Trump is Threatening More than Just the Iran Deal
As Iranian President Hassan Rouhani responds to Trump at the UN, former Iranian diplomat Seyed Hossein Mousavian says that an American withdrawal from the nuclear deal would lead Iranians to no longer trust the U.S.
Aaron Maté: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Maté. The threat to the Iran nuclear deal and the future of US-Iran relations is on vivid display at the UN. On Tuesday, President Trump attacked Iran from the podium, calling it “a murderous regime” and suggesting he will follow through on his threat to withdraw from the nuclear agreement. On Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani responded by calling Trump’s speech “ignorant, absurd, and hateful.” Describing Trump as a “rogue newcomer,” Rouhani said Iran won’t be the first to withdraw from the deal:
Pres. Rouhani: I declare before you that the Islamic Republic of Iran will not be the first country to violate the agreement, but it will respond decisively and resolutely to its violation by any party. It will be a great pity if this agreement were to be destroyed by rogue newcomers to the world of politics. The world will have lost a great opportunity. By violating its international commitments, the new US administration only destroys its own credibility and undermines international confidence in negotiating with it or accepting its word or promise.
Aaron Maté: Rouhani’s speech comes as Trump has told reporters he’s already made a decision on the deal’s fate, but isn’t ready to reveal his decision just yet.
Female Reporter: Will you remain in the deal, Mr. President?
Male Reporter: Have you decided to stay or to leave?
Pres. Trump: Well, I have decided.
Male Reporter: Okay, tell us what your decision is, sir.
Pres. Trump: I’ll let you know. I’ll let you know. Thank you.
Aaron Maté: If Trump has chosen to undermine the nuclear deal, he’ll have an opportunity to do so in October when he faces a new Congressional deadline to report on Iran’s compliance. Under a bipartisan 2015 law, the President has the flexibility to decertify that Iran is in compliance, even if Iran is fully respecting the nuclear deal’s terms. Trump has been forced to admit that Iran has complied so far, but it’s unclear what he’ll tell Congress on October 15th. Although Trump didn’t reveal his decision today, Foreign Policy has previously reported Trump has already assigned staffers to make the case for decertification. Meanwhile, for now, the Iran deal remains in place and as part of it all parties, including the US and Iran, are meeting today on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. This is the first encounter between Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson since Trump took office in January.
To discuss all of this, I spoke to Seyed Hossein Mousavian, a former senior Iranian diplomat, now Middle East and Nuclear Policy Specialist at Princeton University. Dr. Mousavian, welcome.
Dr. Mousavian: Thank you.
Aaron Maté: Let’s start with President Rouhani’s speech. One day after Trump threatened Iran, threatened to undermine the nuclear deal, referred to Iran as a violent regime and a sponsor of terror, Rouhani has just taken the podium and defending the Iran nuclear deal, said that it would be a shame if the agreement is undermined by what he called “rogue newcomers to the world of politics.” Your response to what we just heard from Rouhani.
Dr. Mousavian: Actually, the international community now have a clear understanding about the language President Trump used in his speech at the United Nations Assembly Council. If you want to be sure he used the language of bullying, threatening, humiliating, inviting for confrontation and war. Rouhani’s language and message to Trump, to the US, to the international community was cooperation and peace and negotiation. It was very clear. Rouhani invited for international regional cooperation to fight terrorism. Rouhani mentioned the US has been involved, engaged and is responsible for some of the crises in the region, including Iraq, Afghanistan terrorism, and he said the crises in Yemen, Syria, Iraq do not have a solution through war and military use like what Saudi Arabia is doing in Yemen, or the US under Trump administration is threatening the countries in the region to go ahead with new confrontations. He asked for a negotiation, diplomacy, peace, cooperation to settle the crisis.
However, his policy since 2013 has remained stable. He is for lessening the tension with the US, definitely is not going to balk the US. He is ready to negotiate, to cooperate, to manage either the disputes with Iran or the regional crisis. On the nuclear issue, it is again clear that the world has negotiated for 12 years with Iran. After 12 years, a nuclear crisis which could lead to a war has been managed through diplomacy. All world powers, they have signed to agreement. We have a UN resolution supporting the agreement, and the International Atomic Energy Organization since 2015 at least seven times has repeatedly reiterated, confirmed that Iran is in full compliance with all its commitment within the nuclear deal.
Therefore, other than the US, I mean the Trump administration, all other countries in the world, when I say other that US, definitely Israel is with the US, Saudi Arabia is with the US, otherwise the other countries including Europe, West, China, Russia, all other countries they want everybody to be fully committed with the nuclear deal because this is the only crisis after 12 years has been managed through diplomacy and Trump should not go for undermining the deal.
Aaron Maté: Dr. Mousavian, let’s contrast Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal to the US record, which no one seems to talk about. The question on everyone’s mind, if it’s a question, is whether Iran is compliant even though it’s been certified multiple times that they are. But what about the…29 of the nuclear deal says that states cannot, including the US, cannot hurt Iran’s trade and economic relations with other countries but the US has been openly lobbying other countries to cut back their trade with Iran, which seems to be an obvious violation of the deal.
Dr. Mousavian: That’s why Iran has repeatedly condemned the US for a clear violation of the letter and the spirit of the nuclear deal. That’s why Europe is not really happy with the US policy and US attitude. That’s why the other countries, China, Russia, Eastern, Western powers, they are not happy with Trump administration. Look, this deal is the first time after almost 40 years of animosity between Iran and the US, is the first time the US and Iran has directly at the high level, at the level of foreign ministers negotiated at least for two years day and night, and now they are agreed. It has the signature of all international powers. It has the signature of United Nations Security Council and the judge is not Trump, is not the US administration. The judge is the United Nations Atomic Energy Organization.
