Trump’s National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s accusation that Iran’s ballistic missile test violated a UN resolution is not backed by any evidence, and Press Secretary Spicer’s allegation of an Iranian attack on a U.S. ship is a complete fabrication – Paul Jay interviews Ben Norton
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. On Sunday, January 29th, the Iranian military apparently tested a ballistic missile. This was not the first test since the signing of the nuclear agreement, but it is one that received a lot of attention by the Trump administration. I think it’s important to point out, as I am no expert in these matters, but apparently a ballistic missile is just a missile that goes really high and then uses gravity to come and hit a target. There is nothing inherent in a ballistic missile that makes it part of a nuclear program. Conventional warheads are delivered by ballistic missiles. In fact, most ballistic missiles that are mid-range, and that’s what this one was, are used for conventional purposes, not for nuclear purposes. This is not an intercontinental ballistic missile that goes up into the upper atmosphere and usually is associated with a nuclear weapons program. So I think it’s an important distinction to make. That being said, here’s what retired General Michael Flynn, the National Security Advisor to President Trump had to say about this test. Retired General MICHAEL FLYNN, National Security Advisor to President Trump: Recent Iranian actions, including a provocative ballistic missile launch and an attack against a Saudi naval vessel conducted by Iran-supported Houthi militants, underscore what should have been clear to the international community all along about Iran’s destabilizing behavior across the Middle East. The recent ballistic missile launch is also in defiance of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which calls upon Iran “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology. […] President Trump has severely criticized the various agreements reached between Iran and the Obama Administration, as well as the United Nations – as being weak and ineffective. Instead of being thankful to the United States for these agreements, Iran is now feeling emboldened. As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice JAY: Well, is this in fact a violation of the UN Resolution? Well, let’s take a look at the UN Resolution. UN Resolution 2231, page 99, says “Iran is called upon not to undertake any activity” – I should stress those words, “Iran is called upon”, not prohibited – “Iran is called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology until the date eight years after the signing of the JCPOA, which is the name of this agreement, adoption day, or until the date on with the IAEA submits a report confirming the broader conclusion, whichever is earlier.” In other words, it has to be directly associated with a nuclear program to be a violation of this Resolution. Well, on Tuesday at an emergency Security Council meeting, or I should say after the meeting of the security Council, there is a press release. In the press release, it states the following. And this is delivered by a Mr. Feltman, who speaks on behalf of the UN Secretary-General. Presenting the Secretary-General’s second report, says the press release, on the implementation of that text, the text being the Agreement, Mr. Feldman said, “The Secretary-General had not received any report, nor was he aware of any open source information regarding the supply, sale or transfer to Iran of nuclear-related items undertaken contrary to the Resolution. And here’s the key phrase: “nor had he received information regarding Iranian ballistic missile activities or ballistic missile-related transfers to Iran taken contrary to the Resolution.” So, there is no evidence that this missile test had anything to do with a nuclear weapons program, even more so, here’s the Secretary-General saying he has no evidence that this is connected in any way to a violation of the Agreement. Let’s go a little further. On Thursday morning, Press Secretary Spicer said this: Press Secretary SEAN SPICER: I think General Flynn was really clear yesterday that Iran has violated the Joint Resolution, that Iran’s additional hostile actions that it took against our Navy vessel are ones that we are very clear are not going to sit by and take, I think that we will have further updates for you on those additional actions, but clearly we wanted to make sure that Iran knows they are on notice, this is not going unresponded to. PAUL JAY: Not only was it not an American ship, in fact it was a Saudi ship, and it wasn’t the Iranians. It was the Houthis, in fact, if this even took place. But clearly it was not an Iranian attack on an American ship. So, is this the beginning of another Iraq? Are we starting to hear another weapons of mass destruction kind of made-up stories? Is this also the beginning of the drum beats of some form of warfare against Iran? The Bush-Cheney administration came to power with one foreign policy objective: and that was regime change in Iraq. War in Iraq. They weren’t interested in anything else – including intelligence that might have prevented 9/11. Well, are we seeing something similar here? While Trump says his foreign policy objective is ISIS, the truth is, if you look at their language, they’re far more preoccupied with Iran. Now joining us to discuss all of this is Ben Norton. Ben is a reporter for AlterNet. His work is also featured in publications like Fair, MediaWatch and Intercept. He was previously a staff writer at Salon.com. Thanks very much for joining us, Ben. BEN NORTON: Glad to be here. Thanks for having me. PAUL JAY: So that’s the question: is this the beginning of Iraqi-style drumbeats for some form of attack on Iran? I don’t know if they’re talking invasion and that, but at the very least are they talking justifying a snapback of severe economic sanctions? BEN NORTON: Absolutely. I think we should be very careful about all of the rhetoric about Iran right now. It’s very clear, given Trump’s Cabinet that his administration is likely going to push aggressive military action against Iran. As you mentioned, this is not a new policy. The Obama administration was relatively aggressive against Iran, although