John Bolton’s aggressive push for military confrontation combined with Trump’s vindictive obsession with undoing Obama’s legacy could spell disaster for the Iran nuclear deal, which would drive Iran’s nuclear ambitions and erode trust around the globe, says Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
The appointment of John Bolton as national security adviser to President Donald Trump has everyone worried that he will advise the president to cancel the nuclear agreement with Iran. In his article in Foreign Policy, titled “Blame Trump When Iran Races for the Bomb,” Trita Parsi argues that canceling the deal will make the U.S. less trustworthy to North Korea, for example, and that it will make reaching a disarmament agreement with Pyongyang very difficult if Trump will, at a whim, just cancel the agreement. It will also give Iran, Trita argues, that it will give Iran a strong incentive to quickly develop a nuclear weapon. Here is Trump speaking about the Iran nuclear deal.
DONALD TRUMP: The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.
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SHARMINI PERIES: Joining us now to discuss Bolton in the context of the Iran deal is Trita Parsi. Trita is founder and president of the National Iranian American Council. He’s the author of several books, and his most recent is “Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy.” Thanks for joining me, Trita.
TRITA PARSI: Thank you for having me today.
SHARMINI PERIES: Trita, President Trump sees the Iran nuclear deal as President Obama’s signature deal, and that the deal somehow offended Israel and the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Why is it that Trump is so opposed to the nuclear agreement with Iran, and what will Bolton add to this fierce opposition?
TRITA PARSI: Well, Trump has listed several different reasons. But when you scratch the surface this really seems to come down to what you just mentioned, that this is Obama’s deal. And everything that he’s been doing elsewhere, it’s been quite clear that he’s very eager to undo the legacy of Obama, almost a vindictive approach. And this is the most important foreign policy achievement that the Obama administration had. So it seems to be targeted very much as a result of that.
John Bolton has a completely different reason. John Bolton ultimately wants to have the United States enjoying a hegemonic position in the Middle East and be dominant. Iran is a challenge, an obstacle to that objective. So he has a very aggressive posture towards Iran. And any type of a deal that actually resolves problems between the United States and Iran is a problem in the eyes of John Bolton because he wants a war. He has been very, very clear and honest about his desire for a military confrontation. And as a result he doesn’t want the nuclear deal for that reason. I think he’s now joining the administration because he believes that he can manipulate the Trump, Trump himself, towards taking military action that it’s not entirely clear that Trump would prefer to do on his own.
SHARMINI PERIES: Trita, you say an aggressive posture towards Iran. Give us some examples of where he’s done this.
TRITA PARSI: Well, John Bolton has a very lengthy career in which he’s rarely missed any opportunity to be able to call for military or other forms of confrontational measures towards Iran. He had a piece in The New York Times not too long ago saying got to avoid an Iranian bomb you have to bomb Iran. He’s even had the piece in which he has argued for preemptive nuclear strikes against North Korea.
So this is not a person who, unlike some of the proponents of war, is trying to hide his desire for war and who is essentially trying to claim that look, we’re looking for a peaceful solution, but in reality they’re pushing things towards military action. John Bolton is very frank and honest about the fact that he wants to have military confrontation. He wants to have regime change in Iraq.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Now, the article that you referred to in the New York Times, bomb bomb bomb, bomb Iran, the phrase came out of that article that then got repeated by people like Cheney during the Bush administration. Is there any more recent statements that Bolton has said that concerns you?
TRITA PARSI: Every time he talks about the nuclear deal with Iran he says something. And just a couple of months ago he was at the conference of an organization called Iranian Mujahedin, which is a terrorist organization that has been responsible for killing a very large number of Iranians, Iraqis, as well as U.S. personnel. But John Bolton has been a longtime supporter of this terrorist organization, and mindful of the fact, of the way that they pay American officials to speak on their behalf. It wouldn’t be outside of the realm of possibility that he’s actually a paid spokesperson for them. And at that meeting he made similar claims and then he said that, you know, within a year we’re going to have this conference in Iran, meaning that there would be a regime change that probably will be preceded by a military confrontation.
So he’s been very clear about this. Debating his desire for war or not war is very, very different when it comes to other voices who have been a little bit more careful not to give up their end objective. With Bolton, at least in some ways, perhaps, it’s a little bit easier because he’s very frank about it.
SHARMINI PERIES: Trita, now, at least there is a buffer in terms of this nuclear agreement. It is not a bilateral agreement with the Iranians. It is a multilateral one. There is P5+1. The Europeans have, you know, very clearly articulated their support for it and not wanting to dismantle it. Is that going to have any influence on the Trump-Bolton efforts? I guess I should get Netanyahu to the picture as well.
TRITA PARSI: I think there is an effort from the Europeans and others to try to prevent Trump in going in this direction. By now I think the likelihood of success is very little. Trump doesn’t listen to a lot of people who are even in his own administration, let alone listening to Europeans or others. And the fact that he’s now surrounding himself with people that share his view and desire to kill the Iran deal such as John Bolton, such as Mike Pompeo, and the ousting of individuals like Tillerson and McMaster who were not supporters of the deal but at least did not want the United States to just walk away from it, it’s changing the internal balance within the administration. It’s very difficult to see how the Europeans would be able to be more successful than they have been so far under much better circumstances and trying to protect the deal.
