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Former Iranian Ambassador: Trump’s Reimposed Sanctions Against Iran Are an Act of Warfare

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Tensions are escalating between the U.S. and Iran after the Trump administration reimposed economic sanctions against Iran last week. This news followed Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. Trump has threatened other countries seeking to trade with Iran, tweeting, “Anyone doing business with Iran will NOT be doing business with the United States.” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani condemned the sanctions as “psychological warfare,” saying last week he would not begin negotiations until the sanctions are withdrawn. We speak with Ambassador Seyed Hossein Mousavian, Middle East security and nuclear policy specialist at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He served as spokesperson for Iran in its nuclear negotiations with the European Union from 2003 to 2005.

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Video squareStoryMay 22, 2018Pompeo Threatens Iran with Strongest Sanctions in History, Speeding U.S. March Toward War
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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin with a look at escalating tensions between the United States and Iran. On Sunday, the U.S. ambassador to Britain, Woody Johnson, wrote an op-ed in The Telegraph urging Britain to withdraw its support of the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Ambassador Johnson wrote, “America is turning up the pressure and we want the U.K. by our side.”

Johnson’s op-ed comes after the Trump administration reimposed economic sanctions against Iran last week, following Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. The sanctions increase tensions between the U.S. and Iran, and the U.S. and its European allies. Trump has threatened other countries seeking to trade with Iran, tweeting, “Anyone doing business with Iran will NOT be doing business with the United States,” unquote. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani condemned the sanctions as “psychological warfare,” saying last week he would not begin negotiations until the sanctions are withdrawn.

PRESIDENT HASSAN ROUHANI: [translated] The first step would be for U.S. President Donald Trump to show that he genuinely wants to engage in negotiations to solve a problem. What’s the meaning of negotiations when you impose sanctions at the same time? It’s like someone pulling a knife to stab a rival or an enemy in the arm while at the same time claiming we should be talking and negotiating. The answer in such a case would be to say, “Remove the knife from the arm, and put the knife away.”

AMY GOODMAN: Just last month, President Trump said he would meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani whenever Rouhani wants, without preconditions. This is Trump speaking at a White House conference just two weeks ago.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I do believe that they will probably end up wanting to meet. And I’m ready to meet any time they want to. And I don’t do that from strength or from weakness. I think it’s an appropriate thing to do. If we could work something out that’s meaningful, not the waste of paper that the other deal was, I would certainly be willing to meet.

REPORTER: Do you have preconditions for that meeting?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No preconditions, no. If they want to meet, I’ll meet. Any time they want. Any time they want. It’s good for the country, good for them, good for us and good for the world. No preconditions. If they want to meet, I’ll meet.

AMY GOODMAN: Only hours later, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a slew of preconditions for a possible meeting, including Iran being willing to enter into a new nuclear deal.

Well, for more, we’re joined now by Ambassador Seyed Hossein Mousavian, Middle East security and nuclear policy specialist at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. From 2003 to 2005, he served as spokesperson for Iran in its nuclear negotiations with the European Union. He’s author of The Iranian Nuclear Crisis: A Memoir and, most recently, Iran and the United States: An Insider’s View on the Failed Past and the Road to Peace.

Ambassador, welcome back to Democracy Now! Thank you for joining us from Princeton University. Why don’t we start off with the latest news? You have the U.S. ambassador to Britain, Woody Johnson, pressuring Britain to pull out of the U.S. nuclear deal, following the United States, which Trump did, and the imposition of sanctions by the United States last week on Iran.

SEYED HOSSEIN MOUSAVIAN: As you know, the Iranian nuclear deal was the result of 13 years of negotiation between Iran and the world powers. The U.S. engaged in negotiation in 2013 and had also bilateral meetings—intrusive, frequent bilateral meetings—from 2013 to 2015. Ultimately, Iran and the U.S., Iran and the world powers, agreed on the nuclear deal. The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution approving the deal. And two years after deal, Iran has fully complied with all its commitments. The IAEA, International Atomic Energy Agency, which is the sole agency responsible for supervising the nuclear program of member states, has 11 times, since 2016, confirmed Iran’s full compliance with the nuclear deal.

