Biden “illegally” bombs Iranian-backed militias in Syria, jeopardizing nuclear talks with Tehran
This is a hasty transcript. The copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOOD MAN: This is Democracy now!, democrazianow.org, The quarantine report. I am Amy Goodman, as we now turn to Syria. The Biden administration is facing intense criticism after US Air Force fighter jets bombed eastern Syria on Thursday. The Pentagon said the attacks targeted Iranian-backed militant groups. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that at least 22 people have died.
Biden ordered the airstrike the same day he spoke to the king of Saudi Arabia, Iran’s archrival in the region. According to the White House, Biden has pledged to appeal to help Saudi Arabia defend its territory from Iranian-aligned groups.
The Pentagon called the assault a response to recent missile strikes on US forces in northern Iraq. Those attacks came more than a year after the Iraqi parliament voted to expel US troops, an order that was ignored by both Trump and Biden.
Biden was asked about the air strikes on Friday.
REPORTER: Mr. President, what message did you send to Iran with your first military action?
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: You cannot achieve, you cannot act with impunity. Watch out.
AMY GOOD MAN: Still with us is Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna from California. We are also joined by Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the new think tank, the Quincy Institute. His most recent book is called Losing an enemy: Obama, Iran and the triumph of diplomacy.
Trita Parsi, can you respond to the attack, the American bombing of Syria?
TRITA PARSI: Yes. The Biden administration, I think President Biden himself in particular, felt strongly that because of the previous attacks in Iraq, a response was justified. But what I think many people fear is that very quickly the Biden administration is falling into the same old patterns as before, of responding to this and that without having a clear strategy that actually pulls us out of these various conflicts and actually opens the door. road to a much more productive diplomacy.
The idea that this would actually help us with diplomacy with Iran, for example, seems really hard to understand, mindful of the fact that we are now in a situation where the Iranians have turned down the Europeans’ offer to come to talks. precisely because of these attacks, due to other measures that have been made, which means that these first two months of the Biden administration, which could have been used to lay the foundations in a really productive way for new talks, seem instead to be were used only to fit in the old patterns. And that’s worrying enough, because, in the end, revive the JCPOA is another promise the Biden administration made during the campaign and said it would pursue diligently.
AMY GOOD MAN: Were you surprised by these attacks? And it explains exactly where they happened in Syria.
TRITA PARSI: It took place in the eastern part of Syria. These are various groups that the Biden administration describes as pro-Iranians, they certainly seem to have some support from Iran. It is not so clear whether they are under the command of Iran.
And in the end, you know, the fact that this was said on the same day the Biden administration decided not to pursue sanctions on MBS, again, it seems to suggest that the Biden administration is more concerned at this point with making sure not to upset some allies in the region, not to pay a political cost at home, to pursue a compromise with Iran on the nuclear issue, which I believe it conveys. a very, very worrying message, because, ultimately, for the JCPOA to be revived, both the Iranians and the United States must compromise and pay a political price at home. The Obama administration did it. The Rouhani government did it. There is no escape from this. But if we already signal at this stage that we are not ready to do so and are too concerned about those political costs, it really raises a question mark as to whether there is the political will to see these negotiations on the nuclear program come to fruition.
AMY GOOD MAN: Congressman Ro Khanna, his response to the bombing of Syria?
REPRESENTATIVE. RO KHANNA: Well, this is not an ambiguous case. The administration’s actions are clearly illegal under United States law and international law. We do not have any authorization from the military force to enter Syria. In fact, President Obama tried and then backtracked in getting that authorization. We have no military force authorization to attack Iran. The idea that this was an impending attack on US self-defense is simply not corroborated by the facts. And according to international law, in self-defense, we have to go to the United Nations. The administration did not. So, my concern is that this president has continued to end endless wars, to respect US and international law, and these actions clearly violate both.
AMY GOOD MAN: So, Trita Parsi, if you could talk about the European Union, Iran rejecting an EU offer to hold direct talks with the US on the nuclear deal after the US attack on eastern Syria? The significance of this?
TRITA PARSI: It is a very unfortunate decision on the part of the Iranians. I mean, I think it would be much better if they accepted this invitation.
