September 26th, 2014
02:52 PM ET

Rouhani on the 'Happy' video sentencing

Fareed speaks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani about the controversy over a video created for the song “Happy.” Watch the full interview this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.

You had six Iranians, young Iranians, who made this video of the song “Happy.” They’ve been sentenced to lashes, which have been commuted. They’ve been forced to recant on television. Why make them go through this punishment for making a harmless video about a song?

We do have a multitude of problems in the region and the world at large today than to speak about the prosecution of certain individuals. But, be that as it may, I as the president of Iran have been sworn and put there by the will of the people to protect the constitution. If the constitution is ever violated, it is my legal responsibility to take the appropriate steps and implement appropriate actions.

I don’t know the specifics of the case you are referring to, but perhaps in a country, a certain – in any country – a certain individual can be detained or questioned or put on trial. If it is done so, if this is done within the legal framework and if that individual has broken the law, then they must be prosecuted through the legal channels properly. If they haven’t broken the law, then it is a moot point.

You haven’t seen the video. It’s completely harmless.

No.

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Topics: GPS Show • Iran
September 25th, 2014
06:04 PM ET

Zakaria: Path to political progress in Syria must run through Tehran

CNN speaks with Fareed about Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's speech to the United Nations and Tehran's potential role in tackling ISIS. Watch Fareed's interview with Rouhani this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.

What struck you most about Rouhani’s speech?

It wasn't a particularly interesting or dramatic speech. It repeated themes that the Iranians have been saying for a while. Rouhani has been more forthcoming in interviews he's done – I had an opportunity to do one of them. In those, what becomes clear is the Iranians believe that they can be part of the solution in Iraq, in Syria, with regard to ISIS, even in Afghanistan. But first the nuclear deal has to be achieved. They are putting a lot of hope and a certain amount of pressure on the West to produce a nuclear agreement, a compromise that everyone can live with, and then they say they could be helpful for issues of shared interest, common interests in the fight against ISIS.

Certainly coupling issues that the West, the U.S. does not want to have coupled there. You spoke with him yesterday. He's critical of these air strikes in Syria. What did he tell you?

Well, he's critical of them, but I think it's important to note the criticism is very muted. It's of two forms. One is what you heard in the speech – this is all the West's fault. You invaded Iraq. You created instability. You created a haven for this kind of activity.

The second is rather technical grounds, which is that it's technically not something that can be sanctioned by international law because it doesn't have U.N. approval and it didn't have the Syrian government's approval. He moves off that pretty quickly. He's in favor of battling ISIS – there's no condemnation of U.S. air strikes. I think that they would very much like – the Iranians, that is – to have the United States take an active part in the struggle against ISIS. They just want to make sure they get the nuclear deal.
FULL POST

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Topics: Iran • ISIS
September 25th, 2014
01:32 PM ET

Zakaria: To beat ISIS, it's the politics stupid

CNN's New Day speaks with Fareed Zakaria about U.S.-led military strikes against ISIS, the Obama administration's strategy, and why the politics are so complicated. This is an edited version of the transcript.

This morning, a new round of U.S.-led air strikes targeted about a dozen oil refineries to try and cut off the money that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria makes through the black market. But we don't know how successful these bombings will be, and we're not really going to know because the coalition isn't on the ground in a meaningful way. And even if they achieve every objective they want to, it's far from over. Explain the complexity of this situation in terms of how you make real change.

Well, you're exactly right. Think about the initial air campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan, brilliantly successful in Iraq, brilliantly successful in Libya. And then what you have is the ground operation, and most importantly the political operation as it were – who is going to govern these areas? Who is going to take charge? And the problem we face in Iraq – we have an answer, and we have a strategy. The Iraqi army tries to move in, the Kurds move in, you're trying to create a more inclusive Iraqi government. Not there yet, but at least that is the strategy.

In Syria, it is a mess because once you start striking at ISIS, who is going to replace it? Well, the al-Assad government, the Syrian government, wants to be that person. We want the Free Syrian Army, the rebels, the moderate rebels as we call them, to take over. And, guess what? This is a 12-cornered contest. It's going to be very messy.

So, imagine the two-step race here. We have a one-step campaign to defeat ISIS. Then we need to, in our minds, help the Free Syrian army defeat the al-Assad government.

