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Carter Travels To Middle East To Pitch Iran Agreement

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. The Obama administration today sent the Iran nuclear agreement to Congress for review. Meanwhile, fallout from the deal continues here and abroad. It has been blasted by U.S. allies, most vocally Israel. But the deal, which obligates Iran to scale back its nuclear program, is also being hailed by some as a far better option than continuing with the status quo. U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is on his way to the Middle East today to try to reassure America's partners in the region that the deal will make them safer in the long run. Joining us to talk about all of this is Dennis Ross. He's been a Middle East envoy and served under several presidents as an adviser, most recently from President Obama. Welcome to the program.

DENNIS ROSS: Nice to be with you. Thank you.

MARTIN: Secretary Carter is visiting Saudi Arabia and Israel on this trip. Both countries have criticized this deal. What can he say to change their minds?

ROSS: You know, I think the key thing for each of them has, in some ways, less to do with the nuclear side of this - although, for the Israelis, that is an issue - and more to do with the fact that once sanctions are relieved, there's going to be a windfall of monies available. When President Obama says all of Iran's troublemaking in the region would be made dramatically worse if they had a nuclear weapon, it's true. But for those in the region, they say, well, if they were able to cause all this trouble when they're under sanctions, imagine how much more trouble they can cause when the sanctions are lifted and suddenly they have access to about $150 billion in frozen assets.

MARTIN: Do you think that is likely, that Iran would use that money that way?

ROSS: I think it's highly likely that they'll use some part of it. You have to bear in mind one thing. The Revolutionary Guard within Iran is clearly - shall I say - they've been able to restrain their enthusiasm for this deal. They're clearly opposed it. The supreme leader tends to operate by trying to be above the fray. There's very little doubt in my mind that he will compensate them and give them greater freedom of action within the region, which is where they play out most of the troublemaking - most of their troublemaking actions.

MARTIN: The supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has recently endorsed this plan. Although, he has - he's not exactly distanced himself from anti-American, anti-Israeli rhetoric.

ROSS: There's no doubt. I mean, he also embodies a revolutionary ideology. When you do a deal with the great Satan, you're in a sense challenging the revolutionary ideology that very much needs an enemy on the outside. The Revolutionary Guard is sort of the keepers of the flame. They need that enemy too. It helps to justify the kind of role they play domestically.

MARTIN: But when he says things like that and when he does not indicate that there's any way a warming in this relationship...

ROSS: Right.

MARTIN: Will that make it more difficult for President Obama to sell this deal to Congress?

ROSS: Look, there are elements within the deal that are clearly positive. You clearly deflect an Iranian effort to acquire a nuclear weapon for 15 years. The problems are - I think they come to the fore after that because Iran at that point is really not limited. They can have highly enriched uranium, meaning weapons grade. They can have an industrial sized program with no limits. So I think the president needs to sort of - to deal with what comes at the end of this as well, focus on how we would deter the Iranians moving from a threshold nuclear capability to a weapons capability. And he needs to focus as well on what we're prepared to do to counter the Iranians if they up the ante in the region, which, as I suspect, is highly likely, at least in the near term.

MARTIN: Former presidential adviser Dennis Ross. His upcoming book is titled "Doomed To Succeed: The U.S.-Israel Relationship From Truman To Obama." Thanks so much.

ROSS: My pleasure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.