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After 18 days of marathon negotiations in Vienna, the U.S. and other world powers reached a historic agreement with Iran. The deal would put limits on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for ending economic sanctions. Now, President Barack Obama must sell the agreement to congress and the American public. He faces strong pushback from many in Congress, where key Republicans have strongly opposed a deal with Iran. In a televised news conference this morning, President Barack Obama made clear he would veto any move by congress to block it. We take a look at the Iran nuclear agreement and how Congress will react.
- David Rothkopf CEO and editor, FP group, which publishes Foreign Policy Magazine; author of "National Insecurity: American Leadership in an Age of Fear" (2014)
- Robin Wright Analyst and joint fellow, U.S. Institute of Peace and Woodrow Wilson International Center; author of "Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World"; contributing writer to The New Yorker.
- Trita Parsi President of National Iranian American Council and author of "A Single Roll of the Dice - Obama's Diplomacy with Iran."
- David Sanger National security correspondent, The New York Times; author of "Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power."
- Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), 26th District
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The U.S. and five other world powers have reached an historic nuclear agreement with Iran. Speaking this morning, President Obama said 20 months of negotiations had achieved what years of animosity had not, a long term deal that would prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. But the pact now faces scrutiny from congressional lawmakers who have 60 days to review the plan.
MS. DIANE REHMHere to discuss the deal, Robin Wright of the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International Center, David Rothkopf of Foreign Policy and on the line from Washington is Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council. But first, joining us by phone from Vienna, David Sanger, national security correspondent for the "New York Times." He's in Vienna where he's been covering the nuclear talks. David Sanger, talk about what this agreement does and does not do.
MR. DAVID SANGERWell, Diane, I think the strongest part of this agreement is that the Secretary of State John Kerry and others in their 18 days as negotiating here managed to seal down a number of the provisions that we had wondered whether would really be bulletproof so that over the next 10 years or so, Iran would have an extremely difficult time getting enough fuel to produce a nuclear weapon.
MR. DAVID SANGERAnd the way the deal has worked out, they have to cut their stockpiles of fuel by about 98 percent. They are reducing their, by about two-thirds, the number of centrifuges and machines that enrich uranium and so for the next 10 years, it would be extremely difficult for them to actually produce a weapon. The shortcoming of the deal is that after 10 years, a lot of these restrictions go off and they go off gradually, but in some interesting exchanges we had with members of the negotiating team today, they conceded that by year 13, 14 or 15 Iran will be back to a relatively short breakout time, probably four or five months.
MR. DAVID SANGERThat is the amount of time that they could race for actually building a single weapon. Now, it's unlikely they would do that. A single weapon doesn't do you a whole lot of good, but that's one of the weaknesses. And then, there was a big fight in the end over the potential of lifting the United Nations arms embargo. This is an embargo on conventional weapons and ballistic missiles in and out of Iran. It was put in in 2006 as part of a way to drive Iran to the bargaining table, but now they've reached an agreement, they said this has got to come off.
MR. DAVID SANGERAnd the negotiating partners here were split, China and Russia wanted to take it off immediately so they could sell arms to Iran. The European states, United States wanted to keep it on almost indefinitely and they ended up with a mix of eight years on ballistic missiles, five on conventional arms.
REHMSo how -- what would you regard as the toughest hurdles they face and how did the negotiators settle them?
SANGERYou know, some of the toughest hurdles came from the fact, Diane, that the supreme leader in Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, kept issuing these pronouncements about what Iran would never do. It would never allow inspectors to visit military sites. Well, guess what? They are, in fact, under some conditions allowing inspectors to go into military sites because they've agreed to a set of rules that other countries sign up to with the International Atomic Energy Agency that does not exclude military sites.
SANGERThe supreme leader, at one point last summer, declared that Iran would have an industrial scale enrichment capability, in other words, be able to produce probably 10 times more than it could produce today. They had to walk that back down. And while Iran might have an industrial scale production capability, they're not going to be able to do it for another 15 years or so. And then, that arms embargo issue sort of came out of left field.
SANGERNobody really expected that to be a big fight and it ended up occupying the last week of these negotiations.
REHMAll right. And Robin Wright has a question for you.
