Melissa Harris-Perry, Transcript 1/16/2016
Show: MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY
Date: January 16, 2016
Guest: Nina Turner, Katon Dawson, Hillary Mann Leverett, Gian-Carlo
Peressutti, Joe Cirincione
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC HOST: Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry
and we have a lot to get to this this morning. But first, we are following
breaking news out of Tehran.
Iranian media and “New York Times” are reporting that Iran is releasing
four American citizens from prison today, including a “Washington Post”
correspondent who has been in prison in Iran for more than 500 days.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
The reports are coming in that the United Nations is expected to announce
any moment now that the international deal over Iran`s nuclear program has
officially taken effect. The U.N.`s nuclear agency is expected to announce
in Vienna that Iran has complied with the terms of the deal by dramatically
scaling back its program which, according to the deal, will trigger the
lifting of economic sanctions on Iran.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry just met with his Iranian counterpart to
discuss details of the implementation ahead of the official announcement.
NBC`s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel joins us now from Vienna,
Vienna. Richard, what more can you tell us about what`s happening this
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are a lot
of moving parts right now, and it all seems to be coming together here in
Vienna and in Tehran.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
Today the reason I`m here, the reason many people have gathered in Vienna
is because we are expecting momentarily really the IAEA, the International
Atomic Energy Agency, Agency, to come out and declare that Iran has abided
by the deal, that it is (arided) (sic) by the nuclear agreement, and that,
because it has abided by the nuclear agreement, sanctions should be
immediately lifted, including releasing tens of billions of dollars that
have been frozen, that would Iran to reenter the international economy,
allow it to sell oil and gas products and, as we are here, literally
waiting for that announcement – the podium is already set up – news has
come just in the last hour or so from Tehran, from official Iranian news
agencies and semi-official Iranian news agencies, saying that the four
Iranian-American prisoners that Iran has been holding for various lengths
of time – the most famous of them the “Washington Post” journalist Jason
Rezaian – that those four have been release in quote a prisoner swap,
according to one of the Iranian semi-official news agencies. We have
reached out to the State Department. We have not been able to confirm it.
We have reached out to the families, and the Rezaian family, through a
public relations agency, just put out a statement moments ago saying that
quote they have heard the same reports we have, but that they cannot
confirm his release either at this stage. But a lot of diplomacy coming
together right now. We`re expecting that IAEA, a statement which would
trigger the end of sanctions and, at the same time, we are hearing this
report that these Iranian-Americans have been released. This would be an
enormous coup, diplomatic coup, for Secretary Kerry, for the Obama
administration. They`ve been heavily criticized for signing this deal with
Iran without securing the release of the Americans.
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, Richard, obviously these reports about the release of
these prisoners, particularly Mr. Rezaian, are the biggest news this
morning. But I want to take us back just one moment, just a couple of
weeks, to those ballistic missile tests because that, that was kind of the
first moment when there was a great deal of critique about this deal and
about the idea that this day would come and the lifting of those sanctions.
So just for folks who may not sort of be able to put all of those pieces
together, can you put those pieces together and remind us why those tests
did not keep this day from happening?
ENGEL: This has been two and a half years in the works. It has taken two
and a half years of often private, often very personal, relations and
negotiations between Secretary Kerry and his counterpart Zarif. They have
developed quite trusting relationship, it has been described as. Now there
have been many different stages of this negotiation. The most important
one took place in July. And that July agreement said that Iran, in order
to qualify, had to do several different things in order to qualify for the
end of the sanctions. It had to get rid of its enriched uranium, and Iran
says – and we`re expecting here U.N. to say this now – that it`s been
removed, it`s removed the vast amount of its enriched uranium, that it has
dismantled or destroyed its centrifuges, and that it has made inoperative a
heavy water nuclear reactor by pouring actually concrete into the core of
the reactor. All of these things are key. There are also other components
that you were just talking about, about research and development of
(END VIDEO CLIP)
About its ability to maintain arms embargos, its ability to allow
inspections to take place. Those are all things that the IAEA says it will
continue to monitor over the next 10 to 15 years. But the firs concrete
steps that would allow the sanctions to be drawn back were those three I
just mentioned, the getting rid of the heavy water reactor, which stops
plutonium, moving the enriched uranium out of the country, and dismantling
or destroying the centrifuges. The rest are issues of trust and issues of
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to NBC`s Richard Engel in Vienna on this historic
Joining us now outside the White House it is NBC News` Ron Allen. Now,
Ron, what are you hearing from the White House this morning?
RON ALLEN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Melissa, no confirmation just
yet. But obviously there seems to be something happening that`s very
significant, and it seems to be happening right at this moment, which is
why I wouldn`t expect the White House to say anything until all these
pieces are exactly where they need to be. Think about it. The
implementation day for this massive nuclear deal is apparently upon us.
That would cause the release of some $50 billion in sanctions money to the
Iranian government. A hugely significant day for them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
They apparently have four American prisoners who have been in jail in Iran
for many, many years, and we`re still not sure exactly who they are. We
hear it`s four dual nationality American-Iranians. There`s also an
American, Robert Levinson, who`s been in Iranian custody since as far back
as 2007 or so. We do not believe that he is of dual citizenship, so he is
perhaps not included in this operation, if in fact it is certainly going
on. So that`s one big question a lot of people will have. So if in fact
these prisoners are on their way, this nuclear deal is about to happen,
it`s a very, very delicate time because obviously there`s been a lot of
criticism of the Obama administration for signing this deal without getting
the release of these prisoners, for signing the deal at all for that
matter, as you well know. So I think for the next – for however long,
it`s a very, very delicate time while all these pieces move into place.
And, but if in fact it is all true and it is all happening, it is certainly
a huge day, a significant day, not just for the four American prisoners and
their families, but certainly for the Obama administration as well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Nothing like a little breaking news on a Saturday morning.
Thank you to NBC`s Ron Allen at the White House.
I want to now bring in Cal Perry, MSNBC senior editor of video and digital
content. Good morning, Cal. Talk to me a little bit about what, what we`re
hearing. Obviously again we don`t yet have confirmation. But this news
coming out suggesting that we`re looking at a swap. Now talk to me about
this language of swap. Is this really (jus-ling) which coming out of
Tehran that is really face-saving news, or is this an indication that in
fact there`s been an actual trade?
CAL PERRY, MSNBC SR. EDITOR OF VIDEO & DIGITAL CONTENT: Well, listen, the
fact of the matter is, as you said, we don`t know. We`re not independently
able to confirm a lot of this yet. But what I can tell you is what Fars
News Agency, this is the official agency in Iran, is reporting. They are
reporting that Jason Rezaian, as you know from the “Washington Post” has
released, been released. You`re looking at a picture of him there, as well
as three other Americans, and I`ll just sort of briefly let our viewers
know who they are. Saeed Abedini, a former pastor. He was taken in 2012
into custody. Amir Kekmati, a former U.S. Marine. Very interesting. He
was brought up on charges of espionage. That was in 2011. And we`re
hearing Siamak Namazi, a businessman who was taken into custody in October
of 2015. Again, all that`s coming from the Iranian official news agency.
The other thing that`s very interesting is that that same agency has now
put up a picture on Iranian state television of a podium that is the
President`s podium of Iran, Rouhani. So we are expecting that we will hear
the Iranian President make a national address today to the Iranian people,
which would lend us obviously to believe that the reports are true, and
that this is somehow going through. Again, we`ll wait to independently
confirm that. But obviously here a seminal and historic moment in Iran as
the U.S. President now – excuse me, the Iranian President now prepares to
give a national address.
HARRIS-PERRY: So connect this moment, this, this likely release of these
four Americans to the moment that we`ve just seen with the American naval
PERRY: Yeh, that`s one of the most interesting pieces of this I think is
it would have been a completely different situation if those sailors had
been taken into Iranian custody a year ago by the Revolutionary Guard.
There is simply no way we would have seen that level of coordination
between, in this case, the U.S. Fifth Fleet, which is based out of Bahrain,
and the Revolutionary Guard on that island in the Persian Gulf. It just –
it would have been a completely different situation. And, instead, what we
saw were U.S. service members being treated very well, on Iranian state
television, which obviously, obviously never would have happened again,
even six months ago, a year ago. So there has been a drastic warming of
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
And now, as we look back at that moment, of course the obvious question is
going to be did they not want to hold up this deal? And is that perhaps
why it did go so smoothly with those U.S. service members. And, again,
let`s remind our viewers we found out yesterday that it, it appears as
though, according to U.S. officials telling Jim (Licklechefsky) in
Washington, D.C., that it was a navigational error on the part of those
(END VIDEO CLIP)
So, looking back at that, is it possible that they were released much
quicker because this deal was going to go through this Saturday? I think
that`s quite likely.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to say thank you to MSNBC`s Cal Perry. Obviously,
we`re going to be keeping our eye on this story throughout the morning as
Joining me here in the studio today are Nina Turner, former Ohio State
Senator; Raul Reyes, attorney and co-host of “Changing America” on Shift
MSNBC, also a contributor to NBCnews.com. Also Katon Dawson, national
Republican consultant and former South Carolina GOP Chair. And (Giancarlo
Piersenti), who is a Republican strategist, former Press Secretary to
President George H. W. Bush, and former White House aide to Karl Rove
during the George W. Bush administration. So nice to have you all here.