I think to a certain extent the Europeans missed an opportunity, because had they been much firmer much earlier, and had they pushed and cleared the way for investments, et cetera, to come into Iran, perhaps the deal would have been a little bit better insulated right now than it currently is from the type of attacks that the Trump administration is presenting.
SHARMINI PERIES: In your article in Foreign Policy you take up the issue how North Korea would react to the canceling of the agreement. Give us a better sense of why North Korea would even care, since they’re not party to this agreement.
TRITA PARSI: Well, I think the general view in Washington is that it would be foolish for Trump to kill the Iran deal before he goes to North Korea because why would the North Koreans trust Trump if they’ve seen him actually renege on an existing deal. And I think that’s very logical and makes sense. I just don’t believe that Trump is particularly keen on following that type of logic. I think the logic he sees is that if he actually kills the Iran deal before he goes and talks to the North Koreans he will have signal to them in his mind that he is so tough that he’s actually willing to uproot an existing deal if he doesn’t get what he wants. The North Koreans should have no illusions that Trump will walk away from the negotiations if they don’t give him what he wants. It’s a much more of a bullying type of logic that I think he follows.
So I find it not unlikely that he actually would try to kill the deal not just because he hates the deal, but also because he actually believes that it would strengthen his position within North Koreas. I think that’s the wrong analysis. I don’t think that’s true. I think that’s perhaps the way that you would deal with subcontractors in a real estate development project in Manhattan, which is the world that Trump perhaps knows a little bit better. But it’s not the way that you can deal with sovereign states, because sovereign states are not subcontractors of the United States.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Now, Trump seems to be a person who, say, who thinks of himself as the best deal maker there is, and therefore he wants to renegotiate anything that’s in place, including NAFTA, various trade agreements, and so forth. If Trump got his way and he was able to renegotiate the Iran deal on his terms , what would he be asking for, in your assessment?
TRITA PARSI: There is no renegotiation of the Iran deal. He’s never going to be able to get to that point, and I frankly don’t think that that’s actually what he’s looking for. Saying that he wants to renegotiate is just a way of trying to pretend that he’s not killing the deal when in reality he is killing the deal. There is no reason why anyone else would engage in any such negotiations, particularly when the way Trump is approaching this is saying that I want so much more from the Iranians, but I’m not willing to give them anything in return. The Iranians are not idiots. They’re actually pretty good negotiators. And they’re not going to strike a deal with someone as unreliable as Trump who is offering them less than what Obama offered and demanding more. There’s absolutely no incentives for them to do so. This is just a smokescreen for people to think that he’s actually trying to fix something that isn’t broken, whereas in reality he is actually moving towards a situation in which he’s just looking to find an excuse to kill the deal.
SHARMINI PERIES: Trita, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, known as MBS, was recently in the United States. And while he was here he made some very derogatory comments about Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, comparing him to Adolf Hitler. And there seems to be this growing opposition to, to Iran, which is very concerning, particularly given that there’s this alliance forming between Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States. This triangle is a very dangerous one when it comes to the security and peace in the region. Give us a sense of why the United States is forging this alliance and what it means in the region.
TRITA PARSI: Well, I think the reason why you’re seeing this rather unlikely, at least if you look at the region from an ideological prism, it would be very difficult to envision an openly Zionist state striking a deal with an openly Wahhabi state such as Saudi Arabia. But that’s because at the end of the day ideology and religion is not what is driving what is happening in the region. It’s for geopolitics, and from a geopolitical perspective the Saudis and the Israelis see common interest in the sense that they did not want to see a nuclear deal with Iran, not because of the details of the nuclear deal but because a nuclear deal between the United States and Iran and the other states would put an end to three decades of isolating and containing Iran. It would mean that the United States has accepted that Iran is a major power in the region and it has to be included in the regional decision making political and economic processes.
And that’s the nightmare scenario from them, because they prefer to see their rival contained and isolated and weakened, not by their own power but by the power of the United States. And that’s part of the reason, the main reason I would say, that they’ve been so adamantly opposed to the nuclear deal. And with Trump they’re seeing this opportunity to be able to reverse which Obama did and bring back a geopolitical balance in the region that existed not just before the nuclear deal but before the 2003 war, in which the U.S. was in a hegemonic position, strong hegemony. Israel and Saudi Arabia enjoyed maximum maneuverability because their regional rivals were all checked and isolated and contained by the United States.
Now, you can see why that perhaps would be attractive from a Saudi perspective. Why wouldn’t you want to have the superpower essentially check your regional enemy, which you don’t have the power to do yourself? But from an American perspective no one has been able to actually address how does this make sense from a U.S. national interest perspective? Is the United States just supposed to be essentially a proxy army that is used at the will of the House of Saud or others in the region, or does the U.S. actually have its own interests that should be the primary factor dictating its policies?
SHARMINI PERIES: Thank you for joining us, and thank you for watching the Real News Network.