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Transcript: Laura Holgate talks with Michael Morell on "Intelligence Matters"

Trump on China, North Korea, Bernie Sanders

INTELLIGENCE MATTERS - LAURA HOLGATE

CORRESPONDENT: MICHAEL MORELL

PRODUCER: OLIVIA GAZIS

MICHAEL MORELL:

Laura, welcome. It is great to have you on the show, and it is great to see you again.

LAURA HOLGATE:

Oh, great to be with you, Michael.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Laura, I want to begin with your career. You received your bachelor's degree in political science from Princeton, master's degree in political science from M.I.T. And do I have those right?

LAURA HOLGATE:

Yes sir.

MICHAEL MORELL:

When did you get interested in national security and why? And when did you get interested in the nuclear security issue that defines so much of your career?

LAURA HOLGATE:

Well, it goes back pretty far. Part of it has to do with growing up as a daughter of an airline pilot in, you know, suburban Kansas City. So that gave me an access to the world outside my, what my classmates might have had exposure to.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So you got to fly all over the place--

LAURA HOLGATE:

And so got to fly all over the place. And really--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Which airline?

LAURA HOLGATE:

T.W.A.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Oh okay.

LAURA HOLGATE:

Back, you know, way back. (LAUGH)

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yeah, but flying everywhere.

LAURA HOLGATE:

But flying everywhere, and really that instilled a little bit of wanderlust in me that suggested that whatever I did, I might want to have some kind of international angle. And then the fall of my freshman year, the made-for-TV movie, The Day After was aired in '83.

And that, as you may recall, blows up Lawrence, Kansas, which is just spitting distance from where I grew up. And so it was already dramatic enough. You know, rumor has it that President Reagan was affected, his views on nuclear weapons were affected by that. But it hit even closer to home, you know, literally to me, and really kind of galvanized my interest.

I was already kind of thinking I might want to be a Sovietologist. I was trying to take Russian class. I was so bad, I got kicked out after one semester. But I knew that the, and the campus issue that year, during my time in college was really the nuclear freeze movement, disarmament, things like that. And so it really, that kind of resonated with me as, you know, a way that I might be able to contribute, to get involved in that somehow.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And did you, while you're majoring in political science, are you also taking classes that gave you, would allow you to get a technical understanding of this issue or not?

LAURA HOLGATE:

Not as much in my coursework, I confess. Well, certainly not at Princeton. It was, you know, kind of much more international relations, political philosophy, courses like that. But when I got to M.I.T., they had what's now called the security studies program. At the time, it was called the defense and arms control studies.

And it had --it was policy, but with a very technical backbone. And so talking about the history of arms control, to understand the difference between weapons systems between counting rules for warheads versus delivery systems. Talking about the unclassified aspects of, How do you make a nuclear weapon? What's the nuclear fuel cycle? Why do we worry from a proliferation and a policy perspective, about these technical capabilities?

And then I did my thesis on chemical weapons destruction and the politics of that, but that drew me into some very technical aspects of, What technologies do you use? Why are different communities angry about them? And what are the pros and cons? So you really can't touch the W.M.D. business without, you know, being comfortable in a technical milieu, even if you're not trained in that realm--

MICHAEL MORELL:

But I think one of the values, right, one of the values of your education is, you're able to understand that, but you're also able to explain it to people who aren't experts, right? You can make things--

LAURA HOLGATE:

Well, that's got to be the job, yeah.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Make things simple without making them simplistic, right, is really hard to do. And you've got that skill, or at least I've seen that a hundred times.

LAURA HOLGATE:

Well, that makes me feel great to (LAUGH) get your vote of confidence in that. I do feel that's part of my work.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Laura, I'm gonna embarrass you a little bit here. So you moved up the ladder very fast. Your first service in government was halfway into the first term of the Clinton administration, in the department of defense.

And by the late Obama administration, you are the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in Vienna and to the International Atomic Energy Agency. So very quick rise. And one of the things that young people, and we have many of our listeners are students and young professionals who like to see themselves in these jobs someday. So they always ask me, "What's the secret to getting ahead?" So I'm going to ask you, what advice would you have for young professionals about getting ahead in the national security world?