they pursued a nuclear deal which was a huge victory for those who were interested in pursuing peace between the two countries, but even then, I mean, there were still many aggressive policies. The nuclear deal was important but it only listed nuclear-related sanctions against Iran and the US still has many other forms of sanctions against Iran. And then, of course, the Bush administration before Obama was pushing for a regime change in Iran. Wesley Clark(?) the general famously told Democracy Now in an interview with Amy Goodman that the Bush administration had made a list of seven countries in five years to overthrow, and the last country on that list was Iran. Regime change has actually happened in most of the other countries now, including Libya, Iraq, Syria is in ruins, and then Iran was the cherry on top. So it’s certain that many of the people in terms of administration would like to see a regime change in Iran. It’s always been in the Middle East public enemy number one. When you look at the people Trump has chosen, I mean, you have James Mattis as Defense Secretary for leader of the Pentagon now, and he is a long time anti-Iran hawk. In fact, Politico ran a story several months ago talking about his 33-year grudge against Iran. He has claimed that Iran is the biggest destabilizing force in the Middle East. Recently… this week he had a phone call with the Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammad bin Salman, and they discussed Iran’s supposed aggression in the Middle East. PAUL JAY: Hey, can I interrupt for just one second? Wasn’t it reported that he talked to King Salman, and I think that’s impossible, because the king is so far into dementia… I mean, it’s possible because Trump’s phone calls apparently so one-sided Trump does all the talking that he wouldn’t know that he was talking to someone with advanced dementia. But was it with the prince or with the king? BEN NORTON: No, there were two phone calls this week. And what this demonstrates is that the Trump administration is already really reaching out to Saudi Arabia offering an olive branch and saying that, you know, we’re going to build up stronger relations to fight Iran. So there were two phone calls this week. One was between President Trump and King Salman of Saudi Arabia. PAUL JAY: And I say again, that’s highly unlikely given not just press reports, but I have it on very good authority the king is completely incapable of having a conversation. So we don’t know who he really talked to. But at any rate, go on. BEN NORTON: Well, the reports… according to the White House, the White House released a statement saying that it was with the king. I mean, you raise a good point. The king has had a lot of health issues recently and many suspect that Mohammad bin Salman, his son, the Deputy Crown Prince and the Defense Minister of Saudi Arabia, is calling a lot of the shots at this point. PAUL JAY: I’ve also been told, again, on fairly good authority that the Chief of Staff for the king is also to a large extent running the day-to-day operations. Anyway, it doesn’t change the basic argument, which is they are getting… they are reinforcing the alliance with the Saudis in order to focus everyone’s attention on Iran. BEN NORTON: Yeah, and it’s certainly not just Iran. I mean, if you look at the White House statement that was released about the phone call between President Trump and Saudi Arabia, which was more than an hour long, they said that they agreed on many different ideas and themes. They both called for so-called safe zones in Syria and Yemen. What exactly this means is not entirely clear. It could potentially even be the so-called safe zones or no-fly zones. Hillary Clinton had been campaigning on, and she admitted in a 2013speech to Goldman Sachs that that would, quote, “kill a lot of Syrians”. So, I mean, clearly, Saudi Arabia is going to become an even closer US ally. Also there have been many reports this week based on commentary by people within the Saudi government saying that they are very excited in particular about Trump’s openness to expand oil production to invest more in the oil industry, and, you know, Saudi Arabia had been planning on moving away from a fossil fuel-based economy and they had a so-called 2030 plan to diversify the economy and it looks like now they’re going to team up with the US and continue destroying the planet through massive oil production. So, I mean, that’s a whole other can of worms. But it’s very clear that when you look at what the Trump administration is doing, not only reaching out to Saudi Arabia but filling its Cabinet with anti-Iran hawks – not just Mattis – also Michael Flynn, the National Security Advisor. He has for many years pushed for aggressive policy against Iran. He himself also has extreme anti-Muslim views. He’s compared Islam to a cancer, and has claimed that Islam is not a religion, it’s a political ideology. So we do see a kind of perfect storm here, and it’s very clear that the many steps that the Trump administration have already taken in the first week are moving toward war with Iran. PAUL JAY: Yeah. Let’s not forget Vice President Pence, who is maybe the number one anti-Iran hawk there. BEN NORTON: Absolutely. PAUL JAY: The incident that took place with the Saudi boat and the Houthi alleged attack on a Saudi boat, the fact that Spicer calls it an American boat, and an Iranian attack, this is not a Freudian slip. This is the kind of stuff we saw in the lead-up to the Iraq war. I think it’s clear, too, that Yemen will be one of the cogs in the propaganda wheel for preparing some kind of attack, whether it’s economic or military on Iran, but something we’ll continue to follow. Thanks very much for joining us, Ben. BEN NORTON: I’m happy to join you, and I’ll add one point really quickly before I leave. The New York Times has pointed out that administration officials already told it that they’re ramping up tension against Iran to prevent its intervention in the region. So I mean, it’s very clear – I agree – that Iran is the next target, and for those who are concerned about a potential new war in the Middle East which could be catastrophic, I mean, they should start looking very critically at what . Thanks for having me. PAUL JAY: All right, thanks, Ben. Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.