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US isolation will only deepen if Trump and Congress continue to undermine the Iran nuclear deal, says Mohammad Marandi of the University of Tehran

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AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Maté. The Iran nuclear deal is increasingly under threat. This week, President Trump signed into law new sanctions that, Iran says, violate the agreement. President Trump has reportedly told aides to come up with ways for him to avoid recertifying Iran’s compliance when it comes up next month. Trump has already told the Wall Street Journal, he personally believes Iran will be non-compliant. This comes, just as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who oversaw the deal, is sworn in for a second term. Mohammad Marandi is a Professor of English Literature and Orientalism at the University of Tehran. Welcome, Professor Marandi. M. MARANDI: Thank you for having me. AARON MATÉ: Thank you for joining us. What is the mood right now in Tehran in response to all the moves that Trump and Congress are making against Iran, most notably this week, signing this new sanctions measure? M. MARANDI: I think skepticism towards the United States has been on the rise for a long time. Actually, this process began under the Obama administration, immediately after the signing of the JCPOA for the nuclear agreement. The United States, time after time, almost, they increased the sanctions violation of the spirit of the agreement. For example, right after the agreement was signed, the U.S. Treasury Department added new entities to their sanctions list, but more importantly, later on, during the Obama presidency, laws were passed, which violated the agreement. One was the visa restriction law against Iran and a number of other countries, which violated the agreement. It’s interesting that there was no anger [inaudible 00:02:11] in the United States when Obama passed those laws and later on, when Trump took them a step further, there was an outcry. Also, there was the Iran Sanctions Act, which was passed under Obama, and that was a clear violation of the agreement between Iran and the P5+1. After Trump became president, we saw a more outspoken president with regards to the agreement. We knew that Trump was very critical of the agreement, and he has been speaking of tearing up the agreement or effectively making it null and void. Since he’s become president, he has himself violated the agreement on numerous occasions, but this recent instance is not really so much Trump’s fault, as it is the Senate and Congress, because those Democrats and Republicans passed a law which are in direct violation of the agreement, so those who’ve actually destroyed the legacy of Obama are Democrats, just as much as Republicans. Of course, Trump signed the law and therefore, he, too, is part of this violation. AARON MATÉ: I think it’s a really interesting point to underline the role of Democrats in undermining the nuclear agreement, not just in passing this sanctions law, but also, as you point it out, passing some sanctions even after the nuclear deal was approved and President Obama was still in office. Let’s talk about what Trump is doing then on his end, because we have reports now that he’s instructed his aides to come up with a way for him not to recertify, when this comes up again next month. As I mentioned, he told the Wall Street Journal that he personally thinks Iran is going to be non-compliant. I’m wondering your take on what he’s doing specifically and how Tehran is responding. M. MARANDI: It’s difficult to gauge what’s going on in the president’s mind, but I think there are two scenarios that are important here. One is that Trump may be using this as a negotiating tactic, where he tries to put pressure on Iran to get concessions from the country. What he could be trying to do is to actually force Iran to tear the agreement, which the Iranians will definitely not do. If the Americans effectively make the agreement useless, the Iranians will reciprocate, but the Iranians won’t be the first to actually tear up the agreement. On the other hand, the United States may actually want to leave the agreement with itself. Under Trump’s presidency, I think that would be very hurtful for the United States, more than it would be under Obama, by the simple reason that Obama was more capable in creating coalitions, and Trump does not seem to have that capability. The Chinese are upset with Trump. The UAE is upset with Trump. Canada, Mexico. More or less, the international community is unhappy with the way in which the U.S. President is conducting himself, and in the exception, which would be Russia, the U.S. Congress and Senate have effectively destroyed the relationship, so the United States will not be able to easily create a colation against Iran, and it will be isolating itself if it chooses to wreck the agreement. If it chooses to wreck the agreement, I think it hurts the United States more than it hurts Iran. Obviously, it will be hurtful for Iran, but I think the damage to the United States will be much more significant. If the United States wishes to push Iran out of the agreement, I don’t think that’s going to happen. AARON MATÉ: Let’s look at one apparent tactic coming from the White House. Recently, Iran launched a satellite into space. This week, the U.S. complained about that to the UN Security Council. Their speculation, that this is one area that the U.S. is going to try to jump on and somehow claim as if that’s a violation of the deal, even though, of course, there’s no mention of this inside the actual JCPOA. M. MARANDI: Yes. The launching of a