LAURA HOLGATE:

Oh, it's, I think one of the most important things is having good mentors and more than mentors, champions. People who won't just give you good advice, but will advocate for you with the system or the next level up of a boss. People who are willing to take a chance on you to take a stretch position to a little bit further than what you've been doing, what you've demonstrated your capacity to do, and to see more in you than you've had a chance to experience. And I've been blessed all along in my career with people who've been willing to, you know, take that chance on me, to give me an opportunity to shine in a new way. And that's a huge value--

MICHAEL MORELL:

And you have to be open to being mentored, right?

LAURA HOLGATE:

Well, that's the other half, right? And one of the best pieces of advice that I was given when I first, when I was a baby bureaucrat in the Pentagon was, "Pick the general, not the war." And so you have to be looking for those mentors. You have to know, you know, 'Who you want to be your champion?' And then how do you engage with them in a way that makes them want to champion you? But also where you can absorb their wisdom and their experience.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yeah, and your willingness to listen to what they have to say, right?

LAURA HOLGATE:

Oh yeah. (LAUGH)

MICHAEL MORELL:

Because if you think you don't have anything to learn, then you're not going to learn anything.

LAURA HOLGATE:

Absolutely.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Right. So I know you're very proud of mentoring you've done of young women and the strides that women have made in national security field. But any particular advice to young women in, you know, what has long been an industry dominated by men?

LAURA HOLGATE:

Well, I think that point is exactly part of the first advice is, Don't think that men can't be your mentors. I mean, women mentors are important and critical, and having role models where you can actually envision yourself in a senior role because you've seen another woman or another person that relates to you in some way in those positions. But given that many of the senior positions are occupied by men, you need male mentors as well.

I think the other thing that over the course of my career I've seen go from, you know, one or two women in the room to, you know, maybe 20% or 30% women in the room, and you know, the sit room tables that you and I used to sit around, you know, there were lots of women around that room including many times at the head of that table. (LAUGH)

But being ready to reach out sideways and mentor each other, encourage each other to apply for that stretch job, to take a risk, to offer feedback on presentation skills, different ways that women can mentor each other at the, you know, kind of same level. And as you rise, there's always going to be someone behind you. So reach out your hand behind to pull them forward. You're never going to be able to mentor your mentor. (LAUGH) You can't pay that back, so you've got to pay up forward.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Laura, I want to switch gears a little bit to the issue you worked on when you served on President Obama's national security staff. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, right? C.B.R.N. So I was hoping you can explain what each of those initials means for folks. And then explain the threat that you see from each.

LAURA HOLGATE:

All right, so we're doing C.B.R.N. 101.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yes, exactly.

LAURA HOLGATE:

Awesome, okay.

MICHAEL MORELL:

C.B.R.N. for dummies. (LAUGH)

LAURA HOLGATE:

I know there's no dummies listening to this show. So chemical weapons are, you know, in some ways antique. But they've been around for a long time. And they work by interfering with the body's functions, whether it's breathing or whether it's your nervous system or whether it's just your airways.

And, you have enough of the whatever it is, and enough depends on what the nature of the agent is. It will overwhelm your body, and you'll die. Sometimes, depending on if you can get treatment fast enough or if the dosage is light enough, you don't die. Sometimes there's long-term effects, sometimes you recover completely.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And this is what Bashar al-Assad used on his own people?

LAURA HOLGATE:

On his own people. What I.S.I.S. has used in the region, and then, you know, what we saw the Russians using against British citizens in Salisbury most recently.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So this is both nation states and individual groups who have access to this stuff--

LAURA HOLGATE:

And individual groups, right. Now chemical weapons had been banned entirely as an entire class of weapon since the late '80s, and so there is no legal chemical weapon. And chemical weapon is defined by intent, not by recipe. So anything, I mean, there's a lot being talked about with these Novichoks that the Russians used in Salisbury to kill those people. And the fact that that is not listed in the chemical weapons convention. But the chemical weapons convention defines chemicals as, you know, "any chemical used as a weapon." So it's about intent, not the chemistry--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Right, that's interesting. Okay, B.?

