- Trita Parsifounder and president of the National Iranian American Council. His most recent book is titled Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy.
- Medea Benjaminco-founder of CodePink. Her latest book is titled Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran. She is also the author of Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S.-Saudi Connection.
European nations are scrambling to save the landmark nuclear agreement with Iran, one day after President Trump announced he would pull the United States out of the deal and reimpose sanctions on Iran. The 2015 agreement was worked out by the United States, five other world powers and Iran. Former President Obama described Trump’s decision to withdraw as a serious mistake and warned it could lead to another war in the Middle East. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani responded by saying Iran would continue to abide by the agreement and would not renew its nuclear program for now. For more, we speak with Trita Parsi, founder and president of the National Iranian American Council. His most recent book is titled “Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy.” We also speak with Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CodePink. Her latest book is titled “Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” She is also the author of “Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S.-Saudi Connection.”
More from this Interview
- Part 1: Trump Pulls United States Out of Iran Nuclear Deal, Dramatically Escalating Threat of War with Iran
- Part 2: Trita Parsi: I Was Targeted by Black Cube in Dirty Ops Effort Attacking Supporters of Iran Deal
- Part 3: Medea Benjamin: The Peace Movement Must Mobilize to Support Diplomacy in Iran & North Korea
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: European nations are scrambling to save the landmark nuclear agreement with Iran, one day after President Trump announced he would pull the United States out of the deal and reimpose sanctions on Iran.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have also consulted with our friends from across the Middle East. We are unified in our understanding of the threat and in our conviction that Iran must never acquire a nuclear weapon. After these consultations, it is clear to me that we cannot prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb, under the decaying and rotten structure of the current agreement. The Iran deal is defective at its core. If we do nothing, we know exactly what will happen. In just a short period of time, the world’s leading state sponsor of terror will be on the cusp of acquiring the world’s most dangerous weapon. Therefore, I am announcing today that the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The 2015 agreement was worked out by the United States, five other world powers and Iran. Former President Obama described Trump’s decision to withdraw as a serious mistake and warned it could lead to another war in the Middle East. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani responded by saying Iran would continue to abide by the agreement and would not renew its nuclear program for now. Trump’s decision was praised by Israel and U.S. allies in the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, but widely criticized across much of the world. Earlier today, the top European Union diplomat, Federica Mogherini, urged the international community to stick to the Iran nuclear deal despite Trump’s decision.
FEDERICA MOGHERINI: The nuclear deal with Iran is the culmination of 12 years of diplomacy. It belongs to the entire international community. It has been working, and it is delivering on its goal, which is guaranteeing that Iran doesn’t develop nuclear weapons. The European Union is determined to preserve it. We expect the rest of the international community to continue to do its part to guarantee that it continues to be fully implemented, for the sake of our own collective security. Let me conclude with a message to the Iranian citizens and leaders, to each and every one of them: Do not let anyone dismantle this agreement. It is one of the biggest achievements diplomacy has ever delivered, and we have built this together.
AMY GOODMAN: We are joined right now by two guests: Trita Parsi, founder and president of the National Iranian American Council, most recent book, Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy, and Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CodePink. Her brand-new book is titled Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran, also author of Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S.-Saudi Connection.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Trita Parsi, let’s begin with you. So, President Trump said he would do this repeatedly. John Bolton has said for years he wanted to bomb Iran. And now, yesterday at 2:00 Eastern time, President Trump made the announcement he’s pulling out of the agreement. The significance of this for Iran and for the world?
TRITA PARSI: I think we need to stop underestimating Trump. People didn’t think that he was going to win the elections; he did. People didn’t think that he would pull out of Paris; he did. People didn’t think that he would dismantle many of these other agreements that he’s been talking about, and he has done that. And now he’s also walked out of the Iran deal. He imposed the Muslim ban. All of the things that he said that he would do, he has done. And as a result, we should be very careful not to underestimate the risk of war now, mindful of the warlike language that Trump now has begun to use, with John Bolton standing right behind him.
I think this is an extremely dangerous situation, much more dangerous than we had in 2011 and 2012, because even though the United States was inching closer to a war with Iran back then and Iran was moving forward with its nuclear program, back then there was still a diplomatic option that had not been exhausted, and there was political will on both sides to pursue that diplomatic option. Trump has eliminated all diplomatic options, and he clearly doesn’t have any political will to pursue diplomacy. So, as we are now back into a situation in which we’re inching closer to a war, we’re in a worse situation because we don’t see any exit ramps.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Trita, one of the aspects of this is not only that he’s pulling the United States out of the agreement, but that—also the threats to punish European companies who then violate sanctions, reimposed sanctions by the United States. The impact of this on the other U.S. allies?
