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Q+A: US ambassador Scott Brown

Q+A: US ambassador Scott Brown interviewed by Corin Dann

Iran not adhering to the “spirit of the deal” – US Ambassador to NZ

President Trump’s man in Wellington, Scott Brown, admitted on TVNZ’s Q+A programme this morning that “Iran could do better.”

This comes off the back of President Trump’s refusal to certify the latest findings of the Iran nuclear deal.

“I would not have voted to support that Iran deal. I thought it was a bad deal. I thought it left too many opportunities for Iran ultimately to develop some very serious nuclear weapons and use them and export terror around the world and the region like they’ve historically done,” said Mr Brown.

This week many world leaders have declared that Iran is complying with the deal. But when challenged by our political editor Corin Dann for evidence of noncompliance by Iran Mr Brown had this to say “we have a difference of opinion, and I certainly respect those governments, but I think my president and a lot of members of Congress and a lot of citizens in the United States, including me, don’t feel that they’re adhering to the spirit of the deal and they can do better.”

“And the fact that the president has sent it back to Congress is the appropriate mechanism, and so we’re following that procedure, and I think it’s a very positive step, and it’s good to trust but verify,” he said.

Q + A
Episode 32
Interviewed by Corin Dann

CORIN Welcome back to Q+A. And joining me now is Scott Brown, the US ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa. Good morning to you, Mr Ambassador.

SCOTT Good morning to you, Corin, and good morning to your viewers, and thank you for having me on. It’s good to see you again.

CORIN It is a pleasure, of course, at a slightly strange time. I know people sometimes struggle to get their heads around the Electoral College system in the US. What do you make of our MMP system? What have you seen over the last couple of weeks?

SCOTT As an outsider, I certainly respect the process, understand it. Like you and all of your viewers, we are waiting for the seating of the new government so we can move forward on a whole host of issues, including the ones we are probably going to talk about.

CORIN Let’s start there firstly with North Korea. A couple of weeks ago, you mentioned in interviews that you thought New Zealanders weren’t quite aware of just the dangers that North Korea posed in terms of a nuclear bomb in the Pacific. Why do you think New Zealanders think that?

SCOTT Well, that’s not quite accurate. What I was doing was commending Kiwis on their leadership on the nuclear issues. Obviously everybody knows it. We know it certainly more than anybody. What I was referring to was when I’m out and about, I’m listening to folks at the gym, at the local pub, and they’re not in tune in that regard that it’s going to happen here, it’s too far away, when in actuality, your government, especially with the Pacific Island Forum, the leadership that they’ve shown every time a missile or a rocket gets launched, your government is condemning that. What that does, Corin, is that gives and emboldens other countries the pacific island countries and the rest of the world to say, ‘You know what? With North Korea, you’re absolutely right. What you’re doing is wrong.’ And I think it’s very important to note that Australia now is in the sights of North Korea, where North Korea is saying, ‘Hey, because Australia’s siding with Britain and the United States, by the way, you’re in trouble too.’ So he’s just throwing these threats all around. So I’ve commended the Kiwis; I’m listening and learning about additional policies in that regard.

CORIN Some might have thought, though – was this an attempt by you to soften New Zealand up here a little bit to the idea that whether New Zealand would support some pre-emptive strike against North Korea, or should there be a conflict. Are you trying to get a message to New Zealand, that you want New Zealand to be more in tune so that it would support such a move?

SCOTT No, it’s not. It’s actually quite the opposite. What I was doing was commending the Kiwis, especially on their leadership on the nuclear issues. I respect that position; it’s been in place for some time. It’s kind of a no-brainer for the United States. We understand it, we respect it. We still do our training and exercises notwithstanding those challenges. So, no, absolutely not. Kiwis are fiercely independent and will do whatever they want to do.

CORIN Right. So there’s no expectation from the US that New Zealand needs to support the US in their action against North Korea?

SCOTT No. Actually, I think it’s a little bit the opposite. We’re supporting the Kiwis with regard to their strong stances. In fact, they’re the first ones out. Your government has been the first one every time to come out and condemn these illegal missile launches as they’re launching across sovereign nations and threatening to wipe and kill people and blow them out of the world here, and that’s not right.

CORIN Of course, our government and Bill English was one of the first to describe Mr Trump’s tweets about ‘fire and fury’ as unhelpful.