LAURA HOLGATE:

Biological weapons. So biological weapons operate as a living organism and how it interacts with the human or the animal or the plant that they might come in contact with. And so the typical way we think about it is disease, Anthrax, smallpox, the flu, and--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Virus or bacteria?

LAURA HOLGATE:

Either way. Fungus in some cases. There is a toxin thing that's kind of the definitional edge between chem and bio, because it's, toxins are produced by animals, but they operate more in a chemistry way, as a chemical. So there's a debate about where toxins fall. But anything that will make you sick -- like, systemically sick, as opposed to, like, having a reaction.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Much more difficult to make a biological weapon than a chemical weapon or not?

LAURA HOLGATE:

It all depends. I mean, biological weapon, well, it depends on, I think the issue is the weapon part. And neither of them are particularly good as weapons, which is why they both have treaties that ban them entirely, because over time--

MICHAEL MORELL:

So it's in the same camp as chemical weapons--

LAURA HOLGATE:

So it's in the same camp as chemical weapons, although it lacks a verification mechanism. And the thing that is true for biological weapons that is less true for chemical weapons is that the line between weapon and not weapon is much less clear, and that there's a whole range of naturally occurring diseases.

So the kind of nice thing about bio is that things you do to get ready for a bio attack are many of the same things that you would do to be ready for flu season or to be worried about, you know, a measles outbreak or Ebola, a naturally occurring disease. I mean, you want good epidemiologists. You want to find out quick that there is a problem. You want to be able to vaccinate people quickly or treat them quickly. You want to be able to protect the materials that might be used to make those. To have good lab safety and good lab security, so as you're working with these, either in research or treatment, that they don't make the problem worse. Those are going to be the same problems, whether you're talking about a malicious actor or whether you're talking about mother nature.

MICHAEL MORELL:

The R.?

LAURA HOLGATE:

Radiological. So radiological is a bit of an outlier in this quartet. Because people tend to talk about it as, "a weapon of mass disruption," rather than a weapon of mass destruction. Radiological weapons by and large do not kill people, unless you're unlucky enough to be near the explosive aspect of say a dirty bomb.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Not the radiation that kills you, it's explosive--

LAURA HOLGATE:

It's not the radiation that kills you, it's the C4. But it is scary. It is super expensive to clean up and takes a long time, so there's massive economic impacts. And it's just like the catch phrase says, it is very disruptive to normal life. And so there's been, you know, a lot of focus historically on the N. part, which we'll come to, because those actually can kill large numbers of peoples very quickly. And with very long-term consequences. Radiological is both much easier because it's much more, the raw material--

MICHAEL MORELL:

So you just get something radioactive and pack it around C4, and you've got a radiological weapon.

LAURA HOLGATE:

Yes, exactly. And these radiological sources, radiological material is used for important, beneficial purposes all over the world in all kinds of realms. Hospitals have it to purify your blood or to treat a cancer. Industry has it to do special imaging on, say, airplane wings to make sure that they don't have any cracks or, you know, problems that way. They're used in the petroleum industry to investigate oil wells.

So they're everywhere and doing good things, but a lot of them go missing every year. The International Atomic Energy Agency has had reported to it thousands of radiological sources that have either been stolen or lost or, you know, just disappeared. And so it's much easier to get access to that, and I'm frankly, quite surprised we haven't seen a radiological device--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Right, interesting. All right, and then the N. which is--

LAURA HOLGATE:

The N. Now we're back to The Day After.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yup, and this has been your central focus.

LAURA HOLGATE:

Yeah. The raw material of nuclear weapons, and so that is an actual nuclear device, you know, critical mass, an explosion of the type that we saw in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and you know, the testing that we have all seen images of over the Pacific or the New Mexican desert.

These are weapons that can kill massively, and certainly the weapons that states develop and especially the U.S. and the Soviet Union, Russia have, you know, will kill millions and millions of people and leave, you know, giant swaths of territory.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So your job at the White House was to make sure that the U.S. government was doing everything it could, right, to make sure that none of these kinds of attacks happen, right? So what was the key to you doing your job? And what's the key to the U.S. government being effective in protecting us from these pretty awful things?

