Jacob Heilbrunn

Greenberg on the Iran Deal

Maurice R. Greenberg, the chairman of the Center for the National Interest and chairman and CEO of STARR Companies, spoke with National Interest editor Jacob Heilbrunn about President Obama's deal with Iran. Greenberg, who fought in World War II and helped liberate Dachau concentration camp near Munich, focuses on the Iranian regime's history of belligerent rhetoric and actions.

JH: How should the memory of the Holocaust influence our view of Iran and its leadership?

MG: I had a special run in with then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who spoke at the United Nations General Assembly in Spetember 2006. He agreed to meet with several members of the Council on Foreign Relations. David Rockefeller was there. Peter Peterson was there. Myself. And three or four other senior members of the Council. The topic came up about the Holocaust. He repeated what he had always been saying. He didn't believe it took place. I challenged him. I happened to be at Dachau. Don't tell me it didn't take place. He didn't challenge me directly. He asked, "How old are you?" As though I was too young to have been there. Fast forward: We're negotiating with them clandestinely. How do you negotiate with a nation that has two objectives that have not been reversed: a) the Holocaust did not take place. b) We should wipe Israel off the map. The new president Hassan Rouhani made some oblique statements, not unequivocal, about the Holocaust.

JH: So should we deal with Iran?

MG: Why would you negotiate until that statement has been disavowed at the highest level? If it was a policy and a lie, the supreme leader has to say "that is not our policy." How can you have a negotiation if that's still out there? They have a new president that made some comments that the Holocaust would have been a crime. A crime! You've incinerated millions of people, and he says "I'm not a historian." You have to be a moron to figure that the Holocaust did not take place. In my view, there should be a public statement that all can see.

JH: Has Obama backstabbed Israel?

MG: He has made it difficult for the U.S. to take a position. Who's going to believe him? I wouldn't rely on his word. He's negotiating clandestinely with the Iranians, knowing what they said as a policy matter. They have no penalties, get some of their pent-up assets from overseas. As I understand the terms, they can reduce and build it back in a week. How do you know what they have going on in any part of the country that we haven't identified yet? How do you trust them? How can we rely on their word?

JH: Should the administration have refused to sign?

MG: I wouldn't have signed the deal.

JH: The precondition for a final deal is recognizing the Holocaust?

MG: Absolutely.

JH: Should Israel be ready to attack? Is the likelihood higher?

MG: If Israeli intelligence turns up evidence that there are things going on that can affect their survival, do what you have to do.