- Seyed Hossein MousavianMiddle East security and nuclear policy specialist at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, 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.
The Pentagon has reportedly drawn up a plan to send as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East if President Trump decides to take military action against Iran. The New York Times reports the Pentagon presented the proposal on Thursday after national security adviser John Bolton requested a revision to an earlier plan. Bolton has long advocated for attacking Iran. According to the Pentagon, far more than 120,000 troops would be needed if a ground invasion was ordered. This comes as tension continues to escalate between the United States and Iran. The United States recently deployed the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the region, claiming there was a “credible threat by Iranian regime forces.” Iran has announced it will stop complying with parts of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal and resume high-level enrichment of uranium in 60 days if other signatories of the deal do not take action to shield Iran’s oil and banking sectors from U.S. sanctions. The U.S. has attempted to cut Iran off from the global economy, even though Iran has remained in compliance with the nuclear deal. We speak with Ambassador Seyed Hossein Mousavian, a 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.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The Pentagon has reportedly drawn up a plan to send as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East if President Trump decides to take military action against Iran. The New York Times reports the Pentagon presented the proposal on Thursday after national security adviser John Bolton requested a revision to an earlier plan. Bolton has long advocated for attacking Iran. According to the Pentagon, far more than 120,000 troops would be needed if a ground invasion was ordered.
This comes as tension continues to escalate between the United States and Iran. The United States recently deployed the Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the region, claiming there was a “credible threat by Iranian regime forces.” Meanwhile, Iran has announced it will stop complying with parts of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal and resume high-level enrichment of uranium within 60 days if other signatories of the deal do not take action to shield Iran’s oil and banking sectors from U.S. sanctions. The U.S. has attempted to cut Iran off from the global economy even though Iran has remained in compliance with the nuclear deal.
AMY GOODMAN: In another development from the region, four oil tankers, including two Saudi tankers, were damaged off the coast of the United Arab Emirates on Sunday. Saudi Arabia described it as a sabotage attack. Unnamed U.S. officials have been quoted in the media blaming Iran, but no evidence has been presented. Iran has described the incident as a “conspiracy orchestrated by ill-wishers.” On Monday, President Trump was asked about what happened.
REPORTER: Mr. President, are you concerned about the attacks on oil tankers in the Middle East?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We’ll see what happens. It’s going to be a bad problem for Iran if something happens, I can tell you that. They’re not going to be happy. They are not going to be happy people. OK?
REPORTER: What do you mean by that?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You can figure it out yourself. They know what I mean by it.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is claiming drones carried out attacks on two Saudi oil pumping stations earlier today. A Houthi-run TV station in Yemen had earlier reportedly said the Houthis had carried out an attack inside Saudi Arabia.
On Monday, the European Union urged the Trump administration to show maximum restraint following a meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and European Union diplomats in Brussels. Today, Pompeo is meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss Iran and other issues.
Meanwhile, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif is in India today. Up until recently, India was the second-largest importer of Iran’s oil, behind China, but India cut off sales after the Trump administration withdrew waivers allowing them to import Iranian oil.
We’re joined now by a former Iranian ambassador, Seyed Hossein Mousavian. He is a 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 is the 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.
Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Ambassador Seyed Hossein Mousavian. It’s great to have you with us. Very serious times, as The New York Times reports that the U.S. is preparing to send 120,000 troops to the region, to the area around Iran, is reportedly drawing up plans. Can you talk about the significance of this?
SEYED HOSSEIN MOUSAVIAN: Yes. Good morning. Actually, I expected such a situation after Ambassador John Bolton was nominated as national security adviser. I have written many op-eds, articles during last year that it’s going to happen. Because even this morning, if you look at USA Today, two high-ranking American congressmembers, Senator Murphy and Representative Himes, they have an op-ed saying that John Bolton and Pompeo are leading the U.S. into a war with Iran. Some days before, another two very high-ranking congressmembers, Senator Durbin, they had the same op-ed saying that John Bolton is taking the U.S. to a war with Iran.
Therefore, it is clear John Bolton wrote an op-ed at New York Times calling for attacking Iran, bombing Iran as the only option, as he said. He was allied with the terrorist group of Iranian terrorist group MEK. He gave lecture. He invited them to rule Iran. He called for regime change. Therefore, everyone knows what is the strategy and the mindset and the plan of Ambassador John Bolton. This is not confidential issue.
Second, the fact is that the Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu for many years has been pushing the U.S. to attack Iran. He has huge influence at the White House. You remember when President Trump withdrew from Iranian nuclear deal. Some days later, Bibi Netanyahu said, “I asked him to leave the JCPOA, the Iranian nuclear deal. It was me who made him to depart from the deal.” After President Trump designated Iranian army as a terrorist group, again, Bibi Netanyahu publicly said, “It was me who asked President Trump to designate Iranian army as a terrorist group.” Therefore, this is very obvious, well known.