LAURA HOLGATE:

Well, to me the key thing was being able to work effectively with international partners and with multilateral organizations. This is not a job that any one country, even the United States, can handle alone. So there's a lot of pieces that go into that ability to work internationally.

One of them is credibility. People need to want to work with you. A second is expertise. U.S. has that in spades, but it's one thing to have people who know how to build our weapons and keep them secure. It's a different thing for those people to be able to interact effectively with other countries, other nationalities, other cultures-- less technically capable-- people and institutions. And so we needed to learn, and we did learn over the course of the '90s under the Nunn-Lugar program and other kinds of cooperative activities, how to work with other countries.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So there's kind of two pieces of this, right? There's a supply and demand piece. So the supply piece is making sure that these materials don't get into the wrong hand. The demand piece is trying to find those people who want it, right? And make sure you deal with them.

LAURA HOLGATE:

That's right, and that's what I think was a real shift during the time that you and I were in the administration is, there was so much work to do on the supply side that that's where, you know, a lot of time, energy, expertise, money was focused.

But I think it really, the scales fell off of people's eyes with the ISIS use of chemical weapons. And where we, for the first time had a real, active terrorist outfit using weapons of mass destruction. And I will tell you, I got a lot more attention from the nuclear terrorist people in the C.I.A. after ISIS than I did before. And so I think getting at the demand side, instead of just shrugging your shoulders and saying, "Well, terrorists are undeterrable." To say, "Well, maybe they're not deterrable, but we have a lot of tools that we can use in that," some of which we can talk about on this podcast and some of which we can't.

So that was why I was really supportive of the shift in the Pentagon from having the strategic command, our nuclear weapons command having responsibility for the W.M.D. synchronization mission at the Pentagon to the special operations command. And that happened in 2016.

And I think it was, because the, you know, simplistically, all that strategic command has to do in their deterrence role is to sit there and look scary. That's not fundamentally and activist thing. In S.O.C.O.M. they're finding bad guys and figure that every day--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yup, it's what they do. So Laura, I want to switch now to your time as an ambassador to the U.N. in Vienna and as the ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency. And so I just want to start by talking about North Korea. Couple of questions. Kim Jong-un has nuclear weapons. We know that. He's tested them successfully.

He also has I.C.B.M.s capable of delivering something to the continental United States. What we don't know is whether he's actually capable of mating those two things together, right? He's had a lot of time to work on it. What's your assessment of where he is in that capability?

LAURA HOLGATE:

Oh. I don't think, I certainly don't know. It's something that, the more time he has, the closer he's going to get. So I think the challenge is really to try to find some way to slow that down, derail it, and prevent that. That's not something sanctions can help with.

I mean that maybe, you're talking about a technical knowledge, and frankly for the first few, an artisanal skill set. That there's going to be trial and error, and people just have to figure that out. The more time they have, the more time they have to make errors and to learn how not to make those errors. And so to me, that potential does contribute to the urgency of finding some large-scale solution that goes well beyond the sanctions.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So what's your perspective on the Trump administration's approach to this problem?

LAURA HOLGATE:

Well, I think talking is good. I think it's going to be critical, especially given the decision-making style of these two particular leaders. It's hard to imagine that anyone other than them talking to each other are going be able to reach an agreement or an understanding that their bureaucracies will have confidence in implementing.

The challenge is, you know, does the Trump administration really have a game plan, other than "give it all up?" I think that's not going to be the winning opening proposition. And I think it's got to be a very carefully calibrated set of gives and takes on each side that are similar in scale and degree of difficulty for each government--

MICHAEL MORELL:

So they do something.

LAURA HOLGATE:

They do something that's kind of medium hard, and we do something that's kind of medium hard, but that they're calibrated also that that they are similarly reversible, if the other side doesn't do it, or if the next step doesn't happen. And so that takes a lot of time and energy, and I don't have that kind of visibility into what's going on.

MICHAEL MORELL:

That doesn't seem to be happening, right?