SCOTT With respect to the prime minister, who I do have a lot of respect for, people either love the president’s tweets or they hate the president’s tweets. But what I do – I look at facts. This is how the president communicates and reaches his base, and it’s effective for him. But if you look at what the facts are, and I would refer your viewers to a recent Washington Post article that came out on October 11th saying that the president’s policy, after years of basically languishing, are actually working. And let me cite a couple of things – three times in a row, we have UN security council votes unanimously condemning these actions and putting in stricter sanctions, and I want to thank publicly not only the Kiwis on their leadership but China as well for adhering to the sanctions. You have for the first time in my memory, as referenced in the article, unprecedented by the UN official, that boats, ships are being turned away from ports from North Korea. China is sticking to their guns, and what it does, Corin, it is emboldening the world to stand up against North Korea and the tyranny and the threats.

CORIN But, Mr Ambassador, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, he, of course, has said that the trumps from Donald Trump are castrating the foreign secretary because it’s undermining him. How can that tweet be helpful? It might be good for his base, but that can’t be useful in terms of the diplomacy.

SCOTT Well, Bob Cork is a dear friend. He’s one of my best friends, and I have a lot of respect for Bob, and I can’t comment of what’s going back and forth between he and the president. But I do know for a fact that according to Secretary Tillerson, there are back channels of communication open with North Korea. And what happens to North Korea is up to North Korea. They’ve been in violation of UN sanctions for over 12 years, and there’s always been a mechanism for them to come to the table and be a world partner, not a world bully. So I look at the results, Corin, and the results right now is that the world is echoing together and they’re working together. People who care about their families waking up and being safe and secure are working together, and that’s the most positive thing I’ve seen in a long, long time.

CORIN Isn’t the biggest issue here, though, the risk of a misstep? We know that the outcome of any military exchange between North Korea and the US would be catastrophic and disastrous. Nobody wants that, and I accept that nobody in the US would want that either.

SCOTT Of course not. Of course not.

CORIN But isn’t the danger that somebody misinterprets something, that there is a misstep? This is what diplomats are worried about, and surely Donald Trump’s tweets, while they might be good for his base, are not good in terms of that risk of a misstep.

SCOTT Well, once again, with respect, the misstep is that North Korea is launching ICBMs over Japan, threatening to kill people and wipe them off the face of the earth. That’s the misstep. So any actions that are happening and what my president and the rest of the world is doing, including your government, are solely reacting to actions by North Korea. So to think that somehow my president’s tweets – and he’s only been in office less than a year – are instigating this when it’s in fact been happening for over 12 years I think is not quite accurate.

CORIN Is there a danger now if we look at the Iran deal, which the president has said he won’t certify the latest findings as to whether Iran is sticking to its part of the deal on not having a certain amount of uranium and those kinds of things for a nuclear program? Is that now endangering, though, the prospects of a deal with North Korea or another rogue state, for example? Because that deal was set with European countries, the US, China, Russia. The US is now signalling it’s not so keen on this or it’s got reservations. What is North Korea to make out of that if the US is to unilaterally pull out of that deal?

SCOTT I think what’s more important, Corin, is to focus not on what North Korea thinks but what, in fact, is happening. And for full disclosure, I would not have voted to support that Iran deal. I thought it was a bad deal. I thought it left too many opportunities for Iran ultimately to develop some very serious nuclear weapons and use them and export terror around the world and the region like they’ve historically done. That being said, the president is also against it. For once, a president from the United States is sticking to his campaign pledges and saying, ‘You know what, I’m going to trust but verify,’ and I think that’s completely appropriate that he, in fact, has raised those concerns, sent it back to Congress, which it the appropriate thing to do, for them to take action, to see if they agree or disagree with him. If they agree, so be it. But if they agree, they have the authority to go back in and let the other countries who signed on recognise that Iran is not honouring the spirit of the deal, which is to continue to stir things up throughout the world, and that’s just not right.

CORIN Where’s the evidence that Iran’s not backing this deal? Britain, most of the European nations, they all believe that Iran is complying.