Meanwhile, just to complicate things further, the Iranian government, which has been backing the Syrian regime, is going to fight those free Syrian rebels. I had the opportunity to interview President Rouhani of Iran yesterday, and he said flatly, the Free Syrian Army are terrorists. From Iran's point of view, they really don't make that much distinction between ISIS and the Free Syrian Army. They're going to fight both. FULL POST

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Topics: Iran • ISIS • Islam • Middle East
September 25th, 2014
09:43 AM ET

Rouhani: We have 'historic opportunity' on nuclear negotiations

Fareed speaks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani about the ongoing nuclear negotiations. Watch the full interview on "Fareed Zakaria GPS," this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.

In his speech today, President Obama had a direct message to Iran. He said don’t let this moment pass. We can reach a solution. Is he right? Is the United States negotiating in good faith?

Well you see today, we are faced with a very good opportunity vis-à-vis the nuclear talks and negotiations. This good opportunity was created in reality only last year in result of the expression of the political will of the majority of the people of Iran and their vast participation in those elections and the mandates received out of those elections. A new atmosphere was created as a result of all of that. We must all make good use of it – our side as well as the five plus one. Everyone together must make good use of this historic opportunity…

…Mr. President, on the basis of my reporting, my understanding is that Iran has offered to go down to 9,400 centrifuges, the United States wants you to go to 1,500 centrifuges. Why don’t we split the difference? 5,500? Are you willing? Shall we announce to the world that that is the midpoint?

Well we have a saying in Farsi, “In the middle of the conflict, do not start setting rates.”

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Topics: GPS Show • Iran
September 25th, 2014
09:09 AM ET

Rouhani warns over Free Syria Army

Fareed speaks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani about the Free Syrian Army. Watch the full interview on "Fareed Zakaria GPS," this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.

When you that say you don’t want the United States to fight ISIS but in the fighting of it create another terrorist group, what group are you thinking of?

The American authorities they themselves they have announced that they wish to train another terrorist group, equip that group and send them to Syria to fight.

You mean the Free Syrian Army?

You can call them whatever you wish sir. Be that as it may, it is a group, it is another group, that as they have announced, I’m not sure what their plan is, they say we wish to train these folks in another country, military training, and they even announced a time frame. With whose permission, with whose authority, with what mandate, according to what international laws and norms are they doing this?

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Topics: GPS Show • Iran
Why it's right to keep talking to Iran
July 19th, 2014
01:57 PM ET

Why it's right to keep talking to Iran

By Brig. Gen. John H. Johns and Angela Canterbury, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Brig. Gen. John H. Johns (USA, ret.) serves on the Council for a Livable World Advisory Board and is a former deputy assistant defense secretary. Angela Canterbury is the executive director of the nonpartisan, nonprofit Council for a Livable World and Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. The views expressed are their own.

World powers announced late Friday the need for an extension of negotiations as diplomats work to achieve a comprehensive deal on Iran's nuclear program. This is an opportunity we can’t forgo. Diplomacy must be given the chance to succeed, lest we live with the probable consequences of failure: an Iranian nuclear weapon or another disastrous war.

In fact, diplomacy has already yielded results – Iran has met all of its commitments under the Joint Plan of Action, which took effect in January. Since that time, real progress has been made in scaling back Iran’s nuclear program, and intrusive inspections of its nuclear facilities have taken place under a more effective verification regime. These inspections have given the United States and its allies unprecedented insights into Iran’s nuclear facilities. Further, Iran has significantly dialed back its nuclear activity. Its stockpile of dangerous enriched uranium has decreased from 195 kilograms at the outset of the deal to just 4 kilograms in June – a 97 percent drop.

We’ve come a long way toward our goal of preventing an Iranian nuclear bomb. But we need a long-lasting agreement. And to achieve that, we must keep Iran at the table. It’s reasonable that negotiators need more time to settle on the details of what will undoubtedly be an extremely complicated settlement. And Iran’s compliance thus far suggests that its leadership is committed to this process, and that extending the talks offers real hope for success.

Of course, hawkish detractors in Congress can be expected to continue to try to derail the ongoing negotiations by pushing for more unilateral sanctions. But we cannot sanction Iran into abandoning its nuclear ambitions. If that were so, Iran already would have capitulated. After all, sanctions have been an effective tool for getting Iran to the negotiating table. Now we are at the table, and we need to stay there to complete the agreement.

