The McLaughlin Group
Issues: Obama and Cuba; Iran Deal Framework; Low Energy Prices
John McLaughlin, Host
Pat Buchanan, Author and Columnist
Eleanor Clift, The Daily Beast
Tom Rogan, National Review/Daily Telegraph
Mort Zuckerman, US News & World Report
Taped: Thursday, April 10, 2015
Broadcast: Weekend of April 10-12, 2015
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ANNOUNCER: From Washington, THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP, the American original. For over three decades, the sharpest minds, best sources, hardest talk.
JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, HOST: Issue One: Cuba Libre?
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There’s a process, as you said, and the State Department will be reviewing it. And as soon as I get a recommendation, I’ll be in a position to act on it. Understand that the criteria is very straightforward: Is this particular country considered a state-sponsor of terrorism?
MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): President Obama headed south this week, to an historic Summit of the Americas, in Panama City, Panama.
Cuba will attend the summit for the first time since 1962. So, President Barack Obama and President Raul Castro will be meeting in working sessions, an interesting sidelight.
Fifty-three years ago, Cuba was disinvited from the Organization of American states at the direction of President John F. Kennedy. This year, at President Obama’s request, Cuba was invited to participate in the OAS Hemispheric meeting.
Bringing Cuba to join the two-day summit is seen as Commander-in-Chief Obama’s broader initiative to restore relations between Washington and Havana. Those efforts have run into a stumbling block in the form of Havana’s demand to first have Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism rescinded by the U.S. Department of State. That action could smooth the way for the U.S. and Cuba to establish direct diplomatic ties and open embassies in Washington, and in Havana.
But it will not be without controversy. U.S. officials say Cuba still grants residency to Basque terrorists and to Colombian revolutionaries from FARC, and up to 70 American fugitives, including convicted cop killer, Assata Shakur.
New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, a Cuban-American and ardent critic of President Obama’s overtures to the Castro regime, says this, quote, "A recommendation to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism would represent another significant misstep in a misguided policy. And it is both discouraging and alarming to read about unwarranted pressure from the White House to rush the State Department’s review process", unquote.
MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Cuba was placed on the state sponsor of terrorism list in 1982. Has the regime’s behavior changed sufficiently to warrant removal from that list now?
PAT BUCHANAN, AUTHOR & COLUMNIST: John, the regime’s behavior has changed. Back in the Reagan era, they were over there in Africa. They had troops in Africa, in Ethiopia. They were moving into Latin America. They are not as toxic a communist country as they were, for the simple reason that communism is dead. But they still got terrorists down there.
And what this is all about, John, is Barack Obama. Barack Obama sees America as both Western and Third World. He wants to repair relations. Tried to repair them with Russia, did repair them with Burma, he’s trying to repair them with Iran, now wants to repair them with Cuba.
I think he sees himself as sort of Nixon to China president, and that this is what he wants to do with regard to the Third World. And, frankly, the United States is making all the concessions in this deal to get something that’s not terribly important to us anymore.
MCLAUGHLIN: Hard line --
ELEANOR CLIFT, THE DAILY BEAST: I don’t know that I would read as much as Pat does into the president’s insistence on expanding relations with the Third World. I think this is a relationship with a small island nation, 90 miles from our shore, a relationship that has been cold for 60 years. It hasn’t worked to depose the Castros. They’re still there.
And if the definition is state-sponsored terrorism, if they’re not extraditing Basque accused terrorists and they’re harboring people, that’s very different from actively supporting any of these groups, or using their influence to back terrorists and other countries.
So, I think that their behavior, for decades really, should have allowed to get off this list and I fully expected the State Department has made that recommendation.
TOM ROGAN, NATIONAL REVIEW/DAILY TELEGRAPH: Yes, I think -- I agree with Pat in the sense that the United States is giving away too many concessions in return for too little. I do think as well, the president is trying to build this rapprochement with Cuba, and clearly with some degree, the previous relationship was not functional and was not serving either the American interest or the interest of the basic people of Cuba.
