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  October 6, 2017

Trump Targets Iran Deal and Hints at War


Amid news he will go to Congress to decertify Iran's compliance with the nuclear deal, Donald Trump called a gathering of military leaders Thursday night "the calm before the storm"
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AARON MATÉ: It's The Real News. I'm Aaron Maté. Donald Trump is about to follow through on his threat to the Iran Nuclear Deal. The Washington Post reports that Trump will decertify Iran's compliance when he reports to lawmakers next week. It will then be up to Congress to decide whether to reimpose sanctions that were lifted as part of the Iran Nuclear Deal. Just after that report Trump hosted a group of military leaders at the White House, and he raised eyebrows when he called it "the calm before the storm."

DONALD TRUMP: Do you know what this represents? Well, maybe it's the calm before the storm. It could be the calm before the storm.

AARON MATÉ: I'm joined now by Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Counsel, and author of the book, 'Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy.' Welcome Trita.

TRITA PARSI: Thank you.

AARON MATÉ: Talk about what Trump is doing.

TRITA PARSI: Well Trump is doing what a lot of us expected that he would do eventually, which is that he's trying to find a way to get out of this deal. He is likely now going to announce that around October 12th that he will decertify Iran, arguing that Iran has not lived up to the spirit of the agreement, which is a bizarre approach to this by saying that it no longer lies in America's interest to continue to waive sanctions on Iran, mindful of the broader aspects of the U.S./Iran relationship, essentially going outside of the Nuclear Deal. When you look at the Nuclear Deal itself there is no question Iran is living up to the deal. Iran has been certified eight times now by the IAA as being in compliance. It has been acknowledged and admitted by General Mattis, by General Dunford, by Secretary Tillerson as well. That is precisely why Trump cannot say that they're in violation. Instead, he says that they are in violation of the spirit.

In reality, however, Trump himself is not only in violation of any spirit, he's actually in violation of the letter of the deal by pushing other countries not to trade with Iran now that trade actually has become legal.

AARON MATÉ: Exactly. On that front, say Congress does do what Trump wants and they do reimpose sanctions, and they impose the old sanctions' regime, I'm wondering, Trita, would that then obligate the U.S. to sanction countries that are now doing business with Iran as part of the Nuclear Deal that the U.S. was initially a part of?

TRITA PARSI: Yes. If the United States snaps back those sanctions and Congress goes back to the posture that they had before, it would start targeting not Iranian companies, because the U.S. doesn't have any trade with Iran, it would target other companies from other countries that are trading with Iran. That would be a clear violation of the deal causing the deal to collapse. It would also be a violation of the U.S. Security Council Resolution that embodied the deal. This is why this initial step of decertifying is essentially opening up the path. It's triggering a process in which the United States very likely will end up being in complete violation of this deal.

AARON MATÉ: I mean, it's amazing because it would mean that the U.S. is now targeting companies and countries for respecting a deal that the U.S. initially made with them, right?

TRITA PARSI: Absolutely. Let's take that one step further. In the last 37 years where we have seen a tremendous amount of tensions between the United States and Iran, there's only one example in which the United States actually has managed to significantly change the core Iranian policy, and that has been through these Nuclear negotiations. Everything else has failed, whether it's been sanctions, whether it's a war, whether it's a regime change, attempts at regime change, sabotage cyber warfare, they have not succeeded. It's only this diplomatic path that has had success.

AARON MATÉ: Right.

TRITA PARSI: Now Trump is killing the diplomatic path and going back to a policy that has a proven track record of failure. You would only do this if you want to fail, and through that failure put the United States on a path towards war with Iran. I think that is exactly what he's doing.

AARON MATÉ: Right, and Trita, taking that further, this is the only success that the U.S. has had because it's the only one that they've tried. It's not like Iran hasn't tried and offered many other diplomatic overtures to the U.S. that the U.S. has rejected. Actually there could've been even more successes during these past four decades. Right?

TRITA PARSI: Yes. There's been plenty of cases of missed opportunity. The Iranians themselves have also missed opportunities. There's been plenty of cases of missed opportunities, and now finally we do have a successful case. We finally have something that is delivering, that is working, that the Iranians are living up to. If there's any flaw in this agreement one would probably have to say that the biggest flaw in it is that the negotiators never envisioned someone like Trump becoming President of the United States.

All of the snapback provisions and efforts towards the end of the deal was to make sure that there was a response in case the Iranians cheated, but now we see that it's actually the opposite that is happening. It's the United States that is the problem.

AARON MATÉ: Right, but we do have the scenario because a Bipartisan Congress handed it to Trump. I mean, when Obama signed this deal, Congress both the Senate and the House overwhelmingly passed this Iran Sanctions Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which imposes this 90 day review period and gives the President the authority to decertify. I'm wondering now what you think Congress is going to do.

