- Reza Sayahfreelance journalist based in Tehran, Iran.
- Trita Parsithe founder and president of the National Iranian American Council. He’s the author of Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Legacy of Diplomacy.
Amid news of the Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, we turn now to look at whether President Donald Trump is trying to sabotage the Obama-brokered nuclear agreement with Iran and seek a war with Iran. According to The Washington Post, Trump is expected to announce next week the deal is not in the United States’ national interest, and will move to “decertify” the deal. If this happens, Congress will decide whether or not to reinstate harsh economic sanctions against Iran, potentially tanking the landmark deal. The move comes despite the fact the Trump administration begrudgingly certified that Iran has complied with its obligations under the agreement earlier this year, as has the International Atomic Energy Agency, which closely monitors Iran’s activities.
AMY GOODMAN: Amidst the news of the Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, we turn to look at whether President Trump is trying to sabotage the Obama-brokered nuclear agreement with Iran and seek a war with Iran. According to The Washington Post, Trump is expected to announce next week the deal is not in the U.S. national interest, and will move to decertify the deal. If this happens, Congress will decide whether or not to reinstate harsh economic sanctions against Iran, potentially tanking the landmark deal. The move comes despite the fact the Trump administration begrudgingly certified that Iran has complied with its obligations under the agreement earlier this year. Also, the International Atomic Energy Agency has said this, which closely monitors Iran’s activities. Speaking to the U.N. General Assembly last month, President Trump slammed the Iran nuclear deal.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into. Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it, believe me. It is time for the entire world to join us in demanding that Iran’s government end its pursuit of death and destruction. It is time for the regime to free all Americans and citizens of other nations that they have unjustly detained. And, above all, Iran’s government must stop supporting terrorists, begin serving its own people and respect the sovereign rights of its neighbors.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, on Thursday night, Trump issued a cryptic threat during a meeting with military leaders, saying this is “the calm before the storm.”
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You guys know what this represents? Maybe it’s the calm before the storm.
REPORTER 1: What’s the storm, Mr. President?
REPORTER 2: What does that mean?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Could be, the calm, the calm before the storm.
REPORTER 2: What storm, Mr. President?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have the world’s great military people in this room. I will tell you that. And we’re going to have a great evening. Thank you all for coming. Thank you.”
REPORTER 2: What storm, Mr. President?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You’ll find out.
AMY GOODMAN: “You’ll find out.” That’s what President Trump’s answer was when reporters asked him about what he meant by his words, this is “the calm before the storm,” Trump’s comments following his recent admonishment of his military leaders during a Cabinet meeting, telling them, “Moving forward, I also expect you to provide me with a broad range of military options, when needed, at a much faster pace,” unquote.
If the Iran nuclear deal collapses, Iran can begin producing uranium and reprocessing plutonium immediately, rather than waiting for 13 years as required under the agreement. Both Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Mattis have urged Trump to uphold the agreement. This is Mattis speaking to senators just Tuesday.
DEFENSE SECRETARY JAMES MATTIS: If we can confirm that Iran is living by the agreement, if we can determine that this is in our best interest, then, clearly, we should stay with it. I believe, at this point in time, absent indications to the contrary, it is something the president should consider staying with.
AMY GOODMAN: The New York Times reports the Trump administration plans to take a broader hard-line stance toward Iran, including cracking down on the country’s ballistic missile program and its alleged involvement in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere in the Middle East.
For more, we go to Tehran, Iran, where we’re joined by Democracy Now! video stream by Reza Sayah, a freelance journalist who covered Iran for CNN International for over seven years. After his coverage of the 2009 anti-government protests, Iranian authorities denied him permission to work there for two years. Sayah later returned to Tehran to report on the ongoing nuclear talks, the 2013 presidential elections, the signing of the interim nuclear deal and, most recently, the 2017 Iranian presidential elections.
Welcome to Democracy Now! Let’s start off just by asking your response to this news that President Trump will decertify the Iran nuclear deal next week. How have people responded in Iran?
REZA SAYAH: Amy, first off, let’s pass along some new information. I just spoke an hour ago by phone to Bahram Ghassemi, the spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry. He’s aware of the report by The Washington Post last night. He said he’s going to reserve comment until the Trump administration makes an official announcement.
As far as this news goes, I think a lot of people were curious what Mr. Trump was going to decide next week. I think a lot of people were eager to hear what he was going to decide. They weren’t sure. Obviously, throughout his campaign for the presidency, he was speaking out against this deal, calling it the worst deal ever, an embarrassment. That kind of rhetoric continued through the early months of his presidency; after his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, came out with statements suggesting that he was going to go after this deal. And indications are that the stage is set for Mr. Trump to make an effort to, at the very least, undermine, destabilize and weaken this deal.
What’s striking is this, that the entire international community, all other members of the P5+1, all other world powers, the IAEA, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, all of these governments, all of these states, all of these groups, are saying that this deal is working, that the deal is fulfilling its narrow objective of rolling back Iran's nuclear program. Essentially, it’s two countries that are against this deal: the U.S., led by a Republican president, and the Israeli government, led by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And it looks like these two countries are going to go against international consensus and, at the very least, weaken this deal. We’ll see what happens in the coming weeks.
AMY GOODMAN: And the news that Jim Mattis, who is the secretary of defense, said just Tuesday, in testimony before Congress, that he supports the deal? Of course, the U.S. has said that Iran has lived up to its part of the agreement.