At the same time, though, you have to remember that the Cuban intelligence service is very, very capable for a small island nation. They do maintain these existing links with different terrorist groups across the world, Venezuela as well. And the issue that we have to face up to is that the terrorism list of the State Department should be based on objective fact rather than subjective political interests on the part of any administration.
MCLAUGHLIN: Does that sound correct to you?
MORT ZUCKERMAN, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT: Well, there’s something to it, but I happen to think that this is actually a good time for the United States just try and rebuild the relationship with Cuba. I don’t think they’re nearly as, shall we say, malevolent as they once used to be. They’re really focused on their own domestic economy and domestic issues. And I think it’s time for a change.
We deal with a lot of nations who are, shall we say, not totally, not 100 percent pure. They aren’t 100 percent pure, but they are 90 miles from our shore and we ought to find some way over time to build a better relationship.
BUCHANAN: The Castro brothers have been in over through 11 presidents. And it really is a rotten little dictatorship, and there’s an awful lot of political prisoners down there. But the truth is that the future is not on the side of that dictatorship. The United States is going to outlast them. I think when the two brothers go, there’s going to be changes down there.
But what I’m bothered about is, the president seems to be so solicitous, he wants to do virtually anything to step out front to get this done. I can understand the engagement.
CLIFT: That’s really -- that’s really unfair.
BUCHANAN: He gives away too much.
CLIFT: What are the specifics that he’s, quote, "given away too much".
BUCHANAN: Well, I mean, what are we getting from in terms of the way they threat their own people?
CLIFT: Well, we don’t condition our relationship with every country on how they treat their people. But we use our relationship as leverage.
BUCHANAN: But if you’re going to --
CLIFT: So, if you have U.S. investments and --
CLIFT: Excuse me, Pat. If you have U.S. investment and tourists and you warm the relationship, there’s going to be a lot more pressure on that regime, probably from within, that it is from us acting like we’re completely hands off.
MCLAUGHLIN: A woman by the name of Joanne Chesimard was put on the most wanted terrorist list in 2013 by the FBI. Her name is Assata Shakur. She’s a fugitive from U.S. justice, but given sanctuary in Cuba. She’s wanted for the murder of a police officer in New Jersey. Governor Chris Christie wrote a letter to President Obama stating that Cuba should return Chesimard to his state to face justice before the U.S. and Cuba establish diplomatic ties.
Do you think Chesimard should be returned? Mort, I ask you.
ZUCKERMAN: Yes, absolutely. I think there is a price that is appropriate and they ought to pay that price, that is, Cuba ought to pay that price and release him.
CLIFT: Yes, but that’s not enough to hold up the thawing of the relations between Cuba and the U.S. These are the kinds of things that are going to get worked out in negotiations that are going to continue into the future. This is not an overnight deal.
MCLAUGHLIN: You mean after the ties are established between the United States and Cuba. Is that what you’re saying?
CLIFT: I would hope so.
MCLAUGHLIN: How did I divine that?
CLIFT: Or because you have that far darting mind that looks into the future.
ROGAN: I think it’s what with Cuba -- the thing is here, there is -- Cuba needs the United States, right? There is a collapse really of foreign investment in Cuba. The health system which is long held up which is going to archetype of socialist utopia has real problems in and of itself. The people you look at, the cars, there, the absence of toilet paper, basic commodities, those pressures.
And I agree with Eleanor to some degree that yes, if you can try and build a stimulative business, middle class there with American influence --
CLIFT: The collapse of foreign investment, the Chinese are rushing in there, the Europeans are building resorts.
BUCHANAN: But what do we have?
CLIFT: We’re the ones there being left behind.
BUCHANAN: Eleanor, they got nothing but sugar down in that whole place down there. I mean, 53 percent, in a recent poll of Cubans, would like to leave their country, 53 percent would like to get out after 50 years of a revolution.
CLIFT: Fifty-three percent of Americans would like to visit Cuba and experience the island nation.
ROGAN: But the difference is we fly over in planes and they brave shark-infested waters to come over. So, there’s a slight difference of parallel --
CLIFT: Not so much anymore.
BUCHANAN: It’s a prison. They won’t let their people out.
