Trita Parsi: Bolton And Pompeo Speeding U.S. March Toward War With Iran

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Via Democracy Now! -- On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used his first major policy address to threaten Iran with “the strongest sanctions in history.” Pompeo presented a list of 12 “basic requirements” for a new nuclear treaty with Iran, including “unqualified access” to all nuclear sites and an end to its interventions in Yemen. This comes just under two weeks after the Trump administration withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal.

"Pompeo and Bolton have made the choice for the international community much, much easier," says Trita Parsi, founder and president of the National Iranian American Council. "Either you collaborate with the Trump administration and go along with these sanctions, walk away from this nuclear deal and speed up this march toward war—or you resist."

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we are joined in Washington, D.C., by Trita Parsi, founder and president of the National Iranian American Council. His most recent book, Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy. Also author of A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran. Trita, what about this language of Mike Pompeo, the new secretary of state?



TRITA PARSI: I think he made it quite clear that the administration is not looking to get back to the negotiating table. What they’re doing is that they’re putting together a strategy that is based on maximum pressure, economic warfare, combined with completely unattainable objectives, demands that have a proven track record of not being able to be met. If you combine this type of pressure with these type of unattainable demands, what you are putting in place is a strategy to get yourself into a confrontation.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what about that confrontation? Do you get a sense that the United States really is eager to begin a military confrontation with Iran?

TRITA PARSI: Remember, John Bolton is the national security advisor. He is on record for the last 15 years arguing for war with Iran. Folks that I have spoke to that have access to the administration has made it very clear—ever since he got back into the administration, the plans have really sped up. Just look at how fast Pompeo is moving, from taking office as secretary of state and moving to get out of the nuclear deal and then putting forward this plan that in reality has been correctly perceived by many different commentators as something that is aimed at getting the United States into a confrontation with Iran.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s turn to Vice President Mike Pence who spoke on Fox News Monday about a new Iranian nuclear deal.

VICE PRES. MIKE PENCE: We’re calling on our allies across Europe to join with us in a negotiation over a new agreement that will take into account permanently banning nuclear weapons, that deals with Iran’s influence in places like Yemen and of course Syria, deals with ballistic missiles, and ultimately, will put limitations and restrictions on Iran should they continue their malign activities in support of terrorism and violence across the region.

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s Vice President Mike Pence speaking on Fox News. Trita Parsi, can you talk about what he is saying and also how much of this do you think is linked to what is happening with North Korea?

TRITA PARSI: Well, if we first take a look at what Mike Pence was saying, there again, going forward with these demands such as the demand that the Iranians have to completely give up enrichment—this is something that Bush administration tried for eight years and it got absolutely nowhere. When the Iranians made an offer for negotiations with the Bush administration, which Bush rejected, the Iranians had roughly 150 to 160 centrifuge. By the time Bush left office, Iran had 8,000 centrifuges. That is the track record of pushing a completely unattainable objective of zero enrichment.

The same thing continued during the Obama administration. By the time Obama finally managed to get to the negotiating table and get an interim deal, the Iranians had 22,000 centrifuges. So the idea of pushing for zero enrichment has already been proven, over and over again, that it is unattainable, No one in Europe believes in it any longer, and that is why they’re committed to this nuclear deal in which instead of going for zero, they are making sure that the Iranians cannot get to a nuclear weapon. So for Mike Pence and this administration to go back to demands that have been proven to be unattainable is correctly perceived by almost everyone as an attempt of getting this into a confrontation instead.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: What has been their response inside of Iran to Pompeo’s speech and the administration policy, given the fact that President Hassan Rouhani himself has to deal with hardliners within his own government who might welcome a greater confrontation?

TRITA PARSI: This has been very problematic for the Rouhani government, because they put almost all of their eggs in the basket of getting—securing a nuclear deal and then opening up to West. And after having done that and having lived up to the agreement, 10 IEA reports that are certifying that the Iranians have lived up to the agreement, this is what they’re getting. So you can imagine how this has been a weakening of the moderate forces inside of the Iranian government.

And what I’m afraid of is that this is leaving the Iranians in a position in which either—they have to make sure that the Europeans stay in the agreement so that there is a split in the West so that the pressure the United States is putting on the Iranians cannot really be that strong. And if they fail that, my big fear is that the Iranians are going to conclude, looking at North Korea, that their only chance of being able to be safe from this type of pressure and this type of effort to start a war by the Trump Administration is for them to actually rush towards a nuclear weapon.

AMY GOODMAN: Following Pompeo’s speech, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, took to Twitter. He wrote, “U.S. diplomacy sham is merely a regression to old habits: imprisoned by delusions & failed policies—dictated by corrupt Special Interest— it repeats the same wrong choices and will thus reap the same ill rewards. Iran, meanwhile, is working with partners for post-US JCPOA solutions.” So who is Iran working with now? What does it mean inside in the internal divisions in Iran, and outside with places—well, with Europe, for example, and European companies?

TRITA PARSI: So negotiations are on the way with the Europeans. The Europeans are very eager to make sure the JCPOA survives even without the United States. That is a Herculean task, though, because at the end of the day, if the United States starts sanctioning European companies, it is going to be very difficult for those companies to be able to stay in the Iranian market and provide the Iranians with the economic benefits that they were promised as part of this deal.

