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President Trump says he wants a diplomatic solution to the current tension with Iran but his credibility is a problem, says Vali Nasr, a Middle East scholar and former State Department official. Nasr joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss Iran’s trust issues and how allies may be able to help de-escalate the current situation.
Joining me now is Vali Nasr. He's a Middle East scholar and Dean of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a former State Department official. Vali, where does this put Iran? Seeing that the president came so close to taking a retaliatory strike but then not?
What I think the most important thing for Iran was to capture Trump's attention. For a very long time, Iran was under a huge amount of economic pressure, the administration was fairly comfortable, Trump did not have to focus much on Iran. And the Iranians took actions to to essentially get him out of his comfort zone and get him to have to take notice of Iran and have to think about where his policy goes from here.
So I think they're going to look at his at his move as saying that A., he's vulnerable to domestic pressure; elections coming up he doesn't want to go to war, he just is not interested in military intervention, and there's a gap between him and and his administration. So pressure tactic has worked. It also may have got Trump now to think what next if he doesn't want to go to war. He has to think about diplomacy seriously.
But he's not surrounded by people who are supporting diplomacy?
Actually, that's that's a big problem Trump has not just with Iran but also with North Korea. That for a president who likes talking and cutting deals he has brought a lot of neoconservatives of the Bush era into his administration who essentially are not interested in to talking to with enemies or with adversaries. And at every stage of the way they're resisting, they are undermining Trump and they're pushing for military action whenever possible.
But does this create any sort of disincentive for Iran? Knowing that they can essentially, well, if this is the level of brinksmanship that's going to happen and if they think well the president of the United States doesn't want to go to war we can keep doing this to try to increase pressure on the United States to decrease the economic sanctions?
Well, I mean, the purpose of pressure by the Iranians is ultimately to get Trump to come to some sort of talks that will release the pressure on them, so at some point they're hoping that Trump would change tack.
Having said that, the Iranians don't trust Trump — he walked away from the nuclear deal, they watch what he did with Mexico, signing a trade deal and then turning around and putting tariffs on them and then they look at who's standing behind Trump.
They see Bolton, they see Pompeo and they're very afraid that they're going to get into talks and it's going to come to nothing and they will be left with nothing.
And so I think they need Trump to go an added mile to to give assurances, maybe using allies, intermediaries, maybe making some kind of a gesture in form of giving waiver to a few countries to buy Iran's oil, as a way of building trust with the Iranians. I think that's the problem Trump has. He wants to do diplomacy, he doesn't have credibility for doing it.
Iranian position is well, you guys started this, you pulled out of the deal, you are the one that's making our Revolutionary Guard members labeling them terrorists, you're the one adding pressure internationally to other countries. Who is there? Who's left to be able to broker some sort of a deal? I mean, the other countries that are signatories of the deal, they're stuck in this.
Well they are but they might persuade Trump to give them more room to maneuver.
I mean, the French particularly in Europe or the Japanese could possibly persuade Trump not only to serve as intermediary just like prime minister of Japan did in the last month but also to be able to actually buy Iran's oil, do some trade with Iran, create some kind of a flow of cash into the Iranian economy which gives the Iranians incentive for two things: A., to stay within the nuclear deal and don't violate it, don't come out of it. And secondly, don't escalate tensions in the Gulf until a more long run process of negotiation can be figured out.
And how long could that take?
It shouldn't take very long, because I think the Iranians are losing patience. It's they who are being choked to death. The United States is not is not paying any costs for maximum pressure.
So the Iranians are motivated to continue to raise pressure on the U.S., to continue to tell Trump that is running a big risk continuing on maximum pressure and he better come up with it with an exit ramp quickly otherwise they're going to end up in a direct confrontation.
So I think Iranians are not going to be waiting months for Trump to figure this out. I think they're looking at weeks in order for him to come up with a solution.
All right, Vali Nasr, thanks so much for joining us.
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