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.
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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.
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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 morning?
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.
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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 ballistic missiles.
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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 monitoring.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to NBC`s Richard Engel in Vienna on this historic day.
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.
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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.
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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 ship.
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 relations.
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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 service members.
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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 it develops.
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 back.
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 come back.
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 not?
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).
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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?
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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 night.
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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 us.
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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.
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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.
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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 know it.
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.
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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 limits.
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 obviously forgotten.
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 matters.
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.
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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.
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HARRIS-PERRY: That`s right, he really. Giancarlo, let (inaudible) weigh in here.
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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 interests.
(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 China.
(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 important.
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 new decision.
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 hands?
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.
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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.
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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 slowing down.
(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 separate.
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 legacy.
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 year, Melissa.
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 Vienna.
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 is?
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 for, released.
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 this stage.
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 administration.
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 detailed deal.
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 Iran --
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 back.
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 cabinet.
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 range things.
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 security mechanisms.
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 crusading Americans.
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 it`s doing.
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 regime.
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 come back.
(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 prison.
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 the press.
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 been released.
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 digital content.
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, Cal?
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 there.
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 group.
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 back.
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 Arouzi.
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."
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END