But at the same time, it’s not a surprising decision. In fact, one of President Biden’s senior officials, Wendy Sherman, who will now be confirmed next week or will have hearings to become the deputy secretary, said she was a key negotiator under Obama for the nuclear deal – he said, in 2019. , that the idea that the Iranians would come to the table and talk to the United States without sanctions being eased, meaning the United States would continue to violate JCPOA yet the Iranians would come, it was extremely unlikely. It is not clear to me why the Biden administration chose a strategy that some of its senior officials previously thought extremely unlikely to succeed.
So it’s not surprising. It is very negative. And now we are in a worse situation. There will be a fight potentially today at IAEA Board of Governors on whether to censor Iran for some of its reductions in obligations under the JCPOA, while the United States continues to completely ignore all its obligations.
So, these are all kinds of steps and wrong steps that should be taken at this stage of diplomacy. At this stage, there should be goodwill measures, there should be positive signs of intent, in order to create the best possible circumstances for diplomacy to start. We are now having the opposite.
AMY GOOD MAN: Can you explain, Trita, Iran’s demand that the US end sanctions before returning to negotiations? It explains what US sanctions against Iran are and how they are affecting the people there.
TRITA PARSI: Well, the Iranians have now suffered tremendously from the sanctions President Trump put in place in 2018 and 2019 and onward. These have been devastating to the Iranian economy. Indeed, President Trump stepped them up once COVID broke out, seeing the pandemic as a way to further increase the impact of sanctions. And that means blocking Iran’s ability to get IMF loans to fight the virus. Hence, the Iranians have suffered tremendously under these sanctions for the past two years.
I think part of the reason they are afraid to go to the table without any indication – not all sanctions need to be lifted, from their point of view, but some indications that the US will withdraw sanctions, is that, otherwise, they fear that the talks may not be successful, they will be blamed for the failure of the talks, they will be seen as guilty, even if the United States, under Biden, did not change Trump’s position of maximum pressure. So the United States doesn’t even go back to the deal but manages to shift the blame on the Iranians. I think this is part of their fear.
At the same time, I think that calling for the lifting of all sanctions, which they have done previously, is completely unrealistic. What is happening right now is that the Iranian demand is that the US side promise that once the US is in the deal, it will pull back the sanctions. But it is also very difficult to see how the United States could reject it, aware that once it enters the agreement, it must lift the sanctions; otherwise, it will be in complete violation of the agreement.
AMY GOOD MAN: Ro Khanna, can you talk about the timing of this attack? Throughout the week, the build-up to the release of the Khashoggi murder report and the clear connection with MBS, Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, so all of this was building. Then President Biden says he is talking to the king, and they talk about defending the Saudi borders. And just before the report is released, they bomb Syria and talk about attacking Iranian-backed militias, Saudi Arabia’s main enemy. Can you answer this, this idea that they are releasing a report that proves that Khashoggi’s murder is the crown – behind it is the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, but then they do the orders of Saudi Arabia?
REPRESENTATIVE. RO KHANNA: Well, Amy, this is why the Constitution says that before a president takes these actions, he has to come to Congress, because those issues would be discussed in Congress. Questions would have been asked: Is it in some way in response to conversations with the Saudis? Why do we need to take this action now? Why do we suddenly feel there is an imminent threat? Will this action be intensified? They say the action is dissuasive. I didn’t understand how. How is a military strike easy?
And the main point here is that the maximum pressure campaign didn’t work. Iranian enriched uranium was around 102 kilograms when President Trump took office. Now it’s 2.5 tons. It is 25 times more. So, repeating this ongoing strategy not only has implications for our getting entangled in the Middle East, but it has actually not worked out in the objectives. And the challenge is a naive view in the United States that somehow our actions will force regime change in Iran. If anything, they are strengthening the regime. We need a completely different approach. And I actually think the American people want a completely different approach.
AMY GOOD MAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us. Trita Parsi, thank you for joining us, with the Quincy Institute. I also want to thank Ro Khanna and ask you to stay with us, because a lot has happened in the Chamber, where you are a member of California. We want to ask you about the $ 1.9 trillion pandemic aid package. The House has included the minimum wage of $ 15 an hour, but it will be eliminated. Get your answer to this and other problems. Stay with us.