But I think what Pompeo and Bolton have made now is actually made the choice for the international community much, much easier and much clearer than it was just a couple of weeks ago. Because now it is quite clear: either you collaborate with the Trump administration and go along with these sanctions and walk away from this nuclear deal, and by that you are hastening, you are speeding up this march towards war, or you resist the Trump administration, and by that, you’re giving peace a chance.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In his laundry list of 12 demands, one of the things Pompeo mentioned was Iran’s expanding influence in support of what the United States calls terrorist groups around the region. But isn’t it a fact that Iran’s influence in the region has grown almost as a direct result of foreign interventions in places like Syria, Iraq, and Yemen even?

TRITA PARSI: And starting with Iraq, as you mentioned, it’s the mistake of the Bush administration itself of going into Saddam, failing abysmally, that really opened up the way for the Iranians to be able to expand their influence in the region. As similar, as you mentioned, many of these other interventions that have taken place throughout the region by the West have opened up the door for the Iranians, who are much more opportunistic than strategic, to be able to expand their influence. But when we see those demands, I think it is quite clear you see the fingerprints of the Saudis and the UAE, who are very eager to get the United States to essentially start a war with Iran in order to push back Iran and shift the balance of power back to a place pre-2003 in which it was much more favorable toward Saudi Arabia and the UAE. It is not a demand that is based on any significant U.S. national interest. It is a demand that is coming from some of these states who know themselves that they don’t have the capacity of being able to compete with Iran, but they have the capacity if they can convince the United States to fight wars for them.

AMY GOODMAN: This is interesting, and it blends with what is happening now—the investigation in Washington, Trita, with The New York Times reporting three months before the 2016 election, Donald Trump, Jr. held a secret meeting with an Israeli man specializing in social media manipulation, and with George Nader, an emissary representing the princes of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and also met with another Prince. That’s Erik Prince. Can you talk about what that means?

TRITA PARSI: What it means I think is that there is so much going on in the background that needs to be investigated. This may be much, much bigger than anything the Russians have done. Because what you see clearly is that these small countries in the Persian Gulf are trying to do everything they can to manipulate the United States in order to get the U.S. to go back towards a strong hegemonic military position in the region, a position that the Obama administration was trying to walk away from.

The Obama administration believed the U.S.'s footprints in the Middle East were too strong and that it needed to lessen those footprints and shift its focus towards Asia. If you're sitting in Saudi Arabia, that is a disaster. You want the United States to be there as a military hegemony in order to balance and corner all of your adversaries and competitors. From a Saudi perspective, from the UAE perspective, that make sense.

The question that the American people have to ask themselves—does this make sense from an American perspective? Does the United States want to use all of its resources to be able to fight wars and battles for Saudi Arabia and the UAE, or does it want to actually pursue its own interest?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I want to ask you also about the role of Israel. Clearly, Israel was not mentioned in these 12 demands of Pompeo’s, but most people believe that Syria will likely be the flashpoint first between Iran and Israel where the United States could have an excuse to get more involved militarily directly. Your thoughts on that?

TRITA PARSI: It is one of the most likely flashpoints right now to start a war. I think the Trump administration, knowing very well that much of its own base is not particularly eager to start new wars, and they’re certainly not in favor of any wars of choice, that for them to be able to get those people on board is to present this as a defensive war. You can do that by first instigating a problem in the region in which the Iranians then retaliate against these Israeli strikes and then suddenly, you’re rushed into a war that you didn’t start, essentially.

So I think what we’re seeing happening between Syria and Israel is either an effort by the Israelis to try to establish new boundaries between Iran and Israel, new rules of engagement, or it is actually an effort to be able to instigate a much larger war that would suck in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: So Trita Parsi, where do you see this going from here? We are speaking on the day that President Trump is meeting with President Moon of South Korea. The summit with North Korea very much imperiled, it looks like, at this point, with the fiercest opposition being expressed to Iran right now. And the whole discussion of North Korea could, if it doesn’t sort of go along with the plan, could follow the Libya model.

TRITA PARSI: I think if you are in North Korea right now, you are seeing what Trump has done to the Iran deal. Whether you’re still eager to strike a deal with the U.S. or not—and I think one of the key things the North Korean wants, they just want that recognition, which they will get. Which they’ve essentially already gotten by having Pompeo fly out there. But nevertheless, the cost of a deal is going to significantly increase precisely because of what Trump has done with the Iran deal.

But on the other hand, the way this is affecting the Iranians are all very, very important. I go back to what I said earlier on. The Iranians, unlike the North Koreans, did not have nuclear weapons. They did not have ballistic missiles that had the capacity of striking the American homeland. The North Koreans had all of those things. And Trump is eager to strike a deal with the North Koreans while he is killing the functioning deal that existed with Iran.

The impression, the conclusion people in Tehran may draw from this is that their mistake was that they only had enrichment and that they didn’t have a nuclear bomb. And if there’s going to be a second negotiation and the U.S. is going to try to build up its leverage prior to that negotiation, if we just accept that premise for a second, well, what are the Iranians going to think? Most likely they’re going to draw the same conclusion and they’re going to say, “Well, for the next negotiation, Iran is also going to have more leverage.” And this time around, it’s going to go for a nuclear weapon, because that seems to be the only way you can get the Trump Administration to show you respect and honor the deal with you.

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