U.S. Iran Tensions Rise – 2nd Carrier To Gulf
Between The Lines
Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Jan. 12, 2007
U.S. Iran Tensions Rise as Second American Aircraft Carrier Heads to Persian Gulf
Interview with Trita Parsi, president of the Iranian-American Council, conducted by Scott Harris
Listen in RealAudio:
After months of tense negotiations, the United Nations' Security Council voted unanimously Dec. 23rd to impose limited economic sanctions against Iran for that nation's refusal to halt its uranium enrichment operation. The council voted to block all countries from selling technology and equipment that could assist Iran in developing its nuclear research and missile capabilities. In addition, the U.N. froze the assets of 10 Iranian corporations and 12 individuals linked to its nuclear and missile programs. Iranian officials responded defiantly, vowing to continue their enrichment of uranium and warning of future changes in their relationship with the U.N. nuclear monitoring agency.
With the Bush administration's decision to dispatch a second aircraft carrier group to the waters off the Iranian coast and the recent arrest by U.S. soldiers of four Iranian diplomats inside Iraq, tension between the U.S. and Iran appeared to be on the rise as the new year began. At the same time that Bush rejected the Iraq Study group's recommendation for opening talks with Iran over the situation in Iraq, the rushed execution of Saddam Hussein threatened to escalate violence between the majority Shiite and minority Sunni population.
Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian-American Council, who looks at the increasing tension between the U.S. and Iran in the context of the continuing American occupation of Iraq.
TRITA PARSI: I think the sanctions resolution that was passed in the Security Council is not going to be that important in terms of the actual pain it can impose on Iran. Rather, the importance of the sanctions are two-fold. On the one hand, the international community has, through the Security Council, basically blessed the idea of sanctioning Iran under Chapter 7 of the U.N. charter. That's important for the United States, (which) wants to take much firmer action against Iran. That in turn, has given an air of legitimacy to the real sanctions that the United States is imposing currently on Iran through its financial sector. The U.S. is putting a tremendous amount of pressure on Iran and on foreign banks not to deal with Iran. And those sanctions, I think, are going to have far more of a financial cost to Iran than the sanctions passed by the Security Council.
The critical conclusion, however, is the Security Council sanctions are not going to resolve the situation with Iran. The only thing it's going to do is to increase the cost on the Iranians and increase the cost on the international community. It's no longer about finding a solution or a compromise, it's about who can endure the most pain.
BETWEEN THE LINES: I wanted to ask about your reaction to reports the U.S. military has arrested several Iranians inside Iraq, including Iranian diplomats. There is some speculation that the Iranians that were arrested were somehow involved in arms smuggling or in other ways involved in attacks on the United States and Iraqi police or military.
TRITA PARSI: I don't know about any credible information that would support what you just said. What I have heard, though, is that the Iraqi government, at the highest level, President Jalal Talibani as well as Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim (leader of the "Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq" or SCIRI, Iraq's largest Shiite Party), who recently met with President Bush had invited these diplomats to Iraq for various discussions and they are absolutely infuriated that the United States has arrested them. The fact that there are Iranian diplomats in Iraq should not be a surprise to anyone. Iran is the first country that actually recognized the new Iraqi government besides the United States. The fact that there are tons of Iranians in Iraq is not only not a surprise, but is also a very normal thing to have between two countries that do have a lot of cultural ties.
BETWEEN THE LINES: What do you see when you look at the action of the U.S. military sending aircraft carriers to the Persian Gulf as a sign of force, with Iran being the target, obviously, and then you have the arrest of Iranians inside the nation of Iraq? There has been some talk in the past that the United States may ultimately go for a military strike against Iran's nuclear research facilities. Do you think, with all the horrible morass we're seeing now in Iraq, do you think the United States would take such a step?
TRITA PARSI: I think what is happening is that the recommendation to talk to Iran has been rejected. President Bush is looking at the situation; he knows it is extremely grave. Finally, he is starting to realize that, and the way out that has been painted for him by the Baker-Hamilton report is simply contradicting his ideological views, which is, for instance, not to talk to Iran.
So the next option is: challenge Iran. And there's many countries in the region that would actually support that. The Saudis right now are quite fearful of a U.S.-Iran dialogue, thinking that might come at the expense of Saudi interest. So they want to see the United States challenge Iran in Iraq by supporting the Sunni insurgency and the Sunnis in Iraq in order to fight the Shiites that tend to have close relations with Iran.
If that were to happen, then we're basically seeing the United States taking sides in a civil war and turning that civil war into a regional war. That would be an absolute disaster for the region and for the United States.
BETWEEN THE LINES: What do you think the United States should do in terms of ending the occupation of Iraq in a way that won't further deteriorate the situation in that nation -- the very violent conflicts that are ongoing there and the ethnic cleansing, as well as calming tensions in the region? As you said, Saudi Arabia is very fearful of a dominant Iran in the region, allied with Iraq.
TRITA PARSI: I think the first steps the United States should take is to follow the recommendation of the Baker-Hamilton report and create an Iraq contact group consisting of Iraq's immediate neighbors, Security Council members and the Gulf Cooperation Council states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates) and a couple of other Arab countries. We have to give states in the region a stake in the process of stabilizing Iraq. All of them have a stake in the outcome by virtue of being in that region. We have, however, have not given them a stake in the process. We need to give them a stake in the process and by that, ensure that they're also taking their responsibility in ensuring that Iraq doesn't deteriorate. At this stage, since we refuse to talk to many of these countries, we are naïve to believe that they're going to help us when we won't even dignify them by having discussions with them.
Contact the National Iranian- American Council at (202) 719-8071 or visit their website at : www.NIAcouncil.org
Related links on our website at http://www.btlonline.org/btl011207.html#1hed:
- "The Bush Agenda for War in Iraq and Iran," speech in audio CD and DVD, by former U.N. Weapons Inspector Scott Ritter, Sept. 17, 2005, recorded by Squeaky Wheel Productions
Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 40 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at http://www.btlonline.org. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending Jan. 12, 2007. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Scott Harris and Anna Manzo.