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Reimposing sanctions will help U.S. get more out of Iran, says State official

American allies, and even Defense Secretary James Mattis, suggested President Trump not pull the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear agreement. Why didn’t he heed their urging? “We all agree on” the problems of Iran, says Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Peek, “We just occasionally don't see eye to eye on the way forward.” Peek joins William Brangham to discuss the administration’s goals.

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  • William Brangham:

    And now we get a perspective from within the Trump administration.

    Andrew Peek is deputy assistant secretary of state for the Middle East.

    Welcome to the "NewsHour."

  • Andrew Peek:

    Thanks so much.

  • William Brangham:

    So, all of our allies in this deal counseled the president not to do what he did today. They said, the deal is working. It may be imperfect, but it is keeping Iran further from a nuclear weapon than they were before.

    Are they wrong?

  • Andrew Peek:

    You know, I think we have been working for our allies with months to communicate our concerns about the deal.

    I was encouraged that, in that process, that we all agree on how acute the issue is, the broad Iranian problem set. I was encouraged also by President Macron's statement after his visit, as well as his tweet today about wanting to work with us to find a more comprehensive deal.

    So the takeaway, I think, should be that we all agree on this problem. We just occasionally don't see eye to eye on the way forward. But I have every confidence that this will help us get to a better, more encompassing, more comprehensive deal that addresses all of Iran's behavior.

  • William Brangham:

    But even with the administration, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said he read the deal three times over. He felt that the inspections on Iran were onerous. He felt that it was in our national interest to stay in the deal.

    And yet the president did the opposite. Just why is that?

  • Andrew Peek:

    Gosh, I think I will let the secretary of defense speak for himself.

    I think the administration' position is, as I have just said, you know, I think we saw the deal as mitigating our ability to counter effectively the totality of Iran's behavior, particularly its power projection in the Middle East and its support of proxies, while at best delaying Iran's path to a nuclear weapon, not eliminating.

  • William Brangham:

    Explain a little bit about how these sanctions will work. I know there will be sanctions on particular parts of Iran's economy. The president today said with regards to other nations that any nation that helped Iran in its quest for nuclear weapons could also be strongly sanctioned.

    What does that mean?

  • Andrew Peek:

    Well, so the way this is going to work is that the entities and sectors that do business with Iran or that are part of Iran will be slowly redesignated after 90 or 100 days.

    That is time enough to allow those entities doing business with Iran to draw down their investments. We really have no desire to affect entities other than Iranian ones.

    You know, the U.S. has had secondary sanctions as part of its Iran policy since the late '90s. The purpose is to discourage investment in problematic Iranian entities or entities that allow Iran to dominate the region and conduct the totality of its nefarious activities.

    The way you get that reduced investment is a process, an iterative process of engagements, of inducements, and occasionally of little prods.

  • William Brangham:

    The president believes that he can renegotiate this deal, that the things that have bothered him all along, that some of the restrictions have sunset clauses, that Iran is developing ballistic nuclear — ballistic missiles, that they are doing all of these things in the region that the administration is not fond of.

    All of our allies who helped negotiate this deal in the first place said that putting those elements in the deal wasn't going to work. Why does the president believe that those will work now?

  • Andrew Peek:

    Well, I think the president's view is that when the deal was negotiated, we were at a place of intense pressure on Iran. We had a lot of leverage.

    We had unprecedented national and international sanctions on the regime. We gave up too much for far too little. I think he's said it again and again. It was a bad deal. We could have gotten more out of it.

    I think by reimposing some of these sanctions and working with our partner, we will get to a place where we can do that.

  • William Brangham:

    What about the criticism that this jeopardizes our credibility as a nation, that our word can't be taken?

    I mean, Mike Pompeo is on his way to North Korea. He's probably there right now, starting negotiations with the North Koreans about their nuclear program. If the North Koreans are looking at what the president has done and torn up this existing deal, why do they believe, why would they believe that we could hold our word on this one?

  • Andrew Peek:

    Well, I think two things.

    One is, I would say that it is — should be no surprise to our partners and other states that there was deep bipartisan concern about the Iran deal when it was negotiated. This wasn't a Republican-Democrat thing. This wasn't a Trump administration vs. other Republican thing.

    This was a position shared by virtually every Republican primary candidate. Hence, the deal was submitted — the deal was never submitted to the Senate as a treaty because endogenously of that bipartisan concern.

    So I think today's actions reflect and that concern reflected I think the problems in the deal. It was a good heuristic of that.

  • William Brangham:

    But doesn't this possibly — if the North Koreans are looking at this, saying, America signed this deal with Iran, now a new president comes in and tears it up, why should they trust what the president says will be honored?

  • Andrew Peek:

    Because I think they can be very sure he wants a good deal, just not a bad deal.

    And I think the Iranians are going to take that away also. I think that has been a hallmark of his since day one. He's willing to negotiate, but he just wants to do a little better than we did.

  • William Brangham:

    Andrew Peek, thank you very much for coming out.

  • Andrew Peek:

    Thanks so much.

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