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  September 19, 2017

At UN, Trump Continues Assault on Iran Nuclear Deal

If President Trump follows through on his latest threat to the Iran nuclear deal before the UN General Assembly, he'll do so with bipartisan help, says author and NIAC president Trita Parsi
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Trita Parsi was born in Iran and grew up in Sweden. He earned a Master's Degree in International Relations at Uppsala University, a second Master's Degree in Economics at Stockholm School of Economics and a PhD in International Relations from Johns Hopkins University SAIS. He has served as an adviser to Congressman Bob Ney (R-OH18) on Middle East issues and is a co-founder and current President of the National Iranian American Council ( Dr. Parsi is the author of A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran, Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Iran, Israel and the United States, and most recently, Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy. He has followed Middle East politics for more than a decade, both through work in the field, and through extensive experience on Capitol Hill and the United Nations.


AARON MATE: It's The Real News. I'm Aaron Maté. In his UN General Assembly speech, President Trump continued to take aim at Iran and suggested he'll pull out from the nuclear deal.

DONALD TRUMP: The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into. Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don't think you've heard the last of it. Believe me.

AARON MATE: With every deadline he's faced so far, Trump has been forced to admit that Iran is respecting the nuclear deal. But with new deadline son the way, and a Congress hostile to Iran on both sides of the aisle, Trump will have more opportunities. Trita Parsi is the President of the National Iranian American Council and author of the book "Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy". Trita, welcome.

TRITA PARSI: Thank you so much for having me.

AARON MATE: What did you hear from President Trump today on Iran?

TRITA PARSI: Well, what he said on Iran essentially is reaffirming the signals that his administration and he himself clearly have sent over the course of the last couple of months, which is and they are going to kill the Iran deal. The reason why he said, "You will see soon," is because he's referring to an October 15th deadline. Every 90 days, he has to certify to Congress that not only is Iran living up to the nuclear deal, but also whether he thinks that continuing to stay within the deal, from the U.S. perspective, still continues to make sense from a national security perspective. He's gonna use that last part to go to Congress and say, "Yes, Iran is living up to the deal, but when you look at the totality of U.S./Iran relations, we still have tensions with them, and as a result, continuing to waive sanctions does not make any sense any longer."

By doing that, he's putting the faith of the nuclear deal in the house of Congress -- the Republican-controlled Congress, very much similar to what he did with DACA. Anyone who believes that the Republican-led Congress is not going to try to kill the deal once they have the chance to do so, probably wasn't around to see what the Republicans were doing in 2015 to try to kill this deal.

AARON MATE: Okay. Let's highlight this point because you're talking about the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015. President Obama was basically forced to sign it because it got enough bipartisan support to override any veto from him. And it includes these provisions that nobody in Iran, nobody in the international community who were a part of this Iran nuclear deal, signed onto -- these are unilateral demands by the U.S. that go beyond the requirements of the nuclear deal adding all of these extra things, all these extra provisions and requirements for Iran to supposedly follow. So, how do you think this will play out? What will the Trump Administration claim about how Iran is threatening U.S. interests and goals in the region?

TRITA PARSI: Well, you saw an example of it just earlier today when the State Department spokesperson said that, "Whenever there's something fishy going on, or something bad going on around the world, rest assured Iran is behind it." So the administration has adopted essentially a Saudi worldview in which everything that goes wrong anywhere on this planet clearly must have been done by the Iranians. So, this is a line that they're gonna be feeding the American public -- already now. I think the fact that Trump has gone out on so many occasions said that the Iranians are violating the spirit of the deal has left a large number of Americans under the impression that the Iranians are violating the deal, whereas in reality, eight times in a row now, the IEA has confirmed that the Iranians are actually respecting the deal and they're in compliance. But the American public are just hearing bits and pieces of this, and as a result, are starting to be prepared for a Trump Administration case for a major confrontation with Iran.

AARON MATE: You know, Trita, what's funny about all of this discussion that we're hearing about is ... Iran in compliance with the deal or not is if it's a question. The phrase is put out there so much about Iran's compliance with the nuclear deal, even though, as you say, they are complying. Nobody discusses how the U.S. is openly violating the nuclear deal. There's an Article 29 that bars member nations, including the U.S., from policies that hurt Iran's trade, which the U.S. has openly been doing.