I`m going to start with you, (Giancarlo), because you were shaking your
head in disbelief.
GIAN-CARLO PERESSUTI, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I was.
HARRIS-PERRY: You know, this is a moment obviously – so let me just say,
I think in a bipartisan way, we agree that, if this news is true that these
Americans coming home and being freed, is good news in a pure human way.
PERESSUTI: Absolutely, no question. So full stop right there.
HARRIS-PERRY: Full stop.
PERESSUTI: Four Americans are released from being hostages. We should all
rejoice and it`s great news. The curious component of this to me is the
term swap. That is how this deal is being, is being explained. And what I
would like to – a swap implies that one side gives something and the other
side gives something. I would like to know what it is that we`re giving.
Is this just in the context of the nuclear deal being ratified, or are the
Iranians looking for something else from the United States? That`s what
I`d like to know, so frankly I`m going to reserve judgment until those
facts become clear.
RAUL REYES, MSNBC CO-HOST, “CHANGING AMERICA” : Well, Giancarlo, that –
you know he, Cal mentioned the FARS News, the Iranian news agency, they`re
all – they are reporting that it is indeed a true swap. They`re reporting
that we are leasing six Iranian-Americans who U.S. has held for violating
the sanctions agreement, for attempting or for actually trading with Iran.
So that`s, that I guess would be the swap six for, for the four.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And so in that case, right, part of what we`re
looking at here – again, this, this to me is going to go to the heart as
we start talking about this question of sort of how the President is being
characterized in the GOP debates, even as a two-term President won`t be
there. Right? You guys seem to be running against him. But it does feel
to me like part of what is happening in this case is just a recognition
that there will be some face-saving that is going to happen for both sort
of international powers in the context of a, of a big, you know, deal like
this. You get – you can`t expect a nation like Iran to say we got, we got
nothing in return.
KATON DAWSON, NATIONAL REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: This, this I always have to
look at through political eyes. And this is wonderful PR for Iran. From
taking the soldiers to giving them back.
DAWSON: We had a big weekend coming. All of this didn`t happen by
mistake. Releasing the prisoners today. And it`s living proof that
they`re watching the presidential (election). They`re watching the
Republicans, they`re watching Hillary, they`re watching Bernie. They,
they, they – this is like releasing something the day before Thanksgiving,
or releasing something that you don`t want people here, you do want people
here. This is going to dominate the news, not the nuclear deal. Not the
fact that they mothballed, not the fact that they said they were never
building nuclear weapons and they, they released weapons-grade uranium. So
I think that it will be political, but it is great news they released some
of our prisoners. It still doesn`t go back to the core that Republicans
will never trust Iran. It will be an issue. It will be there, and they
will start talking about it late this afternoon.
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, never is a mighty long time in the context of, of Mid-
East politics. I, I guess I, I guess in part what I`m wondering is will it
be necessary to give credit where credit is due to a President who laid out
an Obamo – and Obamo (sic) doctrine that has been sort of plodding and
slow and often criticized even as it is showing results.
FMR. SENATOR NINA TURNER, (D) OHIO: Well, Professor, I think hell will
freeze over before our GOP colleagues will give the President credit. But
credit is due and, if we can just – I just want to go back to the human
side of this.
TURNER: Whatever the swap, whatever the deal. Those families are relieved
that their loved ones are coming home, and they don`t care about the
politics of this. This is about the flesh and blood of this. This is
about my sons, you know, my, my husband, my – you know, whatever the
relationships might be. They are finally coming home. And, yes, it is all
politics and we`re dealing with men here, Professor, back to your point in
terms of, you know, who carries the big stick, who`s going to make the
biggest splash. But the President has had a position on this to try to
bring Iran along slowly, but creating the relationship that is necessary,
and I think this is a good day for America. It`s a good day for the
family, for Secretary Kerry, but for the President of the United States.
HARRIS-PERRY: Yep, we will – again, I just want to indicate that MSNBC
and NBC News have not yet independently confirmed this. We believe this to
be true, but we are going to stay on this and stay on this story throughout
the morning. Lots more breaking news. But when we come back we`re going
to dig into a little bit more of the politics of this week. When we come
HARRIS-PERRY: Iranian media and the “New York Times” are reporting that
Iran is releasing four American citizens from prison today, including a
“Washington Post” correspondent who`s been in prison in Iran for more than
500 days. The reports are coming as United Nations is set to announce any
minute that the international deal curbing Iran`s nuclear program has
officially gone into effect. Now I want to bring in Cal Perry, MSNBC
senior editor of video and digital content.
PERRY: Yeh, and Melissa, I just want to update our viewers on what we`re
hearing. And, again, to make it very clear, no independent confirmation
from NBC News as of yet. We are monitoring the Iranian state news agency,
FARS Agency. The Associated Press, as well as the “Washington Post,” now
confirming, as you mentioned, that the “Washington Post” reporter, Jason
Rezaian, has been released in Tehran from Evin Prison. The other three
names, there has been some conflicting reports on Iranian media. They seem
very surprised by this deal and, as you keep sort of alluding to, all this
happening while the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting in Vienna
with his Iranian counterpart. But we are now hearing instead of Siamak
Namazi, who I mentioned earlier this hour, that he`s actually not been
released because his charges are economic, they are financial charges,
according to the Iranian government, Iranian officials. So that he has not
been released. They`re naming someone else and another dual national they
say, an Iranian-American who is being released.
We are standing by, waiting to hear directly from the Iranian President,
President Rouhani, on the details of this deal and how it will play out
logistically, when we might see these four individuals. And the biggest
question here is what was the other side of this deal? It`s being
presented in Iran as a swap, as a prisoner swap. There are a dozen or so
Iranians in American custody for economic violations of the sanctions.
It`s quite likely that it was a group of them, but we simply don`t know and
we`re waiting to find out.
HARRIS-PERRY: Cal, let me ask this, how important is this issue of dual
citizenship to determining which of the Americans currently being held in
Iran are likely to be released?
PERRY: Well, it`s the top of the list for the U.S. State Department.
Interestingly enough, dual citizens, who are both American and Iranian,
have trouble traveling to Iran from the U.S. Once they`ve come here,
they`ve moved here, they`re living here, there is immediate suspicion of
those people when they go to Tehran. And it is a constant problem for the
U.S. State Department. Take Amir Kekmati, for example. He`s one of the
individuals that Iranian state television is saying was released. He`s a
former U.S. Marine. He`s an Iranian-American, and all of his training is
suspicious to the Iranians. And it might not be at all suspicious if he
wasn`t a dual national. So it certainly cuts both ways, but for the U.S.
State Department this was clearly a top priority. For the Obama
administration that has taken so much criticism of its handling of the Iran
deal, this is truly, they would say, a seminal historic moment.
HARRIS-PERRY: And one more question for you here. What do we know about
the treatment of, of these American prisoners? Have we seen them over the
time that they`ve been held? Do we believe that they are in good shape
physically, mentally, and emotionally?
PERRY: We are talking about one of the most notorious prisons in the
world, Evin Prison. And, and that`s where we know that these four
individuals spent a great deal of time. This is a very closed society when
it comes to the court systems, when it comes to the judgments that were
levied against these individuals. One of the individuals who was released
today had a three-hour trial behind closed doors. So, while we don`t know
the specifics on how they were treated, we know that this is one of the
roughest places in the world.
HARRIS-PERRY: So coming home is good news.
PERRY: Great news.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to MSNBC`s Cal Perry. And, again, we`ll keep
following this throughout the morning. Stay right there everyone out there
who is watching. It`s been a busy week in politics. More on that when we
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to come right back to Cal Perry here at MSNBC who`s
got a little bit of news for us that just broke on, on this story about the
hostage release out of Iran. Cal?
PERRY: Yeh, we`re monitoring everything we can, Iranian state television
and social media here in the U.S. Ellen Nakashima, she is the “Washington
Post” security reporter, has tweeted that Jason Rezaian should be, she says
quote should be out of Iranian air space in about 30 minutes. That would
be remarkable as we look at how this will play out logistically. The other
thing I want to update is that Iranian state television again, Iranian
state television is reporting that seven Iranian nationals were part of
this swap. That would be from the U.S. end. So it would look like these
four dual nationals from Iran released in exchange for seven Iranian
nationals here in the U.S. And there you have the four that we believe.