MCLAUGHLIN: Menendez is got into trouble and he was obliged to step down from his position as ranking Democrat in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. His effectiveness in opposing Obama’s foreign policy has been impaired by the indictment. But he’s still a senator and he has a vote. Now, this is fortuitous for Obama, because Menendez claims his indictment by the Justice Department is a blatant attempt to silence his criticism of Obama’s foreign policy. Some pro-Israel organizations have also called the timing of the indictment suspicious.
BUCHANAN: It’s going to effect – he’s talking -- affecting Iran more than anything else.
BUCHANAN: Menendez is a big force, a very anti-Iran, very pro-Israel. And he’s gone.
CLIFT: Yes. Well, in Cuba, it would take Congress, congressional action to lift the embargo completely. But if they want to affect what the president is doing, they have to pass additional legislation. I can’t imagine what that would be and it would have to withstand a veto. So, forget that.
MCLAUGHLIN: The final point, Menendez is doing a lot of business with Cuba.
BUCHANAN: He’s doing it with the Dominican Republic, that’s his problem.
MCLAUGHLIN: He was doing with a Cuban doctor.
BUCHANAN: That’s Dominican Republican, he’s got real problems with that. He’s been indicted. He stepped down.
MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, yes.
ZUCKERMAN: As chairman.
BUCHANAN: As the leader of the Foreign Relations Committee. And it’s a real blow to the folks who want to kill the Iran deal.
MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question, are you ready for this?
MCLAUGHLIN: OK, concentrate hard. Will President Obama’s overtures to Cuba hurt the Democratic nominee’s chances of carrying Florida in the next year’s presidential election yes, or no?
BUCHANAN: I don’t -- I think no because if the nominee is Hillary, I think she’ll mean -- it might hurt a little bit with the Cuban community, the older community down there, but a lot of folks by then I think, the change will have come and I don’t think it’s going to hurt much.
CLIFT: Yes, the demographics have changed and President Obama actually won the Cuban vote in 2012, narrowly, but he did win it.
ROGAN: Yes, it was striking, in 2012 , I was at the U.S. embassy in London, election night party there. And there was consensus really from Republicans, probably, Florida, Romney is probably going to take, and it just didn’t happen. I think that reflects that demographic change.
ZUCKERMAN: Yes, I share that view. I don’t think this is going to be a major issue in any way, and I think everybody ought to relax. I don’t see what is at issue here in this particular question. I really do think that it would be good for the United States, as well as for Cuba, to open up the relationship with both.
MCLAUGHLIN: Are you going to vote for Hillary?
ZUCKERMAN: I’m sorry?
MCLAUGHLIN: Are you going to vote for Hillary?
ZUCKERMAN: When I get into the booth, I’ll tell you where --
BUCHANAN: He likes Jeb, too.
ZUCKERMAN: No, I think if -- I believe this. I tell you, I wrote this in an editorial. If Hillary Clinton is the nominee of the Democratic Party and Jeb Bush of the Republican Party, I’m going to go to bed early that night, because whoever wins, the country will be in good hands.
BUCHANAN: You like to see Bush-Clinton race, an exciting, exciting race.
CLIFT: Well, and if it’s Rand Paul versus Hillary Clinton, you’re going to see a lot of hawkish Republicans voting for Hillary.
MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Two: Let’s Make A Deal.
OBAMA: This framework would cut off every pathway that Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon. Iran will face strict limitations on its program, and Iran has also agreed to the most robust and intrusive inspections and transparency regime ever negotiated for any nuclear program in history.
MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): After almost 18 months of negotiations, including multiple missed deadlines, and last-minute extension, talks between the P5-plus-1 and Iran concluded with a, quote/unquote, "framework agreement". The framework agreement stipulates that Iran will limit its nuclear research and agree to international inspections to verify that it is not trying to build a nuclear bomb. In return, trade and financial sanctions levied against Iran by the international community will be lifted.
The framework agreement is not, however, a final agreement. Details of that accord remain to be worked out before a June 30 deadline. Early indications are that Iran and the United States remain far apart on their understanding of the deal outlined in the framework agreement.