MS. ROBIN WRIGHTWell, I was just going to say I think that you can take a look at this deal both as a glass half full and a glass half empty. For every benefit, there's a shortcoming. And while it is only good for 10 years when it comes to one aspect, that it does other things. For 15 years, Iran has to limit its enrichment to the level for a peaceful nuclear energy program.
MS. ROBIN WRIGHTFor 20 years, it has to allow surveillance of all centrifuge production. For a quarter century, it has to allow monitoring of all its mines and its mills that produce uranium so we know what they're producing. And all purchases of any nuclear-related equipment has to be channeled through a preapproved source. And then, permanently, there is the addition of inspections that are wider and that cover both suspect sites and declared sites.
MS. ROBIN WRIGHTSo there's a lot more life in this deal than just 10 years.
REHMDavid, there were clearly some very, very heated moments along the way, reports of shouting between Secretary of State Kerry and Iranian foreign minister, Zarif. What is the mood now?
SANGERWell, today, it was all happiness and congratulations all around, but there was a lot of heated discussion. I think there were two reasons for that. One is a little bit of this is the drama that is, you know, created for negotiating advantage and Minister Zarif is particularly good at that, but, you know, you get locked into a hotel room with people for this long trying to deal with something this complex, it's not surprising that there were some shouting matches along the way.
SANGERBut I think the Iranians were worried about something quite different than the Americans were. The Americans were very focused on these individual lists that Robin ran through of how long there would be restrictions and so forth and I think that's because they know this is going to get great scrutiny in Congress. The Iranians were much more concerned about preserving their narrative that they never back down to the United States so for them, the important part was to show that they were being treated with respect, that they weren't having this agreement foisted upon them and most importantly that they weren't having to close any facilities.
SANGERSo they reached some deals where they agreed to limit their production capability more than they probably needed to simply in the tradeoff to be able to keep a facility that's of very use open, like the deep underground one at Fordo, which is a facility that was discovered in 2009 and which -- or at least revealed in 2009 and which many people were worried they couldn't bomb. They could've just given the entire thing up. Instead, they're turning it into a vague research facility. Same thing for a plutonium reactor they have.
REHMAnd you have Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking now, saying that this deal makes the world a more dangerous place. Now, considering the fact that this has taken a number of years and months to finalize, what do you think the reaction of his statements is going to be regarding the acceptance of this deal both nationally and internationally?
SANGERWell, I don't think that there was anything particularly new in Prime Minister Netanyahu's statement. He has objected to this deal continuously and said that the alternative of it was to design a better deal. But when you ask what the better deal was, his answer was an Iran that can't have any production facilities at all. And you heard both the president and Secretary Kerry address that today when they said that would be a nice objective, but it was completely unobtainable and that they would much rather have something that puts severe restrictions on Iran than hold out for something that they weren't going to get and that would ultimately lead to conflict as Iran continued to expand its nuclear facilities. So that's the...
REHMAll right. And I think David Rothkopf has a question for you, David.
MR. DAVID ROTHKOPFHey, David. Look, you know, I think what you wrote in the New York Times, up on the New York Times site now captures the core of the deal and its most important and, in some ways, most under-looked aspect, which is the deal itself is not a destination. We're just at the beginning of a journey. This is going to be many, many years. And how this deal is ultimately viewed is going to depend on how it is interpreted and enforced.
MR. DAVID ROTHKOPFAs you look ahead, having been in the midst of this, what do you see as the biggest challenges in that respect?
REHMVery quickly, David.
SANGERSure. David, I think there are two. One of them is does this agreement help you contain Iran in other areas where they are causing mischief, whether it's in support of Shia militias or support of Assad in Syria and so forth. And the President's argument there is better to deal with a non-nuclear Iran than a nuclear one. Others will say, you know, you're freeing up money. You're giving them money for this. The sanctions come up. You're going to eventually lift the arms embargo and this will empower Iran.
SANGERAnd I think how that plays out, whether we actually get to a place where we can talk to Iran on a regular basis and find some common interests or whether we find ourselves in greater conflict, that's going to be the answer to your question. I'm not sure we'll know that even by the end of the Obama presidency.