LAURA HOLGATE:

Doesn't seem to be happening. And the very first things that were said last year about, you know, "Oh, we'll just fly the nuclear weapons out of North Korea," or "We'll just drive a ship up and load everything on and take it away." I mean, that suggested that there wasn't a lot of serious thought.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And the first thing that has to happen is a declaration, right?

LAURA HOLGATE:

Absolutely.

MICHAEL MORELL:

The first thing that has to happen is North Korea saying, "Here's everything we have." Why is that so important?

LAURA HOLGATE:

Because if you don't know what they have, then you can't gauge what you've destroyed as a percentage of what they have. You don't know how, even if you do start to do some destruction or they start to do some destruction, even if you know, no matter how well observed that destruction is, you don't know if it's 5% or 50% or 95%.

And so that, nobody expects those initial declarations to be perfect, so it also gives you a basis to validate those declarations. To go in and say, "Yes, okay, you said you had that kind of facility here. We see that. Oh, but what's this over here?" And so you have to have not just a declaration but a validated declaration in an effort to--

MICHAEL MORELL:

So that's really important, right. So that's not only, "Here's everything I have, but I.A.E.A., come in and validate my declaration."

LAURA HOLGATE:

That's right, or maybe somebody else. And I think this is an interesting point. There is absolutely going to have to be a role for the I.A.E.A., but when you start talking about warheads, the I.A.E.A. does not have the authority to work on nuclear warheads.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And missiles as well.

LAURA HOLGATE:

Nor the missiles, exactly. And so we're going to have to come up with some kind of a very interesting verification mechanism, so that the knowledge of 'how do you make a warhead' does not go beyond countries that already know how to do that.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Now the I.A.E.A. just deals with the fissile material.

LAURA HOLGATE:

They deal with the material. And the nuclear nonproliferation treaty means it is illegal for any citizen not of a weapons state to know, 'how do you make a weapon?' And so one of the things that N.T.I. talks about is, we're really gonna need--

MICHAEL MORELL:

The Nuclear Threat Initiative you're the vice president of, yes--

LAURA HOLGATE:

The Nuclear Threat Initiative where I now work, we're doing some work on what tools might contribute to disarmament in North Korea, if that were a decision to be made. And one of them is, we're going to need U.S., Russia and China to cooperate to oversee the North Koreans actually dismantling their own warheads, and then provide some kind of assurance to the rest of the world that, in fact, that was done.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So the other value, Laura, of the declaration is, it tests the North Koreans. Did they put everything on that declaration that we know they have, right? So it's a real test about whether they're serious about getting rid of it all, or whether they want to hide some, right?

LAURA HOLGATE:

Absolutely.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And protect it for the future. I wanted to ask you if you think President Trump has a point, that the Obama administration did not do enough on North Korea?

LAURA HOLGATE:

Well, we certainly did--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Do you think that's a fair criticism on his part?

LAURA HOLGATE:

Well, if you gauge by meetings in the sit room, (LAUGH) no. But I also think, I mean, this is the king of hard problems. And where the whole point of Korean leaders was to create an indigenous nuclear weapons program and they largely succeeded. A lot of what they need, they can make themselves.

So there's a limit to how much sanctions can help. And there was also, I think there has been a fallacy and I don't think we had that fallacy in the Obama administration, but that China can somehow flip a switch. And certainly China's influential, but they are not dispositive when it comes to those decisions--

MICHAEL MORELL:

They were quite frankly just as frustrated with the North Koreans as we were, right--

LAURA HOLGATE:

At times, yes.

MICHAEL MORELL:

That they could not influence.

LAURA HOLGATE:

That's right, and so the tools of influence are just so limited. You know, we can rerun history and point out earlier agreements with North Korea that might have, you know, had they been observed by both sides, had the U.S. stuck with some of its pledges, had other things gone differently before they had a significant amount of weapons usable material where this could have been headed off. But those opportunities are gone.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So my own view is that Kim Jong-un didn't come to the table because he was being squeezed by sanctions. He came to the table because he thought his strategic weapons program was far enough along, that it was time to see what he could get for it. That's what I think.