Now, the U.S. is the only U.N. Security Council member withdrew from the deal, violated the deal. This is bad. This is a big mistake. This is a violation of international law and regulations by the United States of America. However, what you mentioned, the U.S. ambassador wrote an op-ed in London pressuring the U.K. to join the U.S. to violate the United Nations Security Council and to withdraw from the deal. The U.S. is doing such a move with every European member. The U.S. is pushing all international community, all other countries. And this is really something very strange and perhaps unprecedented.

The United States is the most powerful country in the world and the most powerful member of the United Nations Security Council, which all five permanent members are responsible for full implementation of the U.N. Security Council resolutions passed by themselves. Now, not only the U.S. is violating the deal itself, but pushing the other international—other countries, other members of permanent Security Council, to violate the U.N. Security Council. This is really something unprecedented and very, very strange, and at the same time very dangerous for international peace, order and security.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about the effects of the sanctions reimposed last week by President Trump against Iran?

SEYED HOSSEIN MOUSAVIAN: I would say there would be an effect on Iranian economy. Iranians definitely would be harmed. I have no doubt about it. Already we have seen some negative consequences on the Iranian economy. However, I need to mention perhaps three points.

The first point is the fact that Iran has been under U.S. sanctions for 40 years. Therefore, I can say Iranians are the most experienced country and nation on the U.S. sanctions. They have been able to handle the U.S. sanctions, international sanctions, multilateral sanctions, and survive and continue their strategies, domestically or regionally or internationally.

The second point is that during the first term of President Obama, the U.S. was able to create international consensus to bring U.N. Security Council sanctioning Iran. It means it was international consensus. Russia agreed. China agreed. It was because there were six U.N. resolutions on the Iranian nuclear program which Iran was not ready to accept. However, this time, while the deal has been achieved, while Iran has signed, the U.S. signed, the other permanent members of United Nations Security Council, they signed, the U.N. passed resolution, and Iran has fully complied with every commitment. Now the U.S. is practically isolated to bringing new sanctions or reimposing the sanctions, and therefore the other countries, like Russia, China, Europe, India, they are not going to violate the United Nations Security Council, and they are going to continue business with Iran. Therefore, I believe President Trump would not be able to create international consensus reimposing the new sanctions. This is the second issue.

The third issue, which is, I believe, is more important, Iranian economy is under many, many difficulties, like corruption, like dysfunctionality, like smuggling, like inflation, and they have a lot of problems. This has been problem since 1979, when Saddam invaded Iran. Iran had eight years’ war, and after war, the U.S. pushed for many, many sanctions against Iran. However, I believe at least 50 percent of Iranian domestic economic problem is not because of the sanctions. They are because of the domestic dysfunctionality of different system, whether this is the government or other system. Therefore, if Iran is going to resist the sanctions, they would need to address the dysfunctionalities of their own system. Therefore, this is one reality about dysfunctionality of Iranian domestic economic system. The other reality is that the U.S. is not going to be able to create international consensus, and therefore, I believe, Iran would be harmed, but President Trump would fail to capitulate Iran to bring to—to come to negotiation under sanctions and pressures.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let me ask you about President Trump and his increasing threats against Iran. Last month, he tweeted to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, ”NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE.” This was in all caps. Later, National Security Adviser John Bolton doubled down, saying, quote, “President Trump told me that if Iran does anything at all to the negative, they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid before,” unquote. This comes after, in May, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo using his first policy address as secretary of state to threaten Iran with the strongest sanctions in history. This is what he said.

SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO: We will apply unprecedented financial pressure on the Iranian regime. The leaders in Tehran will have no doubt about our seriousness. Thanks to our colleagues at the Department of Treasury, sanctions are going back in full effect, and new ones are coming. Last week, we imposed sanctions on the head of Iran’s Central Bank and other entities that were funneling money to the IRGC Quds Force. They were also providing money to Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations.

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Ambassador Seyed Hossein Mousavian, talk about what this means and also the possibility that President Trump might meet with Rouhani in a kind of side meeting in New York at the U.N. General Assembly when world leaders come.

