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Former National Security Advisor Susan Rice: Pulling out of Iran deal would be the "height of folly"

Former National Security Advisor Susan Rice said leaving the Iran nuclear deal would isolate the United States and do nothing to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and former National Security Advisor Susan Rice talks about national security with Boston Globe columnist Indira Lakshmanan at The Texas Tribune Festival on Sept. 23, 2017.

Susan Rice, the former national security advisor to President Barack Obama, firmly defended the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran on Saturday, saying that pulling out of the deal would be "the height of folly — and incredibly self-destructive."

"The deal is strong, it is working, it serves our interest," she said in Austin. "It makes no sense to cast it aside."

During an appearance at the Texas Tribune Festival, Rice said pulling out of the deal would isolate the United States and wouldn't make it harder for Iran to get a nuclear weapon. The only winner from such a decision, she said, would be "the ayatollah in Iran."

The Iran deal was agreed to during Rice's time as national security advisor. It was also signed by Germany, China, France, Russia and the United Kingdom. President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized it and threatened to pull out. He recently said he has made a decision about what to do with the deal, but hasn't said what that decision is. 

Rice was explicit on what throwing out the deal would mean: International inspections of Iran would end, she said, but economic pressure on Iran would not ramp back up since the other countries in the agreement want to stay in the deal. Meanwhile, the United States would become more isolated by going against the wishes of its allies. 

She also questioned the motives of the people who want the United States to pull out of the accord. Do they want to keep Iran from having a nuclear weapon? Or do they want to "put a boot on the neck" of the country and keep it poor and isolated for as long as possible?

"The path the administration is on accomplishes neither," she said. 

Rice, who was interviewed for an hour by Boston Globe columnist Indira Lakshmanan, has been the subject of Trump's ire in the past. In April, the president suggested, with no evidence, that she broke the law by trying to find out the names of Trump associates whose communications were nabbed in U.S. surveillance of foreign officials. After meeting with Rice, Republicans in Congress have said that she did nothing illegal. 

Lakshmanan asked her what it felt like to be the victim of a smear campaign. 

"I did nothing wrong," Rice said. "I did my job as I should have and as I hope you all would have expected me to do, and I am proud of that."

She criticized Trump's recent speech to the United Nations, saying he focused on "America First" ideas and national sovereignty, but only for select countries and not "anybody with which we have a beef."

"In a 40-minute diatribe about sovereignty, there was no mention of the most blatant violation of U.S. sovereignty in decades, which was Russia's meddling in our election," she said. 

Rice also raised worries about U.S. tensions with North Korea, but said that a nuclear conflict still appears unlikely. 

"Is North Korea a rational actor? I do believe that, to the extent that Kim Jong Un has one overarching goal — to remain in power and preserve the stability of the Kim regime," she said. "He will not, unprovoked, take regime-ending action."

"The risk," she added, "is that [Kim] miscalculates."

War on the Korean Peninsula, she said, would have devastating human and economic consequences for both sides. For that reason, Rice said, Trump's rhetoric on North Korea is "not productive." It raises the risk of escalating the war of words, and it rattles U.S. allies in the region. 

"I think we need to tone down the rhetoric and the threats of preventive war," she said. 

Rice expressed bafflement at Trump's friendliness with Russia. When asked what Trump "has" that makes him think that he can reset relations with the country when other presidents have failed, she responded: "If I knew the answer to that, I'd be talking to Bob Mueller."

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