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Larry Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell, says the nuclear accord will lead to greater U.S.-Iranian cooperation over Mideast policy

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JARED BALL, PRODUCER, TRNN: What’s up world, and welcome back to the Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore. So all the news is abuzz today with what is being described as a landmark nuclear agreement between the Obama administration and Iran. According to the New York Times, the accord will significantly limit Tehran’s nuclear for more than a decade in return for lifting international oil and financial sanctions. But is this deal truly a departure from previous U.S. policy? What do normalized relations with Iran mean for that country’s potential collaboration in dealing with the regional crises, be they Syria or the Islamic State? And of course there is Israel’s reaction, including a Persian Twitter account established by Netanyahu to promote his critique of the deal. To address these issues and more is Larry Wilkerson. Wilkerson is a retired United States Army soldier and former chief of staff to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell. And of course, is a regular contributor here at the Real News. Welcome back, Col. Wilkerson. LARRY WILKERSON, FMR. CHIEF OF STAFF TO COLIN POWELL: Thanks for having me back. BALL: So as I said in the intro there’s a lot to be considered here with this new deal. What from your perspective is most important about it? WILKERSON: The most important thing I think at this moment, and probably for the next decade-plus, is going to be that if the deal is implemented and if it is stuck to by all sides, we’d prevent another, and this would be catastrophic, war in Southwest Asia in which the United States is majorly involved. And basically spends, as it did in Iraq and Afghanistan, trillions more dollars to no real purpose other than killing people. BALL: I understand that you’ve been making the rounds in mainstream press circuits, spaces, this morning in the last few hours. What is the general conversation like there, and what is, of course, the right wing in this country saying in response to this deal? WILKERSON: Funny you should ask. I spent 30 minutes in the greenroom, CNN’s greenroom, in Washington DC this morning before going on with Chris Cuomo and his partner. And I was confronted, virtually, with a stacked deck. That is to say, Aaron David Miller was on the screen in front of me, preceding me in the interview, talking about all the problems with the deal. And the three people waiting in the greenroom were Rick Santorum two of his colleagues who were discussing their opposition to the deal. The interesting thing, and the weak point, tremendously weak, weak point of the opposition to this deal, is they have no alternative. No alternative at all was discussed in the greenroom, nor did Aaron David Miller offer an alternative. Now they’ll say, Lindsey Graham and others, well, the alternative is to continue sanctions. Sorry about that, guys and gals. China, Russia, I suspect Germany and the other members of the permanent five in addition to China and Russia would desert us immediately. France is already inking contracts with Iran. The sanctions would completely fall apart and the real pariah would be the United States, not Iran. Increasingly the U.S. would be the isolated party in the international scene, and Iran would be the welcomed party. Sanctions simply aren’t a viable option unless everyone is participating, and the deal takes that into consideration. It allows for sanctions of all manner. UN, unilateral U.S., and sanctions pertinent to the EU and elsewhere, to snap back in if Iran does not comply with its agreements. And I suspect those sanctions would snap back with unanimity. But to desert the whole process now that a deal’s been achieved by these countries would simply drive them away and you would have no sanctions regime at all, and that leaves what most of my opponents and the deal’s opponents are really after, and that’s another war in Southwest Asia. That, as I said, would be a catastrophe. BALL: Now, what of the arguments form those who are detractors of this deal, complaining about that this will allow Iran to weaponize its nuclear technology and program despite that the West, the United States, Israel included, have all acknowledged that Iran is no threat, to do that. What do you make of that claim? WILKERSON: These claims are basically specious. They’re based if, on any substance at all, the possibility that Iran will cheat. And of course with any agreement, 100 pages or 1,000 pages, there’s the potential for cheating. The way you diffuse that potential and ultimately eliminate it is to demonstrate to the country with whom you’re negotiating over time, and over that time you build some trust in this regard, to demonstrate to them that they are better off abiding by the agreement than not doing so. I think the provisions are there for that to be the case if, and this is a big if, the United States abides by its side of the agreement. This is the most intrusive