LAURA HOLGATE:

I agree. And you know what's even more worrying about that is, if he's decided he has enough, but it appears from open sources that he's continuing to make more plutonium, more highly enriched uranium, that's the only government in the world that I actually worry about actively deciding to sell that material to somebody else.

And so to me, the real question has always been, how much is enough? And so in some ways, that means if he's decided if, I agree with your analysis, that he's got enough and now has that now raised the risk of sales to rogue states or non-state actors?

MICHAEL MORELL:

And we should note that everything else he ever developed on the weapons side, he has sold.

LAURA HOLGATE:

Yes.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And we know that he was involved in helping the Syrians with the technology necessary to make fissile material.

LAURA HOLGATE:

Absolutely.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So that is a worrisome thing. So do you believe that he will ultimately, that he is willing to negotiate away everything or not? What's just your sense? I know there's no answer to it, but what's your sense?

LAURA HOLGATE:

Yeah. Well, he won't negotiate away everything in the first clip, I'm confident of that. This is going to be a much longer engagement than I think people initially had hoped. And so, if there is in fact, something to be--

MICHAEL MORELL:

And complicated, based on everything we just talked about.

LAURA HOLGATE:

Extremely complicated, and let's not leave off the chem and bio, because we can't write that threat off until we've dealt with all of those issues. And the missiles obviously alongside. So this is extremely complicated. It's going to have to be very carefully synchronized. And I think right now, I think he would be foolish to agree to give up all of his nuclear weapons. I think there's trust that has to be built. Not trust. There's confidence, there's a back and forth that needs to be had before they're willing to really go further--

MICHAEL MORELL:

And given how complicated this is, it's not something that he, Kim Jong-un and President Trump can sit and negotiate, right? They can set some parameters and build the trust, but this is complicated, detailed stuff that has to be worked by people who know what they're doing-- on both sides--

LAURA HOLGATE:

Exactly, on both sides. And the Koreans have been preparing for this negotiation for decades. I'm not sure the same is true for the U.S. team.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So Laura, I want to ask you now the same sort of questions on Iran that I asked on North Korea, right. And I guess the place to start is, I think it's probably safe to assume that you were a supporter of the Iran Nuclear Deal?

LAURA HOLGATE:

Absolutely.

MICHAEL MORELL:

And why?

LAURA HOLGATE:

Because it bought us time. It was never going to be the 100% all-inclusive solution to all of the challenges of Iran. But everything that we have a problem with, in terms of Iran's behavior, whether it's mischief making in the region, whether it's support of terrorists, whether it's holding U.S. persons, is made harder if Iran has a nuclear weapon.

And so getting to a point where they were not on a path to that nuclear weapon was critical to solving those issues. And there's no doubt in my mind that the J.C.P.O.A., the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, succeeded in blocking all of the possible paths to a weapon, and that the I.A.E.A. was effectively overseeing the implementation of that, confirming that the Iranians were doing the things that they were doing or that they had intended to do, that they were committed to do. And there have been no instances in which the I.A.E.A. found, you know, any lack of compliance-- by Iran--

MICHAEL MORELL:

And as far as we know, the Iranians are still living up to the deal.

LAURA HOLGATE:

That's right. But that's not to say that you pat yourself on the back and go home. What that does is, it creates space for, to work on the broader issues, which are mainly not about nuclear weapons. And so what we did was buy ten years to try to work with our allies and partners in the region, to work with Russia, to, you know, try to influence Iran's behavior.

So that at the end of that ten years as some of the constraints fell off, although they never all fell off, it's important to remind everybody, some of the aspects fell off, that Iran's interest in getting either a nuclear weapon or a one step away from a nuclear weapon had changed. And so that's the thing to be looking for there.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Right. So there's two critiques by the folks who think this was a bad thing, right? One critique was that, you could have gotten more on the nuclear front, right? And then the other critique is, you didn't include all of the regional misbehavior. Right, you should have done one big package. What's your response to both of those things?

LAURA HOLGATE:

Well, I mean, it's so easy to second guess a negotiation if you weren't in the room. I wasn't in the room. I was not one of the negotiators, so I wasn't there. But I think the deal, you know, we got most of the things that we really needed. And I'm sure there are people who could go back and look at in 50 years, whatever, when they're FOIA'd and released the negotiating instructions and the difference between that and watching the drafts evolve and so on. That'll be a fascinating conversation.

