U.S. Punishes Iranians and Threatens Nations That Disobey

As the Trump administration and its Israeli government ally continue their destabilization campaign against Iran, the EU, Russia, and China have reached a deal with Tehran that would shield financial transactions from newly reimposed U.S. sanctions. The U.S. has warned of “terrible consequences” for those defying its sanctions. Can Iran and the remaining nuclear deal partners withstand U.S. pressure? We speak to Col. Lawrence Wilkerson

U.S. Punishes Iranians and Threatens Nations That Disobey

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Story Transcript

AARON MATE: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Mate.

The Trump administration and its Israeli government ally continue their warmongering and destabilization campaign against Iran at the U.N. On Thursday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed to expose what he called a secret atomic warehouse in Tehran.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Today I am disclosing for the first time that Iran has another secret facility in Tehran; a secret atomic warehouse for storing massive amounts of equipment and materiel from Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program.

AARON MATE: It turns out the warehouse is not secret, and even U.S. officials say it contains file cabinets and paper, not centrifuges. Netanyahu’s comments come after Trump and other top officials used high-profile speeches to target Iran. Just blocks from the U.N., National Security Adviser John Bolton addressed a pro-regime change gathering in New York City.

JOHN BOLTON: According to the mullahs in Tehran, we are the great Satan, lord of the underworld, master of the raging inferno. So I might imagine they would take me seriously when I assure them today that if you cross us, our allies, or our partners, if you harm our citizens, if you continue to lie, cheat, and deceive, yes, there will indeed be hell to pay.

AARON MATE: The U.S. is set to reimpose yet another new round of harsh sanctions on Iran after withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal earlier this year. But this week saw a major sign that the remaining parties in the deal are not going along. On Monday, the European Union, China, and Russia announced an agreement with Iran to create what’s known as a special purpose vehicle. This mechanism would shield financial transactions between Iran and other countries from U.S. sanctions.

SPEAKER: Participants recognize that Iran has continued to fully and effectively implement its nuclear-related commitments as confirmed by 12 consecutive reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and reiterated the need to continue to do so. Participants underlined their determination to protect the freedom of their economic operators to pursue legitimate business with Iran in full accordance with the UN Security Council Resolution 2231.

AARON MATE: The U.S. has warned of terrible consequences against those countries who continue to do business with Iran, setting up a major showdown if its former partners in the nuclear deal hold their ground.

Well, joining me is Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson. He is a former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, now a distinguished professor at the College of William and Mary. Welcome, Colonel Wilkerson. Let me get your reaction first to what we saw this week on display at the U.N. and other forums, where You have Trump, Netanyahu, Bolton, and Pompeo, and Nikki Haley, all continuing to push this destabilization pro-regime change campaign against Iran.

LARRY WILKERSON: All I can say, Aaron, with regard to Bibi Netanyahu, is that he must have had Karl Rove and his crew in in a class called How to Lie. Bibi just, he just continues to surprise with what he’s willing to drag out and present as a case against Iran. I know that he does it because there are people that believe him, in Israel and in the United States. So he keeps on doing it. And John Bolton- and the clips you played from John Bolton’s just being John Bolton.

More importantly for me was a curious serendipity, as last week my students examined Iran, and this week I’m preparing them to examine the DPRK. And I was struck immediately by the fact that I went back and did the analysis on what we did in my administration, the George W. Bush administration, did to the Bill Clinton administration’s agreed framework. You may recall that that was the executive agreement, more or less, between the United States and North Korea and other parties. But they were the principal parties, with South Korea, of course, being a principal also, to essentially arrest the nuclear weapons program of North Korea, to put it on hold- indeed, to eliminate it eventually- to build light water reactors, to provide heavy fuel, and all the things that, interestingly enough, are being talked about today in a new spirit of sunshine policy and so forth by the South Korean president Moon Jae in.

