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The Senate Banking Committee advanced legislation last week that many see as a threat to negotiations between the United States and Iran. TRNN’s Thomas Hedges speaks to Jamal Abdi of the National Iranian-American Council who says that failed talks could lead to armed conflict.

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THOMAS HEDGES, TRNN PRODUCER: On Thursday, the Senate Banking Committee advanced a bill that would impose more sanctions on Iran if a nuclear deal can’t be reached by the end of June. But earlier this week, on Tuesday, number of Democrats also backed away from the legislation, asking that the Senate delay a vote on the bill. Robert Menendez, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and sits on the Senate Banking Committee, said he, along with a few of his Democratic colleagues, would allow talks between Washington and Tehran to continue until at least the end of March. ROBERT MENENDEZ, U.S. SENATOR (D-NJ): I would just simply suggest that this constant refrain that if no deal, then what, well, that sort of, like, indicates to me that we are headed towards a deal for a deal’s sake, and that is extremely dangerous. There are other alternatives. And being prepared to have Iran understand that it will suffer even more greatly, and maybe create regime change from within, which the Ayatollah does not want, maybe the ultimate mechanism that has them decide to actually make the deal that we would all want. And so what I don’t want to do is be in the process of an appeasement that ultimately left North Korea to be a nuclear weapons state. That is not a history that I want to live once again. HEDGES: But some, like Jamal Abdi at the National Iranian American Council don’t see this is a clear victory for the talks. JAMAL ABDI, POLICY DIRECTOR, NATIONAL IRANIAN AMERICAN COUNCIL: What’s problematic is that the deadline for an agreement is not March 24; it is June 30. So, basically Menendez has given an additional eight or so weeks for the negotiations to continue, and then, if this political framework agreement is not reached by March 24, he’s going to go ahead and try to push new sanctions. HEDGES: Abdi says that while the White House is open to improving diplomatic ties with Iran, a large constituency within Congress is at its core seeking regime change. ABDI: When Menendez says we need to pile on more more sanctions to extract greater concessions from Iran, he’s speaking from that worldview that the Cuba sanctions worked and we need to be doing the same thing with Iran, and unless the regime essentially is changed, we’re never going to lift those sanctions. And that is a recipe for never getting a deal. HEDGES: Menendez, along with other pro-sanctions advocates in the Senate, have repeatedly accused Iran of violating interim agreements with the United States. However, Abdi says these accusations are often false. ABDI: I trust the IAEA on this. The IAEA is on the ground in Iran verifying this deal, monitoring it. Every month they release a report on Iran’s implementation of the deal. And they’ve been very unequivocal: Iran is in full compliance. HEDGES: Abdi says the persistence of baseless accusations has given rise to a culture of distrust in Tehran. ABDI: The problem for the United States isn’t that Iran doesn’t feel the pressure or doesn’t believe that if these talks collapse, new sanctions are going to be piled on. There’s no doubt in any capital of the world, let alone Tehran, that Congress isn’t going to slap new sanctions on if the talks fall apart or if Iran violates the deal. What’s missing from these talks is there’s a lack of trust. It goes for the United States, and it also goes for Iran. For the Iranians, they don’t trust that if they sign on to this deal, that the United States is going to lift the sanctions. This is something that the supreme leader says. This is something that even the moderates who deeply believe in this diplomatic process and who want a deal that they have legitimate fears about. They don’t see how this president is going to go to Congress and get Congress to lift the sanctions, because ultimately it’s up to Congress to do that. HEDGES: Absent from Tuesday’s hearing was any kind of historical context concerning U.S. diplomatic relations with Iran, which Abdi says is crucial if American politicians want to understand Iran’s determination to establish its own nuclear program. ABDI: The narrative of the Iranian nation is one of having been invaded, I mean, going back to the invasion of the Arabs that turned Iran into a majority Muslim nation, and then the history of the 20th century, where you had the British and the Russians occupying Iran, where you had the British and the United States toppling the democratically elected prime minister in Iran, where you had the Shaw reinstalled in Iran in 1953, and then–you know, somebody who was eventually toppled, but somebody who was perceived as a Western puppet. So this is a very strong narrative inside of Iran, and it’s one that is well founded. the one strong narrative that perseveres since 1979 is that Iran is a sovereign country, is an independent country, can stand on its own, is not a puppet nation that’s going to be bossed around by outside powers. I think this still has–I mean, think about here in the United States, how Americans feel about independence and freedom. The same thought process happens in Iran. HEDGES: Given the history of confrontation between Iran and the West, these current talks are pivotal, omany experts say, especially when during the Bush administration a war between Iran and the United States looked very possible. Now that both nations are at the bargaining table, Abdi is holding his breath for the delicate process to uphold, fearing that if the talks fail, the two current negotiating partners could drift back to their previous hostile positions. ABDI: The easy answer is that if negotiations collapse, you are looking at a war as a very likely scenario. The more complex answer is that it’s not necessarily war through the front door. The front door would be the talks collapse, sanctions get ratcheted up, Iran leaves the NPT, they start enriching up to a higher level, the United States has know it’s happening and doesn’t know how long of a breakout Iran has, and then you have the order for the U.S. to go take out those nuclear facilities. And then you either have ground troops or you have strikes every year or so to try to prevent Iran from getting closer to a breakout. But then you have numerous backdoors to war. One of the major reasons why these talks are happening are that both sides realize they could not escalate any further without triggering a military conflict. HEDGES: For The Real News, Thomas Hedges, Washington.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Thomas Hedges is a freelance photographer, videographer and writer based out of New York/New Jersey. His work has appeared in The Guardian, Salon, Demos, The Nation, NowThis, Brut. Media, Thrillist, and CBS. Hedges formerly worked as a producer for TRNN. Follow him @TAHedges.