Item: lifting the sanctions. President Obama insists the sanctions will be eased gradually as Iran proves it is abiding by the deal. Tehran says the sanctions will be, quote, "immediately revoked", unquote.
Item: allowing inspections. Mr. Obama says Iran has agreed to international inspection of its nuclear facilities. Tehran says this agreement is, quote, "voluntary and temporary", unquote, pending ratification by its parliament.
Item: resuming research. Mr. Obama says the deal blocks Iran from resuming high level uranium enrichment and nuclear research for 10 years. Iran insists they will have the right to carry out these nuclear activities before the deal expires.
MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Do the parties’ understanding of the framework agreement give you confidence that the P5-plus-1 and Iran will reach a final deal in June?
I’ll ask you, Tom.
ROGAN: I think what you’re seeing here is very interesting. On the paper, the reflection of the paper framework agreement is now coming into question in terms of the physical reality. And you see this in part -- Khamenei, the leader of Iran, has been coming out quite strongly in the last couple of days, talking about the fact that this is -- he’s not sure whether he’s going to agree to it.
I think two contingent factors are going to be, to what degree -- there’s two things that even the Obama administration will not be able to waver on to -- what degree is the inspection regime vigorous and spot? Which is to say that the inspectors can say, I want to go here and I want to go now, instead of the Iranians saying, OK, come next week, at a prearranged time.
And number two: to what degree do the sanctions kick in automatically, without potential veto from Russia, which is on the cards now, in the event that Iran breaches this deal?
And I suspect Iran won’t agree to a deal if the U.S. pushes those two lines.
CLIFT: This is a deal in the making.
MCLAUGHLIN: What’s the role of Congress on that decision?
CLIFT: The role of Congress in this decision, so far, is non-existent. But there’s a lot of pressure coming from Republicans and some Democrats to get the Congress involved, even before the final deal is made. And the White House is resisting that.
MCLAUGHLIN: Can Obama do it without the consent of Congress?
CLIFT: He can do a lot without the consent of Congress --
MCLAUGHLIN: Well, let’s see what it says here.
CLIFT: -- because it’s an international agreement. But there are some sanctions that the Congress would have to move to left -- I just wanted to say, Khamenei --
MCLAUGHLIN: No, on this particular point. Let me finish this point. On this particular point, it still takes congressional action to repeal U.S. sanctions. Obama cannot do it unilaterally.
MCLAUGHLIN: Congress is unlikely to accept immediate repeal unless Iran makes significant concession in other areas.
CLIFT: Well, there are some sanctions that the president can move unilaterally, the bulk of them Congress would have to be involved.
But I want to say, Khamenei, the ayatollah, is busy tweeting. And those tweets have two audiences. One is Obama and the West, trying to get the best deal he can get, and the other is his hardliners at home, telling them, hey, we won. It’s the same kind of balancing act the president is going through trying to sell the deal here.
This is a deal that’s in progress. I would not read too much into -- they’re not trying to scuttle --
MCLAUGHLIN: You don’t think Congress is unlikely to accept immediate repeal unless Iran makes significant concession.
CLIFT: The president isn’t going to -- the president isn’t going to accept immediate repeal. That is not on the table.
BUCHANAN: John, you’re talking about the Corker bill, which is not going to go through veto-proof, which is going to be voted on, on Tuesday.
MCLAUGHLIN: What’s the point?
BUCHANAN: This is basically a good deal. The president is right. You take Fordow, you take Arak, you take Natanz. They’re blocks from building any nuclear activity there, going toward a weapon. They’re not going to be allowed to go to Parchin, which is the military facility. That’s what the ayatollah is talking about. You’re not going there.
I think this is going to go, John, because if it doesn’t, where are we? You got no deal, the Iranians can go back to all-out the enrichment they were doing, the Americans got no move toward rapprochement with Iran. Both sides have a tremendous vested interest in this.
MCLAUGHLIN: Let’s see if we can --
CLIFT: But there’s going to be a lot haggling before we get there.
MCLAUGHLIN: Let’s see if we can shoehorn this one in.