The third issue is the fact bin Salman and bin Zayed, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia and Emirate, they have been pushing the U.S. for many years to attack Iran. You remember Secretary of State John Kerry three times revealed that in any meeting, he said, we had with Saudis, Israelis, Emiratis, they were asking only to attack Iran, attack Iran, attack Iran. Therefore, the four B’s team—John Bolton, Bibi Netanyahu, bin Salman and bin Zayed—now they have excellent position at the White House to push the U.S. the dream they have had for years and years and years, to drag the U.S. into a war with Iran.
That’s why I would say what the American congressmembers have frequently warned, Iranians have warned, Europeans they have warned, is happening, unfortunately. That would be extremely dangerous for the U.S., for the region, for Iran, for international community. Because look at the situation in the Middle East today. What happened after the U.S. attacked Iraq? Who were encouraging the U.S. to attack Iraq? It was John Bolton. It was Bibi Netanyahu, who came to U.S. congressmember and publicly, in front of hundreds of members of the Congress, said, “We have evidence that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction and supporting al-Qaeda.” And they pushed President Bush to attack Iraq. And after that, everyone understood there was neither weapons of mass destruction nor evidence of any support of Saddam Hussein of al-Qaeda.
Therefore, everyone understand Iraq scenario is on the table exactly, although—I mean, I should say, personally, I believe President Trump really does not want war. Even he is not after regime change in Iran. But they are taking him exactly gradually, inching him to a war with Iran. And look at the situation—I mean, the consequences of a U.S. attack on Afghanistan. After 17 years, over 50% of Afghanistan now is in the hand of Taliban, and the U.S. is trying to negotiate with Taliban for a face saving, after thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Afghans, they have been killed. Five, six thousand of Americans, they were killed in Iraq.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Ambassador—
SEYED HOSSEIN MOUSAVIAN: And look at the Yemen situation. Yes.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Ambassador Mousavian, given the scenario you’ve laid out of the context of everything that’s happened in the past, how do you see this latest news of these four commercial ships that were sabotaged and Iran claiming that they believe a third country is behind these attacks? How do you see this as the buildup of a pretext to attacking Iran?
SEYED HOSSEIN MOUSAVIAN: Exactly. This is exactly what I have said for many months, how they would drag President Trump to a war. This would be such incidents in the region. It is not new. I have said for many months, in many articles and interviews, malicious attempts by conspirators, conspiracy attempts, in order to blame, either to attack the U.S. facilities in the region or to kill some American soldiers in the region or to attack American allies’ facilities in the region. You just read last week some articles by Israeli papers saying that we have information that Iran is going to attack oil infrastructure of American allies in the region. This is the scenario. This is the conspiracy plan, which they want to leave no option for President Trump unless to attack Iran.
AMY GOODMAN: Ambassador, we’re going to break and then come back to this discussion and also figure out how this all started to spiral with President Trump pulling out of the deal that you helped to negotiate, the Iran nuclear deal. We’re speaking with Ambassador Seyed Hossein Mousavian. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back with him at Princeton University in a moment.
AMY GOODMAN: “Existence: Life” by the Rumi Symphony Project. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. We want to turn to President Trump last Thursday, who was speaking at an impromptu news conference. He said Iran’s leadership should sit down and talk with him about giving up Tehran’s nuclear program. Trump declined to answer a reporter’s question about why he deployed the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier group to Iran over what was described as unspecified threats.
REPORTER: What did Iran do to prompt you to send an aircraft carrier to the region?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, they were threatening, and we have information—
REPORTER: Is there a risk of military confrontation?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have information that you don’t want to know about. They were very threatening, and we just want to have—we have to have great security for this country and for a lot of other places.
REPORTER: Is there a risk of military confrontation, sir?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I guess you could say that always, right? Isn’t it? I mean, you know, always. I don’t want to say no, but hopefully that won’t happen. We have one of the most powerful ships in the world, that’s loaded up, and we don’t want to have to do anything. What I’d like to see with Iran, I’d like to see them call me. … We just don’t want them to have nuclear weapons. Not too much to ask. And we would help put them back into great shape.
AMY GOODMAN: “I’d like to see them call me,” President Trump said. We are still with Princeton University professor, Ambassador Seyed Hossein Mousavian, Middle East security and nuclear policy specialist at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Can you respond to what Trump said? And also, let’s talk about the stranglehold of the sanctions that the U.S. is continuing to tighten against Iran. The effects that’s having on the ground, Ambassador?
SEYED HOSSEIN MOUSAVIAN: Yes. I think President Trump made a big mistake to depart from the nuclear deal. Practically, it was President Trump who left the negotiation table, because Iran and the big powers, the P5+1, they were negotiating at the level of foreign ministers and deputy ministers for years. And during even President Obama, you remember John Kerry and the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, if not every day, they were weekly in touch, negotiating, meeting, emailing.
When President Trump left the deal, practically he left the negotiation table. Therefore, he should be blamed for leaving the negotiation, not the Iranian side. And he is welcomed back again to the forum of P5+1 to return to the nuclear deal, to open dialogue and negotiation with Iran and with the other world powers, if there is any other issue beyond the nuclear to negotiate. This is number one.