REHMDavid Sanger, national security correspondent for the New York Times. Thanks for joining us, David. And short break here. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back as we talk about the deal just reached in Vienna with Iran. Secretary of State Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif have been negotiating nonstop. And joining us now from Capitol Hill is Congressman Michael Burgess. He is a Republican from Texas, representing the 26th District. Congressman Burgess, welcome. And tell us your reaction from what you've heard so far about this agreement.
REP. MICHAEL BURGESSWell, first off, thanks for having me on. I always enjoy coming on your show, Diane.
BURGESSThe -- I mean, the agreement, obviously from the standpoint of the fact that an agreement was reached, the fact that Secretary Kerry put a lot of his own effort and there's a lot of his credibility on the line to get this done. I mean, from that standpoint, I'm grateful that they now have a product. Having said that, I am worried about the product that they have. And...
REHMWhat are you most worried about?
BURGESSWell, the most -- the thing that concerns me -- and, again, we've all just gotten this in the last...
BURGESS...couple of hours, as you have.
BURGESSBut the lack of the unfettered access, the inspections anytime, anywhere, that now seem to be by invitation only, I think that is, you know, that is going to be one of the places where many people have to stop and say, "Wait a minute. What did we just get?" Remember, the only reason that Iran was talking in the first place was because of the sanctions. And the sanctions were effective. And, yes, they were painful. And unfortunately they were painful on the people of Iran. And for that, it is a shame that their leaders put the people through this. But that is what got Iran to the table in the first place.
BURGESSAnd it does seem as if the relaxation of the sanctions is occurring really almost too quickly for there to be any assurance that there'll be compliance with other parts of the agreement.
BURGESSThe transfer of weapons technology from Russia is, you know, something that's got to concern every one of us who lives -- not just the people in Israel but the people in this country. I mean, as was said the other day in one of the hearings, the first -- what the "I" stands for in ICBM is intercontinental -- the ability of those missiles to reach the United States is one of the things that Iran is seeking.
REHMCongressman, you mentioned lack of unfettered access. And it was my understanding, at least from what I've read thus far, that access for inspections will be allowed throughout.
BURGESSYou and I may be reading different press releases. And obviously that is an extremely important point, one of the areas that I'm sure will be explored quite thoroughly by our Committee on Foreign Relations, our Committee on Armed Services -- not just what our initial impressions are from the very first moments of...
BURGESS...this agreement being public.
BURGESSBut the unfettered access and the fact that there -- it appears there was a move away from that, the fact that the lifting of transfer of weapons technology to Iran: these are the things that have to give you pause.
REHMAll right. And let's put aside, for the moment, the question of so-called unfettered access. What are the kinds of questions that you'll be raising when Congress begins to take a look at this?
BURGESSWell, when you just step back and look at the broad context, the president tells us that this assures us that Iran will not have a nuclear weapon for 10 or 15 years. And while that is okay. That's something on its face. The fact of the matter is, 10 years ago we were talking about Iran getting a nuclear weapon. So 10 years goes by pretty quickly -- in fact, goes by all too quickly. And the president is correct that there will likely be another leader in Iran at that point. Certainly President Rouhani will likely be out of office. Who knows what's going to happen to Khomeini in that timeframe. But perhaps there will be different players on the Iranian side of the equation but there will also be different players on the Western side of the equation as well.
BURGESSI -- it's -- to me it is no -- it is scant comfort that the president says they can't do anything for 10 years and then, by golly, we'll have different people in place. I look back on the last 10 years and, you know, there are people who have come and gone from the leadership scene in Iran, people who've come and gone from the leadership scene in this country, and we still face the same basic problems.
REHMAll right. And tell me whether you actually believe there is a realistic chance that Congress will be able to block this deal.
BURGESSWell, here's the -- I mean, this is the odd thing about this. We, because of some of the other actions of Congress, we've now kind of turned things on its head. And where the founders of the Constitution said that before entering into a treaty, two-thirds of the Senate must agree. But we're not doing it that way. It is being done as an agreement with an executive order...
REHMAs I understand it, Congressman, it's not a treaty.
BURGESSYeah. Because it's not called a treaty. But it is a treaty in every other sense of the word.
BURGESSBut even ignoring that, basically what then occurs is the president presents it to the Congress. The Congress says no. The president vetoes. Now, it is the actual reverse of what the founders intended. It is only one-third of the Congress that has to be in agreement with the president and the deal goes forward. Because that's the number that is required to sustain a presidential veto. So it does -- it actually makes the details of how this thing goes out going forward. It makes -- it kind of turns it on its head from what the founders intended in the Constitution.