The deal breaker?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has his own reservations of a deal with Iran.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Israel will not accept an agreement which allows the country that vows to annihilate us to develop nuclear weapons, period. In addition, Israel demands that any final agreement with Iran will include a clear and unambiguous Iranian commitment of Israel’s right to exist.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MCLAUGHLIN: What’s the power of that statement? And who has said it? And what’s the power of that?
ZUCKERMAN: He doesn’t happen to be a member of the Senate the last time I checked. But --
CLIFT: Or the P5.
ZUCKERMAN: Or the P5.
But I think there’s a real concern about what really is being inhibited for the Iranians? It’s not very much, frankly. They can do almost everything they want. They’ll do it a little bit more slowly. But I don’t think the constraints are really anywhere close enough for Iran.
BUCHANAN: They can’t enrich uranium to 20 percent, they can’t enrich it to 90 percent. They cut their -- their centrifuges are cut from 20,000 to 5,000.
BUCHANAN: The Arak plant is no longer a heavy water plant. It’s a light water plant. It won’t produce weapons-grade plutonium.
MCLAUGHLIN: We don’t have to go to that.
CLIFT: And you buy time. You buy at least 10 years.
BUCHANAN: We don’t have to go that far. We got the prime minister talking.
Now, he’s got Jewish members of Congress. The Jewish members of Congress have their constituents.
ZUCKERMAN: It’s not --
BUCHANAN: The Jewish vote in the United States is a very important vote, and it’s a big vote, and it’s a vote that’s subject to the meeting of their political interest and political views.
ZUCKERMAN: I think the Jewish community is very much concerned and worried about this bill, but I don’t think they’re the only ones who are. They’re a lot of people who feel that it is not strong enough vis-a-vis Iran, that all it would do, and if you read what Henry --
BUCHANAN: Mort, you say they want to scuttle it --
ZUCKERMAN: Just a minute, just -- Henry -- you read what Henry Kissinger and Shultz wrote in "The Wall Street Journal" this week, they were devastating in terms of the program that has been forged (ph).
BUCHANAN: They can’t scuttle the deal. Bibi wants to. But they don’t have the power to do it.
ZUCKERMAN: I’m not saying they do, OK? A lot of people will pay attention to the judgment --
BUCHANAN: It’s a bad deal.
MCLAUGHLIN: Excuse me. I want to squeeze this language in. I’m going to read you Netanyahu again. "Israel will not accept an agreement that allow a country that vows to annihilate us to develop nuclear weapons, period. In addition, Israel demands that any final agreement with Iran will contain a clear and unambiguous Iranian commitment to Israel’s right to exist."
Issue Three: Fossil Fuel Comeback.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These low energy prices offer the chance to scoop up assets reasonably. What a merger. I mean, Shell is just striking here, making itself a mega energy player.
MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): This week, Royal Dutch Shell took advantage of cheap energy prices to announce a $70 billion merger with Canadian natural gas producer BG Group. The megamerger is the first in what is expected to be a wave of consolidation in the energy business brought about by fracking and the surprise emergence of the U.S. as the world’s third largest producer of crude oil just behind Saudi Arabia and Russia.
American oil production is expected to reach 9 million barrels a day this year, close to the U.S. record set back in 1970. The Energy Information Administration says, U.S. natural gas production will also climb this year.
The comeback for fossil fuels is producing winners and losers far beyond the industry. Here are some of the losers in the new world order: Russia is a loser; Nigeria, Iran, Venezuela and other petro economies that grew overly reliant on high energy prices during OPEC’s heyday. And here are some of the winners: the European Union, the U.S., Canada, China, Japan and India. The world’s major economies and the majority of its consumers, all of whom will benefit from lower energy costs and cheaper energy imports.
With the price of a barrel of crude oil down to $50 this week and gas and oil inventories at record highs, cheap energy is producing nothing less than a revolution in world affairs.
MCLAUGHLIN: Question: What other short and long term implications of this comeback for fossil fuels?
ROGAN: I think the short-term ramifications of the comeback is that these companies, as you see, the continuing mergers, continuing investment. They’re more optimistic now in the reduction of oil prices that potentially, if you have consolidation, you can compete.