But I suspect that that analysis would show that we did not shift that much from our goals to what we achieved, because the goal from the beginning had to be moving that timeline in which, when we started this conversation, the expectation was that Iran could make enough for nuclear weapons within a year. And we shifted that to-- I'm sorry. Iran could make enough nuclear material for weapons within a couple months, and we shifted that to a year--

MICHAEL MORELL:

Right, that's where we were, yup.

LAURA HOLGATE:

And we made that last for ten years. And so that was the goal from the beginning, and the Iranians were negotiating to that goal as well. As they were doing the calculations, you know. As Secretary of Energy Ernie Moniz is sitting there with his Iranian counterpart, you know, doing math on the back of a cocktail napkin, it was very clear that this was the U.S. goal is, you know, turn two months to a year and then make it last for at least ten. And that, once you settled that, then it was a matter of, how do you get there.

MICHAEL MORELL:

So on the critique on, we didn't include the regional misbehavior, right?

LAURA HOLGATE:

Well, that was, you know, in some ways that was the Iranian bottom line is, there was not going to be a discussion about anything other than nuclear. And so but I actually think that wasn't an irrational position for them or for us, because if you go back to what I said initially, you really can't get at the rest of that regional bad behavior if you're constantly worried that Iran is going to be getting a weapon alongside. You have to get the weapon, the nuclear program, you know, in a box before you can really work on the rest of the progress.

MICHAEL MORELL:

I think the other piece of it, right, was, this was actually a case where the sanctions did drive them to the negotiating table. And they were international sanctions. And the whole world was behind them. And that was about the nuclear issue. It wasn't about anything else. So we couldn't have brought Russia and China and others along with us if we had broadened it out.

LAURA HOLGATE:

I think that's fair, although it's important to point out, there are sanctions on missile work as well.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Yup, but most of the sanctions were on, yes--

LAURA HOLGATE:

But most of the sanctions were on the nuclear, and we had strong support from other countries that made that work. And we used a lot of political and diplomatic energy to create that support and maintain it over time.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Laura, there was just a report from a private group, looking at commercial imagery, saying that the Saudis are beginning to produce their own ballistic missiles. This is very interesting. And given that missiles are the best way to deliver nuclear weapons, are you concerned about the Saudis being interested at some point, at some time in nuclear weapons?

LAURA HOLGATE:

Yes, I am concerned about that, and I think this, I mean, we should all have been concerned, because the Crown Prince has been pretty clear. And what I found interesting is that, it used to be Prince Turki when he was, you know, not necessarily in a position of influence to go around saying, "Oh, you know, we might want nuclear weapons."

And, you know, five, ten years ago, I would have said, "Well, that's Prince Turki saying we're worried, we need a hug." That wasn't to be taken literally. I think we have to take the Crown Prince at his word, when he says, "If Iran gets the capability to make nuclear weapons, so will we."

And what is frightening about that, what's chilling about that is two things. First of all, the Crown Prince seems not to understand that he is under an international treaty commitment on the Nonproliferation Treaty not to do that. And that he would be breaking that treaty, which would put him in the company of North Korea. Which I think is not where Saudi Arabia wants to be.

The second thing I find chilling about it is, no one in the U.S. government at a senior level stood up and said, "Hey guy, that's not okay. Our cooperation with you, our relationship with you, is based on your being a member in good standing of the international community, and if you take that step, you're going to be North Korea."

"And you are not going to be a member in good standing in the international community." Not just among the nuclear nerds, but collectively. And so, the fact that there has not been more pushback, not just from the United States but from other governments against that very bald statement by the Crown Prince, I find shocking.

MICHAEL MORELL:

Laura, it has been great to have you on the show. Thanks so much. I think we could, like, talk all day, but it's been fantastic to see you.

LAURA HOLGATE:

Well, great to see you too Michael, and for really fun to talk to you today.

* * *END OF TRANSCRIPT* * *

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