REHMAll right. I want to thank you for joining us, Congressman Michael Burgess of Texas, representing the 26th District. Before I let you go...
REHM...Trita Parsi would very much like to comment. And then, Trita Parsi, did you want to add something?
MR. TRITA PARSISure. Thank you so much. I appreciate the Congressman's comments, but I think there is a couple of points that need to be pointed out here. I don't think the president has made a statement that this will only ensure that there's no bomb in Iran for the next 10 years and after that they will have a bomb. Because the most important aspect of this agreement is actually permanent and that is that the Iranians are going to ratify the additional protocol, which provides a tremendous amount of access to the Iranian nuclear program. Every element of their program is going to be expected -- inspected and that is going to be permanent.
MR. TRITA PARSISo even if, at year 15, the Iranians were going to have the same restrictions when it comes to the number of centrifuges they will be able to have. And by that, theoretically, their breakout capability would reduce. Reality is that with these inspections, the Iranians still would not be able to cheat without getting caught within as sort as a time period as one week. And they would never be able to produce a bomb in one week, meaning it would never be able to cheat without getting caught before they actually get a bomb. So it's not about waiting for a different leadership in Iran. The most important element of this agreement, the inspections that comes with the additional protocol is permanent.
BURGESSYeah. Of course, we can always count on the Iranians not to cheat. They're known for their honesty and their integrity and being aboveboard in all matters of diplomacy. By the way, the fact of the matter is, if they could cheat...
PARSIIt's not about something and not cheating. It's about making sure that we have the mechanisms in place that we can catch them if they're cheating.
BURGESSYeah, but what -- what are we going to do then?
PARSIThat's what these deals are. The alternative doesn't have any mechanisms whatsoever, no inspections, no inside at all.
BURGESSYeah. Unfortunately, I think this alternative is likely to see us enter into an arms race in the Middle East, which is going to be expensive and counterproductive as far as security in that part of the world. Not that other countries will develop a nuclear capability through their scientists and their infrastructure but they'll go buy it off-the-shelf from some other country that's willing to sell it.
BURGESSWe all know there are countries with plenty of money and there is the technology that likely would be for sale at the correct price.
REHMAll right. Congressman, I want to thank you so much for joining us. Michael Burgess of Texas, thanks again, sir.
BURGESSYes. Thank you, Diane.
REHMAnd, Trita Parsi. Here in the studio, we have Robin Wright and David Rothkopf. Trita, what do you think are the strongest elements of this agreement?
PARSIWell, as I just mentioned, and I think Robin also mentioned earlier on, the additional protocol is a permanent feature of this agreement. It is not something that is temporary. It does not expire. And that is absolutely critical. It really provides the type of insight and inspections and verification mechanism that makes it next to impossible for the Iranians to build a bomb. And there is no alternative to the additional protocol that actually is stronger. But beyond that, I would say, a thing that I know the administration has not liked to talk about a lot -- on the European side you see a little bit more forthcomingness when it comes to this element -- which is this deal does have the potential of not just being transactional, it actually can be transformational.
PARSIIt can lead to a different relationship with Iran. It can lead to a different approach by Iran to the outside world. I thought it was very interesting that just about an hour ago, the Iranian foreign minister Zarif tweeted saying the deal should not be looked as a ceiling, meaning that this is the maximum that will be achieved, but rather as a foundation and depends on how much is built upon that. I think it's important to entertain that prospect. Because if we can, through greater interaction, change Iran's incentive structure, change that behavior, that would be a game-changer for the region.
REHMAnd, David Rothkopf, that goes back to your point of this is just a beginning in many senses.
ROTHKOPFYeah. Look, if what Trita describes happens, we're much better off. If Iran is transformed, we're better off. I think the right approach needs to be skepticism and wariness of the potential for Iran to stray from that. And as David Sanger brought up earlier, I think Iran's behavior elsewhere in the region is still a cause of great concern to us and I don't think we have a good answer to that. But as you pointed out in the exchange with the Congressman, this deal is going to happen. It's going to be impossible for the Congress to stop it. It is going to be a reality.