Again, I think some of this flows from, as well, the environmental -- the more environmentally-friendly, renewal resources are more expensive, and that’s reflected in prices. I would say as the caveat, though. Over the longer term, I do think the United States is going to come out a big winner, because I think, especially fracking, which is going to undercut, in the longer term, the traditional fossil fuel extraction method and that benefits the United States. Yes?
BUCHANAN: What the Saudis are doing, they’re sticking it to the Russians, and they’re sticking it to the Iranians, and they’re sticking it to the American fracking industry. They’re letting the -- keeping producing and letting the price drop below where it is economical to frack -- it’s not economical to invest in new fields, they’re not investing in the Arctic and Russia.
So, what the Saudis want to do is get the price down and kill off some of these marginal producers so that when it goes back up, Saudi Arabia is the big winner.
CLIFT: Well, and --
BUCHANAN: And the U.S. -- because the U.S. is not only a consumer of oil and gas, it is a producer as well.
MCLAUGHLIN: Who’s got the reserves?
BUCHANAN: The Saudis have got the reserves. We’ve got the reserves if the price is $100 a barrel.
MCLAUGHLIN: Who’s got the big reserves?
BUCHANAN: Depends on what the price is. At $200 a barrel, we need to get all the oil in the --
BUCHANAN: Venezuela is number one.
MCLAUGHLIN: I’m talking in the physical order. Reserves in the ground, who’s got all of the big reserves in the ground? What?
BUCHANAN: Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.
MCLAUGHLIN: Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, that’s the sequence?
ROGAN: No, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia.
BUCHANAN: Venezuela is number one.
CLIFT: And enjoying --
MCLAUGHLIN: You’re talking pricing, or you’re talking --
BUCHANAN: I’m talking supply in the ground.
CLIFT: Enjoying the cheaper prices of fossil fuels is like whistling past the graveyard, because the stuff is polluting and it’s just slows the transfer to other more sustainable fuels that the world is going to have make the transition to. So, this is --
BUCHANAN: Like wind?
CLIFT: Yes, wind and solar.
MCLAUGHLIN: Mort, what’s the impact of all this?
ZUCKERMAN: Well, there are going to be two impacts. One, of course, is on supply. You have new sources of supply. So, that generally will cause prices to go down, and prices will go down. I don’t believe they’re going to go down so little -- so much that it will really put a lot of these major producers out of business. I just think that’s going to happen.
We have a continuing growth in the demand for a fuel. And they’ll be continuing supplies. And the supplies may be a little bit more in the fracking, or that particular kind of technology. But a lot of the people who are just producing regular oil are going to have plenty of sales to keep them going.
MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions, Pat?
BUCHANAN: Again, Senator Corker’s bill to get enough votes in the Senate to override Obama’s veto, you know, to give the Senate power to deal with this deal – he’s not going to get it. He’s going to fall short. He’ll be lucky to get 60 votes.
CLIFT: Now that Hillary Clinton is making her presidential run official, she will cheer any other Democrat who gets in the race. She needs the practice in the debates. And Lincoln Chaffee, former governor of Rhode Island, former senator, is about to get in the race. Good for him.
MCLAUGHLIN: Well, that will enrich the debate.
ROGAN: Yes. I think interesting for your viewers to watch, John, is what’s happening off the coast of Yemen, the Iranian navy taking pretty aggressive steps to try and counter the Saudi-led military operation in Yemen, and there’s real potential there for a serious naval conflict that grows across the region, because again, it’s about Saudi Arabia versus Iran, in terms of the perception and power --
MCLAUGHLIN: I don’t get why the Saudis are supposed to what’s happening in Yemen.
ROGAN: Because their ideological --
BUCHANAN: They’re going into their own Vietnam, John, what they’re doing.
ROGAN: Yes, it’s an ideological --
CLIFT: It’s their border.
ZUCKERMAN: The weakness in both full time employment and the weakness in the employment in the urban areas is going to cause the Federal Reserve to keep interest rates low until we get a stronger economy.
MCLAUGHLIN: President Obama’s overtures to Iran will make it harder for the Democratic presidential nominee to pull in Jewish-American voters at next year’s presidential contest.