Although the bottom right person there, that individual, Siamak Namazi, he
was initially reported to be released by the FARS news agency, that`s the
Iranian state news agency, they have since backed off that report, saying
that his crimes are economic related and not political, and that he is not
being released. We have a different name now from the Iranian state news
agency. They`re saying it was Nosratollah Khosravi, who is a political
prisoner. So, again, four dual nationals in Iran, and now we`re hearing
from the Iranian state news agency, seven Iranians released in this swap.
And we are standing by again, waiting for new from President Rouhani in
Iran, who is now scheduled to give a national address.
HARRIS-PERRY: Cal, do we know whether or not that national address from
the President is likely to, to also have translation into, into English or
PERRY: Yeh, I mean absolutely. And, as we sort of look at the optics of
this, it plays out very similarly there as it would here. You would expect
that address to come in prime time. It`s just after sort of 6:00 pm in
Tehran, so it should be sometime sort of in the next hour or two.
HARRIS-PERRY: Cal, thank you for following it. We`ll, we`ll pop back in
if we need to. Thanks for following all this for us.
PERRY: Of course.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re going to turn a little bit to politics because on
Tuesday night the nation watched as President Obama delivered his final
State of the Union address. And what we heard was the President less –
that`s not the President of the United States. That – it wasn`t (jay).
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
But he was less focused on the details of the policy for the coming year
than in how we will define our American identify in the years to come.
This was a President painting his vision of America`s future in broad
strokes and asking us to consider the big questions about who we are and
who we want to be.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Will we respond to the changes of our time with
fear, turning inward as a nation, turning against each other as a people?
Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, in what we stand
for, in the incredible things that we can do together?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: At the very beginning of the President`s address he
resurrected a presidential persona we haven`t seen since 2012, candidate
Obama of the campaign trail. And he offered to show everyone vying for a
shot at his job exactly how it`s done.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I know some of you are anxious to get back to Iowa. I`ve been
there. I`ll be shaking hands afterwards if you want some tips.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: He was having such a good time. So the President also
offered some advice on what not to do when running for office.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We need to reject any politics, any politics, that targets people
because of race or religion. When politicians insult Muslims, whether
abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is
called names, that doesn`t make us safer. That`s not telling it what –
telling it like it is. It`s just wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: So he`s referencing some news items there, but also making a
not so thinly veiled criticism aimed at Mr. Trump and his proposal to ban
Muslim from entering the country. And it left Speaker of the House Pau
Ryan feeling that President Obama had gone where no President should ever
go. The next day Speaker Ryan told “USA Today,” I think it sort of
degrades the presidency to then talk about primary politics in the other
party during primaries. That`s not what presidents ought to be talking
about in the State of the Union addresses.
But in taking aim at Trump`s rhetoric, President Obama wasn`t just playing
politics, he was also critiquing a line of thought that undermines the
bedrock principles of our democracy. He makes a claim here that a healthy
democracy should welcome diversity of thought and experience and encourage
discourse and debate. President Obama did exactly what a president ought
to be doing when he asked us to embrace that kind of democracy Tuesday
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens.
Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise or when even
basic facts are contested, or when we listen only to those who agree with
(END VIDEO TAPE)
HARRIS-PERRY: Now Speaker Ryan didn`t have much of a choice but to listen,
whether he agreed or not. In fact, he told “USA Today” why it never showed
on his face, saying basically I disagreed with much of what he, the
President, had to say, and I just wanted to be respectfully and not wince
or grimace or do anything, so I just kind of poker-faced the whole thing,
just out of respect for the institution and the office.
The same could not be said, however, for his party members at Thursday
night`s debate when attacks on the President`s record occasionally devolved
into comments that diminished the authority of his office.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TED CRUZ, (R) TEXAS: Donald is right that China is running over
President Obama like he is a child.
GOV. CHRIS CHRISTY, (R) NEW JERSEY: The President wants to do things
without working with his Congress. This guy is a petulant child. That`s
what he is. The American people have rejected your agenda, and now you`re
trying to go around it. That`s not right, it`s not constitutional, and we
are going to kick your rear end out of the White House come this fall.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: It was a very different message from what we heard Tuesday
from the President who asked us to continue to believing, along with him,
in a politics of hope. And as the Republican candidates laid out their
alternate visions for America`s future, they encourage engagement with the
political process motivated not so much by hope, but by fear.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTY: Here`s my warning to everybody out in the audience tonight. If
you`re worried about the world being on fire.
FMR. GOV. JEB BUSH, (R) FLORIDA: The simple fact is that, that the world
has been torn asunder.
DONALD TRUMP, 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That could be the great Trojan
horse, it would be people that are going to do great, great destruction.
DR. BEN CARSON, 2016 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If we manage to damage
ourselves, and we lose the next election, and a progressive gets in there,
and they get two or three Supreme Court picks, this nation is over as we
SEN. MARCO RUBIO, (R) FLORIDA: Let me tell you, if we don`t get this
election right, there may be no turning back for America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: OK, Katon, I am all down for some political disagreement. I
actually like elections because I am down for parties offering – but, for
me, particularly Governor Christy went so far beyond what was acceptable in
a conver . Besides the fact that he doesn`t seem to know about term
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello, hello.
HARRIS-PERRY: .so (in factual) or not, kicking the President out, he has
to leave. Can you talk to me about that a little bit?
DAWSON: I can. Let`s, let`s rewind back to the George W. Bush`s State of
the Union. The politics that came of that, the, the Democrat base loathed
and hated George W. Bush, ran a campaign off of it. We struggled,
Republicans struggled with John McCain. So it cuts both ways. Now we`ve
HARRIS-PERRY: No, no, no, no. Pause, pause. OK, so I, so, Katon, if
you`re going to tell me that, I need you to tell me who called – who was a
candidate – I don`t mean like random people writing words in the
newspaper. Which Democratic candidate said that George W. Bush was a child
who was going to be kicked?
DAWSON: They, they didn`t say it in that way.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK, because saying it in that way.
DAWSON: OK, we`re talking about tone now, we`re talking about tone.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK, I am actually talking about tone because I think that it
DAWSON: OK. Well, it`s a Republican primary. It`s a Republican debate
and we`re fighting to figure out what the, what the soul and core of our
party is. Certainly it`s gotten sideways. Certainly it is – it has been
amusing to some. It has been fearful to others.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
So I, I got the cuts that came out of the debate. I understand what the
viewership was. I was – I watched it. So I`m not apologizing for them,
they`re running to win a primary. I can`t fault them that. And certainly
the President is the number one target at this time. They`re going to soon
have to pivot off of that because, guess what, he`s not running.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right, he really. Giancarlo, let (inaudible) weigh
PERESSUTI: Look, this is what happens when Donald Trump`s the frontrunner
in your primary, OK? This is what happens to the coarseness of the
rhetoric that occurs. And of all the baloney that the President of the
United States served up in his State of the Union address, I would have
liked our candidates in the debate to have anticipated and to have taken on
some of – some more of the issues on the substance. Rather than
criticizing him in the tone.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
Whether it was the economy, whether it was foreign policy. They could and
they should have called him out so easily on so many of those things.
HARRIS-PERRY: So let me back up on that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
So, but why run against President Obama? So let me just show – it was
some (weak) sauce, but at least Mr. Bush is trying to run against the
person who would actually potentially be a candidate. Let`s just listen to
Mr. Bush for a second, trying to run against Hillary Clinton.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Everybody on this stage is better than Hillary Clinton. At the end
of the day, we need to unite behind the winner so that we can defeat
Hillary Clinton. Because she is a disaster.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: I mean, not that I agree, but at least he`s like talking
about opponent that he`s running against.
PERESSUTI: Yeh, he`s in reality.
TURNER: He is. I mean, uh-uh, because I got to get in here. It seems
like it`s going to be Senator Bernie Sanders. But in any case, to call the
President a boy. Those of us who understand African-American history,
`cause that`s exactly what they called him, was a boy. And you don`t do
that to anybody, but especially an African-American man who`s going to walk
out of the White House in the same way that he walked into the White House.
The only Republican on that stage that didn`t call the President out was
Governor John Kasich, my governor, in that way
TURNER: (inaudible) shout out, but.
HARRIS-PERRY: Which was lots, and we`re going to talk about that in a
minute. They`re just making me take a break, but he did, he just literally
just stood up on top of you, which was also a lot. Up next we`ll have more
on breaking news out of Iran, the release of “Washington Post” reporter,
Jason Rezaian, and we`re going to be right back, `cause that was (ay-ad).
