreement, and let's have a negotiation, and with all issues on the table, in terms of the problems with the nuclear agreement, Iran's ballistic missile programs, its activities in the region, and the complaints that Iran has about the United States.

    That is a way to de-escalate it. The administration, President Trump says he would like a negotiation. The Iranians so far have ruled it out. The question is whether each could say to their own people that their toughness has now brought the other to the negotiating table.

    Again, it's a way to stand it down, but I think it's relatively unlikely at this point.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Can there be a de-escalation, Ambassador Araud, if the U.S., the Trump administration policy of maximum pressure continues?

  • Gerard Araud:

    Well, I think, you know, we need, I guess, a gesture, something, you know, which could be in terms of the pressure, the economic pressure, for instance, that the U.S. could give a waiver, you know, for the countries who trade with Iran.

    So it could be, you know, a small gesture, and expecting that there could be also something reciprocated by the Iranians. But we need diplomacy.

    You know, the Obama administration engaged dialogue with the Iranians, for instance, in a covert manner. People went to Oman and discussed with the Iranians to see whether an agreement is possible.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Gerard Araud:

    So we need to have diplomatic imagination.

    We need to establish a channel of dialogue with the Iranians, even if, in the beginning, it's on the low key, and maybe, actually, it's confidential.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, Steve Hadley, is that kind of outreach, low-key outreach, possible, likely, when the president's — some of the president's advisers appear to want a more aggressive approach to Iran?

  • Stephen Hadley:

    Well, the president has made clear that he would like a conversation with the Iranians. And the president makes the key decisions in this administration.

    So I think that is possible there. But it does take two. And the question is whether the Iranians at this point are willing to do such a thing. The prime minister — sorry — the foreign minister in the past has said, we're prepared to talk if Americans treat us with respect, which, in some sense, opens the door for the kind of gesture that the ambassador was talking about.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But you also, Mr. Ambassador, have a split on the Iranian side.

  • Gerard Araud:

    Well, there are splits on both sides.

    But it's true that we shouldn't forget that the responsibility of the crisis is also an Iranian responsibility. It's because of the activities of Iran throughout the region, missile activities, but also terrorist activities and regional activities.

    So we have to handle these activities. And I think it would be more effective if the Americans were working with the Europeans, as Stephen Hadley has just said, because Europeans were really willing to work to handle, also to cope with these threats, with this Iranian threat.

    So it's always better to work with allies. So it will be certainly better for the U.S. also to work with the Europeans to see what we can do with the Iranians, if we can do something with the Iranians.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Former Ambassador Gerard Araud, Stephen Hadley, we thank you both.

  • Gerard Araud:

    Thank you very much.

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