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Impeachment Inquiries

November 14, 2019

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As pressure mounts, Iran denies role in tanker explosions

Between the strictest U.S. sanctions in history and accusations that Iran attacked two tankers in the Gulf of Oman, tensions between the two countries are their worst in 40 years, says Barbara Slavin, director of the Atlantic Council’s Future of Iran Initiative. She joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss how Iran is responding to the mounting pressure.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    For more on the confrontation between Iran and the United States, we turn to Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council in Washington D.C.

    Thanks so much for joining us.

  • Barbara Slavin:

    Sure, my pleasure.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So first, let me start out with — there's kind of two levels here. There's rhetoric and there's action and they both seem to be escalating.

  • Barbara Slavin:

    Yes, indeed. I think the action is the part that concerns me the most. I mean, we've had 40 years of exchanging insults between Iran and the United States. But this action is particularly worrisome. The events in the Persian Gulf seem to be heating up. Fortunately, there's been no loss of life. But of course something like this could always spiral out of control.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    You know the tankers that we saw that were in the news in the past couple of days, that overshadow the news that Prime Minister Abe from Japan was there trying to have kind of a diplomatic solution to this trying to be a bridge between the United States and Iran?

  • Barbara Slavin:

    Well you know one can still hope that some messages were passed. I think the Iranians probably told Prime Minister Abe that if the United States really wants new negotiations it's going to have to make some concessions to Iran; it cannot continue an embargo on all sales, all exports of Iranian oil. It's going to have to promise some concessions I think. And I'm not sure the Trump administration is prepared to do that, especially not after these incidents in the Persian Gulf.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And at the same time now we see that the Iranians say, listen we are ramping up our ability to make nuclear weapons.

  • Barbara Slavin:

    First of all, the Iranians deny that that is their intention.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Right.

  • Barbara Slavin:

    What they are doing is they are slowly beginning to increase the amounts of low enriched uranium, which they have. And at some point, yes, they may go above the limits that were set by the 2015 nuclear deal.

    But let's remember that the United States pulled out of that deal a year ago while Iran was in full compliance and has now put the most stringent sanctions on Iran in the history of the Islamic Republic of Iran. So I would say that what Iran is doing, at least in terms of its nuclear program, is much more calibrated in a way than what we're seeing in the Persian Gulf.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    After the US withdrawal from the agreement with Iran, what have the other signatories been doing in the past year?

  • Barbara Slavin:

    The others that participated in the negotiations have been trying to encourage Iran to stay in the agreement. But unfortunately, particularly in the case of the Europeans, they have not been able to find a way to continue to trade with Iran even on non sanction goods like food and medicine, that has not been threatened by U.S. sanctions.

    So the Iranians are very frustrated and frankly understandably so that they at least up until now had been observing this agreement and they're getting no economic benefits. And I think we're beginning to see this frustration boil over and unfortunately in ways that are rather reckless and dangerous.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And how does the Iranian public perceive all of this?

  • Barbara Slavin:

    I think the Iranian public is just miserable. There were great hopes after this agreement was reached, that Iran's economy would really revive. They were experiencing economic growth. Businessmen were coming from all over the world looking into various ventures in Iran; people had great hopes. And then, first President Trump was elected with all the things he had to say about this agreement he didn't like it very much. And then, after you know threats and more threats finally he pulled out and reimposed sanctions.

    So in some ways people are more unhappy now than they've ever been because their expectations had been raised for a better life and those expectations have now been taken away.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Barbara Slavin director of the Future of Iran initiative at the Atlantic Council in Washington D.C. Thanks so much for joining us.

  • Barbara Slavin:

    Thanks for having me.

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