inspection regime under the NPT or otherwise ever created. It dwarfs that regime we created for Yongbyon and other aspects of North Korea’s regime. It is unbelievable that we’ve been able to achieve this. To include Director Amano at the IAEA’s side agreement whereby–I didn’t think we’d ever get this. Whereby he is going to render an assessment by December, I’m told, that will look into with full Iranian cooperation the former military aspects, if there were any, of Iran’s nuclear program. What’s called PMD in the vernacular. That in December will be sort of a door closer, as far as I’m concerned, on whether or not Iraq has in the past ever experimented with nuclear weapons or nuclear weapons technology. The other aspects of the agreement, the one that troubles some people, is that while we have 24/7 access to nuclear sites, we don’t have that kind of access to military sites. Well, I simply say–I’m a military man. Were someone to tell me, who came from a country that promised to bomb me to smithereens, that they wanted 100 percent unannounced access to my military sites 24/7, I’d tell them to go blow it out their rear end. I mean, this is crazy that we would think Iran’s military would allow us to come on no-notice inspections at any time we want to 24/7 into its military sites, and photograph the very aim points we’ll be dropping our bombs on. Just reverse the situation and see if the United States would tolerate that for an instant. So the fact that we’ve got this kind of agreement to allow us to go to military sites is enough for me. The big interest here is in whether or not Iran complies. And there are enough tools that are being created by this agreement to give me some certainty that we’ll know whether or not they’re complying. And let’s look at this a little bit further. What really troubles Mr. Netanyahu and his leadership in Israel is their program is for a greater Israel. They want the West Bank, they want Gaza, they want the Sinai, they want ultimately Jordan, and they want parts, if not all, of Syria. That’s the greater Israel aspirations of Bibi Netanyahu. So what they fear is not Iran’s nuclear capability. They know if Iran used a nuclear weapon Iran would disappear from the map. Certainly Tehran would. Because not only they but we would respond. Deterrence is working, in other words. What Netanyahu’s worried about is United States will affect [a rapprochement] with Iran. And that rapprochement will take us back to the time of 1953, 1979 when Iran was our protector in the Gulf. They were our country in the Gulf. They looked after our interest in the Gulf. That would be anathema, is anathema to Netanyahu, because it would mean Israel would automatically be on a less important plane, even a much less important plane. And they don’t want to see that. They do not want to see the United States diffuse its interest, if you will, in the region. And they don’t want to see the military geographic, demographic true hegemon in the Gulf, Iran, the most stable country in Southwest Asia by the way, be a part of the U.S. international and regional scheme. That’s nonsense. That’s a recipe for future danger and insecurity. For not just the region, but also for Israel. The best way to secure Afghanistan, to secure Iraq, to end the political war or the civil war politically in Syria, and to protect Israel’s security and keep the region reasonably stable is to have Iran is a partner in doing all that where our interests are common. That’s the only way you’re going to do it. You will never solve the region’s problems without Iran’s help. BALL: Larry Wilkerson, thank you very much for joining us here at the Real News Network and helping us understand this new arrangement. WILKERSON: Thanks for having me. BALL: And thank you for joining us here at the Real News Network. And for all involved, again, I’m Jared Ball. And as always, as Fred Hampton used to say, to you we say peace if you’re willing to fight for it. Peace, everybody.


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Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government and Public Policy

Lawrence Wilkerson's last positions in government were as Secretary of State Colin Powell's Chief of Staff (2002-05), Associate Director of the State Department's Policy Planning staff under the directorship of Ambassador Richard N. Haass, and member of that staff responsible for East Asia and the Pacific, political-military and legislative affairs (2001-02). Before serving at the State Department, Wilkerson served 31 years in the U.S. Army. During that time, he was a member of the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College (1987 to 1989), Special Assistant to General Powell when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989-93), and Director and Deputy Director of the U.S. Marine Corps War College at Quantico, Virginia (1993-97). Wilkerson retired from active service in 1997 as a colonel, and began work as an advisor to General Powell. He has also taught national security affairs in the Honors Program at the George Washington University. He is currently working on a book about the first George W. Bush administration.