Speech

Iran nuclear programme: PM interview with NBC News 'Meet The Press'

Prime Minister David Cameron was interviewed by Chuck Todd for NBC News 'Meet The Press'.

Chuck Todd

Joining me now is one of America’s closest allies, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, David Cameron. Prime Minister Cameron, welcome back to Meet the Press.

Prime Minister

Great to be with you.

Chuck Todd

Let me start with this basic question. Why did you sign off on the deal?

Prime Minister

Because I think it is so much better than the alternative. I think that if there wasn’t a deal, I think we would face Iran with a nuclear weapon. And that would’ve given a terrible choice to the west of either enabling that, allowing that to happen, or a very difficult decision to take military action. So, this is the better outcome. It keeps Iran away from a nuclear weapon. It’s a successful negotiation for the allies. And I think we should be proud of a good deal done.

Chuck Todd

Why now, though? I mean, why was there an urgency to get this deal done now? Why not a year from now? Why not have the sanctions get even tighter.

Prime Minister

Well, I think the longer you leave it, the greater the chance there is of Iran actually getting a nuclear weapon while you’re not negotiating or not making progress. Look, I think we should be proud of the sanctions action that was taken. Britain played a key role in putting those European Union sanctions in place. The American sanctions were tough and worked. And I think that brought Iran to the negotiating table.

Now, of course, there’ll be those that complain about details of the deal. But fundamentally, this is the toughest set of proposals put in place, and verification put in place, and inspection put in place, that I think we’ve seen in any of these sorts of negotiations. So, I think it is a good deal. It was right to get on with it. And the sanctions pressure worked. And I think that’s all to the credit of the U.S. administration, to Barack Obama, but also the action taken in Europe, too.

Chuck Todd

Well, a lot of the criticism that’s coming here in the United States and from some key Middle East allies of both Great Britain and the United States, I’m talking Israel and Saudi Arabia in particular, is that this deal did not demand any other behaviour changes in Iran outside of their nuclear weapons program. It didn’t demand changes in what they’re doing in Syria, what they’re doing in Yemen, essentially their undue influence that they’re trying to exert in the Middle East. Why not include all that?

Prime Minister

Well, this deal was about the nuclear issue. And I think the right way to (INAUDIBLE) the deal was to make it about the nuclear issue. But, you know, we shouldn’t be naïve or starry eyed in any way about the regime that we’re dealing with. And I’m certainly not.

I spoke to President Rouhani yesterday and said that we want to see a change in the approach that Iran takes to issues like Syria and Yemen, and to terrorism in the region. And we want the change in behaviour that should follow from that change. So, we’re not starry eyed at all. And I’d reassure our Gulf allies about that. But actually taking the nuclear weapon issue off the table, that is a success for America and Britain and our allies. And we should be clear about that.

Chuck Todd

But if you give them sanctions relief, the Iranians now have more money. President Obama even admitted this. It’s not clear they’re going to use that sanctions relief just to improve the Iranian economy, that they may use it to prop up Assad even more in Syria, which is against our national interests, against, I believe your national interests, prop up civil war, essentially, in Yemen. Is that a good outcome?

Prime Minister

Well, we should go on being as robust as we can be with Iran about these issues. But frankly, if we want to see changes to Iran’s stance, I would argue that taking the nuclear issue off the table will actually help. I think that the Iranian regime was able to use this nuclear issue as a way of endlessly saying to the Iranian people, “They weren’t being treated fairly. And it was all the fault of the west,” and the rest of it.

They can’t use that excuse anymore. And let’s not, you know, overindulge the Iranians. This is not a successful country. It’s not a successful economy. It struggles with infrastructure. It’s got a pretty backward system in terms of justice and human rights. We should call it out on those things and be frank about those things and recognize that actually taking the nuclear issue off the table makes us safer, makes the world safer, makes the neighbourhood safer. And now, we should talk to Iran and be pretty firm about the other things that you mentioned.

Chuck Todd

Prime Minister Netanyahu and many people in Israel do not believe this makes them safer. Everybody in the United States on the Obama administration has argued that it does. I heard you argue that it does, too. Why is he wrong and you guys are right?

Prime Minister

Well, I quite understand the concerns of people living in Israel. You would if you had to deal with the terrorism of Hamas and Hezbollah, if you had the threats to your country, and you know what a threat Iran has been to your country. So, I fully understand their concern. But I would say to my friends in Israel, including the Israeli Prime Minister, look, the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, that is now off the table. And I think that’s a success. So, having achieved that, now let’s put the pressure on Iran on the other behaviour changes that we want to see, but recognise this was a deal worth doing.

You have to come back to the alternatives. If we had walked away from this negotiation and not made compromises, I think we would then see a nuclear-armed Iran. And when you actually look at the detail of this deal, the fact that they had to give up 98% of their enriched uranium, they’ve had to put away 2/3 of their centrifuges, one of the reactors we were concerned about is going to be filled with concrete so it doesn’t work.