ROTHKOPFAnd therefore, I think it is beholden upon the critics of the deal to start figuring out how you make it work. How you use that skepticism to ensure that when inspections happen, they're thorough: When enforcement is needed, it happens quickly. When Iran needs to be counterbalanced appropriately, we find strong means to do it. That we shore up the concerns of our allies in the region. And thus make this deal the positive step forward it's being portrayed as.
REHMTrita Parsi, what kinds of challenges do Iran's political leaders face at home?
PARSIWell, politically, it's actually been very interesting to see how this has evolved. I mean, three years ago, most people in D.C. would never think that the Iranian political elite would be able to show this level of unity that they thus far have shown and come this far. Now, of course, we may still see some opposition to it and the whole thing is not over. The Iranians are also going to have a (word?) in their parliament in which they're going to review this. But there is an unprecedented level of political unity at the top.
PARSIThe next big challenge for Rouhani, however, that I don't think we should underestimate, is the fact that the population has been extremely patient, knowing very well that Rouhani had little maneuverability to do much about the other issues that they really care about, such as human rights, political situation, until the nuclear deal was struck. But now that it has been struck, I think that Rouhani is going to be under greater pressure from the society to start addressing those issues. He hasn't really done much on that front in the last year and a half.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Robin Wright, do you agree?
WRIGHTWell, I -- having returned from Iran recently, I think there is a tremendous sense of that Iran is on the cusp of something. That it's revolution is going through a kind of mid-life crisis. And that it pines to end that pariah status and regain the kind of stature it had as a great civilization a long time ago. I -- there's also the demographic reality that two-thirds of the population was born after the revolution, that the original revolutionaries are aging, the supreme leader turns 76 this week, most of them are in their 60s and 70s, the original revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini died in 1989.
WRIGHTThere's a sense that, with the elections that are upcoming in February for both parliament and the assembly of experts, which oversees the supreme leader, that both are instruments that may introduce change. And that a nuclear deal and the success of diplomacy will change the way voters perceive who is attracted to that? Who can get things done? Who is going to affect the economy? Because obviously there will be an influx of money and a sense that this middle course that President Rouhani has charted may be the most effective.
WRIGHTBut let me add one thing about -- when we talk about the deal because we tend to look so much at just the Iranian side of it or the Iranian dimension. This is most important nonproliferation agreement in decades. Diplomacy did not work in preventing the last four members of the nuclear club from joining: Pakistan, North Korea, Israel and India, which together have more than 300 nuclear bombs. And so the idea that you can prevent a country, through diplomacy, from going down that path -- maybe short term, maybe the beginning of something long term -- is really important.
WRIGHTAnd the second thing is this geostrategic place that Iran has in the region at a time that the Middle East is crumbling. The irony of all of this is that Iran is actually one of the more stable countries. It has, you know, for all the sanctions, for all the discord, it actually looks like it's got its act together in terms of trying to hold the region together. And the United States and Iran are two of the major parties that want to prevent the Middle East from crumbling, despite everything that Iran is doing to help -- whether it's the Iraqis, the Syrians, the Yeminis or others.
ROTHKOPFWell, it's -- one of the ironies is that the Iranians are still intact. It's also one of the potential threats that the Iranians are still intact. You know, for the past 30, 40 years, Iran has been one of our principal adversaries in the region without nuclear power. They, at the moment, are currently involved in four different conflicts around this region that are seen by the others in the region, including many of our allies, as destabilizing. It would be a mistake for all the benefits that come from a nuclear deal to suggest that we have, through this deal, defanged Iran or removed the threat that Iran poses.
ROTHKOPFAnd we have to thus approach them with real caution and with real resolve to say, "Look, you can't meddle in Yemen. We are not going to cede control of Iraq. We are not going to do your bidding in Syria. We do not accept the role that you think Hezbollah plays in Lebanon and in Gaza and in elsewhere." And without that, this deal may be looked at as a footnote because Iran's other behavior could be just as destabilizing in the region.
REHMDavid Rothkopf, Robin Wright and Trita Parsi, we'll take a short break here. Your calls when we come back. And we'll be talking about Saudi Arabia.