SEYED HOSSEIN MOUSAVIAN: Let me respond to your questions. You have two questions. The first one is about threatening. I believe threatening is really bad, is against the United Nation Charter. Whether Iran—if Iran is threatening the U.S. or the U.S. is threatening the Iranians, this is a clear violation of the U.N. Security—the U.N. Charter. However, the fact is that President Trump started to threaten Iran. The first threatening was violation of the nuclear deal, violation of United Nations Security Council resolution, violation of 11 resolutions of the IAEA, International Atomic Energy Agency. The second threat came by President Trump administration was the official statement by John Bolton and Pompeo for regime change in Iran. They frequently mention that they are after regime change in Iran. The third threat from the U.S. side was when the U.S. said they are going to bring Iranian oil export to zero. Therefore, I think already President Trump started, clicked the trend of threatening by regime change strategy, by all options on the table, including literally a strike on Iran, by sanctioning Iran, by violating the nuclear deal, and by—for the first time, it was a statement from the United States of America to say that they are going to bring Iranian oil export to zero. Even during the war, Saddam’s invasion of Iran, 1980 to 1988, when the U.S. was supporting Saddam in war against Iran, never the U.S. said that “I’m going to bring Iranian oil export to zero.” That’s why I believe President Trump has gone beyond threatening Iran. President Trump publicly has announced economic war, political war with Iran, short of military war. Therefore, Iranians also they would respond, and they would threaten the U.S. by closing the Strait of Hormuz in order not to let any other country to export oil, if Iran is not permitted to export oil. That’s why a threat is against threat, came for the first time from the U.S. side.

Now, about your second question, whether any negotiation would be possible or not, my first response is that while Iran and the U.S. already agreed on a deal and the U.S. violated, how Iranians they can trust the U.S. to enter a new negotiation? Let’s say there would be a new negotiation. Let’s say there would be an agreement with President Trump. Who can guarantee the next U.S. president would not come and would not violate it? President Obama agreed. It was not bilateral agreement; it was international agreement. It had U.N. resolution. Despite of all this, President Trump, after Obama, publicly said it was a bad mistake and “I’m going to kill it.” How the U.S. can assure Iranians, if there is a negotiation, if there is an agreement, the next U.S. president is not going to do what President Trump did with Obama’s negotiation? This is the first question.

Second, what is the base? President Trump, if he really wants a normal relation with Iran, then we have three criteria. The first criteria is a Treaty of Amity between Iran and the U.S. signed 1955, which is for economic relations and consular rights. Yes, Iran and the U.S., they have many problem about their citizens, in Iran, in the U.S., and there is already a treaty between Iran and the U.S. resolving all consular and citizen issues. Yes, President Trump is willing to have a share of the nuclear deal, to have economic share, to have some share for the U.S., but 1955 treaty has defined excellent economic relations between Iran and the U.S. Iran recently has filed a lawsuit against the new sanctions imposed by the U.S. at the International Court in Hague, based on Treaty of Amity 1955. When Iran is filing a lawsuit against the U.S. based on this amity treaty, it means Iran practically recognizes this amity. Now, this can be a criteria number one for President Trump to go back to the Treaty of Amity 1955 between Iran and the U.S.

The second is 1981 accord between Iran and the U.S. After 25 years of U.S. support for shah in Iran, dictatorship dominating Iran, there was a revolution. Iranians took some Americans as hostages in Iran. There was a big problem. Ultimately, Iran and the U.S., in 1981, met each other in Algeria, and they signed an accord defining how Iran and the U.S. can have normal relations based on mutual respect and noninterference. This accord was signed between Iran and the U.S. Right after the signature, Iran freed the hostages, and the U.S., rather than implementing this accord for a normal relation with Iran, the U.S. cut the relation with Iran and went to support Saddam Hussein invading Iran, participated in a war against Iran.

The third criteria is the nuclear deal, signed by the U.S., approved by United Nations Security Council. President Trump should tell Iranian which of these treaties, agreements, accords are going to be criteria for the future of Iran and the U.S. I think Iran and the U.S. already they have two major accords, which really can create a new relation, can be foundation for a new relation between Iran and the U.S. But President Trump should assure Iran about the basis, about the foundation, about the criteria. The U.S. violated 1955 Treaty of Amity. The U.S. violated 1985 accord. And the U.S. violated the nuclear deal 2015. Then what?

AMY GOODMAN: What about President Trump threatening any country that does business with Iran, saying the U.S. won’t do business with them?

