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Transcript – “U.S-Iran -Where Do We Go From Here?” – War or Negotiation? with Ibrahim Kazerooni and Rob Prince. KGNU – Hemispheres, Middle East Dialogues. June 25, 2019 @ 6 pm Mountain Time – Part Three

July 3, 2019

Iranian youth flashing the peace sign

Transcript – “U.S-Iran -Where Do We Go From Here?” – War or Negotiation? with Ibrahim Kazerooni and Rob Prince. KGNU – Hemispheres, Middle East Dialogues. June 25, 2019 @ 6 pm Mountain Time – Part Three

Part One, Two

Rob Prince: So Ibrahim, … Where do we go from here so that we can extract ourselves from this crisis? Do you have any ideas?

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Number one – both parties have to accept that in this matter the confrontation can be resolved by negotiation and nothing else. Otherwise, if Trump actually attacks Iran, we’re heading for Armageddon. That is what is going to happen.

Secondly, the concept of negotiations requires bold steps by both sides…Having said, that, once it is understood that U.S.-Iranian tensions cannot be resolved, but by negotiations, both parties have to give in on some points so that both of them can take something concretely out of the negotiations

Jim Nelson: Here’s some spin on this. The United States and Iran did come to an agreement – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) but Trump “ripped it up” against the advice of many diplomats that understood it to be a sound agreement.

Rob Prince: Point well taken, Jim, but let me put this in something of a perspective.

There is this element of Trump’s thinking that goes like this: any Obama-era accomplishment has to be destroyed. He tried completely undo Affordable Care Act (Obama Care) for that reason. Look however what Trump has done with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that the Obama Administration shaped.

First of all he destroys it, throws it out completely. But what he has done essentially, is to put together, more or less, the same agreement, but now he gets the credit for it, rather than Obama.

I realize that I am “reaching here” – but for Trump, the nuclear deal – I don’t think he had even a clue as to what it was about. Trump’s problem with the Iran nuclear deal was simply that it was Obama’s – and one of Obama’s only – foreign policy successes. So it had to go. It had to be undone.

After all – what was at the heart of the agreement? That in exchange for ending U.S. sanctions, the Iranians would “give up” any pretense of moving towards creating nuclear weapons. The goal (from the U.S. side) was to prevent Iran from acquiring the technology (and the highly enriched uranium) that could provide the basis for making a nuclear weapon. In exchange for making a commitment to this end, which by the way, the Iranians tell us they never had in the first place, the United States would lift the punishing economic sanctions against that country.

So the way the agreement was negotiated, the consequence was for the United States to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapon capacity. By pulling out of the agreement and threatening economic retaliation for those who maintained economic relations with Iran, Trump actually opened the door for eliminating the restrictions on enriching uranium.

Listening to Trump in the run up to this crisis, he has repeatedly and openly called for negotiations with Iran – (of course at the same time laying down conditions that would make such negotiations impossible for Iran to accept). The Iranians having been stung so badly (and so often) by Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Deal, said no.

But my sense is that on some level Trump sincerely would want to negotiate with Teheran and that he was trying to do, albeit on his own terms, following the same script, the same thing with the Iran Nuclear Deal that he accomplished with NAFTA. Not to overstate his position but he really doesn’t care about the essence of the agreement and he is so cynical about these things that his main concern is if he can credit for the deal.

But my sense is that on some level Trump sincerely would want to negotiate with Teheran and that he was trying to do, albeit on his own terms, following the same script, the same thing with the Iran Nuclear Deal that he accomplished with NAFTA. Not to overstate his position but he really doesn’t care about the essence of the agreement and he is so cynical about these things that his main concern is if he can credit for the deal.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: You see as a businessman he is searching for an image, even with regard to the list latest round of conflict with Iran.

Much information from the Iranian side has been presented that the United States, through their intelligence network, through third parties, proposed to Iran that they, the U.S. would select one, two or three locations empty of population for the United States to bomb. This was intended to make everyone happy by saving face for all concerned.

Iran refused to play along with this charade and even stated so publicly, making it quite clear to the United States. I quote from this statement: “Even an attack against an empty, sandy beach in Iran would trigger a missile launch against U.S. objectives in the (Persian) Gulf.”

Rob Prince: So Ibrahim, here we are eye-ball to eye-ball, tank to tank – or more appropriately – missile to missile – looking at each other, angry, shooting verbal darts at one another and seemingly ready to take the conflict to the next level. Where do we go from here so that we can extract ourselves from this crisis? Do you have any ideas?

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Well Rob, let’s explore a few ideas, ways to defuse the current situation.

Number one – which I believe that both parties have to accept – that in this matter the confrontation can be resolved by negotiation and nothing else. Otherwise, if Trump actually attacks Iran, we’re heading for Armageddon. That is what is going to happen.

Not only is Iran going to respond militarily. There is ample proof that the Iranians have already said, that they have established a joint operation command to inform all of their allies in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan of the situation and how they, the Iranians, intend to respond to the American attack.

So, that clearly suggests that an attack against Iran is not going to remain limited to Iranian territory.

