Interview with David Axelrod

Interview with David Axelrod

By No Bias. No Bull. - June 23, 2009

BROWN: Welcome back, everybody.

With President Obama sharpening his criticism of Iran today, our newsmaker can give us a better sense of the president's thinking on either talking to or talking about Iran.

A short time ago, I spoke with White House senior adviser David Axelrod.


BROWN: David, does President Obama accept President Ahmadinejad as the legitimate current and future president of Iran?

AXELROD: Well, that's not for us -- they're -- they're going through their process. They're going to fulfill their process. That's not for us to decide. That's a matter for the Iranians to decide.

BROWN: But what are we waiting for? Because we don't have independent observers there on the ground. The regime has spoken already.

I mean, when do you know that this is over?

AXELROD: Well, first of all, I think that there are still some pages to be turned over there in terms of the process. And we'll wait and see.

Obviously, as the president's said before, on the matters that are most concerning to Americans related to America -- the nuclear program -- these are decisions that are not made by the president, but rather by the supreme leader.

And so, in that sense, however different Mousavi and Ahmadinejad are -- and they're -- they clearly have different sensibilities -- those decisions wouldn't be in the hands of the president.

BROWN: Well, let me go to that point, then. The president has made it clear he wants direct unconditional negotiations with Iran on the nuclear program. Does anything that has happened in this last week make you think twice about engaging on that?

AXELROD: Listen, that issue is one of enormous importance to the American people and to the world and certainly to that region.

The idea of having direct -- direct talks with the Iranians is not as a reward to them, but as one more avenue to try and leverage them into a recognition that it is not in their interest to pursue their nuclear weapon ambitions.

And, so, you know, this is on a separate track. And I think...

BROWN: But -- but...

AXELROD: ... our security demands that we pursue every avenue.

BROWN: I guess my question would be is, how do you separate the two? I mean, here's a regime that -- that -- it's killing people on the streets of Iran, and you want to negotiate with them.

How do you trust that regime? And you've got to have that level of trust, presumably, to proceed with these kinds of negotiations.

AXELROD: Well, Campbell, I'm sure you're a student of history. And you know that over the course of history, there are adversaries who negotiate over matters. That doesn't -- that doesn't reflect approbation of how they can conduct their internal affairs.

Everybody here is dismayed and, as the president said, appalled by what's going on in Iran. But we can't simply walk away from the need to dissuade them that their nuclear program is a mistake if it includes weapons. And we're going to continue to use every avenue available to us to try and forestall that.

BROWN: In the press conference -- and, again, to the same point -- the president said that he won't discuss potential consequences of Iran's behavior, because, in his words, we don't know how this is going to play out.

But shouldn't the reason to talk about consequences be so that we can at least try to influence how this plays out? Don't we want to do that?

AXELROD: Well, I think one thing should be clear to the Iranians -- and I think there's obviously great division among the leadership in Iran -- is that the course that they've taken in the last 10 days is serving to further isolate them from the world. And so they can I think foresee negative consequences.

But, as far as we're concerned -- and the president said it today -- that we are in the middle of this story, and let's see how it -- how it moves forward.

But there is no doubt where we and the world stand on this. I think the Iranians know. What the president wants to avoid and what I think has guided him throughout is being used as a foil, as a propaganda tool for the Iranian regime to try and turn this into a dispute between the United States and Iran, rather than between the Iranian leaders and their own people, which is what it is.

BROWN: Not to beat a dead horse, but I'm going to beat a dead horse a little bit here, because I do want to try and get an answer...

AXELROD: It's your show.

BROWN: ... to try to get an answer to this question.

We're watching this violence unfold and yet your administration has told embassies around the world to -- to invite Iranian diplomats to their Fourth of July parties. The president was asked about this today. He didn't really answer the question.

Wolf Blitzer asked you about it, as well, and you didn't really answer the question.

Can you answer it yes or no? Does the invitation still stand?

AXELROD: Well, what I said was what the president said, which is that, you know, the ball's really in their court. We'll see what happens in the next days.

BROWN: So that means, I'm guessing, the invitation does still stand. And the question is, will they show up?

AXELROD: It means let's see what happens in the next few days.


BROWN: What are the ramifications of giving a yes-or-no answer to that?

AXELROD: Well, first of all, let me just say this. I don't think that the opportunity to have a hot dog at the embassy is likely the thing that is going to influence the Iranians. And I -- you know, that's not -- that's not a major tool of foreign -- of foreign policy policy.


BROWN: But it sends a powerful message. It is a way to open up a dialogue. It's about a lot more than having a hot dog. You know that.

AXELROD: Well, actually, it's a way to close down a dialogue.

I don't -- I don't think anybody in Iran is fixed -- fixated right now on what they're going to be doing on July 4 in embassies around the world. They have got a crisis that they ought to deal with. And they ought to resolve it in the interests of the people of Iran, and they ought to pull back from the repressive tactics that they've employed.

BROWN: All right. We will end it there.

David Axelrod, I know you've got a lot on your plate right now, and the president does, certainly on the foreign policy front. We really appreciate your time tonight.

Thanks for joining us.

AXELROD: OK, Campbell. Thank you.



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