And I was comparing that with the JCPOA, and what we did to the agreed framework when we came into power in 2001. We immediately coined this mantra of ABC, Anything But Clinton. Well, you might claim the same thing for Trump, Anything But Obama. And of course, the singular diplomatic achievement of the Obama administration- and to a certain extent of the Clinton second administration- were the JCPOA for Obama, and the agreed framework for Clinton. So what did Trump do? There’s precedent for this. He did the same thing George Bush and Colin Powell and Dick Cheney and all the rest of the people in my administration did. We threw away the agreed framework. We threw it away, just as Trump threw away the JCPOA. It was a little bit more serious with Donald Trump than the JCPOA, because Germany, China, Russia, the other members of the Security Council, permanent members of the Security Council were also signatories. But nonetheless, pretty much the same kind of act.

And what I saw over almost a year and a half review- far too long, but you can excuse the Bush administration because 9/11 intervened- but far too long to do a review, was it at the end of the review we came to the same conclusions apparently the Clinton administration had come to, because Jim Kelly was headed for Pyongyang with a package offered, to be offered to the North Koreans that was as robust or moreso than anything the Clinton administration had offered to get them into the agreed framework.

So I immediately start thinking, what is Trump’s plan with regard to the JCPOA that might reflect what we saw with Bush and the agreed framework? Now, that all went astray, because by that time the North Koreans had actually refined enriched uranium, and probably had made a couple of bombs. And so it all got derailed as we presented it to Kang Sok ju and [name inaudible] and others in Pyongyang what our new, robust package of offerings for North Korea was.

Is Donald Trump doing the same thing right now? Is he letting Bolton out there as the wild man on the street, as it were, to say all the things that he initially said with regard to North Korea? You know, fire and hell and brimstone, and all this kind of stuff? And is he planning a Singapore moment for Iran? Is he looking right now for a city- Geneva comes to mind, for example- where he and Rouhani can sit down, and then Donald Trump, just prior to the midterms in November, can announce to the world that look, I’m sitting down with President Rouhani, I’m going to make a deal, and it’s going to be a lot better than the deal with President Obama. And will he discard John Bolton if necessary in order to do this? I wouldn’t put it past him for a moment. He’s already gotten rid of three, or two national security advisors. A third one wouldn’t be of any consequence.

So what is it that Donald Trump is doing? Is he getting ready to foist on us a diplomatic coup, as it were? Is he going to sit down? I hear some from some very credible sources that the offer has already been made to Rouhani, and that Rouhani has turned it down. I don’t blame him for that and all. But I wonder if he can persist in turning down this offer if it persists, and it becomes something that maybe Iran feels like it wants to do, given the things that might result if it doesn’t.

So I’m looking for a November surprise, if you will, in this. One that will negate all the hard rhetoric and all the bombast that Bolton’s been throwing out there; in particular Nikki Haley’s been throwing out there; Pompeo, to a certain extent, has been throwing out there. Because Donald Trump will take over. He’ll take over, and he’ll say, I’m siting down and we’re going to have a deal.

AARON MATE: Let’s go to more of John Bolton, because I think a big calculation in this, in the Trump administration’s thinking, is that it can squeeze Iran’s economy enough, make enough people suffer, that the Iranian government will be forced to renegotiate terms that the Trump administration sees as favorable. And John Bolton spoke about that this week, and he spoke with particular anger at the European countries, and Russia and China, that are trying to form this alternative to the U.S. sanctions which might be a roadblock to U.S. efforts. And this is what John Bolton said.

JOHN BOLTON: These crippling sanctions have already had a devastating effect on the Iranian economy. This year the Iranian rial has lost about 70 percent of its value, and the Iranian housing market is sliding into recession. Iranian crude oil exports have also plummeted dramatically in recent months. Pressure on the regime will further intensify on November 5, when the rest of our nuclear-related sanctions resume. We will not tolerate investments that enhance Iran’s ability to develop its petroleum or natural gas infrastructure, and we expect purchasers of Iranian oil to reduce their imports to zero.

AARON MATE: That’s John Bolton. And he also went, in that same speech, went on to warn of, quote, terrible consequences to those who don’t cede to U.S. demands. I wonder, Colonel, we heard that that clip there from the EU official announcing this new mechanism to basically continue to do business with Iran and evade U.S. sanctions. Will that be enough to keep Iran in the nuclear deal? And do you think that those countries that are taking part will continue to withstand U.S. pressure?