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re still closely following breaking news out of Tehran
and Vienna this morning. Iranian TV is reporting that four American
citizens have been released from prison today, including a “Washington
Post” correspondence who`s been in prison in Iran for more than 500 days.
Reports come as Secretary of State John Kerry is in Vienna, meeting with
his Iranian counterpart ahead of an expected announcement today of the
international deal curbing Iran`s nuclear program has officially taken
effect. Joining us now outside the White House is NBC News` Ron Allen.
Ron, what are you hearing now from the White House this morning?
ALLEN: We`re not hearing much at the moment, Melissa, and I think that`s
significant because it appears that this is a very sensitive and delicate
time. A lot of big moving pieces happen. Think about it. We believe that
there are perhaps four American prisoners who were being held in Iran are
now on their way out of the country. The Secretary of State, John Kerry,
is meeting with his Iranian counterpart in Vienna, waiting, waiting to hear
there from the International Atomic Energy Agency about whether Iran has
complied with its obligations to remove years of crippling sanctions, and
the beginning of the implementation of this very complex Iranian nuclear
deal to try and stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
Also, here in the United States, we believe that there are six or perhaps
seven Iranians who are being held by the United States, in one form or
another, who have – are perhaps on their way out of this country or
somewhere else – to somewhere else, to freedom. The Iranians have alleged
that there are as many as 19 of their citizens who are being improperly
held here in the United States. Most of them we believe business people,
officials who were involved in some sort of alleged violations of the
sanctions regime that was in place here, that`s been in place here. So
that`s why we`re not hearing anything from the White House or from any
other American officials, I think, at this point because these very complex
and very sensitive pieces apparently are all in motion. And what could
possibly go wrong? So I think that`s where we are right now it appears.
We`re waiting to see when all this falls into place. And then I think we
will hear perhaps from the White House, perhaps from the President himself,
about what has happened, if all of this has in fact happened, because it is
hugely significant if all these pieces in fact fall into place. There is a
– it`s a very significant.
We began the day thinking that there would be this huge implementation day
beginning with the nuclear deal. Then, as the day developed, we started
hearing about a prisoner swap. So, just an incredible amount of things
happening here. The Iranian – if the Iranian sanctions regime is lifted,
we`re talking about some $50 billion in money that was going to flow from -
- back to Iran after all these years of them not having it. We`re talking
about this hugely sensitive prisoner sway, and we`re talking about a
massive diplomatic effort that involves this san – this, this deal
involving stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and the beginnings
of that implementation process. So I think at this point we just have to
hang on for a moment and perhaps we`ll hear – we will hear more from the
White House and the U.S. about what exactly is happening, at the
appropriate time. Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s an interesting point, Ron, that sometimes silence in
this moment – and in fact actually some silence is that we`ve sort of not
heard over this whole time is indicative of how much work is going on
behind the scenes. But undoubtedly we`re eventually going to have to hear
from the White House about what brought all of this into being. Thank you
to NBC`s Ron Allen at the White House.
And joining us now from Washington, D.C., it`s Hillary Mann Leverett,
former State`s Department and White House Middle East expert, and author of
“Going to Tehran: Why America Must Accept the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Hillary, we have been talking about this now for I guess about two years.
HILLARY MANN LEVERETT, FORMER STATE DEPT. & WH MIDDLE EAST EXPERT: Yeh.
HARRIS-PERRY: What do you make of all this? As soon as it happened I said
can somebody get Hillary on, on air with me. What do you make of all of
this news today?
LEVERETT: It`s enormously significant. It`s a tremendous validation of
President Obama`s idea that he articulated courageously, boldly, in 2008 on
the campaign trail, that strategically-grounded diplomacy with your
enemies, with your foes, is how you resolve problems. Now we can`t bomb
our way out of every problem. And he has, you know, with ups and downs,
really pulled, really pulled this out – almost a rabbit out of a hat,
which nobody thought he could do on the, you know, political spectrum here
in Washington. It is already paying tremendous dividends. We hopefully
will see today this, this prisoner sway, this prisoner release, which will
be very significant. But earlier this week we saw what could have exploded
into a crisis, military confrontation between the U.S. and Iran, over U.S.
sailors going into Iranian territorial, territorial waters. That diffused
with the diplomacy that President Obama and Secretary Kerry have
steadfastly built over a two-year period since we started talking about
this. It`s an incredible payoff for President Obama and Secretary Kerry,
and they deserve I think all our respect and, and thanks.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Hillary, let me take seriously the idea that, in our
very divided kind of political moment, we can be looking at foreign policy
decisions and, and they can feel like a kind of Rorschach test. I mean,
I`ve got two, you know, Republicans sitting on my panel with me right now.
And they`re, they`re having very different reactions. But I want to say, I
think we all actually deeply care about the question of American security,
as well as overall sort of international security, global protection.
HARRIS-PERRY: So how can we judge outside of that, that kind of
ideological or partisan perspective whether or not a moment like this is in
fact good for the U.S.?
LEVERETT: Well, you know, I, I was a career State Department Foreign
Service officer, loaned both to the, the Clinton administration in its
early years, and loaned to the Bush, George W. Bush, administration in its
first year. I was there right after 9-11. I was then when the President,
when President Bush designated, condemned Iran to be part of the axis of
evil. The facts are it didn`t work. We ended up in a strategically
disastrous war and occupation in Iraq that cost us not only over, over
5,000 American lives, but a trillion dollars. It just failed. So, you
know, wherever you are on the ideological spectrum, it`s really important
to understand reality, to look at facts on the ground. Our situation in
the Middle East became a tremendously – became a lot worse with military
intervention. And what President Obama has done has, has given us some
real payoff. Even though there seem to be fires in a lot of places in the
Middle East, that is because of some other mistakes, going into Libya,
trying to militarize the – continuing to militarize the conflicts in
Syria. What has worked is with Iran. Iran today, which nobody could have
envisioned a few years ago, is the stable place in the Middle East, is the
most productive place for the United States to have a relationship with.
It is vitally important, wherever you are on the strategic – you know, on
the political spectrum here in Washington, to understand American
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
American interests are to have stability in that region, to have balance,
not rely on our so-called allies like the Saudis, but to have real balance.
And the way you get that done is you recognize that Iran today, like China
in the `70s, that President Nixon, a Republican president, recognized about
(END VIDEO CLIP)
He was no lover of Communism, but he understood that leaving China to nest
it`s – to, to nurse its wounds and its resentments on the world stage
would just be a disaster for the United States. And so President Obama,
like President Nixon with China, has understood that about Iran and,
instead of condemning Iran, continuing to condemn Iran as part of the axis
of evil, I would say he`s bringing Iran into the axis of normal. So we`ll
be debating with Iran in the World Trade Organization, rather than trying
to, to bomb them into oblivion. This is something that`s critically
HARRIS-PERRY: Well, so let me ask one more question. Because it also
feels to me like one of the things that, that you pointed out here is that
things change, and we need to be able to learn, and then, and then make a
HARRIS-PERRY: So let me ask this, with – once this deal becomes the new
normal, becomes the new reality, what are the options and possibilities for
the U.S.? What are we able to do? How, how could we then move if in fact
it became necessary to take different kinds of actions? How tied are our
LEVERETT: Well, you know, again this to me should not be a partisan issue.
Just like President Obama today with Iran, it`s like President Nixon, the
Republican President Nixon, with China. What he did, what President Nixon
did to China was, not only go to Beijing and open that ground-breaking
relationship, but then he tied China into the international system, into a
bilateral relationship with the United States. With agreement after
agreement on everything imaginable, from pig farming to banking, to bring
the U.S.-China relationship into some sort of normal equilibrium, which has
paid off tremendously for the United States. A similar thing needs to
happen with the United States and Iran. We can`t just now leave it and
say, OK, we have an agreement on the nuclear deal. No, we have to do what
Secretary Kerry has done, to go to try to resolve this issue of the
American prisoners in Iran.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
We now have to go and deal with Iran on a range of issues, from Syria, to
Iraq, to Yemen, the whole strategic – the whole strategic agenda we have
in the Middle East. We now need to work with Iran wherever we can, and
then, where we can`t, we need to come up with a mechanism to resolve our
difference with – differences with them peacefully.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
That`s the – that`s what Nixon did with China, and that`s the challenge
that Obama and Kerry have in this last year to do with Iran to really lock
that in for the next President, whichever the – whether that President is
Republican or Democrat – to be able to take that relationship another step
forward to help the United States, and not bring the United States back to
the brink of World War III.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to Hill – Hillary Mann Leverett in Washington,
D.C. Stay with us, we`re going to stay on the breaking news out of Iran.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re staying on this morning`s breaking news out of Iran,
reports that four American prisoners have been release, including
“Washington Post” journalist Jason Rezaian, and in Vienna the
implementation of the Iran nuclear deal. Joining us now on the phone,
Medal of Honor recipient and MSNBC military analyst, Colonel Jack Jacobs.