Number two, there is—well known by many nuclear scientists worldwide, even International Atomic Energy Agency, saying that the Iranian nuclear deal was and is the most comprehensive agreement during the history of nonproliferation. And Iran has accepted commitment for transparency measures and limitations on the nuclear program, which no other member of NPT, Nonproliferation Treaty, has ever accepted. Therefore, Iran has accepted the maximum level of transparency based on the reports of the IAEA and the United Nations.
Third, the IAEA, International Atomic Energy Agency, which is the sole agency to judge about the nuclear program of the members, for two years, in 14 reports, has confirmed Iran has fully complied with the nuclear deal, therefore there has been zero failure on the Iranian side.
The deal was approved by the United Nations Security Council in United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231. The U.S. violated. It was the U.S. who violated the deal, departed. And now, and worse, which is really an unprecedented phenomena during the history of international relations and United Nations, is the fact that the United States is punishing the other member of United Nations for complying with the Resolution 2231 to supporting implementing the Iran nuclear deal. We have never had a U.N. Security Council member to punish the other members just because they are implementing the deal. You know, therefore, the U.S. is discrediting the international—the highest level of international body on security and political, which is the United Nations Security Council—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Ambassador—
SEYED HOSSEIN MOUSAVIAN: —because from now on—yes.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Ambassador, on that point specifically, President Trump did not only pull out; as you say, he is now trying to punish anyone who stays in the deal. Iran has waited patiently for a year for the other signatories to demonstrate that they’re going to continue implementing it. So, how do you place the announcement that they may begin enrichment again in the context of this year-long wait to see what the Europeans and the other signatories would do about the plan?
SEYED HOSSEIN MOUSAVIAN: Exactly. See, it is not for—it is actually for two years. From the day one, President Trump has started to impose new sanctions. Based on JCPOA, the U.S. and EU, they are committed not only to reintroduce the nuclear-related sanctions, but not to reimpose new sanctions. Therefore, the U.S. has violated and is punishing the other members for implementing the deal. Iran has been patient for two years, implementing the deal with zero benefit.
Now Iran has decided on two measures, which is not a break of nuclear deal, because the U.S. latest sanctions prevented the export of excessive amount of enriched uranium. Based on the nuclear deal, Iran has accepted always to keep 300 kilogram and export the excessive amount to Russia of enriched uranium, and 130 tons of heavy water and to export the excessive amount to Oman. Now it is the U.S. has put sanctions on Iran not to export the heavy water, the excessive amounts to Oman, and not to export the excessive amount of enrichment to Russia. Therefore, Iran has no other option. Iran cannot practically export, therefore Iran would be forced to have excessive amount, therefore it is not a violation by the Iranian side. Iran has been forced by the U.S. not to export.
However, Iran has warned the other P5+1 members that “I have been waiting for two years for you. You have done zero. If you cannot implement the deal, I’m not going to implement the deal forever unilaterally. This is an international agreement. This is multilateral agreement. If the U.S. cannot comply, you should comply. If none of you are going to comply, I’m going to gradually depart from the deal.” That’s why now Europe, Russia, China, India, every country is blaming the U.S., not Iran.
AMY GOODMAN: A U.N. official recently criticized the U.S. for imposing these unilateral sanctions on Iran, on Cuba and Venezuela, that could lead to mass starvation, he said. U.N. Special Rapporteur Idriss Jazairy said, quote, “Real concerns and serious political differences between governments must never be resolved by precipitating economic and humanitarian disasters, making ordinary people pawns and hostages thereof.” As we wrap up, the reality on the ground for the Iranian people right now, and what this could mean also for the government, when the people are suffering as much as has been described?
SEYED HOSSEIN MOUSAVIAN: You are completely right. Eighty millions of Iranians are suffering from U.S. sanctions. And practically, the strategy of John Bolton is a war, a sanction war, economic war, on Iranian nation in order to push them to bring a regime change within inside Iran, within Iran. Therefore, practically, they are punishing the Iranian nation. This is really a big humanitarian disaster, because even Iranians, they cannot import medicine. They cannot import food.
And when Foreign Minister Zarif was here some weeks ago, he just wanted to test the humanitarian humor of the U.S. side. He proposed for exchange of prisoners. Regardless of whether the Iranian prisoners in the U.S. are guilty or not, or the U.S. prisoners in Iran they are guilty or not, he proposed exchange of prisoners as a humanitarian gesture. And immediately, White House declined. While we had such a humanitarian exchange during President Obama, but President Trump declined. Therefore, we understand now there is zero humanitarian goodwill from the U.S. side, and the policy is really economic war punishing the Iranian nation.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much for being with us, Ambassador. Ambassador Seyed Hossein Mousavian is a 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, 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, speaking to us from Princeton University.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, the award-winning playwright Eve Ensler. She has a new book out. It’s called The Apology. Stay with us.