REZA SAYAH: Yeah, they have. And I think it’s going to be important to see what happens in the coming weeks. There’s a few things to remember. First off, the U.S. does not have unilateral authority to destroy this deal. This deal belongs to the U.N. Security Council, the international community. It’s endorsed by the U.N. Security Council. And the certification process, whereby the U.S. president every 90 days has to certify this agreement to the U.S. Congress, is not part of this agreement. Iran used this as an internal matter with the U.S. So Iran may not see this as a violation, may not see decertification as a violation, and, therefore, may not take drastic measures to respond, which could include restarting their nuclear program.
So I think, in the coming days and weeks, the key is what the announcement is going to be. Is there a strategy behind it? And in the 60 days where Congress has to decide whether to reimpose unilateral nuclear-related sanctions, will they do that? Because if they do indeed do that, then it’s very likely Iran will see this as a violation, and that could escalate things.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, what would renewed sanctions mean against Iran for the people, for the economy?
REZA SAYAH: I think it would mean a loss of the glimmer of hope that they had back in 2015, when this was signed. The moderacy or the liberals were very much hoping that this deal would lead to better relations with the West, with the international community, that it would lead to a better economy. I think that hope will certainly erode. But in many ways, Iranians are used to this kind of treatment. In many ways, they haven’t seen any tangible benefits from this deal, because the economy hasn’t improved. And if this indeed unfolds in a way where tensions escalate and the deal is undermined, I think they’ll see this as more evidence that the intention of the U.S. government is to isolate—economically isolate and politically isolate—a country like Iran. It doesn’t serve the U.S. interest. It’s not a client state like other countries in the region—Saudi Arabia, Israel, to name two.
AMY GOODMAN: Reza Sayah, I want to thank you for being with us, freelance journalist based in Tehran, Iran, speaking to us there, covered Iran for CNN International for over seven years, was denied permission to work in Iran for two years.
We’re also joined, in Washington, D.C., by Trita Parsi. Trita Parsi is the founder and president of the National Iranian American Council.
Trita, you’re author of Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Legacy of Diplomacy. What news do you have in Washington? It was The Washington Post that reports that Trump will decertify the landmark deal, that is not just between the United States and Iran, but between a number of countries, next week. And explain what that means, what role the president plays and what role Congress plays.
TRITA PARSI: Thank you, Amy. This was not entirely unexpected. People knew that the Trump administration was looking for ways to get out of the deal. And much of the focus has been: Would Congress reimpose sanctions once the president shifts this issue onto them?
But I think a more important matter may actually be what Trump himself chooses to do outside of the nuclear deal, once he has decertified—this little comment he gave about that this is the calm before the storm. The buzz here is that there’s going to be a very significant ramping up, an escalation, in the region against Iran, potentially including shooting down Iranian airplanes, sinking Iranian ships in the Persian Gulf, targeting Iranian troops or Iranian-allied troops in Iraq and in Syria. This has been the preference by some in Washington for quite some time, a belief that the United States, for far too long, had not been tough enough against the Iranians. This was also something that had been suggested by some in the Pentagon to the Obama administration. It was rejected, mainly because of the belief that this idea that you can have a small war with Iran is really not workable. How do you prevent a small war from becoming a really big war?
AMY GOODMAN: So, what will happen in Congress? What is your sense, being right there, covering these issues extremely closely, what Congress will do? And the significance of President Trump pulling out of this landmark Iran deal, despite the fact that the Trump administration has certified that Iran has lived up to its side of the bargain, him pulling out right after the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons?
TRITA PARSI: Yeah, so, before I go into Congress, let me just say one thing. If we take a step back, for the last 37 years, there’s really only been one example in which the United States has been able to change in a significant way a core Iranian policy. And that has been through these nuclear negotiations. Everything else that has been tried, from sanctions to pressure to sabotage to threats of war, have failed. The only success we have is this nuclear deal. So if the Trump administration is concerned about Iranian policies in the region, then if it truly wishes to see a change there, there is a proven path that can lead to that, which is additional negotiations. For it to choose to walk out of this nuclear deal and then pursue a path that has a proven track record of failure, that can only really make sense if you want to see an escalation that could lead to war. If that is not your intent, it really is baffling as to why the president would be doing what he’s doing right now.
Now, when it comes to Congress, Congress is not eager to take on this issue. They already have too many issues on their plate, and they have not really managed to address any of them effectively. But also, it’s easy for Congress to oppose this nuclear deal in 2015, particularly amongst the Republicans, when they kind of understood that their vote was inconsequential. At this point, they will own the disaster that will follow if they reimpose sanctions that violate the deal and causes the deal’s collapse. And this is causing a lot of second thought in Congress right now, and the anger or frustration that exists that they feel that the president is pushing this issue onto them instead.
Choosing not to do anything doesn’t not seem to be too likely, either, in Congress. So, there’s likely going to be some sort of a measure. And the measure, then, that’s going to be important to see, will it be a reimposition of the old sanctions, which would be a clear violation of the deal, or are they going to try to find a third route that doesn’t violate the deal explicitly, so that they can say, “Well, we’re not the ones responsible for collapsing this deal”?
AMY GOODMAN: Trita Parsi, I want to thank you for being with us, president and founder of the National Iranian American Council, author of the book Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Legacy of Diplomacy.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we go to Las Vegas. Stay with us.