The White House appears ready to abandon the landmark Iranian nuclear deal in favor of what experts say could lead to war with Iran. The New York Times reported last week that President Donald Trump has instructed his national security aides to find a rationale for declaring that Iran is violating the terms of the accord. The order came despite the fact the Trump administration reluctantly certified that Iran has complied with its obligations under the agreement earlier this month. Last week, Trump intensified his threats against Iran during a speech in Youngstown, Ohio. Observers say Trump’s actions are laying the groundwork for a disastrous military confrontation with Iran. We speak with Trita Parsi, founder and president of the National Iranian American Council.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Is President Donald Trump trying to sabotage the Obama-brokered nuclear agreement with Iran and seek a war instead with Iran? According to The New York Times, Trump has instructed his national security aides to find a rationale for declaring that Iran is violating the terms of the accord. The order came despite the fact the Trump administration begrudgingly certified that Iran has complied with its obligation under the agreement earlier this month. Last week, Trump intensified his threats against Iran during a speech in Youngstown, Ohio.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: [The Iran deal], which may be the single worst deal I’ve ever seen drawn by anybody, if that deal doesn’t conform —
TRUMP SUPPORTER: Nuke ’em!
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: — to what it’s supposed to conform to, there’s going to be big, big problems for them. That, I can tell you.
AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by Trita Parsi, founder and president of the National Iranian American Council, whose new piece for LobeLog is titled “The Mask Is Off: Trump Is Seeking War with Iran.” We usually speak to Trita in Washington, DC. He’s in Uppsala, Sweden, right now.
Trita, as you listen to President Trump, the speech he gave just a few days after he recertified the deal he so criticized, but what is this you’re hearing about what his plans are?
TRITA PARSI: Well, I think we never before have seen a desire to unravel and destroy an arms control deal having been telegraphed as openly as President Trump is doing. He’s essentially saying that he — he said in the interview with The Wall Street Journal that he would never have certified that they’re in compliance 180 days ago, when he first had to do it. So, he’s intent not to do it.
In the opening piece, you said that New York Times is reporting that Trump has ordered his staff to find a way to refrain from certifying, and being able to claim that the Iranians are in violation. In reality, he has told them to fabricate a way, because what the plan appears to be is to try to request access to Iranian non-nuclear sites, knowing very well that as long as those are based on zero proper intelligence, the Iranians are going to reject. And once they reject, the Trump administration calculates that they will be able to say that the Iranians are out of compliance with the deal, and, that way, start moving towards what ultimately, most likely, will be some form of a military confrontation.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But, Trita, given the fact that this was a deal reached not just between the United States and Iran, but several other countries, as well, what would be the impact? Wouldn’t the United States be further isolating itself from the rest of the international community, if it did attempt to flout the will of the other signatories to the deal?
TRITA PARSI: Certainly. It is not going to be an easy thing, but here’s something quite important. Had it been up to Trump, he would have done it in the most reckless way possible, which is just to completely deny that the IAEA has certified that Iran is in compliance, and then claim that Iran isn’t, and try to break the deal that way. The adults in the room, the so-called moderates that are around Trump, argued against this, but they didn’t argue against it on the basis of trying to save the deal. They only argued against it in order to find a more clever way of doing it so that the cost to the United States, the isolation that you just mentioned, would probably be a bit less.
So, the spectrum that we have in the Trump White House right now is not between those who are recognizing that this is a deal that has not only taken an Iranian path to a nuclear bomb off the table, it’s also taking war with Iran off the table, and it’s actually working perfectly fine right now. But, rather, the spectrum is between those who just want to recklessly destroy the deal right away and those who want to come up with a plan that essentially would deceive the outside world and try to shift the blame onto the Iranians.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s one thing to decertify. It’s another to go to war. Talk about what you see he is trying to do. And, of course, there are always warnings. When a president is particularly weak at home, the concern that he will look for an enemy abroad to distract attention?
TRITA PARSI: Certainly, and I think it’s a very important question. Just decertifying, in and of itself, doesn’t automatically put the United States at war with Iran. But when you listen to what the administration is saying, they’re, for instance, claiming that they want a deal that requires zero enrichment in Iran, meaning that the Iranians essentially have to give up their nuclear program altogether, regardless of whether it is peaceful or not, or the fact that more and more hints are coming out that the Trump administration is seeking regime change in Iran. Well, if you’re seeking zero enrichment or regime change in Iran, the only way you can truly achieve this, or at least have a chance of achieving it, is to have a full-on military campaign.
The Obama administration actually gave up the zero enrichment objective rather early, but they held onto it until January 2013, when the president realized that despite the tremendously hard-hitting sanctions that had been imposed on Iran, the United States was still not capable of completely crippling the Iranian economy. And as a result, if he just stuck to that line, he would end up in war with Iran. So, they went back to the negotiating table, secret talks in Oman in March of that year. And there, for the first time, the United States showed flexibility on the enrichment issue and hinted that it was willing to accept enrichment on Iranian soil. If the United States had stuck to the objective that the Trump administration wants — zero enrichment — we would have ended up in war with Iran much, much sooner. That’s the problem here. Whether their intent is war or not, the consequence most likely will be war.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Trita Parsi, we just have 10 seconds. But you’re in Sweden right now. I’m wondering people’s view in Sweden of the United States and President Trump, that you’ve been speaking to?
TRITA PARSI: I’ve never before seen the people here in Sweden be as concerned about what’s happening in the United States that I see there today. People are glued to Democracy Now!, New York Times, Washington Post, and they are just genuinely worried about the future of the United States and the consequences it will have for the entire globe.
AMY GOODMAN: Trita Parsi, we want to thank you for being with us, founder and president of the National Iranian American Council. We’ll link to your piece, “The Mask Is Off: Trump Is Seeking War with Iran,” author of the new book, Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Happy birthday to Jahmaiah Lewis!