TRITA PARSI: On that point I think none of the people who wrote that deal of the Congressional law envisioned that it would be used like this in a sense of decertifying by using that third provision to argue that even if the Iranians live up to the deal we would still decertify. I don't think they envisioned that. This was part of a process of making sure that Congress would have a voice and a vote in this. It's part of the reason why a lot of folks in Congress right now, going directly to your question, are not happy about this issue being sent to Congress because they don't want to deal with it. They don't want Trump to put this hot potato in their lap and then have them take action that will be the decisive action that would kill the deal, because that would then mean that Congress would own the disaster that will follow once this deal has collapsed. From Congress' perspective, this is Trump doing something that will ensure that the deal collapses while Congress will be blamed for it.

AARON MATÉ: Right, so to put possibly a positive spin on this, is it perhaps Trump refusing to take responsibility for his own rhetoric, his own hostility to the Iran deal, saying that he did his best to put it to Congress, and if they turn him down, if they don't reimpose sanctions then he can say, "Well, look, I did all I could"?

TRITA PARSI: It may very well be that if this was only the aspect of what is happening right now, but this is all being combined with the Trump administration signaling that they're going to adopt a much, much more harsh position in the region, they're going to escalate in the region, which potentially could mean shooting down Iranian airplanes, sinking Iranian ships, targeting Iranian troops in Iraq that are fighting ISIS, etc. If this is the direction he's going to go in, together with this decertification, then even if that more benign situation were to emerge that you mentioned, we would still be in a very dangerous situation because we're escalating in the region and we have no real effective de-escalatory mechanisms in place in order to make sure that this confrontation doesn't lead to a bigger war.

AARON MATÉ: Right. In terms of those potential escalatory steps that you mentioned, there's a history. Right? I mean in the late 80s the U.S. shot down an Iranian civilian jetliner, killing dozens of people in what it said was an accident.

TRITA PARSI: 290.

AARON MATÉ: Yeah.

TRITA PARSI: Yeah.

AARON MATÉ: Let me ask you, Trita. What does Iran do now? Meanwhile, we often forget that they've actually been complying with the deal since it was enacted. They've poured cement into their reactors. They spent a lot of money on their nuclear activities beforehand that they've halted. They've reduced a number of centrifuges. How do they respond now?

TRITA PARSI: I think they're first taking a look to see what the Europeans and others are going to do, if they're going to stand firm against Trump and protect the deal and protect their companies and continue to trade with Iran, then there's a likelihood that the Iranians will stay where they are and the deal could survive, still shaky, but minus the United States. If however the Europeans cave, if other countries start having their companies leave Iran's market, leaving Iran in a situation in which it is no longer getting the benefits of being in compliance, eventually political dynamics in Iran will ensure that Iran will stop being in compliance. That means that once the Iranians restart aspects of their program that has now been put on pause or they go beyond limitations that currently exist, then we are back in a situation that existed prior to the deal, one in which the Iranians getting to a nuclear weapons option is a real possibility, and the United States going to war with Iran is a real possibility.

AARON MATÉ: Trita, what is the best path in your view to stop that scenario?

TRITA PARSI: Look what happened with healthcare. Democrats refused to negotiate a different version of ACA and then they stood firm and they managed to succeed despite the fact that the Republicans control both houses, chambers of Congress. They have not managed to be able to change the Affordable Care Act. I think that is the exact same approach that is going to be needed when it comes to this. Do not mess with it. There's absolutely no reason to open up this issue. This deal is working, it is delivering, and you don't fix something that isn't broken. The same attitude of course is going to be needed from the Europeans and others. Thus far that is what we're seeing from the Europeans. That is what we're seeing from the Russians and Chinese. They're completely dismissing Trump's desire to reopen the negotiations.

Well there is a degree of openness too, is that yes, if there are other issues that you believe are problematic there can be additional negotiations completely separate from the Nuclear Deal, building on the Nuclear Deal, but not being connected to the Nuclear Deal in the sense that if those additional negotiations fail it would cause the deal to collapse. The deal is insulated and there and it should be protected. For Trump to be able to get to that point, he needs to have credibility. He needs to be able to prove that his is a trustworthy negotiating partner. He needs to first commit himself, affirmatively to the existing deal. He needs to live up to that deal. That's when he's going to be in a position to say, "Look, we also would like to address additional issues and see if we can have a negotiation about that."

What he's doing right now is very difficult to envision that this actually is meant to be able to build a new deal or to be able to get a better deal. This is meant to kill the deal.

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

TRITA PARSI: Thank you.

AARON MATÉ: Thank you for joining us on The Real News.



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