REHMAnd welcome back as we talk about the deal announced this morning between superpowers plus Iran on nuclear weapons, lifting of sanctions, many other issues. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denounced the deal to limit Iran's nuclear program as a historic mistake for the world. He accused the U.S. and the five other world powers of making, quote, far-reaching concessions in order to achieve an agreement at, quote, any price. He is expected to work to persuade U.S. lawmakers to pass legislation that would block President Obama from lifting sanctions on Iran. Trita Paris, what's your reaction to Netanyahu's statements?
PARSIWell, as I think David mentioned earlier on, there's nothing particularly new in what the prime minister said. Perhaps the only thing that is noteworthy is that even at this point, he is not considering shifting his strategy, and I think that's a mistake from an Israeli perspective. I think Israel actually had a lot of leverage, and he could have been more nimble and shifted its strategy to use that leverage to impact the content of the negotiations.
PARSIInstead, Netanyahu, from the very outset, from the very first meeting with President Obama in May 2009, used it in order to show tremendous opposition to the very idea of negotiation. And as a result, Israel actually lost an ability to influence what was going on in the negotiations, and I think that was a significant mistake that Israel committed, and it was more or less bound to it because of the limitations that the Israeli prime minister had because of his rather weak relationship with the United president.
REHMDavid Rothkopf, how influential can Prime Minister Netanyahu be with the American Congress?
ROTHKOPFI think he can be a little bit influential with the Republican side of the Congress that he's established strong ties with, but as was pointed out earlier, they don't really have a way towards blocking this deal. I think as Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic has pointed out, Netanyahu is missing an opportunity here. Right now he's King Lear out on the heath, railing against the winds. Things have changed. He needs to get involved with the new reality and figure out how to play a constructive role in the context of the reality, which includes this deal.
ROTHKOPFAnd if he doesn't do it, if he simply walks around saying this thing that has happened was a bad thing, he is going to be sidelined.
REHMAre you, Robin Wright, worried about any aspects of this deal?
WRIGHTOh sure, I think it's not perfect. I's not eternal. The history of relations between the two countries has created such suspicion that any tiny little thing could be misconstrued. There may be -- whether underestimates or overestimates or overreaction, and it could lead to the kind of confrontation we had in Iraq during the weapons inspection there, where Saddam said no, you can't go into that building, and that then led to, you know, a confrontation on the ground and eventually led us down the path of war.
WRIGHTSo there -- you know, there's that aspect of it. You know, I think we can't -- it is the most important diplomacy between the United States and Iran in 36 years. It is the most revolutionary society. It took us only 20 years to repair relations with Vietnam, a war in which we lost 58,000 people, and only 30 years after China's revolution. This is 36 years, and there's no American embassy going to reopen anytime soon.
WRIGHTI was in the embassy in Tehran six weeks ago, and it's still held by a young revolutionary group, a wing of the Revolutionary Guards. And they've turned it into a museum.
WRIGHTAnd they said the Americans are never coming back here, it's a den of espionage. That -- we're not -- people are leaping to conclusions about how fast things could happen, and it's just not going to.
REHMWhat does Russia get out of this deal, David?
ROTHKOPFWell, Russia and Iran have a longstanding relationship, and if Iran benefits from the deal the way the way it's going to with the sanctions relief and its economy starts going, and it's more integrated into the international community, I think the Russians believe that they're going to have a partner in the region that's stronger, a potential commercial partner in the region, a potential strategic partner in the region.
ROTHKOPFAnd I think importantly, and I think this is easy to underestimate, as the deal goes on, as Iran pumps out oil, the Chinese are going to develop a greater interdependent relationship with the Iranians. They're going to become closer. And I think this is going to increase the influence China plays in the Middle East for quite some time to come.
REHMTrita Parsi, what about Saudi Arabia and its reaction to the deal?
PARSIThe Saudi reaction to the negotiations and to the deal and everything that has been happening in the last year and a half I think is best described by the word panic. There seems to be panic going through the entire House of Saud. One does not get the impressions that it is -- that they have a functioning fission-making process right now. And I think it's actually a point of worry not just for the United States but also for the Iranians.
PARSIThe Iranians have reached out extensively to the Saudis, from the very moment that Rouhani came into office. He actually made a point of declaring the importance of brotherly relations with Saudi Arabia in his first press conference when he got elected, Rouhani, but it had led to absolutely nothing, partly because the Saudis have not been ready for it (unintelligible) perhaps not even capable of handling it.
