NIAC Statement on Bolton’s Latest Military Plans for Iran

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, May 13, 2019
CONTACT: Mana Mostatabi | 202.386.6325 x103 | mmostatabi@niacouncil.org

Washington, D.C. – Today, reports broke that John Bolton ordered updates to a military plan that detailed sending up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East should Iran attack U.S. forces or escalate its nuclear activities.

In response, President of the National Iranian American Council, Jamal Abdi, issued the following statement:

“John Bolton is methodically setting the stage for war with Iranforcing Iran into a corner and then readying war plans for when Iran takes the bait. There are two ways Bolton can be stopped: either Trump can fire him or Congress can pass legislation to block a war before it starts. It’s time for our leaders to stop sleepwalking and the public to speak out as an unrestrained Iraq war architect repeats the playbook from that generational catastrophe with Iran.”

Why Talking to Trump is a Tricky Thing for Iran

US President Donald Trump’s offer of dialogue with Iran without preconditions – which was quickly walked back by his secretary of state – has put the ball in Iran’s court once more. Many believe this is a golden opportunity for Tehran to stroke Trump’s ego and divert him from his path of confrontation by simply giving him a symbolic victory.

But for Tehran – unlike Trump’s other bullying victims – making America look good is often the costliest concession that could be demanded of it.

Confusing requests

Talking to Trump is a tricky thing for Iran. Even prior to Trump’s public offer for unconditional talks last week, he had made no less than eight requests to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. At first Iran was confused. A senior Iranian official explained to me at the time that they didn’t know how to engage with the unpredictable Trump.

There was also the fear that Iran would look weak. Rouhani had rejected a meeting with his predecessor Barack Obama even after the nuclear deal had been struck. If he then agreed to meet with Trump – after the American reality TV star’s many insults against Iran and his refusal to respect America’s obligations under the Iran nuclear deal – he’d open himself up for scathing criticism from all sides.

Yet, Tehran also realised that if Trump truly wanted a new deal, Iran could get a better deal with him compared to Obama. Contrary to the accusations of the Congressional Republicans, Obama was a fierce negotiator while Trump clearly is more concerned with the appearance rather than the reality of a victory.

But that is exactly what is so challenging for Tehran. Most countries faced with Trump’s antics have had no difficulty playing to his ego by praising him, making him look good, and giving him a symbolic victory in order to secure substantive concessions in return.

In 2017, the EU was toughening its tone against Iran on regional issues while encouraging Trump to point to the EU’s “new” stance in order to declare victory, but refrain from killing the nuclear agreement. The EU even encouraged Trump to claim that his pressure on NATO powers had forced them to increase their defence spending (which they hadn’t).

Trump took the bait. For Europe, it was better to look as if they had been defeated by Trump rather than actually having succumbed to him on the substance of the matter.

Historical Explanations

Japanese diplomats told me earlier last year how they had ensured Trump’s recommitment to providing Japan with a nuclear umbrella without demanding an increase in Japanese defence spending. For three days, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe played golf with Trump at Mar a Lago and spent most of that time praising his golf resort, wealth and business acumen.

Making Trump and America look good and superior came at little to no cost to the Japanese.

Demonstrators wave Iran’s flag and hold up a picture of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during a ceremony to mark the 33rd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. (REUTERS)

But this is where Iran differs dramatically: to Tehran, concessions that would make America – and Trump – look good and give the impression of Iran submitting itself to America, even if only symbolically, are the costliest.

Iran has long insisted that it would only negotiate with the US as an equal and with “mutual respect”.

These requirements have both cultural, historical and political explanations. From the US’ masterminding of the 1953 coup against Iranian prime minister Mohammad Mossadeq, to the 1964 Status of Forces Agreement that granted US military personnel stationed in Iran and their dependents full diplomatic immunity, to Washington’s backing of the Shah’s brutal rule, the Iranians have felt a deep sense of humiliation by the United States. Washington has treated Iran as an inferior power, in their view.

As a result, a central objective has been to only engage in talks that restore Iran’s dignity and force the US to treat Iran as an equal. Any concession to Trump that would hint of Iranian submission – even if only symbolic – would be treated as capitulation in Iran.

Which brings us to the political factors: Iran’s politics makes it very difficult for any politician to accept going to the negotiating table with Trump if that entails a risk of Trump pulling a publicity stunt that either would be treat Iran as an inferior or be perceived as him trampling on Iranian dignity. 

This would be political suicide for any Iranian politician. But because of Iran’s factionalised politics, rival politicians also have incentives to portray those who engage with the US as having submitted to Trump – even if they haven’t.

This, however, doesn’t mean Iran cannot show Washington respect. 

Potential risks

Throughout the nuclear talks, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif repeatedly referred to the United States as his partner. Speaking of Washington as a partner was a clear break from past Iranian rhetoric and signalled significant respect.

But partnership also connotes equality, meaning Iran was only ready to treat Washington with respect within a relationship defined by equality. 