Colonel Jacobs, what`s your reaction to the new this morning?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COL. JACK JACOBS, MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST: It`s actually not surprising,
given the flurry of – of diplomatic activity that`s been surrounding the
relationship between Iran and the United States over the last couple of
weeks or so, particularly with respect to the release of the American
sailors who wandered into the waters around Farsi Island in the middle of
the Gulf. It`s interesting that the timing of all this kind of coincides
with Iran`s talking quite loudly about, about implementation day, about the
release of between $50 and $100 billion worth of assets, freeing up of the
oil market – which has its own problems, by the way – all this seems to
be focused on the impending certification that Iran has met its
obligations, which remains to be seen. It has to be inspected and then
shortly after that the implementation of the lifting of restrictions on
Iran. Obviously discussions about who`s going to get released, and whether
or not there`s even going to be a release, has been going on for some time
and, thankfully, behind closed doors. As you know, we`ve talked about many
times before, if you want to have open (packs? paths?), the best to be
secretly arrived at. So the less the government, either government, says
about anything, the better off everybody is going to be. And that`s
definitely true in this case. With respect to who`s being released, from
the American side, there is some indeterminate number of between seven and
12, or maybe even 15, Iranian citizens who are in custody in the United
States, most of them for violating the rules about exporting contraband to
Iran. We don`t know how many – who they are, well we know who some of
them are – but we don`t know how many of them will actually be released in
this swap, Melissa.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Colonel, can you back for a moment to a kind of sidebar
comment you made about the freeing up of the oil markets. And you said
that has its kind of set of concerns. Can you walk us through just a
little bit of that because, as much as there`s a lot of excitement and
enthusiasm about the idea of these four Americans coming home today, we
don`t want to lose sight also of the other aspects of the deal itself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACOBS: Yeh, it`s kind of interesting that, that the Iranian oil`s coming
onto the market actually at a particularly difficult time for oil. There
is a glut of oil. Production far exceeds consumption and, not to get too
technical, but the oil market typically is inverted, that is the demand for
oil is today, the delivery of oil is later. And, as a result, anything
that happens in the oil market is immediately felt at the pump. But what`s
happened now is that there`s more oil in the marketplace than there is
demand. And oil which had been trading north of $100 a barrel is now down,
I think it`s below $30. Part of the problem has – is also that, that
economies are slowing down, particularly that of China, which is a big
consumer of oil. The developing world generally consumes lots and lots of
fossil fuels. The economy has been slowing down, demand for oil has been
slowing down. So you have a combination of a huge pile of oil ready to be
used, and less demand for it. This is going to have a – this is going to
be exacerbated by the release of many millions of barrels of Iranian oil
into the market. Iran, the fourth biggest reserves in the market. It
remains to be seen what`s going to happen now. One of the reasons our
stock market, the world stock markets, have been plummeting recently is
because the drop in oil and the indication that, that the economies are
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. I just wanted to point out there always economic –
you know we focus on the kind of military and national security – I just
wanted to point out there`s also economic consequences to these kinds of
decisions as well. Than you to Colonel Jack Jacobs. Coming up, we will
reset with all the breaking news out of Iran, and there`s lots more to talk
about, and there`s more MHP show at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. And I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
And we are follow breaking news this morning out of Tehran where four
American citizens have reportedly been released from prison, including a
“Washington Post” correspondent who`s been imprisoned for more than 500
days. The reports come as Secretary of State John Kerry is in Vienna,
meeting with his Iranian counterpart ahead of an expected announcement
today that the international deal curbing Iran`s nuclear program has
officially taken effect.
Joining us now outside the White House is NBC News` Ron Allen.
Ron, talk to me about how important this prisoner release is to the
president and obviously to his legacy.
ALLEN: Well, I think it`s hugely important, Melissa. It`s an issue that`s
been on his mind for a long time. There are any number of occasions when
the president has spoken about Jason Rezaian and the number of Americans
held in Iran.
And, of course, this was a huge point of contention when the nuclear deal
was signed. The president`s critics demanding that these prisoners be
included in that deal and, of course, the White House, President Obama, has
said that was not the goal, that that was not the intention, that that
would have complicated matters, and that he`s tried to keep the issues
But clearly, there`s been a lot of discussion about the American prisoners,
if, in fact, they`re being released today, because that would have taken
some time to work all that out.
The Iran nuclear deal, obviously for the president`s critics a huge target.
He insists that this is a hugely significant achievement tht will stop Iran
from getting a nuclear weapon for a decade or more. So, a huge part of his
A big concern, of course, now as well is that the – if, in fact, this is
implementation day and we`ve been told that is not certain, but the
indications from Vienna are it is, in fact, happening. If, in fact, Iran
does get sanctions relief, that`s some $50 billion to $100 billion of
assets they will now have access to. There`s been concern about what the
Iranians will do with that money.
The Israelis and others in that part of the world are obviously very
concerned about the Iranians now financing terrorist operations, with
Hezbollah, other groups in Syria. The United States, of course, also very
leery of that. But in the deal, there are ways we are told by which the
United States is going to try to monitor that, to try and stop that from
happening. But, of course, that opens up a whole new phase things.
Also, the implementation of the deal is also going to be very painstaking
and there`s no guarantee that the Iranians are going to adhere to it. And
earlier, you were discussing this issue of ballistic missile testing by the
Iranians, something else on the Americans on the U.S. administration`s
radar, we talked about this the other day with the spokesperson during the
White House briefing and it was clear the United States is still
contemplating whether to impose sanctions on the Iranians because of the
ballistic missile tests that they`ve been undertaking of late.
So, again, I think as this early, so many complicated pieces and delicate
pieces happening here this morning apparently, and we hope to hear more
clarification from the White House and from the State Department, perhaps
from John Kerry, who I believe has just completed a second meeting with his
Iranian counterpart in Vienna just now. So, we hope to hear more
clarifying exactly what`s happening this morning very soon – Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to NBC`s Ron Allen at the White House.
And right now, I want to bring in Cal Perry, MSNBC`s senior editor of video
and digital content.
Cal, what are you hearing now?
PERRY: So, Melissa, we are continuing to monitor Iranian state news
agencies. They are the ones that are putting out this information. So, we
are just passing this on to our viewers as this continues to break sort of
as I sit here.
That`s the Fars News Agency website that you`re now looking at in front of
you. The other main news agency in Iran is IRNA, interestingly enough, and
if we can bring up the graphic of the four individuals who are released.
The IRNA, that`s the official news agency in Iran is apologizing for naming
initially Siamak Namazi, they`re now changing that to individual
Nosratollah Khosravi. That would be that fourth individual whose face we
do not have.
What makes that interesting is that in the broader scheme of things, for
the Iranian news agency to apologize for having the wrong name, it lets you
know they had zero heads up this was going to happen. This is all
happening sort of as we cover this story.
The other thing that has in a way kind of leaked out on to social media is
a tweet by the national security correspondent at the “Washington Post” –
obviously, the publication there that Jason Rezaian is employed with. She
tweeted about 25 minutes ago that it`s expected he will be out of Iranian
airspace in the next 30 minutes. No indication on where they are flying.
And again, no independent confirmation that he is out of Evin prison.
So, we`re going to have to wait, wait to hear from the State Department.
There are these very high-level meetings happening in Vienna, nothing
coming out of those meetings yet. But, clearly, this is timed with a day
in which the sanctions are to be lifted, which should bring immense
international coverage of those meetings in Vienna. And for the Obama
administration, this is yet another, they will certainly be saying, foreign
policy victory, a foreign policy legacy. First, Cuba and now Iran.
So, this is certainly shaping up, Melissa, to be an historic day between
these two countries. Two countries that have simply not communicated on
this kind level since 1979. So, that`s going to be interesting to hear how
this was worked out, how this was talked about between the two governments,
and who in the end was really responsible for this happening.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Cal, actually want to go to you on that, and
particularly on the politics of this. So, Tuesday night, we have the
president at the State of the Union doing a very kind of traditional –
what we might call sort of Obama doctrine discourse about the complexity of
global politics and of soft power. Then, on Thursday night, we hear during
the GOP debate some really tough talk about sort of ways in which we ought
to be engaging in a more forceful and muscular way in the world.
Then two days later, this is occurring in ways that – at least, you know,
on our network being described and understood as successes of the Obama
administration. I am wondering in the world, in the kind of global space,
in Iran, they are reflecting on this as intervening in an American
political moment. Like in other words, do they recognize the ways in which
this is intervening in what happens over the discourse of this week and of
the electoral politics that are happening in the country at the moment?
