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Under former vice president Dick Cheney’s watch, Iran’s centrifuges multiplied while the current nuclear deal will cut Iran’s enriched uranium by 97 percent, says former Chief of Staff to Colin Powell Larry Wilkerson

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JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. And welcome to this edition of the Wilkerson Report. Now joining us from Williamsburg, Virginia is Larry Wilkerson. He is the former chief of staff for U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, and he’s currently an adjunct professor of government at the College of William and Mary, and of course he’s a regular contributor to the Real News. Thanks for joining us, Larry. LARRY WILKERSON, FMR. CHIEF OF STAFF TO COLIN POWELL: Thanks for having me, glad to be here. DESVARIEUX: So Larry, the momentum for the Iran deal seems to be moving in President Obama’s direction. Obama just needs 3 of the 13 undecided Democratic senators remaining to side with him, and in the House it looks like he has enough votes to uphold a veto. That’s according to Politico. But Larry, the main argument for those opposing this deal is that this makes Israel less safe. Do critics have a point here, that this deal will negatively affect the long-term security of Israel? WILKERSON: I think if you look at it from the perspective of Bibi Netanyahu politically, it does probably make his political career suspect. But I think it makes Israel’s security, at least for the 15-year window, and I would argue beyond that but at least for that 15-year window, far more solid than it would without the agreement. Let me just say why. First of all, before the agreement there was roughly two to three months of warning time before a breakout might occur. Before they could get to the point where they were actually using fissionable material to build a bomb. This agreement once it’s in place, six to nine months down the road, no cheating here, everybody working it out. Us doing our sanctions bit and their doing their adhering to the agreement bit, which is quite extensive and intrusive. Then we will have probably a year or more in order to find out if they’re cheating and then to do something about it. So it increases the warning time from two to three months to a year or better. That is in Israel’s favor. And it doesn’t obviate any of the other options, which is what I keep telling my Republican colleagues who I know are politically motivated, and they don’t want to listen to logic and reason. This agreement does not obviate any other of the options. You can still bomb. You can still invade. You can still do nothing. Iran will simply be operating in accordance with the most intrusive inspections regime ever devised under the NPT, the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, and they will be under 24/7 watch. So very stringent, stringent watch. And if they cheat–if they do. I’m not saying they might not. If they do cheat, we will detect it and we’ll be able to revisit the other options, whichever one we might want to implement. The deal does not foreclose anything. That’s how stupid and purblind these other people are. I say that knowing full well that they know that. They’re doing this for political reasons, not for national security reasons. DESVARIEUX: Larry, you say all the options would still be on the table but there’s criticisms that even if those options are still on the table that means that Iran actually might have a nuclear weapon, so it does change the game. And I’m going to talk about some of the opposition, some of the usual suspects coming out like Dick Cheney and his daughter Liz. And in an excerpt of their forthcoming book, Exceptional: Why the World Needs a Powerful America, they write this: “Allowing the Iranians to continue to enrich uranium and agreeing to the removal of all restraints on their nuclear program in a few short years virtually guarantees that they will become a nuclear weapons state, thus undermining the fundamental agreement at the heart of the NPT. President Obama is unraveling this international structure as part of an agreement that provides a pathway for the world’s worst state sponsor of terror to acquire a nuclear weapon.” What do you make of this argument, Larry, that this is only delaying Iran from developing a weapon? WILKERSON: There is so much illogic and so much fabrication in that statement that I want to go back to Dick Cheney’s assurance to the American people, and this is a direct quote, “We know with absolute certainty that Saddam Hussein has nuclear weapons.” That’s Dick Cheney, that’s about Iraq, that was dead wrong. This is even worse than that, because he does not know. She, his daughter, does not know from whence they come. This is all politically inspired. This, as I said before, this agreement actually extends the warning time from two to three months to over a year, and gives the best assurances you could conceive on paper and in the agreement for detection of something untoward happening, cheating or whatever it might be, within that year to year, longer than a year period, and then you’ve got time to take action. What they’re really saying, what Liz and Dick are really saying, is they’re say–and I give it about as much credibility as I did that we’ll be met in the street with flowers in Iraq, another statement by Dick Cheney. And this, you know, Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction and so forth, another statement by Dick Cheney, as I just said. Both lies. Both untruths, if you will, at best. If this situation is as it is, then we’re talking about a situation where Israel will have to react within a two to three month window. They will have to detect whatever is going on that they think is against their interest, whether it’s making triggers for nuclear weapons, miniaturizing a weapon to put it on a missile, or all the different things tat one has to do before it really becomes a threat to anyone, they all have to detect that within a two to three month window, make a decision, and then do whatever’s necessary to be done. With the agreement we have a year or more to do this. We have the most intrusive inspection regime to detect it in the history of the non-proliferation treaty. And we have people on the ground and cameras on the ground 24/7 to help us with that process. We also have, and people have dismissed this, but I do not dismiss it. We also have a president of Iran, Rouhani, Hassan Rouhani, who has promised the Iranian people that he is going to improve their economy. The only way he can do that is to use the preponderance of the not hundreds of billions, but the 59 or so billion that are going to come back to him over the course of the first part of this agreement to apply to the Iranian economy, to do the things that he needs to do to make it work better. So the idea that it’s all going to go to terrorism or something like that is just simply preposterous. Iran is going to have to do what Rouhani said it would do, or he won’t be reelected. So that’s another problem that my Republican colleagues have, and others who oppose this deal like Schumer and Menendez in the Democratic party. They can’t explain that this is going to be the case, and that we’re going to have a better situation down the road than we have today. I [hold] the situation more conducive to eliminating any possibility that Iran will build a nuclear weapon, not a 15-year window that suddenly elapses and Iran says, aha, now’s the time to build a nuclear weapon. That’s not only absurd, it defies rational thought. So I’m encouraged by the fact that we’ve got more and more people on both sides of the political aisle, more and more independence, more and more military validators. We even have Israelis who are coming out now publicly and validating the fact that this agreement and the signing of this agreement, the putting in force of this agreement, is a better assurance of Israeli security in the long term than not signing the agreement, which would put us right back where we are. And let me just tell you we were. We were at a point in the Bush administration where Iran had 200 centrifuges, roughly. With Dick Cheney’s policy of we don’t speak to evil, with Dick Cheney’s policy of no policy with regard to Iran, we went to 8,000. By the time George W. Bush left office they had 8,000. Before President Obama could put this very comprehensive stringent regime in place of sanctions, crippling sanctions, as Secretary Clinton called them at the time, they went to 19,000 centrifuges. This agreement is going to take them back to roughly 6,000, get rid of 97 percent of the enriched uranium, changed the Iraq plutonium reactor from a core that could produce a bomb to one that can’t, and put on the ground 24/7 intrusive inspection for 15 years or longer, because the NPT doesn’t go away at the end of 15 years. This is all about politics, Jessica. It has nothing to do with U.S. or Israeli long-term security. DESVARIEUX: All right. We’re going to be following those politics, because Congress is back in session next week. Larry Wilkerson joining us from Williamsburg, Virginia. Always a pleasure having you on. WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Jessica, and have a good day. DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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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.