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White House Director On Iran Nuclear Deal, Gina Haspel Nomination


President Trump's administration faces two dramatic days. Today the president is promising to announce a decision on Iran. He can extend or not extend sanctions relief that the United States offered in exchange for limits on Iran's nuclear program. And then tomorrow, the president's nominee to lead the CIA faces a hearing before the Senate. Gina Haspel faces criticism for her role in the agency's past use of torture in interrogations and other techniques.

Marc Short is going to discuss all this with us. He is the president's legislative affairs director, and he's on the line from the White House.

Mr. Short, welcome back to the program.

MARC SHORT: Thanks so much for having me back.

INSKEEP: I understand that you're not going to tell us what the president's announcement is this afternoon. But give us some context here. How do you view the president's options? What is the choice that he faces?

SHORT: Well, Steve, I think that the president has been pretty clear since the campaign of his opinion about the deal that sent $1.8 billion in cash to the mullahs in Iran without any limitations on our ability to continue to proliferate ballistic missiles or to support terrorism across the Middle East. And so you're right, I'm not going to get ahead of his announcement this afternoon. But I think he's been very clear with the American people about what he felt were the deficiencies in the deal and things that he thinks need to be fixed moving forward.

INSKEEP: OK. So he's focused on the fact that this was a relatively narrow deal. It was about Iran's nuclear program. It didn't deal with Iran's other behaviors, so to speak. So let me figure out what the long-range goal is because the president has this deal. He wants to fix it or get rid of it. And European diplomats are expecting him to get rid of it. But that does raise the question of what the big goal is. Do you want to negotiate a different deal with Iran? Do you just want regime change in Iran? What's the president want?

SHORT: I think, Steve, that the president wants to make sure that Iran is not continuing to foment terrorism across the Middle East, continue to attack innocent Americans and other civilians in that area, to continue to have hostility toward Israel and continue to support other terrorist activity. So I think that the president will be looking to continue to fight to make sure that Iran doesn't have the wherewithal and the leeway to continue to do what it's been doing for the last several years.

INSKEEP: Yeah. But if you want to change Iran's behavior, there's two ways, I guess. And one would be to negotiate with them. And the other would be to seek regime change. Does the president imagine that he can negotiate a deal with this current regime?

SHORT: I think the president feels that, partnering with the allies, he can do better than what's been done so far.

INSKEEP: Which means what?

SHORT: I think that the - I'm not going to get that far ahead of the president. He's got an announcement just a couple of hours from now.

INSKEEP: OK. So he's going to continue the pressure in some fashion. And we'll listen for that and see what happens.

I do want to ask one other question, though, before we move on to this other topic. We heard elsewhere in the program today from Rob Malley. He's a Middle East expert. He was in the Obama administration for a while. He was involved in this nuclear deal. And he said that if the president withdraws, America's word is not going to be as trusted as it was before. How do you back away from the deal without breaking America's word?

SHORT: Steve, I think that there are so many deficiencies in this deal, including I think one of the challenges that there has not been an ability to fully inspect whether or not Iran is in fact continuing to work on its nuclear weapons. There has been no ability for America or other partner nation to actually do the inspections. I think that this deal is so flawed. And the reality is that Iran has broken the principle of the deal in so many different fashions and ways that it would be hard to suggest that America is the one violating the deal.

INSKEEP: I guess we'll note before going on, international weapons inspectors say Iran is allowing these inspections and that it is following the deal, although there has been some dispute over whether every single place in Iran can be inspected.

I want to ask about Gina Haspel now, the CIA nominee who faces this big hearing tomorrow. It's interesting thinking about her long career. It appears that her strength is her qualifications, her long experience at the CIA. And also her weakness or vulnerability is her qualifications because she ran a CIA facility at the time some waterboarding took place after 9/11. I'd like to know what view the president takes of her role after 9/11.

SHORT: Steve, I think the president believes that Gina is absolutely the very best pick we could find to run the CIA. She's served, as you mentioned, 33 years there. She is somebody who, when she graduated from college - after she graduated high school, she wanted to go to West Point. But her dad was a career military officer and explained that they would not take women at West Point at the time. And so after graduating from college, she pursued a career in serving our nation another way.

She's risen all the way to the top. She has served as station chief in some most dangerous places across the globe. And if she's not qualified and the best person to lead, then that's a sad state of affairs to where the United States Congress is right now in their adjudication about who is proper fit to run the CIA.

INSKEEP: You've pointed to the fact that she would not only be highly qualified but also the first woman to run the CIA. But there is this question about what the CIA did after 9/11. What view does the president take of what she did, that part of her record?

SHORT: I think the president believes that she's an American patriot who has served our country. There have been multiple investigations into her activity, some that were led by Democrats, including the Democrat committee that was leading the House Intelligence Committee that determined that she had not broken any laws and fully exonerated her. And I think that she was conducting the work that she did in compliance with the law of the United States approved by the United States attorney general. She followed the orders that she was given.

And if we can't find the ability to confirm somebody with her credentials, as you mentioned, not just the first female but in fact she would be the first career officer to lead CIA in 52 years. I think that the environment in Washington has become frankly so poisonous that people begin to search for reasons to support their political position more so than actually look at her credentials.

INSKEEP: Well, I think that her defenders would say that her connection with waterboarding and other activities was somewhat peripheral. That's the defense that they would give. And there are some details they can offer on that. But maybe this talk about torture is intensified because the president of the United States, during the campaign, explicitly endorsed torture and said he wanted to bring it back. If she becomes the CIA director, will he be expecting her to revive or expand this kind of interrogation or other techniques such as rendition of suspects from other countries?

SHORT: I think in her testimony tomorrow, what the American people will see is someone enormously qualified to lead the agency. And they'll hear her say that she would abide by the laws of Congress and that Congress has changed the laws and she does not believe the CIA should be in the interrogation business.

INSKEEP: So no torture?

SHORT: She does not believe the CIA should be in the interrogation business.


Well, Mr. Short, it's a pleasure talking with you. Thank you very much.

SHORT: Thanks, Steve. Thanks for having me on.

INSKEEP: Marc Short is the White House legislative director. He joined us from the White House this morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF WAX TAYLOR'S "SOMETIMES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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