CNN speaks with Fareed about his interview this week with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. This is an edited version of the transcript. You can watch the full interview with Rouhani on "Fareed Zakaria GPS" this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.
Rouhani said that there would be no destruction of existing centrifuges “under any circumstances.” It seems he is going even going further than what his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, told CNN’s Jim Sciutto this week. What's going on here? Because there could be, potentially, some sort of fundamental disagreement between Iran and the United States.
That's exactly what I worry about. I think you're right. It's the first time an Iranian official – and this is the president – has laid out his vision, if you will, of the final agreement. And what he said to me, what Rouhani said was, look, we intend to have a robust civilian nuclear program. You can have as many inspections as you want, but we are not going to roll back that program. In fact, we're going to expand that program.
Now, that's a very different vision from what the United States has laid out, where they expected significant rollback of the program. They talked about shuttering some of those centrifuges. They talked about dismantling the heavy water reactor at Arak. But he [Rouhani] made clear, categorically, specifically and unequivocally, none of that is going to happen.
So I think we have a train wreck on its way here.
You asked him about U.S.-Iranian relations, confidence building. So where is this U.S.-Iranian relationship heading?
You know, I’m struck by the fact that there is a commitment to negotiation. He reiterated very strongly, we do not intend to have nuclear weapons, we have made it clear it is un-Islamic, it is forbidden, you can have as many inspections as you want.
So there were some positive elements. But the bridge between the two positions, as I say, is so great that you would need a lot of trust. And we have very little. Remember, we've not talked to this country in 34 years. We're just beginning this process. We're not doing it one-on-one.
And as a result, you know, these negotiations – and I've talked to people who have been in them – you don't build a lot of trust when you have so many people in the room. You've got six countries on one side, Iran on the other. It's difficult to imagine this one ending very happily.
On Syria – and the Iranians have a lot of influence on what's going on in Syria – they have a close relationship with the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. He did say something intriguing to you about elections in Syria and, potentially, some sort of end to the civil war. What did he say?
Well, he was very clear that he supported the al-Assad regime's conception of what's going on there, which is there are a lot of terrorists coming into this country from Saudi Arabia, from Turkey, from places like that. This has to stop.
But then he said, we do believe that there should be free elections in Syria and that is the best way to resolve this.
Now, that is one glimmer of hope, because if there is going to be a political solution in Syria, that is one path by which you could imagine the al-Assad regime either having to share power or actually exiting altogether. It's a slender reed, but it's the first time we've heard any prospect of some kind of political solution which might involve a different political settlement other than al-Assad just staying in power.
And on a totally unrelated matter, in a separate article you just wrote for the new issue of TIME entitled "The Case for Snooping," you make the case that the U.S. has to continue the surveillance program, the NSA surveillance program. What is your bottom line on this?
The bottom line is this: People don't realize we are under constant cyber attack from all over world. The National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees our civilian nuclear facilities, gets 10 million cyber attacks a day. That's 3.65 billion attacks a year. Now, how do you defend against that?
You cannot defend against cyber terrorism, cyber theft, cyber warfare without allowing the U.S. government some access to the telecom and computer systems. We live in this cyber world and we think it's like a government-free zone. It ain't. If you want freedom, just like in the real world, you're going to have to have police.