This is a pretty tough, durable, and verifiable deal. So, I think we should reassure the Israelis and others about that, while absolutely continuing to work with them to condemn terrorism wherever it comes from. Because, of course, the Iranian view that, you know, ISIL are terrorists and al-Qaeda are terrorists, but Hamas are not terrorists, that is wrong. You know, all these groups are terrorists. And Britain and America and our allies should always be absolutely frank and staunch in calling out terrorism whenever we see it.

Chuck Todd

There was one expert out here named Richard Hoffstead (PH). His biggest concern is for this reason. He believes if Iran complies with the deal, then in 15 years they can have a nuclear weapon. What do you say to that?

Prime Minister

Well, I don’t believe that’s right. Actually, this deal says that it’s never acceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon. Obviously, the timeframe for which the safeguards are in place and the inspection is in place is for a particular period of time. But the deal actually says it’s not acceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon.

But again, what we’ve done is make sure that the timeline for them possibly getting a nuclear weapon has got longer, not shorter. So, I think critics of the deal do have a problem. Because, you know, if you criticize the deal, you have to ask, what’s the alternative? No deal to me meant Iran definitely getting a nuclear weapon. This deal gets them away from a nuclear weapon.

Chuck Todd

What’s the bigger threat to Middle Eastern stability, ISIS or Iran getting a nuclear weapon?

Prime Minister

Well, I think ISIL is the biggest threat, at the moment not just to the Middle East, but also a threat to us at home, you know. You’ve seen terrorist attacks narrowly averted in the United States with the case of the Boston attack recently.

We’ve seen this appalling attack on the Tunisian beach, where 30 of my own citizens were butchered by an ISIL terrorist. You know, this is the big threat that we face. A threat to the Middle East with those people in Iraq and Syria are suffering badly from this regime. But it’s a threat to all of us.

So, I want to work very closely with President Obama, with other allies. Britain is now committed to meeting our NATO 2% defence spending target all the way through this decade. We’ve already carried out more air strikes in Iraq than anyone else other than the United States. But I want us to step up and do more, what I call a full-spectrum response.

That means hammering ISIL in Iraq and helping with the work that you’re doing in Syria, but also recognizing we’ve got to fight radicalization at home. We’ve got to stop the jihadi terrorists from traveling from our country. We’ve got to confiscate passports. We’ve got to make sure we speak up for moderate Islamic voices. All of these things need to be done to help keep our world safe.

Chuck Todd

Do you plan to ask Parliament for more leeway to participate in the campaign against ISIS in Syria now? Because I know right now, you’re specifically helping in Iraq, but you are not helping in Syria beyond logistics. Are you planning on getting militarily getting involved there?

Prime Minister

We are helping in Iraq, as you say, with, actually, bombing runs and the rest of it. In Syria, we are helping with not just logistics but also surveillance aircraft and air-to-air refuelling. Look, we know that we have to defeat ISIL, we have to destroy this caliphate, whether it is in Iraq or in Syria. That is a key part of defeating this terrorist scourge that we face.

I want Britain to do more. I’ll always have to take my Parliament with me. We’re talking and discussing at the moment, including with the opposition parties in Britain, what more we can do. But be it no doubt, we’re committed to working with you to destroy the caliphate in both countries.

Chuck Todd

And let me ask you this final question. Because we’re dealing with it here, and this idea of homegrown terrorism. You just brought it up, self-radicalization. We’ve got yet another type of incident here in this country that we don’t know if it’s that or not. But there’s a concern about it. How do you reassure the British public, what advice do you give American politicians to reassure the American public that says you can even stop this? Is lone-wolf terrorism preventable?

Prime Minister

Well, terrorism is the fight. This is the fight, I’ve said, of our generation. And obviously, destroying the caliphate is a necessary condition of its defeat. But it’s not a sufficient condition. We have to attack directly this Islamist extremist ideology that is poisoning young minds, including young minds in Britain and America.

Now, I think it can be defeated. Because our values of democracy and freedom and the rule of law are stronger. But we have to make this clear recognition that we’re not just fighting the terrorism and the violence, but fighting the extremist narrative. People who say, “Well, of course I don’t support terrorism. But a caliphate, is that such a bad idea?” or people who say, “Do you know what? Christians and Muslims, we can’t really live together. And suicide bombing’s all right in Israel, even if it’s not all right in America.”

These are unacceptable views. We’ve got to call them out and confront them. We’ve got to defeat the narrative of extremism, even when it’s not connected to the violence. Because it’s the narrative that is the jumping-off point for these young people to then go and join this dreadful death cult in Iraq and Syria.

Now, if the politicians on both sides of the Atlantic and throughout the European Union and the rest of the world get this right and we stand up for our values, against these values of extremism, and we lump all extremists together, violent and nonviolent, then we’re correctly identifying our foe and we can succeed.

Chuck Todd

David Cameron, Prime Minister of Great Britain, thanks for coming on Meet the Press, sir.

Prime Minister

Thank you.