LARRY WILKERSON: Let’s look at what Bolton said first, and then I’ll come to your question. What Bolton said is we’re punishing the Iranian people. Now, John doesn’t care. I know John. I know him well. He does not care. But what he said was we’re punishing the Iranian people. Not that we’re punishing those we want punish, the leaders, the IRGC and so forth. And that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re even to the point where we’re influencing humanitarian items like medicine and food and so forth.

But to get to your question, he’s not going to order China. He’s not going to order Russia. And I suspect very strongly he’s not going to order very effectively India, and a host of other lesser lights out there in the world who are going to continue to deal with Iran, either on the black market or on the white market. And Iran has shown in the past, just as Iraq showed, that no matter how “crippling” these sanctions are, it can probably get along. Now, might they bring a situation about today, because the situation in Iran internally, domestically, is different today than it was 10 years ago. Might they bring about today enough tension in that body of Iranian people that matters that they are revolt, and that somehow they manage, as in earlier times, to overthrow the government? And earlier times, we can go back and look at ’53 when Mossadegh became the first democratically elected leader of Iran. There been a lot of turmoil before that. We can look at ’79 when the Shah fell and what we have now came into power.

So we know there’s a potential for that kind of revolutionary spirit to develop in Iran. What we don’t know is what will come out of it. What could very well come out of it would be a government much worse than the one we are confronting right now. What also could come out of it very realistically could be a more Mohammad Mosaddegh type government; a real democracy with a lot of participation from all elements in the Iranian lifecycle.

What will we get from that in the way of a foreign and security policy? Well, I would submit to you it’s still the same demography. It’s still the same geography. It’s still the same region, with Saudi Arabia, that vicious totalitarian state, sitting across the Gulf from it. It’s still the same country. And by and large, I would bet that it will have much the same foreign policy vis a vis the interest we’re trying to deal with today that it has right now, is a theocracy with some democratic aspects to it.

So what are we looking for? The other possibility is it’ll be chaos. Utter chaos. Now, I know Bibi Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, his defense minister, and all the Zionists who are on the right wing in Israel, and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. John Hannah, Mark Dubowitz, and all the rest of the nuts over there at that place. I know they all think that this chaos that would then be produced, not only amongst the Arabs as we have today, but also the Persians, and maybe even Arabs and Persians fighting one another, they think it’s beneficial for Israel’s security. Well, I got news for them. It’s not going to be beneficial for Israel’s security. Israel is going to be in mortal danger when all this chaos breaks out and spreads, and there’s no power in the world, not even the United States, that can do anything about it.

So be careful what you wish for, my old boss Colin Powell used to say. In this case, wishing for chaos all around Israel, and hoping that that chaos will make Israel safe, because the Arabs nor the Persians can get together to attack Israel. That’s a very bad strategy, in my view. But that is nonetheless FDD’s, and all these other people who are neoconservative when you scratch the paint off of them, that’s their plan. And that’s ultimately Bibi Netanyahu’s plan.

AARON MATE: You know, Colonel, what you said there about John Bolton talking about punishing the Iranian people, I was actually there at that summit where he was speaking put on by the group United Against Nuclear Iran. And I was struck by what a uniform theme that was throughout the speakers. Pompeo, Bolton, former Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman. Everybody included extensive remarks basically gloating over the fact that the Iranian economy is suffering under the sanctions that they’ve supported and have reimposed; Lieberman bragging about Iran losing tens of thousands of jobs, as if that was a good thing. Quite striking to hear that up close.

LARRY WILKERSON: It’s not- it’s inconsequential to them. I know this is hard to believe, but these people have no morals no ethics. They have nothing but power. They remind me of Thucydides’ Greeks on the island of Melos, when the Athenian general was going to kill every man, woman, and child. And the Melian ask him, why are you going to do that? And the Athenian general said, because we can. That’s John Bolton. That’s Nikki Haley. That’s these people. They believe that because we have the power, we have the right to kill people indiscriminately. The right to ruin people’s lives indiscriminately. The right to tell them what kind of government they should have. The right to break down any government that we don’t think is submissive to our wishes. That’s these people. That’s John Bolton.

AARON MATE: Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, currently a Distinguished Professor at the College of William and Mary, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. Thanks very much.

LARRY WILKERSON: Thanks for having me.

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