The fact the US is undermining the conclusions, the inspections, the statements of the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency, which reiterates each season Iran is in full compliance, this fact shows the US really is violating the international rules, norms and regulations. The US is going to block the economic relation of the world with Iran, which is definitely a clear violation of the nuclear deal because the nuclear deal insists Iran should be able to benefit the economic relations, trade relations with other countries. If the US does not want, this is another issue, but the US cannot disturb Iran international community business.
Aaron Maté: So listen, let’s talk about the implications of the US undermining its commitment to the agreement. President Trump was asked by reporters today if he’s made a decision on what he’s going to do with the Iran deal. He said multiple times that he has made a decision but that he’s not ready to disclose it yet. But if his turns out that he does want to walk away from it, I want to first ask about what that means for the US and its relations with other countries, aside from Iran because as I understand it, if it returns to the previous US framework of law, that the laws that were lifted under the nuclear deal in the US include measures that would target countries that do business with Iran. So if all of a sudden the US is walking away from that, does that mean that the US is going to be targeting the countries that are now doing business with Iran as a result of a nuclear deal?
Dr. Mousavian: We really don’t know what Trump is going to do, but if Trump withdraw from the nuclear deal, the next question is whether the other parties of the international community, the other member of United Nation Security Council, Europe, China, India, Russia, the other countries, Japan, they would stick, they would strongly support the nuclear deal. They would implement the deal precisely, completely, and comprehensively or not. If yes, then we can have hope that the nuclear deal would not die, would be alive in spite of US withdrawal. But if the US withdrawal is going to be followed by US punishing the other countries making business with Iran and is going to cut economic relations of international community with Iran, normal trade, economic, industrial relationships, then I believe the deal would be killed, and the only crisis managed through diplomacy by Obama administration and other world powers would be practically killed by Trump and then another very extremely dangerous crisis would grow up again in the Middle East, aside to the other crises which we have not been to resolve yet.
Aaron Maté: I just want to make this clear. Do I have that right when I say that if Trump walks back the US commitment to the deal, is then the US bound by its own laws to target not just Iran but countries that also do business with Iran, business that has increased massively because of the nuclear deal that the US itself signed initially?
Dr. Mousavian: I really don’t know whether the US referring to its own domestic law can violate international law or not. This is a legal question. US has its own domestic law, but at the same time, US is permanent member of United Nations Security Council and should abide, should comply with its commitment with international rules, regulations. The United Nations Security Council is the highest body internationally on security, peace and the US is member, and if a resolution of the United Nations Security Council is violated by the US, that would be a clear violation of international rules and regulations. Here, the use would be between violating its own law and regulations or international law and regulations. This is something legally should be discussed between the people who really know domestic American legal status.
Aaron Maté: It’s a crazy scenario because then it means all these countries who signed on to the Iran deal with the US could then be forced to choose between appeasing US laws now targeting them with punishment for dealing with Iran or respecting the deal that they agreed to initially, which was to do business with Iran in exchange for Iran curbing its nuclear program. Let me ask you also then about what Iran does. Rouhani made very clear today that Iran would respond if the US undermines the agreement. What will be Iran’s options and likely course do you think?
Dr. Mousavian: I really still don’t know what Trump would do because Iran’s consequences would come after Trump decision. How far Trump is going to violate the deal, this would practically determine the Iranian decision. This is something we really don’t know neither on the US side nor on the Iranian side. But what I can say, if the other international members, other countries like Europe, China, Russia, if they fully support the deal, they insist and they resist and they implement, therefore the deal I believe would not die, although if Iran is harmed with US unilateral withdrawal or imposing sanctions impacting the other countries’ economic relation with Iran, Iran may show some reactions on the nuclear issue. Those reactions would not be violating the deal. Iran has a lot of opportunities, without violating the deal can expand its nuclear program in response to US hostile reactions.
Aaron Maté: Right. I’m also wondering, though, what this means for Hassan Rouhani and his camp because they expended a lot of political capital to push this deal through. It was not easy for them to convince the Iranian political establishment to accept this, if I have that correct. So, I’m wondering what happens to the camp inside Iran that wants engagement with the West, that said we should negotiate with the US, if the US all of a sudden undermines the very deal that Rouhani and others worked so hard to convince their colleagues was worth doing?
Dr. Mousavian: Since the revolution in 1979, we have had two school of thoughts in Iran: one saying negotiation with the US is useless, you cannot trust the US, US would never be committed to its promises. Therefore, forget it, don’t trust the US, do not negotiate, only confront the US. The other school of thought says negotiation does not mean you can trust, but you can try to negotiate and you can negotiate with the US. If a deal reached, then you will see whether the US would comply or would violate. If violates, then we would stop continuing further negotiation with the US. Therefore, here is clear: there is no differences now between the two big camps. If the US violates the deal, there would be domestically consensus inside Iran that you can neither trust the US, nor negotiate, nor agree with the US on any other issues. That would be clear.
Aaron Maté: We’ll leave it there. Dr. Seyed Hossein Mousavian is a former senior Iranian diplomat, now Middle East and Nuclear Policy Specialist at Princeton University. Dr. Mousavian, thank you.
Dr. Mousavian: Thank you very much.
Aaron Maté: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.