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A Might-Have-Been Interview with Obama
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US President Barack Obama is deploying his immense persuasive powers to lobby in favor of the deal he says he has made with Iran regarding its nuclear project. As part of that lobbying, he has granted numerous interviews, always to reporters he has already charmed, avoiding inconvenient questions from journalists that his office designates as “hostile”.

But what would such an interview look like? Since Obama refuses that exercise, the only way may be to imagine one. The result could be something like this:

Amir Taheri: Mr. President, you are campaigning for the deal you say you have reached with Iran over its nuclear project. What is it precisely that you are promoting: a treaty, an agreement, a memorandum of understanding, an accord?

Barack Obama: None of the above. What we have is a Joint Comprehensive Plan for Action (JCPOA) that warmongers, those who led us into the Iraqi quagmire, the Republicans, the “Death to America” crowd in Tehran and Benjamin Netanyahu are trying to sabotage.

Q: So, there is no treaty and no legal agreement. Just a plan! But a plan could always be modified or even ignored. Is there a mechanism for ensuring it would be implemented?

Your question echoes the language of neocons and warmongers, and some of my own misguided Democrat colleagues in the Congress. Our JCPOA is backed by a unanimous resolution of the United Nations’ Security Council which we managed to get approved in record time.

Q: OK, so we have another UN resolution. Iran, however, has not accepted that resolution, number 2231, which differs from the 159-page JCPOA in a number of ways. Iranian officials make it clear that just as they refused to endorse the previous six resolutions they have no intention of accepting the new one. Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi says the point of reference for the Islamic Republic is the JCPOA not the resolution. Ali-Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s nuclear project, is even clearer. “If we ignore the resolution that would have no effect on the JCPOA,” he says.

There you go. What warmongers and Republicans are saying is only designed to drag us into another war in the Middle East. They want to divert attention from our once-in-a-lifetime chance that JCPOA offers for blocking all of Iran’s paths to building a nuclear arsenal.

Q: The trouble is that Iran has not ratified the JCPOA either. It has not been even submitted to, let alone approved at the Council of Ministers as articles 77 and 125 of the Islamic Republic Constitution demands. There is not even an official Persian text of the JCPOA. Last month the Foreign Ministry issued a text which was withdrawn when people spotted 73 deliberate mistranslations intended to mislead. A second text was submitted later with only 13 such mistranslations. However, even then, the Foreign Ministry stated that there was no official text even for discussion at the Islamic Majlis (parliament). The fact is that the version of JCPOA marketed by Iranian officials is dramatically different from what you are trying to sell. Needless to say, the “Supreme Guide” who has the final word on all matters in the Islamic Republic, has not taken a position. You may win the fight with your Congress and end up having the “Supreme Guide” thumb his nose at you by throwing JCPOA into the dustbin.

That again is a claim made by warmongers, those who took us to Iraq; people who have hidden agendas. We have crafted an innovative and effective diplomatic structure that shuts all of Iran’s paths to acquiring nuclear weapons. Make no mistake, right now breakout time for Iran is only a few months. Under JCPOA we will be purchasing 13, 14 or 15 years. So, it is a hard argument to make that we are better off right now having almost no breakout period, no insight, and letting them rush towards a bomb, than saying, over the course of 15 years, we have very clear assurances that they are not going to do anything. And at that, at the end of that period, maybe they have changed, maybe they have not. If they have not changed, we still have the options available to me — or available to a future president that I have available to me right now.

Q: Very well. So, you are not stopping the Iranian program, just slowing down? But what if the Islamic Republic does not do what you think they ought to do under JCPOA?

All options would always remain on the table. In any case, in our innovative diplomacy we have worked out a system under which, if Iran cheats, sanctions will be re-imposed. We call this genial scheme “snap-back”, and it is foolproof.

Q: Right now, however, we witness a system of snap-forth, which means sanctions are being lifted or eased even before Iran has fulfilled any of its obligations. Iran has already received 7 billion US dollars in its frozen assets and a further 6 billion US dollars are scheduled for release by the end of this year. The European Union has lifted sanctions against more than two dozen Iranian banks and companies. Switzerland, Russia, Malaysia and China have done the same. Russia has resumed arms sales to Iran, starting with S-300 SAMs due for delivery next week. Islamic officials and Tehran-backed terrorists who were banned from travel are moving in all directions. Eight banned Khomeinist generals have visited Moscow, among them Qassem Suleimani. Lebanese operative Anis Naqqache, involved in the massacre of 241 US Marines in Beirut in 1983, has visited Qatar. Muhammad Azari, nicknamed “Mo the Throat-Cutter” has traveled to Malaysia. The spokeswoman for “students” who took US diplomats hostage in Tehran in 1979-80, Ms. Ebtekar, has visited Paris. Hossein Sheikh Al-Islam, the interrogator of the US hostages, and nicknamed “The Tooth”, has traveled to Switzerland. Iranian officials publicly state that JCPOA is nothing more than a script for “the implosion of the system of sanctions.” We only promised not to do what we could not or did not want to do anyway, “Salehi says with his usual candor.