We also cannot allow the negotiations to be hamstrung by unreasonable demands, such as those being made in a letter by Senators Bob Menendez and Lindsay Graham. If we undermine the diplomatic efforts, Iran can be expected to return to its former nuclear activities.

But even more importantly, we will lose the inspections that allow us to monitor those activities. Nothing could be more dangerous. Without inspections, with no idea of how Iran’s nuclear program is proceeding, we will be operating without information essential to our national security.

Not surprisingly, those who pushed us into war in Iraq are calling for military engagement with Iran. After more than a decade of war and so many lives lost – all without truly advancing our national security – this call to abandon diplomacy and a rush to war again are truly implausible. We’ve been down that path before. If there’s one thing we have learned from Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s that military conflicts have unexpected consequences. In the case of Iran, U.S. military action could very likely force Iran’s nuclear program underground and unite Iran’s leaders and people in a dash for the bomb.

The nuclear talks represent a critical opportunity to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, protect U.S. security, and prevent another war. We must give these talks adequate time to succeed.

Ultimately, what would you choose? Another war, a nuclear-armed Iran, or another four months of talks for the chance for peace and security?

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Topics: Iran
Why the U.S. should keep talking with Iran
July 10th, 2014
08:01 AM ET

Why the U.S. should keep talking with Iran

By Zachary Keck, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Zachary Keck is managing editor of The Diplomat and a monthly columnist at The National Interest. You can follow him @ZacharyKeck. The views expressed are his own.

As the July 20 deadline for a deal over Iran's nuclear program approaches, it seems increasingly unlikely that Tehran and the P5+1 will reach a comprehensive agreement. Indeed, Iran has already signaled its willingness to extend the talks for another six months as outlined in the interim agreement, and President Barack Obama should therefore begin to prepare Congress for this reality as soon as possible. The U.S. has too much to lose by rejecting this offer. And fortunately for the administration, the case for extending the talks is an easy one to make.

To begin with, the U.S. has nothing to lose by agreeing to an extension. Despite the unconvincing arguments of its critics, the interim accord heavily favored the U.S. and its allies. Under the agreement, Iran agreed to freeze its nuclear program, as well as rollback its most dangerous elements. Equally important, Tehran agreed to intrusive inspections to demonstrate its compliance with the agreement.

In return, Iran received roughly $7 billion in sanctions relief spread across the six month period. At the same time, the P5+1 refused to lift the sanctions regime, which costs Iran an estimated $5 billion per month. Iran therefore continues to lose billions of dollars every month the negotiations drag on. All this means that even if extending the talks doesn't result in a comprehensive agreement, it will still freeze Iran's nuclear program and continue to squeeze it economically.

FULL POST

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Topics: Iran
Social media poisoning Middle East politics
July 3rd, 2014
01:54 PM ET

Social media poisoning Middle East politics

Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about the killing of three Israeli teens and a Palestinian youth, the role of social media in the Middle East, and the prospects for a peaceful resolution to the crisis. This is an edited version of the transcript.

The violence and the tension between Israelis and Palestinians is nothing new. When did it get to the point that killing innocent teenagers is part of this?

Unfortunately, there’s a long history of terrorism. Palestinians regarded it as a resistance to what they see as an illegitimate occupation. Of course, Israelis regarded it as terrorism. What I think is new here, which is very troubling, is that people are using the new tools of technology, social media, and you're beginning to see radical fringe elements that are able to organize, galvanize support. So what happens after the horrific murder of these three Israelis is you see Israeli right wing extremist groups go on Facebook and create sites that basically say, let's kill Arabs.

On the Arab side, on the Palestinian side, you've had similar kinds of incitement. It's as if we sometimes think that these technologies are somehow going to make everybody get along and cooperate. And instead what's happening is that it's creating a poison within the body politics of both sides, and it's going to be very difficult to walk this down because it's out there now.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has called for calm. Everyone on both sides is calling for calm on this. But can they keep a handle on this, especially when you talk about how now you have this social media element? FULL POST

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Topics: Iran • Iraq • Israel • Palestinian Authority • Technology
Iraq badlands might be inevitable
June 16th, 2014
04:46 PM ET

Iraq badlands might be inevitable

Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about the advances made by militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria over the past week, what role the United States can play in assisting Iraq's government, and whether the latest violence was inevitable. This is an edited version of the transcript.