And the preparatory work that preceded this language from Zarif was extensive, particularly the secret meetings Washington and Tehran held in Oman and New York throughout 2013 – not to mention Obama’s own efforts to speak about Iran with respect in public, even when Obama faced immense pressure from Israel, Saudi Arabi and members of Congress to be “tougher” against Iran.

These historic and political sensitivities may make a Trump-Rouhani handshake quite unlikely in the months and years ahead. But Tehran would be wise to avoid only focusing on the potential risks with Trump’s extended hand while neglecting its benefits.

Though any deal with Trump may have little value due to his unreliability, Tehran can also use that unreliability to its own advantage. The mere image of Trump and Rouhani shaking hands and speaking in private will spread panic in Riyadh and Tel Aviv – precisely because these allies of Trump know that they too cannot rely on him.

Their deep-seated fear of being betrayed by America in any US-Iran dialogue will reach a breaking point and likely cause a significant weakening of the concerted US-Israel-Gulf effort to break Iran. Ultimately, that would make Iran look good, not Trump.

Piece originally published in Middle East Eye.

Keith Olbermann discusses Cagan’s hateful remarks on Iranians

Washington DC – On the October 1 edition of Countdown with Keith Olbermann – preceding a discussion segment with Sy Hersch about his New Yorker article spelling out the real possibility of a military conflict between the US and Iran – Mr. Olbermann discussed the bigoted comment made by Debra Cagan, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Coalition Affairs in the US Department of Defense: "I hate all Iranians" NIAC has called for Ms. Cagan to be removed from her post and has launched an ACTION ALERT for members of the community to voice their displeasure.

 

NIAC Calls for Firing of Official for “I hate all Iranians” Remark

Contact: Trevor Fitzgibbon
Fenton Communications

202-386 6325

Washington DC – The National Iranian American Council is demanding the immediate dismissal of Debra Cagan, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Coalition Affairs for a comment she made to a visiting foreign delegation: “I hate all Iranians.”

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Kyl-Lieberman War Amendment Passes with a Vote of 76 to 22

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Coalition of 25 Organizations Lead Effort to Defeat Kyl-Lieberman War Amendment

Washington DC – A coalition of 25 organizations have been leading a charge to defeat the Lieberman-Kyl amendment. Several Senators believe that the amendment will bring the US one decisive step closer to war with Iran. The text of a letter circulated to all Senate offices yesterday is attached. Though the effort failed to defeat the amendment, it managed to ensure that the most dangerous aspects of the amendment – Section 3 and 4 – were eliminated.

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NIAC in the News: US cartoon no joke to Iranians

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NIAC in the Washington Post: D.C. Area Iranians Criticize Reception of Ahmadinejad

Washington DC – Many Iranian Americans in the Washington area describe President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a provocateur, a hypocrite and an embarrassment to Iran. Yet some are disturbed about the hostile reception Ahmadinejad has received this week during his visit to the United States. Students, professionals and academics in the region's Iranian emigre community said yesterday that they were frustrated and disappointed that the visit has focused on sensational issues such as Ahmadinejad's denials that the Holocaust occurred and that homosexuality exists in Iran. Read full story.

Decisive Victory for Lantos Sanctions Bill

Washington DC- The Iran Counter-Proliferation Act of 2007 (HR 1400) was passed overwhelmingly by the House in a 397-16 vote today, coinciding with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to New York City to address the U.N. General Assembly. Among the nay sayers were four Republicans: Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD), Rep. Ron E. Paul (R-TX), Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD), and 12 Democrats. The sister bill (S.970) with 68 co-sponsors has yet to be considered by the Senate. If passed by the Senate and signed by the President, this legislation would have significant implications for the US policy toward Iran and the US relationship with allies. The legislation targets foreign US subsidiaries, thus signifying extra-territorial application of US law.

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Kyl-Lieberman Amendment Pushes US towards War with Iran, Critics Say

Washington DC – Congress will vote on an amendment today that, if adopted, would charge Iran with fighting a “proxy war against the Iraqi state and coalition forces in Iraq.'' Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) introduced the measure as an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act (S.1547) on Friday. It is being cosponsored by Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN).

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Kyl-Lieberman Amendment Pushes US towards War with Iran, Critics Say

Washington DC – Congress will vote on an amendment today that, if adopted, would charge Iran with fighting a “proxy war against the Iraqi state and coalition forces in Iraq.'' Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) introduced the measure as an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act (S.1547) on Friday. It is being cosponsored by Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN).

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NIAC in the News: Taking Aim at Iran

US News & World Report – Amid deepening frustration with Iran, calls for shifting Bush administration policy toward military strikes or other stronger actions are intensifying, including among some U.S. officials. On the Web and through more traditional means, a wave of commentary, analysis, and think-tank studies on Iran policy—along with rumor, speculation, and possible leaks about military preparations—has been building through the summer. Read full story.