SEYED HOSSEIN MOUSAVIAN: This is exactly what I said, a new and unprecedented phenomenon in international relations, because the nuclear deal has—clearly states in the nuclear—I mean, you would see in the nuclear deal stating that all member, all signatories are committed to facilitate normal economic relation with Iran. Therefore, based on the nuclear deal, all signatories—Germany, Europeans, U.K., France, Russia, China and all other countries, including the U.S., which is the signatory of the deal—is responsible for facilitating normal economic relation of other countries—between other countries and Iran.

Now, the U.S. withdrew from the deal, violated the agreement, imposed new sanctions. This is one big issue. United Nations Security Council is violating its own resolution, the U.N. resolution. And the second unprecedented phenomenon is that the U.S. is pushing the other member states of United Nations Security Council to violate United Nations Security Council resolution, to stop business with Iran. Therefore, the U.S. also should say, should tell its own people, international community: Is really the United States of America responsible for implementation of United Nations Security Council resolution or blocking of implementation of United Nations Security Council resolutions?

AMY GOODMAN: Ambassador Seyed Hossein Mousavian, as you teach at Princeton University, what do you think is the greatest misconception Americans have about Iran?

SEYED HOSSEIN MOUSAVIAN: See, Iran and the U.S., they have had no relation for 40 years. Therefore, it is normal, it is natural, that there are many misunderstandings, miscalculations, misperceptions on the American side and even on the Iranian side, to be fair. Iranians also they really cannot understand exactly what’s going on in the U.S. The realities of United States is not well known to Iranians. And more, the realities of Iranian domestic situation, political situation is not known to Americans. And, unfortunately, the President Trump administration has relied on enemies of Iran, like terrorist groups of MEK in Washington, getting their agenda from this terrorist group. They are a terrorist group like ISIS, like al-Qaeda.

The biggest, I think, misperception and misunderstanding is that they think Iran is after destabilizing the region, while Iran is really after stabilizing the region, because a destabled region, Iran would be the first or among the most important countries to suffer. Iran really has invested in Iraq and Syria to fight ISIS in order to bring stability. Iran cooperated with the United States of America 2005, after the U.S. announced the “war on terror” and attacked Afghanistan. Iran shaked hands with the United States to cooperate with the U.S. to fight al-Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan. And after the fall of Saddam, practically Iranian allies, they supported—they cooperated with the U.S. to bring a new structure in Iraq, which was based on the rule of majority, power sharing, free election, new constitution. It was exactly what Iran and the U.S. experienced in Afghanistan in a joint cooperation, Iran and the U.S. experienced in Iraq in a joint cooperation. And they have been fighting ISIS together, despite of all animosities and hostilities. Therefore, this is very important for United States of America to understand what real, legitimate security concern Iran has in the region, in order to understand Iranian regional behavior.

The second big misunderstanding about the—on the U.S. policy is that all administrations of United States of America, they had a dual-track policy, pressure and sanction, coercion strategy, and at the same time asking for negotiation. They were thinking Iran would capitulate under pressures and sanctions, and they would come to the negotiation table, and they would accept whatever United States is asking. This has been experienced for 40 years by every administration, whether Democrat and Republicans, and all have failed. And now the main U.S. concern today, after 40 years of military war, economic war, political war, intelligence war, covert war, cyberwar against Iran—now the main U.S. complaint is that why Iran is the most powerful, most influential country in the region. Now I’m telling President Trump, if United States has experienced every coercive—coercion strategies against Iran and failed after 40 years, now why you are going to experience again the policies which already has failed?

AMY GOODMAN: Ambassador—

SEYED HOSSEIN MOUSAVIAN: Therefore, it’s better to go back to the treaties already signed between Iran and the U.S.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you so much for being with us, Seyed Hossein Mousavian, Middle East security and nuclear policy specialist at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, served as spokesperson for Iran in its nuclear negotiations with the European Union from 2003 to '05, author of The Iranian Nuclear Crisis: A Memoir and _Iran and the United States: An Insider's View on the Failed Past and the Road to Peace_.

When we come back, as more than 100 wildfires rage across the U.S., we go to Colorado to speak with two protesters who interrupted a speech by the most investigated secretary of the Trump administration currently sitting. That’s Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. They asked why he refuses to talk about the link between fires and climate change. Stay with us.

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