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CNN "The Situation Room" - Iranian Nuclear Program

Interview

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SCIUTTO: CNN has learned that the U.S. and the west are getting close to a deal with Iran on its nuclear program. Senior administration official tells me the agreement would keep Iran's nuclear technology from advancing and even roll it back in some key areas. We now have Democratic congressman, Adam Schiff of California, to talk about it. He sits on the House Intelligence Committee.

We've been here before, even in the last couple of weeks, thought we were close. How close do you think we are now? I get the sense from administration officials that they feel they're very near to making a deal.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Jim, I think we're probably very close, but as you said, we were very close a week ago and anything can cause this to fall apart. We can have differences with our allies about it. It could be that Rouhani brings the proposed deal back to the mullahs and gets turned down. So, very precarious, but we've never been this close in more than a decade, so there is some cause for optimism.

SCIUTTO: Well, you make a good point. The Iranians have to go back to Tehran and they have their own opposition there, hardliners, who are very skeptical, as does the president here. He has his opposition, some of whom are in the Democratic Party. Senator Menendez, for instance, expressing concern about giving too much too soon. What do you say to those skeptics about a deal, about the outlines of the deal as we know it now?

SCHIFF: Well, look, I think we have to go into these negotiations very skeptical. Iran has proved to be hiding its nuclear program for years. They've got a lot of reasons for us to be distrustful. At the same time, I don't think we want to do something that jeopardizes the chance to get to a good deal. We may not get there, but I don't think we should embark on another round of sanctions during the negotiations that might cause Iranians to walk away.

We need the support of the international community to enforce sanctions. If they see us imposing unacceptable obstacles to a diplomatic course, it's going to be a huge problem for us. So, will they come through, I don't know. I don't think we can look in Rouhani's eyes and see whether he's telling the truth, let alone see his soul. But I do think we ought to give administration a chance to see if they can get to a good deal.

SCIUTTO: I think it's fair to say that there are some people who don't want to see any deal at all. The argument the administration will make to them is that if you don't negotiate, the only option you're left with is going to war. Is it safe to say that the true skeptics, that's the only option that they're leaving open here, a military attack on Iran's nuclear facility?

SCHIFF: Well, you know, I think those that are opposed to the present state of negotiations are probably in two camps. The one camp that says doesn't look like they're getting close to a good deal so we got to walk away and if we can push sanctions and help them walk away, all the better. The other that won't trust any kind of negotiated resolution, they just don't believe the Iranians will follow through.

They think it's yet another delay tactic and that it's delaying the inevitable use of military force. I think it's imperative that we try to see if we can get to a deal. It has to be tough and verifiable and a short-term deal if we reverse any sanctions or provide any relief has got to be something we can turn on again very quickly.

But if ultimately it comes to the use of military force, we don't want there to be any doubt in the world that we made every effort to get a diplomatic resolution.

SCIUTTO: It seems to me one of the real problems here, this is a difficult deal to make at any time. Now the administration attempting to do it when it has real hard opposition from allies it needs, its closest allies in the region, you heard from Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, you heard from the Saudis. You need these people on board, don't you, to make this successful going forward?

SCHIFF: Well, you know, we do need their support. We may or may not get it. It's going to be awfully difficult to get with their active opposition. At the same time, I think we have to make the case with our friends and foes alike that the military path, if that's the only option we leave, has its own huge set of problems. It's not as if the military path inevitably leads to a conclusion where Iran has no nuclear program.

It may, in fact, mean they throw all caution to the wind and accelerate their nuclear efforts. So, there is no good option here short of a negotiated one, and that may be possible, it may not be, but I think we ought to test the Iranians.

SCIUTTO: We're going to find out very quickly this week. They start meeting on Wednesday this week in Geneva. Again, thanks very much, Congressman Adam Schiff talking about these very important negotiations.

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