PERRY: No question. This is a country that is very aware of what`s going
on internationally, that is very aware of geopolitics. This is a country
that almost held Jimmy Carter politically hostage during his re-election
campaign by not releasing those hostages out of the embassy.
So, I think there`s no question that the Iranian government understands
what`s going on here in the United States and the broader sense with the
presidential election. Barack Obama getting beat up in public by many of
the Republican candidates for his handling of the Iran nuclear deal. When
those sailors were taken by Revolutionary Guard members and we know in the
last 24 hours, officials telling our Jim Miklaszewski, that was a
navigational error by the sailors, he was criticized, Barack Obama was
criticized for that having even happened.
Now, when we look at this in the broader picture, it`s clear these
discussions about this, as the Iranian meeting is presenting it, as a
prisoner swap, would have been going on for weeks, months, maybe even a
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to look quick political question on this. This is
obviously not only for the Obama administration in a broad way but for
Secretary of State John Kerry, more specifically. And I`m wondering if the
kind of specifics of this, the clarity with which this is occurring, does
it date back to and will Mrs. Clinton be able to say that this is part of
her legacy as well, or is this really a break that belongs to Mr. Kerry and
not the time when Mrs. Clinton was in this position?
PERRY: Well, I think for sure, Hillary Clinton, the middle of the
presidential election, is likely to harken back to her days at the U.S.
State Department. When you look at who really flushed out this deal, John
Kerry, Wendy Sherman from the U.S. State Department. They`re sitting in
Vienna. I think for them, this is a major historic and legacy moment.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to MSNBC`s Cal Perry.
NBC`s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel is now joining us from
Richard, what more can you tell us about what`s happening there?
ENGEL: Well, we are waiting right now for an announcement from the IAEA,
the International Atomic Energy Agency, and this announcement is supposed
to come earlier in the day. This is an announcement that the U.S. has been
working on with Iran in secret, often complicated diplomatic talks for the
last 2 1/2 years.
And these – this announcement which could come any moment is really quite
– is really delayed already at this stage – is supposed to acknowledge
Iran has, in fact, complied with its side of the nuclear agreement, and
then allowing it to – for sanctions to be lifted, including the release of
tens of billions of dollars which have been frozen and allowing Iran to
participate in the international economy again including banking, including
access to international oil trades.
We do think, however, that a key reason that these talks have been somewhat
delayed. Secretary Kerry is here. He`s been meeting with his Russian –
his Iranian counterpart Zarif. When I say “here,” I mean in Vienna.
They have yet to show up at this building where I am right now. We think
part of that delay is because of the news that has just emerged in the last
couple of hours about – with Iranian newspapers and media reporting about
a prisoner swap, including “The Washington Post” journalist Jason Rezaian.
So, a lot seems to be in the diplomatic balance right now. The sequence of
events we`re expecting, we`ve been told that the meetings, a larger meeting
and then a smaller meeting between Secretary Kerry and Zarif have ended.
We`re expecting them to come here next.
Then there should be a short statement by the IAEA, acknowledging Iran has
lived up to its side of the nuclear agreement, then the two principals and
a European representative would come out and make a statement, sign
documents, officially lifting the sanctions. And potentially also
answering some questions about this prisoner exchange that Iran is
reporting about that included “The Washington Post,” that reportedly
included “The Washington Post” reporter Jason Rezaian, who`s been held in
Iran for several – for over a year now.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Richard, any sense of when we will hear about the names
on the other side of this? You know, it`s been a little bit more than an
hour now since we first heard about the four Americans. Any sense we`ll
have a little bit more clarity about the numbers or the names of whom the
Americans are letting go on the other side, sort of what this swap actually
ENGEL: Well, the Iranian news agency has released seven names. Of it says
are people who are held by the United States on, quote, “sanctions related
charges.” So that is one source an Iranian official news agency has put
out those names.
On the other side, there`s been quite a bit of confusion however about
these four dual nationals. Three of the four names are well known
including Jason Rezaian. And a fourth seems to have taken a lot of people
by surprise. Even the Iranian news reports have been getting the different
four names of the prisoners that were released in Iran confused.
So, a lot of this still needs to shake out but the only thing so far that
seems clear is that according to multiple sources in Iran that there was a
prisoner exchange, that four people were released in Iran, including Jason
Rezaian, or are in the process of being released, and that seven other
names have been listed that the United States apparently dropped charges
But U.S. officials have been much more close-lipped about all of this.
Most – the vast majority of information coming from Iranian sources at
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to NBC`s Richard Engel in Vienna.
The 2016 presidential candidates are starting to weigh in on this breaking
news out of Iran. There`s more on that next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We don`t know the details of
the deal that is bringing them home, and it may well be there are some very
problematic aspects to this deal. But at least this morning, I am giving
thanks that Pastor Saeed is coming home. It is far later that it should
have been, but we will glad to welcome him home with open arms.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Joining me here at the table today are Nina Turner, former
Ohio state senator, Raul Reyes, attorney, co-host of “Changing America” on
Shift MSNBC, and contributor to NBCnews.com, Katon Dawson, national
Republican consultant and former South Carolina GOP chair. And Gian-Carlo
Peressuti, man – a Republican strategist, former press secretary for
President George H.W. Bush and a former White House aide to Karl Rove
during the George W. Bush administration.
Ya`ll have been sitting here so patiently for more than an hour. I just
want to feel like, go for it. Responses?
DAWSON: I`d like to have it first. First, just to set the record
straight, this is the Iranian news agency driving this story not NBC News.
Second of all –
HARRIS-PERRY: Or any U.S. –
DAWSON: Right, and they`re doing a masterful job of putting it out there,
covering up the original deal that`s going on, the historic day for the
Second of all, it`s not lost – it will not be lost on Republicans later
this afternoon that the swap is not going to be an equity swap. It won`t
be four to four, it won`t be seven to four. That number will be driven
into the campaign dialogue by dark tonight if Iranian news agency –
HARRIS-PERRY: So right, so your bet is Mr. Trump or someone else will
tweet four to seven or seven to four –
DAWSON: One more bad deal, that`s coming.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s a little bit of a third rate way of –
REYES: It`s not that simple. It`s not always four for four. There are
different – you know, there are nuances involved there. I know when
Hillary Mann was talking to us, these two gentlemen were like, ahhh. I see
you shaking your heads. Me and Nina are maybe the opposite.
I`m not saying this doesn`t mean as you suggested that we are in love with
Iran, this doesn`t mean we`re going down – this is why we have this deal
because Iran will constantly be testing us. That`s why we have this
If the president was not doing this, what`s the alternative? If not to
engage in some way to bring them into the world community and to bring the
people of Iran into the world community, what is the alternative? And
meanwhile, we have some Republican senators who signed that crazy letter to
the mullahs now weighing in on our foreign policy with Iran.
PERESSUTI: Let`s not set up a false choice here. Hillary talked about
diplomacy. We can all agree diplomacy is preferable to war. That`s not
what`s in question.
But diplomacy by definition implies trust and implies a two-way street.
What has Iran done to demonstrate to us they`re trustworthy at all? When
REYES: Iran shifted their nuclear material last week.
PERESSUTI: When we`re getting ready to sign a nuclear deal, they take the
gloves off with Israel once again, and taunt and provoke. Then we have
this ballistic missiles test, which I understand is not part of the nuclear
deal. But it doesn`t matter, it`s still a question of trustworthiness.
Hillary talked about the stability –
HARRIS-PERRY: I think it`s a really critically important question and I
think the answer – it may not be a sufficient answer but part of the
answer is both the shipping of the low grade uranium but also today, right?
When you ask that question, part of the answer becomes the release of these
prisoners, which was part of the drum beat.
And, again, very well may not be enough of an answer. But I think that`s
part of the –
PERESSUTTI: Iran for releasing – we don`t even know who we`re going to be
giving up –
TURNER: It`s not so much about applauding Iran as much as looking at the
fact that four Americans are coming back home and their families. I mean,
that narrative cannot be overshadowed. We know who we`re dealing with.
REYES: It is not engaging Iran. We`re not embracing Iran.
REYES: It`s the fact that we have some forward movement, something is
happening, and what would it – like would it have to be four for four? If
it were four for four, would it be OK?
HARRIS-PERRY: What I will say is I do raise an eyebrow at the politics.
It`s not a small point. I`ve done nothing but sit here and think about the
Carter/Reagan 1980 campaign. And the idea that –
DAWSON: Release them the day of.
HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right. Those hostages are held in a moment, watching
that election, watching that campaign, making a decision about who they
want to deal with, right, and so like I both think, yes, that smooth – I
also have a concern kind of reserve around it, because I don`t want to be -
- like it makes me nervous this table is split down the middle in a
conversation about national security.