satellite by the Iranians has nothing to do with the JCPOA. It has nothing to do with the UN Security Council, and the United States is basically using that as an excuse to put pressure on Iran. Even Iran’s military missile program, its missile defense program is not included in the JCPOA and since Iran’s capabilities are all conventional, it has nothing to do with UN Security Council resolutions either. Again, this may be an attempt to push Iran out of the agreement or to basically … There are two ways that the Americans could do this. One is to put pressure on Iran, so that Iran leaves, and the second is to leave the agreement by claiming that Iran has somehow violated it. This may be linked to the second scenario, but I doubt that it will work. The first scenario, I should add one thing, and that is that if the Americans increase pressure on Iran, the Iranians will push back. For example, right now, we have a law that’s in parliament that will soon be passed, with the support of President Rouhani’s administration, that will actually increase the budget for the Quds Forces and the Revolutionary Guards, the forces which are supporting the governments in Baghdad, in Iraq, and in Syria, and there will also be an additional budget for Iran’s missile defense capability. What Iran is doing is that it’s basically signaling to the United States that “The more pressure you put on us, the more we will actually focus and invest in areas which you do not want us to invest in.” AARON MATÉ: Right. I recall reading this budget proposal. The parliamentarian, who put it forward, explicitly said that it was a response to the aggressive behavior coming from Washington. I’m wondering if you can talk about the pressure that all of this might be putting now on Rouhani, as he’s about to be sworn in for a second term. He campaigned on a platform of continuing engagement with the rest of the world, but I’m wondering what actions like this from the White House might be doing to him as he embarks on his second term. M. MARANDI: Well, the world is changing and I think that when we speak about the international community, U.S. actions are actually helping bring Iran and Russia closer to each other, because now the Russians are facing a similar situation, as is Iran, with the sanctions. The Chinese too are drawing closer to Iran and Russia, because they feel that if Iran and Russia are sanctioned, then it may be China that is next, so already, the United States is opening certain doors for the Rouhani administration. In general, though, what President Rouhani has been trying to do is to try to use tensions with Western countries and mainly, the United States. The more that the United States Government behaves in this manner, the more skepticism there is in Iran and the more difficult it will be for anyone to improve ties with the United States. I think that President Rouhani, really, at the moment, does not have a major problem to deal with because he had a more harsh or hardline approach towards the United States Government over the last few weeks. Our foreign minister, Dr. Zarif, has also made some very critical and harsh statements against the U.S. Government as well, so right now, there is consensus in Iran with regards to dealing with the new actions of the U.S. Congress and Senate and the White House. AARON MATÉ: Professor, finally, I’m wondering if you could comment on the internal dynamics we’re seeing when it comes to Iran inside the Trump administration right now. Recently, Rex Tillerson openly acknowledged that he had a difference of opinion with President Trump, when it comes to the Iran nuclear deal and Iran’s compliance, essentially acknowledging that Trump had to be convinced by his entire staff into recertifying recently, when he did, despite his every effort not to. This week, we saw the departure from the National Security Council of several anti-Iran hawks, including Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who had reportedly been looking at ways to explore regime change inside Iran. I’m wondering if you think that these developments are of any significance. M. MARANDI: Well, watching U.S. politics nowadays is like sitting on a roller coaster, and it’s very difficult to figure out how things will end. If the United States does choose to take a more reasonable approach through the expulsion of extremists and anti-Iranian figures in the administration, I think that would be seen as a positive sign, but we don’t know if that’s really what’s going on. If Trump listens to Tillerson and indeed if Tillerson is making a more reasonable approach towards Iran, again, that’s a positive sign, but we still don’t know. For Iran, the problem is that the United States has been supporting Saudi Arabia and Israel and their supportive extremist groups across the region, in Yemen, in Syria, and in Iraq, and the aggression of Saudi Arabia against countries like Yemen. In addition, for Iran, the problem with the United States is the sanctions, as well as general hostility towards Iran. If the Iranians feel that the United States is moving in the right direction with regards to these key issues, then I believe that the United States will see that Iran, too, will move towards easing tensions, so from the Iranian perspective, the ball is in the U.S. court. AARON MATÉ: Mohammad Marandi, Professor of English Literature and Orientalism at the University of Tehran. Joining us from Tehran, Professor, thanks very much. M. MARANDI: Thank you for having me. AARON MATÉ: Thank you for joining us on The Real News.

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Mohammad Marandi is a professor of English Literature and Orientalism at the University of Tehran.