PARSIAnd the Iranians are very worried that the Saudis are going to become increasingly erratic and behave in ways that actually would be very destructive, and I think the U.S. to a large extent shares those concerns.
WRIGHTWell, part of it is also the Sunni world, the Sunni Gulf world, the Sunni Arab world that is alarmed by the return of this pariah country made up of predominately Shiites. And so the idea that the old balance of power that prevailed before the 1979 revolution, when Iran was one of the two pillars, with Israel, of U.S. policy, that might -- the U.S. may be heading back in that direction. And so the Gulfies are I think far less concerned specifically about the nuclear deal than they are what this does to the balance of power within the reach, the balance of power between Sunni and Shiite.
WRIGHTDavid and I both had lunch with a foreign minister from an Arab country, and I have to say he shocked me because he said oh, those Iranians are really after the takeover of Mecca. And I was going to Iran shortly thereafter, and I said to the Iran foreign minister, who of course is the key player in Vienna, I said -- told him this, and he said, what would we do with Mecca?
WRIGHTYou know, there is such fear on both sides that is irrational, that has historic roots and plays out in ways that have nothing to do with the nuclear deal. So even if you prevent an arms race, a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, there is still going to continue to be these rivalries, the flashpoints that will continue.
WRIGHTAnd the danger is that the rule of thumb in the Middle East is diplomacy is always overtaken by events on the ground, and that could happen again on the nuclear deal.
REHMTrita Parsi, what is this deal going to mean for the average Iranian and how soon?
PARSII think this is going to be of tremendous importance for the average Iranian. If the sanctions are lifted, if the relations with the outside world becomes more normalized, if Iranians can trade, travel and interact, what you will see, essentially, is an end to a police state type of an environment that primarily was created, or at least intensified, during the Ahmadinejad years.
PARSIDuring the Ahmadinejad years, the regime really created a securitized atmosphere inside the country. It was really devastating to see how just 10 years before that, there were interaction between Iranian NGOs and Western NGOs and collaboration and workshops. All of that, all of that ended with a time span of no more than three, four months. That can now reverse now, and the Iranians can interact, and they can be part of the global community.
PARSIAnd I know that that is something that they're yearning for because they have this idea of Iran being an isolated country. It's so foreign to their -- to the concept of Iran that Iranians hold.
REHMAll right, and let me ask you what you think this deal could mean for Syria, for Iraq and for ISIS, Trita.
PARSII think we should listen very carefully to some of the signals that have come out, both from the U.S. side, John Kerry said in an interview to the Boston Globe, the Iranians have said it on numerous occasions, they want to explore the opportunity to expand the dialogue to start addressing some of these regional concerns.
PARSIISIS is number one on that agenda. The two sides have common interest, and very critical individuals within the Iranian security establishment have come out and said that in a post-deal environment, the United States and Iran can stop using their energy against each other. They're not talking about an alliance between the U.S. and Iran or a partnership but a situation in which they won't undermine each other in the way that they have in the last five years, and they will explore opportunities for collaboration against common foes such as ISIS.
PARSIRight now there is no other country that has put troops on the ground to fight ISIS except Iran, and that's exactly what the Americans need right now.
REHMAll right, David.
ROTHKOPFWell, look, I mean, first of all, there is an alliance between the United States and Iran. Iran are the ground troops fighting ISIS right now. We are supplying the air support. We say it ain't so, but it's so. Look on the ground. The reality is that I think the Iranians are going to see this as an opportunity to expand their influence in the region. Does that mean that they're going to demand we stick to Assad? No, but I think they're going to see that they were going to have more influence to ensure that the successor is acceptable to them.
ROTHKOPFAre they going to try and tighten their grip on Bagdad and the Shiite parts of Iraq using the fact that their troops are on the ground? I think that that seems likely. Are they going to try to maintain their influence via Hezbollah and Lebanon or via other forces in the context of Yemen? They may well do that. And I think we need to not rely so much on hope and promise and potential. I think we need to keep it in mind, but we need -- the only way that we will actually achieve that hope is by approaching them and this with real skepticism and a show-me attitude that they are not going to be intervening in a region that's not in the interest of the U.S. or, importantly, our allies because we can say what we will about the Saudis or the other Gulf states or the Israelis and how they've handled this, but those nations have been dependable allies for the United States in some key ways for a long time, and even if Iran warms up, it's not going to reduce the potential threat as perceived by those nations.