Because I just feel a lot of the anxiety that we judge the value and the
quality of this kind of decision on a partisan or ideological – because it
just feels like that shouldn`t be the basis on which we would make a
decision about whether or not this is good.
PERESSUTTI: The president led with his chin on this. He said coming into
office, he wanted a deal with Iran. If you`re Iran, you`re saying, oh,
great, we`re going to get what we want, so let`s milk it.
HARRIS-PERRY: He said he wanted to deal with enemies in general. He laid
out an Obama doctrine that suggested a different way of approaching the
world, right? That said, the president also, in not a little bit of
hubris, mentioned Osama bin Laden during the State of the Union. So, it`s
not like the president has just laid about during seven years of office.
TURNER: Everything can`t be done with brute force. I mean, that`s just
the bottom line. We can`t afford it. The men and women who fight over
there can`t afford it.
So we do need some diplomacy and sometimes it is not perfect. But nobody,
make no mistake, nobody is jumping up and down saying that Iran has changed
its stripes. We know exactly who we are dealing with. But I don`t want to
lose sight of the fact that we have four Americans coming home.
DAWSON: I saw the bait that Iran put out in the press release. Now that
we`ve moved forward we can all unite against this terrorism element called
ISIL. That`s not the exact words. That`s what they put in there to make
us feel comfortable.
Look, we`re all now going to go after the one fear we all there. It`s
going to be hard for Republicans to embrace Iran and the rhetoric. Ya`ll
are right, we all are cautious.
Maybe the conversation next week is a world safer than it was Tuesday?
Maybe that`s the conversation we`re looking for.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s not a small point. Look, people are starving to death
in Syria. We have to address that.
ISIL is a real threat. And yet also it must be a real threat we deal with.
Like I just, I would like a little bit of statesmanship and sobriety in
these conversations and have it not be just about a kind of partisanship.
Stay with us for continuing news out of Iran. We`re going to be right
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re still following breaking news out of Tehran this
morning. Iranian media and “The New York Times” are reporting that Iran is
releasing four American citizens from prison today, including a “Washington
Post” correspondent who`s been in prison in Iran for more than 500 days.
Joining us now from Washington is Hillary Mann Leverett, former State
Department and White House Middle East expert and author of “Going to
Tehran: Why America Must Accept the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Hillary, we have – I think you probably just heard my panel here reacting
to some of what you said in the last hour. Would you like to respond back
on some of that?
LEVERETT: I think that it`s really very strange that this is a partisan
issue, because I think anybody, any Republican who looks back at President
Nixon and his record for going to China and opening up the U.S./China
relationship would be hard put in terms of transforming the U.S. position.
The United States was in dire straits in Vietnam. We were in a quagmire in
Vietnam. We were in disastrous course in Asia. And President Nixon came
into office just like President Obama did saying he had a different way.
He wrote a groundbreaking article in “Foreign Affairs” magazine in 1969
laying out the course he wanted to take to have a fundamentally different
relationship with China.
Similarly, President Obama laid out this fundamentally different strategic
course in his 2008 campaign, which was very clearly, simply, we can`t bomb
our way out of everything. We can use strategically grounded diplomacy.
That`s not giving away the store but that strategically grounded diplomacy,
to transform this problematic relationship, to make them work for us
instead of against us.
So this idea that it`s a partisan issue I think is really a product of the
poisoned political rhetoric we have today. It`s not based on reality in
terms of what Republican presidents have done in the past.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me ask you a question about the implementation of the
agreement itself and the idea that if sanctions lift and there are more
dollars. So, from our kind of national global security perspective, is
there concern that Iran might make use of those dollars for the sponsorship
of terrorism around the world?
LEVERETT: You know, people say that a lot. But in fact, what Iran does in
terms of its national security, as it sees its national security policy,
the use of, you know, what you may call proxies, maybe in a less loaded
way, is actually, is not very expensive. It`s pretty much using asymmetric
doctrine on the cheap.
But, you know, I`ve been to Iran several times and I think journalists may
have gone in the last couple of years and the one thing that`s shocking
when you go to Iran is how much money they`ve invested internally, the
infrastructure, the metro system, the Internet. You can get the Internet
in the smallest village in Iran. Their health care system that every
single Iranian has not only accessed to quality health care but takes
advantage of it. Their education.
You know, the Iranian cabinet has more – has more people in it with
American PhDs than any cabinet in the world including President Obama`s
So, it`s not about loving Iran but it`s about recognizing that we`re
dealing with a country of 80 million educated sophisticated people, a
civilizational state that shown time and time again it invests a lot of
money internally in terms of its education, its manufacturing, a whole
Now, will Iran also invest its money into national security? Absolutely.
But we have a lot that we can do with Iran in the Gulf to build cooperative
This idea that we can continue to threaten them with bombing and be harder
on them and that`s somehow going to have them put less in their military
spending doesn`t make sense. The way to work with Iran is to get them to
channel as much of that into not only domestic infrastructure but to use,
you know, use any of their military funding to join us in helping to bottle
and combat ISIS. They are the one country in the Middle East that is
capable and dedicated to the death, really, to fighting ISIS, because first
and foremost, ISIS hates the Shia more than they hate, you know, the
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to say thank you to Hillary in Washington, D.C.
Everyone, continue to stay with us for continuing coverage of the breaking
news out of Iran.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re staying on this morning`s breaking news out of Iran,
Iranian TV is reporting that four American citizens have been released from
Iranian prison, including “Washington Post” correspondent Jason Rezaian who
has been held for more than 500 days.
“The Associated Press” is reporting that according to U.S. officials, the
Americans will be taken to Switzerland and, in return, the U.S. will
release seven Iranian prisoners held for violating economic sanctions.
“The A.P.” reports the prisoner swap was secured in just the last 24 hours,
after 14 months of negotiations.
Joining us now from Washington, Joe Cirincione, who is president of the
Ploughshares Fund, which focuses on nuclear weapons policy. And Steve
Clemons, editor at large for “The Atlantic” and an MSNBC contributor.
Hello, gentlemen, nice to have you both with us.
STEVE CLEMONS, THE ATLANTIC: Good to be with you, Melissa.
JOE CIRINCIONE, PRESIDENT, PLOUGHSHARES FUND: My pleasure.
HARRIS-PERRY: So let`s begin here with a conversation about the fact that
this seems to have happened so swiftly. I`m interested in what state these
former prisoners may be in when they arrive.
These are obviously not American prisons. We`ve heard earlier from Cal
Perry here that these may have been very tough circumstances in which they
were held for quite some time.
CIRINCIONE: Well, let me start. We understand that Rezaian for example is
in deteriorating health. It`s one of the concerns his family and “The
Washington Post” have raised in recent weeks.
In this last month or so, we`ve seen more latitude and visits that the
family`s been allowed and they`ve been able to spend a little longer time
with him while he was being held prisoner. That may have been part of the
justification for their release but I think, in general, this is an effort
by the U.S. and Iran to get this issue behind them.
This is one of the most divisive issues separating our countries. We
appear to have peacefully and diplomacy settled this today.
HARRIS-PERRY: And will that – if, in fact, we see an American coming home
after nearly – after more than a year in an Iranian custody in
deteriorating health looking as though he`s had tough circumstances, will
that be politically problematic for understanding what this deal is?
CIRINCIONE: Well, I think it could be. But I bet you every single one of
these prisoners is going to have a big broad smile on their face. You
know, we – because of the poisonous partisan politics in this country, we
as Americans seem to have trouble accepting good news.
This is a very good news day. American prisoners unjustly held by Iran are
now being freed. We can argue later about the conditions of their
incarceration, but they are getting out and they`re getting out without
threats of military force, without going to war. They`re getting released
because the patient diplomatic effort that John Kerry made and his
counterpart, Foreign Minister Zarif, have made. This has been a long time
in the making. It`s a joy to see this occur today.
HARRIS-PERRY: Steve, let me come to you on this. In part because there is
no question, as Joe said, that we are in a clearly sort of poisonous
partisan time, a time where everything we look at, we`re looking at through
these lenses that are deeply ideological. How do you expect this moment to
now play out? We have a Democratic debate coming up tomorrow night.
Obviously, the candidates are beginning to weigh in on both sides.
How do you think this will be talked about in the American context?
CLEMONS: I think politically everyone running for the presidency of the
United States right now is not going to want to give Iran a hug for what
And I think that it`s important to remember that while we`re seeing some
very constructive steps by Iran, it remains a thuggish regime. There`s a
fantastic article by Laura Secor in the most recent issue of “The New
Yorker” about a woman inside Iran who has tried to go through Iran and
prevent raped women from being executed and stoned and hanged for having
been. So while we see Iran taking steps, it remains a thuggish and dark
Nonetheless, something miraculous is going on right now, because there
aren`t two nations we`ve had more bitter disputes with than North Korea and
Iran. And all of a sudden, Iran is beginning to feel more comfortable in
certain ways. It`s put forward a Syria peace plan. It`s called for
political settlements inside Yemen.