These are early days and we should not listen to the war party or the chorus around Netanyahu. Those who belittle JCPOA forget that Iran has also signed a “roadmap” with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). That should be taken into account in conjunction with the JCPOA and the UNSC resolution to obtain the full picture.

Q: Do you know what is in that “roadmap”?

No. That is between Iran and the IAEA and its contents cannot be revealed to others.

Q: So, how could you use it as an argument in support of your lobbying without knowing what is in it?

Because the IAEA has an important role to play in making sure that Iran complies with its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). What we are trying to do is to uphold the NPT which is under attacks by warmongers and people like Netanyahu who have not even signed it.

Q: With respect, Mr. President, your JCPOA may be seen as an attack on the NPT because it creates a parallel mechanism for dealing with its infringement. Before you launched your innovative 21st century diplomacy, Iran was being treated under the NPT and subject to six very clear and precise UNSC resolutions. Your JCPOA was negotiated by an ad hoc group, P5+1 that had no legal existence, and shaped through informal, extra-legal negotiations that bypassed not only the NPT but the Charter of the United Nations and, indeed, the whole of International Law.

That is an outrageous claim made by those who dragged us into Iraq to overthrow the legal government of that country in 2003, and we saw what happened. The same people want us to invade Iran and change its regime. But we are not in business of regime change anywhere in the world.

Q: With respect, Mr. President, no one is asking you, especially you with your pacifist character, to invade anyone. One shudders at the thought of what an invasion would look like under a reluctant commander-in-chief. The question, however, is that your JCPOA gives special treatment to the Islamic Republic.

What special treatment?

Q: This is what your JCPOA says: “All provisions contained in the JCPOA are only for the purposes of its implementation between the P5+1 and Iran and should not be considered as setting precedents for any other State or for principles of international law and the rights and obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and other relevant instruments, as well as for internationally recognized principles and practices.” In other words, it treats Iran as a special case.

My administration was and remains committed to extricating the United Sates from foreign wars not to be sucked into new ones. Those who claim that Iran gets special treatment are opposed to our overall strategy because their interest is in conflict and war.

Q: Maybe. However, the fact remains that you have often mocked those Americans who think their country is something “special”. Giving the Khomeinist regime special treatment may come as a shock to them, especially when you have not asked them to change any aspect of their overall behavior.

Why should it always be others who change their behavior? Why should not the US change its behavior sometimes as we did in our historic rapprochement with Cuba? We have worked seven years to achieve this great diplomatic victory, a chance in a lifetime, mostly by patiently reassuring the Iranian leaders that we do not wish to overthrow them or force them to do anything they do not want to do.

Q: Everyone knows that. You tried to flatter the mullahs by praising Islam, which they misrepresent, and expressing admiration for the Iranian civilization which they loath.

This deal will help the moderate faction in Tehran secure its position by winning the three elections that Iran is facing within the next 18 months. Warmongers, those who took us into the Iraqi quagmire, people like Netanyahu resent the fact that I may leave office leaving behind a moderate group in charge of Iran’s destiny.

Q: Sir, with respect, no one is opposed to you or anyone else trying to woo Iran away from the mad course it has pursued since 1979. But that issue is separate from Iran trying to build a bomb. If you believe Iran is not trying to build a bomb, then there is no need for JCPOA or UN resolutions. If, on the other hand, you are convinced they have a hidden agenda on that matter, what would be the use of linking the issue to the power struggle in Tehran?

I understand why my opponents are resentful of my administration’s successes in foreign policy, from outreach to Burma to rapprochement with Cuba to the building of a coalition against ISIS and working with our Russian partners to save Syria. The deal with Iran is destined to be the jewel in the crown of my administration’s tremendous achievements. Whatever warmongers and neocons and the Bushists say, I am committed to this deal and determined to see it through even if I have to use my veto against Congressional rejection of the JCPOA.

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. Mr. Taheri has won several prizes for his journalism, and in 2012 was named International Journalist of the Year by the British Society of Editors and the Foreign Press Association in the annual British Media Awards.

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