ROTHKOPFAnd the perception of threat is critical there.
REHMI'm going to open the phones first to Bill in Dallas, Texas. You're on the air.
BILLHi, thanks very much, Diane, for -- first of all, for your consistently thoughtful, engaging shows like this one. I want to follow up a couple things that were said that I think really express what I was going to say. One of the panelists, I think it was Robin, said that Saudis' concern is really about balance of power in the region, and that's a concern of all the Sunni neighbors, just Iran's moving toward having more power, and that's Netanyahu's also.
BILLSo when they make those points, they have nothing to do with what the negotiations were about fundamentally, which was limiting Iran's nuclear capability, and that's what the negotiations have achieved. And by doing that, as I think Mr. Parsi just talked about, you know, that is going to bring Iran into today's world. It has a huge stabilizing influence on the region and on the world.
BILLSo let's focus on what it was about, what has been achieved rather than turning back the clock to a situation where we're containing Iran, and yet somehow they still have the ability to develop nuclear weapons.
SANGERWell, I think, you know, that's -- that's certainly, you know, a reasonable approach, but I think that I would feel a lot more comfortable about it if it were in the context of a broader strategy on the part of the U.S. and the EU to maintain that balance of power. And so far there is no evidence that there is a real strategy beyond this negotiation to do that.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Trita Parsi, do you want to respond to that?
PARSII think David makes a point that the Iranians (unintelligible). Of course they are. That's what states do. They expand their influence. That's part of what the United States does. The question is, we should not assume that Iranian influence inherently is destabilizing or negative. We ask ourselves what will that interest and influence be used for. And there seems to be a perspective (unintelligible) that the Iranian influence actually can be stabilizing. It certainly has been stabilizing in certain parts of Afghanistan (unintelligible) the question is if we can have more of that instead of the negative aspects of their influence.
PARSIBut the idea that they will expand their influence is certainly a reality. That's what states do, and that's nothing uniquely Iranians.
REHMAll right, Robin Wright.
WRIGHTI think that there will be a lot of change that is a byproduct of this nuclear deal. This is the largest population in the Middle East. It is, as a Western envoy in Tehran told me recently, it's the last goldmine on Earth in terms of the, you know, hungry consumers who hanker for -- to catch up with whether it's fashion or cars or science, that there is just this craving of to be part of the world again.
WRIGHTAnd so I think that this is kind of a nudge that gets a process going. But I also think it's going to take a very long time to change the dynamics. And in the meantime, you know, the nefarious factors and forces in Iran, the Revolutionary guards, the Basij and the invisible intelligence forces and the judiciary, will continue to try to be a rein on those who want to open society because they're trying to maintain the purity of the revolution.
WRIGHTThe real stake in all of this is the future of Iran's revolution. That's the bottom line. And does Iran move as the Soviet Union did, to openness, and does that in turn unravel a revolution?
REHMDavid Rothkopf, finally, how might the lifting of these sanctions affect the global economy?
ROTHKOPFWell, I think the global economy is going to have an effect on Iran and the region as a result of these sanctions. Iran is not a major economy. And I think that...
REHMBut its oil will flow.
ROTHKOPFNo, it's oil will flow, the price of oil will likely come down. I think other countries will grow dependent on Iran. I think that, by the way, has a potential impact on the future of a deal. If there were violations, and we were to vote new sanctions, and China, for example, were dependent on Iranian oil or more close to Iran five, six, seven, eight years down the road, it may make it actually harder to get them to go along with such sanctions.
ROTHKOPFBut I also think you're going to see Iran strengthen. I don't share the administration's view that all this money is simply going to be used within their border for domestic use. So they may use some of it to extend their influence in the region. And I think we should expect all of that.
REHMDavid Rothkopf, CEO and editor of the FP Group, which publishes Foreign Policy Magazine; author of the 2014 book "National Insecurity: American Leadership in an Age of Fear." Trita Parsi, president of National Iranian American Council, and Robin Wright, analyst and joint fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International Center. Thank you all.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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