TRITA PARSI: Well, the impact of that will be that it will become very difficult for the rest of the world to, essentially, ensure that this deal survives, because even if the governments make something that many people don’t expect them to be able to do, which is to actually put forward blocking mechanisms and counter-sanctions in order to protect their companies so they can continue to trade with Iran, because that trade is legal—even if they do that, there’s a very high likelihood that many of the companies will choose not to enter the Iranian market, because they don’t want to lose access to the American market. As a result, the Iranians will not end up getting what they have been promised as a result of them restricting their nuclear program. So, there is a great difficulty seeing how this deal can survive, unless there is some massive international mobilization to make sure that these extraterritorial sanctions, imposed by the United States on the rest of the world, including on U.S. allies, are just completely rejected, on the principle that the United States is not in a position to pass laws on other countries.
AMY GOODMAN: Interestingly, Rex Tillerson, former secretary of state, closed down the sanctions office in the State Department and the sanctions office in Treasury. These are the two places that enforce sanctions. The head of it for the last three years, John Smith, just left on Friday. I wanted to ask you about Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, his statement that Iran would remain committed to the agreement, formally known as the JCPOA, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
PRESIDENT HASSAN ROUHANI: [translated] I have instructed the Foreign Ministry to carry out, over the next few weeks, all necessary discussions and consultations with the European signatories to the JCPOA and two other key countries—that’s Russia and China—in order to coordinate issues with them. If at the conclusion of these talks, which will be held over a short and specific period, we can see that we can work with these five countries, minus the United States, on the commitments outlined in the JCPOA, that are of benefit to the Iranian nation, then we will remain in the agreement, despite the wishes to the contrary of the United States and the Zionist regime, their efforts to undermine the deal and the inappropriate words tonight from Trump. We will take steps toward peace and security in the region and the wider world. But if we see that our interests cannot be guaranteed, then I will address the Iranian nation, and I will inform them of the government’s decisions. Tonight, the United States officially announced that it does not respect international treaties. Mr. Trump, even before taking action against the JCPOA, had rejected his country’s commitment to the Paris climate accord and decided to leave an agreement which is of great benefit and importance to the world’s environment.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s the Iranian leader, Rouhani. Medea Benjamin, you’re co-founder of CodePink. Your book has just come out this week, Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Talk about what he is saying and also who this serves, who wanted this—Saudi Arabia, Israel, UAE—who didn’t want it—well, the European countries and Iran—and who President Trump is allying with now.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, you said it, Amy. President Trump is allying with a very narrow—very, very narrow sliver of countries. And that is basically Israel and Saudi Arabia. He is talking about Iran as the spreader of terrorism in the Middle East. But look at who has been the basis of the—ISIS and al-Qaeda: has been Saudi Arabia, not Iran. You look at who has been meddling in the internal affairs in the Middle East. First of all, it’s the U.S. The U.S. has no business to be in the Middle East, but we have been, since the time of the invasion of Iraq, destroying country after country.
And you look at the issue of who has nuclear weapons. I think it’s important just to say the incredible hypocrisy, first, of the United States, that has thousands of nuclear weapons, as does Russia, but then, of Netanyahu being the one to, quote, “expose” Iran, when Israel has lied about its nuclear weapons program. Israel has hundreds of nuclear weapons. Israel refuses to join the Nonproliferation Treaty, refuses to have any international inspectors. And this is the person that Donald Trump is listening to about supposed Iranian violations. Let’s be clear: Iran does not have nuclear weapons; Israel has hundreds of them. Iran has actually called for a nuclear weapons-free Middle East, which I think we should all get on board for.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break, then come back to this discussion with Medea Benjamin—her new book, Inside Iran—and Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “City of Delusion” by Muse. The headline, the banner headline across the full front page of the Times: “Trump Abandons Iran Pact He Long Scorned.” Our guests, to respond, Trita Parsi, Natonal Iranian American Council; Medea Benjamin, her new book, Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Trita, I wanted to ask you about Sheldon Adelson, who is the billionaire casino magnate who was Donald Trump’s biggest campaign contributor. Adelson was a major critic of the Iran deal. In 2013, he suggested the U.S. should launch a nuclear strike in the desert of Iran as a warning shot before holding negotiations. And President Trump is scheduled to meet with his biggest campaign contributor today.