TRITA PARSI: Exactly. I think one of the ways in which the Trump Administration has managed to drive attention away from its own very clear-cut violations of the letter of the deal has been to just constantly make accusations, false accusations against the Iranians, claiming that they're violating the spirit of the deal. Who knows what the spirit of the deal is? So, you're absolutely right. Article 29 essentially makes clear that now, when some of this trade has become legal again as a result of the sanctions being lifted, none of the member states can then start to try re-impose sanctions, or stand in the way of that trade. But that is exactly what the Trump Administration has done by very explicitly pressuring countries at the G20 meeting not to have any business dealings with Iran. So, the U.S. is in clear violation of the deal's letter. The Iranians are complying with it, and the Trump Administration is, nevertheless, making the case that the Iranians are at fault, and is going to send this matter over to Congress, and then essentially blame Congress for whatever happens afterwards.

AARON MATE: So, Trita, I want to ask you about the Democrat's role in this, because it's the Trump White House that's in office and because the rhetoric is so bellicose. I think sometimes the Democratic role is overshadowed. Now, Trump, by many accounts, is driven towards and animus towards anything that President Obama did, and so that's perhaps what helps motivate him here. But what about the Democrats in Congress? That Nuclear Review Act that we've talked about that could give Trump the opportunity to kill the Iran deal, that was passed with ... I believe the Senate vote was 98 to 1, so overwhelming bipartisan support. Similar numbers in the House, overwhelmingly bipartisan support for this measure that Trump could now use, as we're discussing, to kill the Iran deal. How much responsibility do Democrats have here?

TRITA PARSI: Clearly, they have a tremendous amount of responsibility, and in the case of the Iran sanctions reviews, that you mentioned, you had a situation in which there was some bubbling opposition to this deal, a lot of discomfort, and a lot of people starting to realize that this actually would be highly problematic. But then Minority Leader Schumer ensured that the bill was combined with sanctions on Russia, and for the Democrats to vote against sanctions on Russia -- that was a great difficulty -- the only one who did so was Bernie Sanders. So, you have this scenario in which Congress, very rarely ... in fact, I've seen no examples of Congress refraining from actually imposing sanctions on Iran with the exception of President Obama and to veto it. But in the absence of the veto threat, we've really not seen any such examples. As a result, I think people should be very worried about what would happen if Trump goes and tells Congress that, "I'm decertifying, and now you have to make a decision."

What would happen then is that Congress has 60 days to re-impose sanctions on Iran -- usually they don't need more than 60 seconds to do so. But if they re-impose sanctions on Iran, that means that the U.S. is clearly violating the deal and walking out of the deal. Then the question is will the deal be able to survive without American participation? Or will the Iranians start reciprocating and restarting their program? Which would then put us back to exactly where we were in 2012 and 2013, when the United States was getting very, very close towards reaching a military confrontation with Iran.

AARON MATE: What's the answer to your question, do you think? I mean, how does Iran respond? And can this deal survive with the U.S. undermining it?

TRITA PARSI: There is a very, very small chance, I would say, that the deal would survive if the U.S. walks out of it and re-imposes sanctions, and that is if the Europeans stand very firm. They ensure that their companies not only are protected, but that they actually remain in Iran, so that the Iranians are getting the financial benefit of being in compliance. If they're not getting the benefit of being in compliance, at some point they're gonna stop being in compliance, and then the deal is entirely dead. The best route, though, is to ensure that we don't reach this point in which Trump gives this to Congress, and Congress then irresponsibly re-imposes sanctions, because once we reach that point it's gonna be very difficult to save it. The best chance we have is to make sure that we don't go down this route to begin with. That interagency recommendation that was given to Trump last Saturday actually recommended that he wouldn't walk out of the deal.

AARON MATE: But, by all indications, this is going to Congress, right?

TRITA PARSI: As it looks right now, whether it is going to Congress or another pathway that Trump may have found to kill the deal, it seems very clear that Trump is moving towards killing this deal.

AARON MATE: Finally, Trita, in the last minute, we have the role of Israel here. Trump has just met with Netanyahu. Netanyahu has openly lobbied against this deal from its inception. Meanwhile, the reports in Israel that he's even clashing with his own military intelligence who want the deal preserved. Your comments, briefly, on that angle of this attempt at undermining the deal?

TRITA PARSI: Yeah. I think it's being quite clear. Even during the summer of 2015, it was clear that a lot of people in the Israeli Security Establishment realized that this actually is a very good deal, and they prefer to keep it. Netanyahu clashed with them back then as well, and that clash is very much out there in the open. But it seems like Netanyahu, very much like Trump, seems to be almost obsessed with the idea of undoing Obama's accomplishments, because, at the end of the day, the animosity that existed between Obama and Netanyahu was quite significant and clearly does seem to have subdued.

AARON MATE: Trita Parsi is President of the National Iranian American Council, author of the book "Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy". Trita, thank you.

TRITA PARSI: Thank you so much.

AARON MATE: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.


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