It has, you know, stepped forward, like many said it wouldn`t, and complied
with all the parts we think of the Iranian nuclear deal. And all of a
sudden, Iran is feeling like a more comfortable relationship for Secretary
Kerry and others. When he called the Saudis and tried to prevent them from
executing Nimr al Nimr because of the fear of what that would do to the
Middle East and the region, the Saudis ignored him and executed him. When
John Kerry called Javad Zarif and said, we need to make a good story out of
those detained sailors, he got them released.
So, all of a sudden, Iran is moving into a constructive course and that has
tremendous implications. That that goes to what Hillary Mann Leverett
said, that maybe this is the very beginning of a “Nixon Goes to China”
story. There`s a lot of other pieces to it, but it`s a very, very
important note that seems to be happening now.
HARRIS-PERRY: See, the other really important thing that Hillary said was
that this might not only be a Nixon goes to China, this might be an
effective global strategy over and against ISIS and ISIL. Do you buy that
part of the story as well?
CLEMONS: Well, I think it`s only hatch the story because in my view is a
very dark manifestation of Sunni paranoia about their perception of the
rise of Shiites, of the rise of Iran, of the United States shifting its
affections to Iran and the Saudis and Sunnis more broadly not having
someone with a hard edge defending their interests.
So, when you get below the governments in these Sunni regimes, to the
general public, there`s a lot of popularity of ISIS, so just bringing Iran
into a military conflict over ISIS doesn`t solve the ISIS problem. If
anything, it exacerbates it. You need to get the zero sum game between
these two players to cease to really begin to unplug ISIS.
HARRIS-PERRY: Steve and Joe, thank you so much for joining us.
We`re staying on the breaking news out of Iran. There`s much more when we
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Remember the journalists
unjustly imprisoned around the world, including our own Jason Rezaian.
For nine months, imprisoned in Tehran for nothing more than writing about
the hopes and the fears of the Iranian people, telling their stories to the
readers of “The Washington Post”, in an effort to bridge our common
humanity. As was already mentioned, Jason`s brother Ali is here tonight,
and I have told him personally we will not rest until we bring him home to
his family safe and sound.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: That was President Obama at last year`s White House
correspondents dinner speaking about “The Washington Post” reporter who has
reportedly been released today, after more than 500 days in an Iranian
I want to bring in NBC`s Ron Allen, live from the White House today.
Ron, I can only imagine that this is pretty important news for the
president, given that he made that very clear promise to the family and to
ALLEN: Yes, indeed, Melissa. He has spoken out about Jason Rezaian
several times and the other Americans who have been held in Iran now. It`s
544 days or so for Jason Rezaian.
We should also mention his wife, for a time, was also held and she was
released. She`s also a journalist. And the Committee to Protect
Journalists points out that Iran is amongst the worst jailers of
journalists anywhere in the world. There are countries like Ethiopia,
Egypt, also China, of course, that annually top the list as well. And
there are some 19 other journalists who are still held by the Iranians
according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
But, of course, the story`s more than just Jason Rezaian. There`s also a
pastor who`s been held, Saeed Abedini, who, as I understand it, was there
to build orphanages in Iran when he was arrested and charge with some form
of espionage, along with the others. And now, there are conflicting
reports about exactly how many Americans are going to be released or have
The number is four that we`ve been hearing a lot this morning. There`s
also now a report that there may be a fifth who is not related to that
group of four Iranian Americans. There`s obviously the case of Robert
Levinson that`s now been going on since 2007, an American working there
allegedly for a U.S. company perhaps for the CIA, FBI. It`s a very
complicated case. No word on whether he may be – his case may be part of
what`s happening today as well.
Still awaiting confirmation here at the White House – Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to NBC`s Ron Allen at the White House.
Joining us now for more is Cal Perry, MSNBC`s senior editor of video and
Just about a half hour ago that we saw a tweet suggesting it might be half
an hour until Mr. Rezaian was out of airspace. Any more updates on that,
PERRY: “The Washington Post” is actually pulling back a little bit on that
tweet. They`re saying that appears to be misinformation. We know “The
Associated Press” is quoting U.S. officials saying this group of four will
be flown to Switzerland. We don`t know if they`ve left or if they`re still
on the ground.
Look, 35 years is a long time for countries to not speak to each other.
And so, the logistics of this are fascinating, how this was put together.
There`s that tweet, the clarification from the national security
correspondent at the “Washington Post.”
But this is new to an entire generation of not only Americans but Iranians
as well who have grown up with such cold relations.
We are also standing by waiting to hear from President Rouhani, the Iranian
president. State television in Iran has a picture up of just this empty
podium, people standing by, waiting to hear from him. There`s the shot
So, obviously an historic day here. But the logistics of this and we want
to be very careful with our sourcing here this is coming from Iranian state
media. We do have “The Associated Press” citing U.S. officials that this
prisoner release has happened. But again, according to Iranian media, this
was a prisoner swap, seven Iranians for these four Americans.
It will also be very fascinating as these four fly to Switzerland, they`re
flying to the place where John Kerry and Wendy Sherman have been engaged
for, as we understand it, months of negotiations for the release of this
And one of the bigger questions as Ron Allen said was word of a fifth
American. Again, an Iranian state television saying that a fifth American
has been released separate from these four. That`s obviously another
political move on behalf of the Iranian government.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to MSNBC`s Cal Perry.
Obviously, continuing to break news so you`re going to want to stay with
us. There will be much more on all this news out of Iran when we come
HARRIS-PERRY: We are staying on the breaking news out of Iran. Reports
that four American prisoners have been released from the Iranian prison
including “Washington Post” journalist Jason Rezaian.
Just moments ago, the group Samaritan`s Purse released a statement saying
that Pastor Saeed Abedini was also among those released and is now in the
Swiss embassy in Tehran. NBC News has not independently reported the fact.
“The Associated Press” is reporting that U.S. officials saying it is a
prisoner swap, and with the U.S. will release seven Iran citizens who have
been held or violating economic sanctions, and this is all comes as the
nuclear deal with Iran is set to be implemented today.
Joining us on the phone, Medal of Honor recipient and military analyst,
Colonel Jack Jacobs.
Colonel Jacobs, what is your reaction now that we know a bit more of this?
JACOBS: Well, it is exactly the result that you will get when you spend
time working the diplomacy, and doing it behind the closed doors rather
than discussing everything in public, and announcing what you are going to
do, and establishing what your positions are, because everybody winds up,
and other side, too, winds up intransigent in public.
This is what happens when you spend a lot of time talking about things
behind the closed doors, and making the deals, and the results are very
interesting and timely. As you said, we are about ready to release
probably between $50 billion and $100 billion worth of Iranian assets, and
plus, permit the Iranians to put oil into the marketplace.
It`s a very exciting time for diplomacy. It will be interesting to see
where it goes, but it leaves lots of opportunities ahead.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right now, we want to go to Tehran with NBC News`s Ali
Ali, what is the latest?
ALI AROUZI, NBC NEWS: Well, Melissa, it is will powers preparing a
landmark deal in Vienna, there in Tehran, four or possibly even five
possible dual-national prisoners have been released and the timing probably
isn`t coincidental either.
Now, the Tehran prosecutor`s office put out a statement saying that the
four prisoners were freed within the framework of the exchange of prisoners
without elaborating. They didn`t mention any names, and the semi news
official agencies here have been rife with speculation that amongst the
released prisoners is “Washington Post” correspondent Jason Rezaian, and as
well as a former marine Amir Hekmati and a pastor called Abedin.
Now, there`s conflicting report about the identities of the fourth prisoner
released. It`s unclear who he is. Iranian state TV has put a report
saying it`s a gentleman called Siamak Namazi, while another state agency is
naming him as man called Nosratollah Khosravi.
What I can tell you, Melissa, is that these releases are an indication of
how much back channeling has been going between America and Iran since the
nuclear deal, something that would have seen unimaginable a few years ago,
but these two sides are talking directly about releasing prisoners, sailors
that drifted into Iranian waters and a whole host of other issues.
It also shows how keen and eager Iran is to get this nuclear deal sorted
out and tried and revive their economy here – Melissa.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to Ali Arouzi in Tehran and to Colonel Jack Jacobs
on the phone, on a day that has turned out be a surprisingly news-filled
day from the question of diplomacy.
That`s our show for today. Thanks to you at home for watching. I`m going
to see you tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. Eastern.
But we are not done on MSNBC, so stay with MSNBC on this breaking news use
out of Iran.
Coming up, “WEEKENDS WITH ALEX WITT.”
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