In a newly published interview with Iranian media, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich expressed hope for a “peaceful and open relationship with Iran” and successful nuclear talks, despite previously calling the interim deal a “surrender to the Iranians.”
Gingrich late last month visited Kazakhstan to take part in the Eurasian Media Conference. While there, he sat down with the Tehran Times, a newspaper founded in the aftermath of the Iranian revolution, to discuss the United States’ relationship with Iran. In the interview released online on Sunday, Gingrich told his interviewer that he hopes “that the Geneva agreement actually works out,” adding “I hope at least to an enforceable and transparent lack of any nuclear weapons.”
“And I hope that we can find a way to move forward towards a peaceful and open relationship with Iran,” he continued. But the former Speaker cautioned that any final deal “has to be transparent and enforceable, or I think at some point it will be back into the sanctions problem, and there will be a renewed or even more intense effort to isolate the economy and to make things very, very difficult for the government of Iran.”
When asked about the Iranian decision to dilute its stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent, which the International Atomic Energy Association has verified, Gingrich wasn’t impressed but willing to admit that it was a positive first step. “If these first steps lead to second, third, and fourth steps, then I think maybe by the end of the year, we may be in a different place beyond the world of sanctions and will be finding a way to live in relative constraint with each other and see each other as not threatening,” he said. “But I think that requires another series of steps yet beyond the current ones.”
And despite the opening given to him, Gingrich did not outright endorse the view of many hardliners that any nuclear deal with Iran has to include a total freeze of uranium enrichment. “I think that [former Iranian president Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad made it very hard to apply a reasonable standard because of the intensity and harshness of his language,” Gingrich said, according to the Tehran Times, on the Iranian stance that enrichment is a right. “And I think when people think you might be very aggressive, they incline to be much more strict about what they are going to let you do.” Experts and Obama administration officials have repeatedly indicated that allowing some low-level enrichment may likely be part of any final agreement, though not as much as Iran is claiming that it needs.
“I would much prefer to get to a peaceful solution [to the nuclear issue], and I hope that Secretary of State Kerry’s optimism is justified,” he said. If this support seems tepid, compare the level tone Gingrich presented in the interview with the Tehran Times to his views when the interim deal was first inked in November. Then, Gingrich told his co-host and guests on CNN’s Crossfire: “My view is very simple. This is surrender to the Iranians. It’s an exact parallel to what happened with North Korea when the State Department team was duped, patted themselves on the back all the way to the Koreans’ nuclear explosion.” He also at the time told a Kansas audience, “This is the Munich of the Middle East,” referring to the deal allowing Nazi Germany to annex Czechoslovakia.
In the past, Gingrich has been even more skeptical of the prospects of even negotiating with Iran, frequently threatening to use force against Tehran over its nuclear program and advocating regime change as the end goal for any military strike. Experts have frequently commented on the inefficacy of a military strike in halting Iran’s nuclear program in comparison to diplomacy. Back in 2009, soon after Obama’s inauguration, Gingrich even compared negotiating with Iran’s leaders to negotiating with Adolf Hitler. And one of Gingrich’s largest donors during his failed presidential bid in 2012 not only expressed skepticism over the talks, but suggested the use of a nuclear weapon against Iran.
The most recent talks between the P5+1 — the United States, United Kingdom, China, France, Germany, and Russia — and Iran aimed at getting a final deal concluded finished in Geneva this weekend with no concrete results. World powers still hope to complete the draft text that they’ve begun ahead of the July deadline set in the Joint Plan of Action, rather than having to extend the talks for another six months as the current deal allows. “This has, candidly, been a very slow and difficult process, and we are concerned with the short amount of time that is left,” a senior Obama administration official told reporters on Friday. “But let me be very clear: We believe we can still get it done.”