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In announcing new demands and threats, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has made clear that the Trump administration will seek to threaten Iran into submission, says historian Eskandar Sadeghi of the University of Oxford

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AARON MATÉ: So, I want to go back to more of Pompeo’s speech, and stay on this theme of his attempts to address the Iranian people. 

MIKE POMPEO: Iran continues to be, during the JCPOA, the world’s largest sponsor of terror. It continues to serve as a sanctuary for al Qaeda, as it has done since 9/11, and remains unwilling to bring to justice senior al Qaeda members residing in Tehran. Today, we ask the Iranian people, is this what you want your country to be known for, for being a coconspirator with Hezbollah, Hamas, the Taliban, and al Qaeda? The United States believes you deserve better. 

AARON MATÉ: That was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. So, Eskandar, can you address the claim there, about Iran being a conspirator with al Qaeda and the Taliban? It strikes me that he has it inversely, that actually, Iran has been fighting both those factions for a long time- whether or not some al-Qaida figures may have passed through Iran at a certain point, a development that was used to accuse Iran of harboring the group. 

DR. ESKANDAR SADEGHI: Yes. I’m sure you recall, maybe, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies actually using Pompeo, when he selectively leaked parts of certain documents which were obtained at Osama bin Laden’s residence. And the selected part of this Arabic document was released, and then published by the FDD. And this was used to imply that Iran had some long-established relation with al Qaeda. Anyone who actually could read Arabic and could actually read the document, could see that this was actually baseless, and that often, they are at odds with one another. 

And this is also the case- I mean, we’ve seen Iran has actually been working with the United States to defeat Daesh, and obviously, with the Syrian government, to defeat groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra. And so, this is sort of fanciful and kind of absurd. And Iran almost to war with the Taliban in the 90s, when basically, the Taliban murdered a whole series of Iranian diplomats in Mazar-i-Sharif, and there’s actually murals dedicated to these diplomats in Tehran. 

So, no. I don’t think- I think this is really just sort of fanciful and baseless, and just as baseless as this allegation that the Quds Force is undertaking assassinations across Europe. When the fact of the matter is, that it’s actually the United States- Mossad, with the help of the states, has been assassinating Iranian civilian scientists over the last decade. So, again, it just seems very fanciful, detached from the realities. And I’m not sure he’s going to convince. I mean, obviously, there is a security and intelligence community, there’s a whole network of think tanks. Obviously, many of these have certain political agendas. But I think all of the more sober ones immediately ridiculed this. 

AARON MATÉ: All right. So just to clarify, Eskandar made reference to Jabhat al-Nusra, which is the al Qaeda franchise inside Syria, which Iran has been fighting, and actually, it turns out that U.S. weapons have made their way to, as a result of the failed U.S. program to arm insurgents inside Syria. And Pompeo, during his speech, he also accused Iran of carrying out assassinations on European soil, though he did not provide examples. 

So finally, Eskandar, how do you think the Iranian people- even those who oppose the government, who have been protesting the government- respond to this, putting them in a situation where the U.S. is essentially asking their government to give up their foreign policy? 

DR. ESKANDAR SADEGHI: I think, actually, the Trump administration has actually really kneecapped Rouhani. I mean, if they were interested in a more moderate government in Tehran, they wouldn’t actually have done this. Because the fact of the matter is now, his belief that disagreements would be able to be sustained and would yield genuine tangible benefits, economically and militarily for the Iranian people, has unfortunately been shown to be somewhat naïve or- although, there is still some hope that it still might be salvaged. 

Regarding people’s broader views regarding foreign policy- of course, there’s people who are very frustrated with many of the domestic issues with which they face, whether it’s economic stress and strain, whether it’s clamping down on various sort of freedoms, freedom of expression- these all certainly exist. But from what I’ve gathered, many Iranians very clearly do see this is a very transparent attempt, really to call Iran to disarm itself without any guarantees of anything. 

And if the Trump administration can’t even abide by the JCOA, then I don’t think Tehran, or the Iranian people, are going to be very convinced that they’re going to be faithful to a more comprehensive agreement. And especially when we have individuals such as John Bolton- and obviously Mike Pompeo, himself, has called on the American military to bomb Tehran, is very clear about- he desires regime change. And Bolton, obviously, has in various op-eds, called for the same. 

I don’t think many Iranian people are going to take this seriously, and I think many will actually see through it, for what it is, as sort of an attempt to call on Iran to disarm itself. So, it’s going to be a soft target, and God forbid, could one day face the same sort of dangers, or have the same fate, as Iraq, or Libya, or one of these other countries who are now still recovering after many years, and may never actually become the unified states which they once were. 

AARON MATÉ: You know, in terms of what you said there, about if the U.S. seeks a more “moderate government” in Iran, this is the opposite path. I’m wondering if, actually, this could lead to more domestic repression against Iranians, of the kind you talked about. Even under the JCPOA, when it was in effect, the U.S. was still violating it, and still trying to discourage countries from doing business with Iran. The U.S. Congress passed a bipartisan sanctions bill that included more sanctions on Iran. So, even then, Iran was being denied the deal’s full benefits. And we saw those protests earlier this year. I’m wondering, if the country is squeezed even more, and people experience more desperation, that leads to more protests, if then, we then see an increase in state repression. 

DR. ESKANDAR SADEGHI: I don’t think there’s been a direct correlation as of yet. But the fact of the matter is, that every time that Trump has- had threatened to pull out of the deal, or to not actually endorse the ninety days renewal of sanctions reliefs waiver- every time that happens, and every time he’s sort of bellowed and was engaged in saber wrestling, it really detrimentally affected the Iranian currency, which has lost, now, huge amounts of value. 

And this, obviously, has implications for all sort of things, with goods which are being imported, and obviously, the cost of living, ability of Iranians, certainly, to send money abroad, to actually sent their children abroad for education, and what not. This actually changes- so, even in terms of the currency battle, this has had a huge impact for Iranians already. And we haven’t even seen the full effect of sanctions, and whether this is actually going to have deeper and far more profound effects, which could actually, yes, very much provoke greater discontent, which could then, obviously in turn, provoke a reaction by the Iranian government, a repressive one. So, I mean, part of my fear was that maybe individuals such as Bolton, and what not, have such a scenario in mind, where they want to, basically, engender chaos and economic turmoil within Iran. 

And then, if the Iranian government does come down- if you remember, in January and December-time, Trump very clearly said, “Oh, we are watching you,” as a kind of threat. I don’t think it was out of any concern for the Iranian people. So, if such a scenario was to unfold once more, it would be very interesting to see if the Trump government would actually try to use this again, to basically increase further pressure, basically mount a larger international coalition against Iran, and basically step up the isolation, or even maybe military action of some description. 

AARON MATÉ: We will leave it there. Eskandar Sadeghi, research fellow in modern Iranian history at the University of Oxford. Thank you. 


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

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Aaron Maté is a former host/producer for The Real News and a contributor to the Nation. He has previously reported and produced for Democracy Now!, Vice, and Al Jazeera, and written for the Toronto Star, the Intercept, and Le Monde Diplomatique.