The United States really has to accept that Iran is a fact, is there. Since the Iranian Revolution, forty years ago, one way or another, the United States has tried to over throw it, its Iran policy has repeatedly flip flopped. Washington has tried to turn back history, returning the Shah or someone like him back to power, through the machinations of Bolton, Pompeo or whomever, ignoring the fact that the Islamic Republic has not only survived all this, but has strengthened its position both internally and within the region.

Iran is a fact and will stay there. There is no other option but to negotiate.

Secondly, the concept of negotiations requires bold steps by both sides. This is what you stated on our last program.

Rob Prince: Yes, some kind of “confidence-building measures” coming from both Washington and Teheran.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: This is what (Iranian Supreme Leader) Kamenei told the Japanese Prime Minister – that history has proven to us that the United States cannot be trusted. There is not a single agreement that we have signed with the United States that they have not revoked., or gone back on their word.

Jim Nelson: When (Japanese) Prime Minister Abe visited Iran, it was said that he had presented some proposals for negotiations from Trump and Kamenei rejected it.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Abe had the letter when he sat with (Iranian President Hassan) Rohani on his right and (Iranian Supreme LeaderAli) Kamenei sitting literally in front of him. Abe took the letter from his pocket and put it on the table where the three were sitting. I have seen the photographs and the video. He was waiting for an opportune moment to hand the letter to Kamenei. The opportune moment came when the ideas of negotiation and reducing tensions were being discussed. Abe said that he had been given a letter to give to you and that the United States wants negotiations.

As soon as Abe said that, Kamenei rejected the suggestion out of hand saying that neither Trump nor the American Administration can be trusted. He didn’t consider Trump to be worthy of negotiating with or even worthy of responding to.

This exchange was reported in the Iranian newspapers.

After this brief exchange Abe never brings up the issue of Trump’s letter. The subject changed. Kamenei went on to discuss how it might be that Iran and Japan can improve their bilateral economic and political relations, ignoring the issue of U.S.-Iranian relations completely.

Having said, that, once it is understood that U.S.-Iranian tensions cannot be resolved, but by negotiations both parties have to give in on some points so that both of them can take something concretely out of the negotiations.

Keep in mind that Iran is not going to negotiate with any party through intermediary – particularly where it concerns the United States. It’s starting point for negotiations is acceptance of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the nuclear deal: take it or leave it. Either the United States will go back to that negotiation and accept it or there will be nothing else. Iran has made that clear.

Keep in mind that Iran is not going to negotiate with any party through intermediary – particularly where it concerns the United States. It’s starting point for negotiations is acceptance of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the nuclear deal: take it or leave it. Either the United States will go back to that negotiation and accept it or there will be nothing else. Iran has made that clear.

Accepting that the current Iranian government is a fact, is not going away, the issue of its long-range missiles can be considered, within the context of regional politics. Keep in mind that Iran does not have a strong air force. Its ballistic missiles act as a substitute to oppose any party attacking it. The Israelis have both ballistic missiles as well as a stronger air force. If, after returning to the nuclear deal, they can undertake some kind of initiative – how we don’t know because at the moment there is no trust between the United States and Iran – Iran doesn’t trust the United States – but if in some way the United States can secure some kind of guarantee no other regional (or otherwise) country is going to attack Iran, with its safety and security being established, I’m sure the Iranians would come back and respond.

What else is needed from the Iranian side to enter into negotiations? – the removal of sanctions. This could be done either directly by the United States or the other alternative would be for Trump to turn a blind eye by allowing Europe to work to lift the economic pressure on Iran without punishing the European companies concerned. The Europeans would move beyond the sanctions so that Trump could save face.

Rob Prince: There is something we discussed a little bit earlier, Ibrahim that I want to address. Among the commentators I read preparing for this program is Michael T. Klare. I look to him a lot, he has been writing thoughtfully on the Middle East, energy and security – or lack there of – for decades, usually solid material. Many KGNU listeners are familiar with his work. He’s always worth reading.

That said, I was quite surprised that in a recent piece he wrote about this conflict, essentially, he basically argued that in any serious military conflict that Iran would be soundly and quickly defeated – that there was no question that the United States could do to Iran what it did to Iraq in 2003 and its military would essentially quickly collapse.

That seems to me to be way off base.

There are comparisons to make between Iraq in 2003 and the current situation but the difference is a much stronger country than Iraq was then, militarily and otherwise. Despite the sanctions – yes the sanctions have bit – but Iran is not Iraq in 2003. The response Iran would or could make to any US (or allied) military attack would be quite serious.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Rob, I totally agree with you. You don’t really need to go to assess Iranian military capabilities. Just examine this last crisis in which the Iranians shot down a drone – the most sophisticated that flies sixteen to eighteen kilometers (10-11.5 miles) in altitude. It contains the most elaborate electronic jamming facilities known on board. Iranian radar locked on the drone at the moment that the American base monitoring it either knew it and ignored the fact, or were unaware that the Iranians were onto it.

Then once the locking system takes place, the Iranians fire a missile – any basic flight captain would be aware – yet very quickly the Iranians shoot down the drone. That is not ordinary technology that can be bought in the market place. This incident clearly points to Iran’s technological sophistication.
And not only the sophistication – as some analysts have noted – it shows that Iran is prepared to defend itself militarily regardless of the possible consequences.

End of transcript.

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