What can the U.S. do?

I think that what the president is trying to do is to force the Iraqis, particularly Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, to make some political overtures to the Sunnis. Because I think he recognizes at the heart of this problem what you have is a disaffected population – about 20 percent of Iraq that is fueling and supporting the insurgency.

Remember, the problem is not arms or men. The Iraqi army is about three-quarters of a million men strong. They have been trained in equipment supplied by the United States for ten years. The insurgents are about 2,000 or 3,000 people. So the fact that the insurgents [are] taking this down tells you that the basic problem is not a military one, it’s a political one. The army won't fight. The Sunnis in the area are providing support for the insurgency. FULL POST

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Topics: Iran • Iraq • Syria • Terrorism
June 15th, 2014
03:41 PM ET

U.S. defending the indefensible in Iraq

Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Fareed Zakaria

If the Bush administration deserves a fair share of blame for “losing Iraq,” what about the Obama administration and its decision to withdraw all American forces from the country by the end of 2011?

I would have preferred to see a small American force left in Iraq to try to prevent the country's collapse. But let's remember why this force is not in Iraq. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki refused to provide the guarantees that every other country in the world that hosts U.S. forces provides.

Some commentators have blamed the Obama administration for negotiating badly or half-heartedly and perhaps this is true. But here's what a senior Iraqi politician told me in the days the American deal was being discussed. “It will not happen,” he said, “Maliki cannot allow American troops to stay on. Iran has made very clear to Maliki that its number one demand is that there be no American troops remaining in Iraq. And Maliki owes them.”

FULL POST

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Topics: GPS Show • Iran • Iraq
May 22nd, 2014
04:13 PM ET

Iraq’s future looks more like Kurdistan

By Marina Ottaway, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Marina Ottaway is a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has emerged as the clear winner of the Iraqi parliamentary elections. His State of Law coalition has won at least 92 seats of the 328 seats in the Council of Representatives, three times as many as the next largest party. In the 2010 elections, in contrast, al-Maliki lost by two seats to Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiyya Party, a coalition of secular Shia and Sunni organizations that has now completely disintegrated.

There is therefore no doubt that al-Maliki will be asked by the president (when parliament can agree on one) to form the new government. In 2010, he had to battle with Allawi for months to get that chance. But putting together a coalition with the needed 164 votes may prove even harder than in 2010, when the process lasted nine months, only coming to an end with an agreement to form a government of national reconciliation in which all parties participated.

This time, al-Maliki has already announced that he does not want another government of national unity, but he will find it difficult to get sufficient support. After four years of increasingly authoritarian rule, the prime minister has little backing among Sunnis and Kurds, and has even failed to unite Shias behind him. Eventually, al-Maliki will probably succeed, but not without making major concessions that would give him a third term as prime minister but also change the country toward a confederal form of government.

FULL POST

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Topics: Iran • Iraq
How to strike a win-win deal with Iran
May 13th, 2014
07:57 AM ET

How to strike a win-win deal with Iran

By Reza Marashi and Trita Parsi, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Reza Marashi is director of research at the National Iranian American Council. Trita Parsi is president of the National Iranian American Council and author of A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama's Diplomacy with Iran. The views expressed are the writers' own.

The United States and its allies are now preparing for the home stretch in their nuclear negotiations with Iran. And, as they approach the finish line, it will be critical for insightful voices to help the Obama administration parse through difficult issues that remain on the negotiating table.

Kenneth Pollack – a top Clinton administration official and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution – recently took to the pages of the New York Times to do exactly that. He correctly notes in his op-ed that a comprehensive deal verifiably ensuring the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program will be enormously beneficial.

Ken is our friend and one of the sharpest minds working in Washington today. That's why we hope to use his New York Times op-ed as a launching pad for a broader dialogue about what the details of a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran should look like.

He rightly points out three critical issues that will make or break our negotiations with Iran: inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities; creating mechanisms to ensure Iran doesn't cheat; and the duration of a final deal. However, we believe the contours recommended in his op-ed would risk creating such an imbalance in the deal that it would incentivize the Iranians to cheat, and by that turn a diplomatic win into an embarrassing fiasco.

FULL POST

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Topics: Iran • Nuclear
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