SCOTT Well, we have a difference of opinion, and I certainly respect those governments, but I think my president and a lot of members of Congress and a lot of citizens in the United States, including me, don’t feel that they’re adhering to the spirit of the deal and they can do better. And the fact that the president has sent it back to Congress is the appropriate mechanism, and so we’re following that procedure, and I think it’s a very positive step, and it’s good to trust but verify.

CORIN I guess from a New Zealander’s perspective, is the danger here that the US is becoming more isolationist, that it is retreating, that it is pulling out of these deals, that it is less interested in being the global policeman, if you like?

SCOTT It’s a lot of pressure to be the global policeman. We rely on countries themselves to police themselves and join forces when it’s appropriate – not only economic forces, but military, social programming, whatever, to solve problems. We want to be a partner, not the people that are always in charge, and we welcome anybody else that wants to be partners. That being said, it’s appropriate to check and balance and make sure we’re always trusting but verifying all of these deals. A good deal’s not a good deal and the president made his position very clear. This is not news. So when you’re talking about North Korea, I would respectfully remind folks that he’s been in violation of this for 12 years. There’s been mechanisms open forever to come to the table, and the way they can come to the table is to stand down, start trading, start using their natural resources, their people and start doing what South Korea and Vietnam and Singapore and other countries have done – be a world community and part of it, not be the bully that’s going to threaten everybody.

CORIN Sure. But is there now a vacuum now? In the South Pacific region, for example, America is not signing up to the TPP, taking more isolationist issues on Iran and those sorts of issues. A vacuum now that China seems to be filling, and I just wonder, from your perspective, are you concerned, for example, that New Zealand is becoming too aligned, particularly economically, with China?

SCOTT That’s up to the Kiwi government – not only the present, but the future governments – to determine what relationships they want to have. I commend it, and I think it’s completely appropriate for New Zealand to continue to explore any and all trade opportunities. There are some very positive things happening with China, because we’re the first or second largest trading partner with China as well, so we have that symbiotic relationship, which is a good thing. But we also need to question them when they’re taking and destroying coral reefs and militarising islands and changing the law of the air and sea and international law as we know it. And affecting fishing and travel and air travel rights, it’s a problem, it’s a problem, and I commend your government for speaking up on those.

CORIN Yes, but we don’t speak up as much as Australia. It’s very clear that New Zealand’s taking a very careful line on the South China sea, and I wonder if it’s as strong as America would like.

SCOTT Well, listen, America, we have a fantastic relationship with not only Australia but especailly New Zealand. If you remember it and reflect back, a Five Eyes partner, we had Secretary Tillerson here. You had me, my first choice, the second I was out the door, sworn in immediately. Australia doesn’t have an ambassador yet, just for the record, and yet we had Admiral Swift here. You look at the fact that I’m working personally with Ambassador Grosser on the E1, E2 visa issue to stimulate trade. And I’ve supported TPP. I supported the agreement. I voted on it as a US senator. I thought it was a good deal. But this deal, I was opposed to it, the president was opposed to it because I am more in favour – and I would argue the president is too – with bilateral, trilateral agreements instead of these massive agreements where by the time you’re dealing with countries 10, 11 and 12, you lose the–

CORIN Does that mean that New Zealand is at the top of the queue for one of those bilateral deals, then, with the US?

SCOTT I’m obviously happy to comment on that once the new government gets in place, because it’s important to get the leadership to listen and learn on what the priorities are. I can tell you that my number one priority is to work and stimulate and increase trade, listen and learn on what the needs are for the new government and work as hard as I can with your leaders and our leaders to find that common ground. But my priority right now is the E1, E2 visa. According to your business leaders, it’s the number one thing that will help stimulate and ease and create amazing opportunities for businesses to grow in the United States and vice versa. And, Corin, just to add – Iran has a higher ability to do that. They’re higher on the list than our Five Eyes partner, the New Zealanders, and that’s just wrong. So I’m working on that with Ambassador Grosser, and I encourage Congress to pass it. There’s already a bill, by the way, filed.

CORIN Sure. Ambassador Brown, thank you very much for your time this morning on Q+A. Appreciate it.

SCOTT Have a great day. Thank you.

CORIN Cheers.


Please find attached the full transcript and the link to the interview

Q+A, 9-10am Sundays on TVNZ 1 and one hour later on TVNZ 1 + 1.
Repeated Sunday evening at around 11:35pm. Streamed live at www.tvnz.co.nz
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