TRITA PARSI: Yes, indeed. I think one of the problems with trying to analyze Donald Trump is that people have tried to use their regular models of trying to figure out what are the geopolitical calculations behind various moves that he’s making. But this is an individual that doesn’t not understand geopolitics, doesn’t think along those lines. And I think it’s much easier to get an understanding of what he is thinking and what he’s seeking to do by looking at who is paying him and looking at where those type of interests are. And it’s very clear that, you know, Adelson has not only argued for war with Iran more than anyone else, but he’s also been arguing for a nuclear strike against Iran. And he’s the main funder of many, many of the groups that have been pushing the United States to go in this direction and have a military confrontation with Iran. So, I think what this all brings us to—
AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s play a clip of Sheldon Adelson, Trita, to hear directly what he has to say.
SHELDON ADELSON: What I would say is, “Listen, you see that desert out there? I want to show you something.” So you pick up your cellphone, even at—even at traveling rates. You pick up your cellphone. And what do they call them?
RABBI SHMULEY BOTEACH: Roaming charges.
SHELDON ADELSON: Roaming charges. You pick up your cellphone, and you call somewhere in Nebraska, and you say, “OK, let it go.” So there’s an atomic weapon, goes over ballistic missiles, in the middle of the desert, that doesn’t hurt a soul—maybe a couple of rattlesnakes and scorpions or whatever. And then you—and then you say, “See? The next one is in the middle of Tehran. So, we mean business. You want to be wiped out? Go ahead and take a tough position and continue with your nuclear development.”
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino magnate and major Republican and Trump donor, in his own words, talking about the United States sending a signal that we mean business, Trita.
TRITA PARSI: Indeed. And I think what we should see here is that this decision, this decision to kill this deal, as Trump has now made, this is the moment that this situation actually was turned into a crisis. Because we had a triumph of diplomacy. This deal was working. The only thing that wasn’t working with this deal was that the United States, under Trump, was cheating on it. If we now, six months, nine months, 12 months from now, end up in a military confrontation with Iran, as Sheldon Adelson wants, we should remember that conflict was started yesterday, when Donald Trump decided to cheat on this nuclear deal and pull the United States out of it.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to President Trump’s new national security adviser, John Bolton. Last year, before he joined the Trump administration, he addressed MEK, the group of Iranian exiles who have called for regime change in Iran. MEK was once on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations, before reinventing itself. This is what John Bolton said then.
JOHN BOLTON: I have said for over 10 years, since coming to these events, that the declared policy of the United States of America should be the overthrow of the mullah’s regime in Tehran. The behavior and the objectives of the regime are not going to change, and therefore the only solution is to change the regime itself. And that’s—and that’s why, before 2019, we here will celebrate in Tehran. Thank you very much.
AMY GOODMAN: John Bolton saying, “We here will celebrate in Tehran.” On Saturday, Trump’s new attorney, Rudy Giuliani, spoke at a conference organized by the group that’s allied with the exiled Iranian group MEK—again, once considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.
RUDY GIULIANI: We’ve got a president who’s tough, a president who doesn’t listen to the people who are naysayers, and a president that is as committed to regime change as we are.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Rudy Giuliani and John Bolton. Medea Benjamin, can you respond to what they’re saying? Of course, John Bolton, that’s just one of the later comments he made. Continually, over the years, he has pushed for bombing Iran.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, yes. And he’s very clear that, for him, this is about regime change, just as the spectacle of Giuliani speaking at this Iran Freedom Convention that took place over the weekend in Washington, D.C., where he spit on his piece of paper as if it were the Iran nuclear deal, and talked about meeting with the MEK in Tehran, that they were going to somehow miraculously take over from the government in power now. Let’s be clear: This is a group that was not only on the terrorist list until 2012, but a group that has probably about zero popularity inside Iran, from the time that it sided with Saddam Hussein against the Iranian people during that brutal 8-year war from 1980 to 1988. This is a cult-like group that would in no way be a group that could take over from the present government in Iran. But this is the delusion of people that are surrounding Donald Trump.
So, it is so dangerous that we’ve pulled out of the nuclear deal, but it’s also so incredibly dangerous that the person in the White House has no sense of history of how we have meddled in Iran’s affairs, overthrowing their democratically elected government in 1953, that paved the way for the Islamic revolution in '79, interfered internally in Iran's affairs in all kinds of ways, from hundreds of millions of dollars spent on covert activities and crippling sanctions. And in some ways, this only strengthens the regime in power. And so, I think the pulling out of the nuclear deal strengthens the hard-liners in Iran, makes people feel they have to rally around the flag, rally around the government. And it certainly does not help anyone inside Iran who wants to see more gradual kinds of reforms for a more democratic government inside Iran.