Iran Deal: Special Discussion with Trita Parsi

The Young Professional in International Affairs, in partnership with the Osgood Center for International Studies, held a special discussion with Trita Parsi, an award winning author and President of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) on July 22, 2015. Dr. Parsi, recently returned from Geneva, started the conversation by giving background into his departure from Iran as a child, his life in Sweden, and his arrival in America to attend the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. He completed his Doctoral thesis on Israeli-Iranian relations at Johns Hopkins SAIS where he serves as an adjunct professor of International Relations as well as at George Washington University and Georgetown University. He has also served as an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute and as a Policy Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC.

Dr. Williams, head of the Osgood Center, kicked off the discussion stating that the deal isn’t good enough because it doesn’t stop the regime. Trita Parsi responded that it is a good deal, and there won’t be any other deal if Congress stops it. He stated that there is no legal basis to say that Iran can’t have nuclear power, and that those who are making the “isn’t good enough” argument are the same people who got us into Iraq and subsequently weakened the United States’ power. In 2003, Iran’s nuclear program was much smaller at 164 centrifuges, but the Bush administration refused to negotiate with Iran. In 2005 Iran had approximately 2000 centrifuges and made an offer to cap their work, but again the United States declined negotiations because of the view that if they negotiated with the Iranians, they would legitimize them, stated Parsi. He then asked the crowd of international students, “What are you willing to offer? Can you really get more without offering more?” He finished his thought with, “Insisting on something you cannot achieve strengthens the other side. These are negotiations, not demands.”

Dr. Williams then proposed that the deal gives too many sanctions reliefs and a platform where Iran can attack Israel, and that this deal signals a retreat of the United States in the Middle East. Trita asked Dr. Williams and the room if they would rather that Iran has a bomb, and also attacks Israel, because in his eyes, that is what was happening. He went on to say that a shift is needed in regard to the US in the Middle East, and they need to reorganize, because global competition is not going to come from the Persian Gulf. In Mr. Parsi’s opinion, Saudi Arabia and Israel benefited from the old order of the US in the Middle East. They are more afraid of a new world order than the nuke. Further, Trita said that if Iran got a nuke they would be worse off, because if they obtain a nuclear weapon, their neighbors would follow suit. Although they may think they are becoming a regional hegemon they would be weakened. Iran doesn’t just need power; they need acceptance from those around them. While sanctions, such as the UN and European sanctions, would be lifted soon if the deal passes U.S. sanctions would only be lifted after several years, and some sanctions, such as human rights and terrorism sanctions, will never be lifted.

“What about the fact that Iranians hate us? How can we trust them?” baited Dr. Williams. Trita shot that argument down by saying that this deal does not put any trust into the Iranian government. We aren’t going to trust them, and we don’t have to, he said confidently. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitoring is extensive, and the Iranians agreed to extra safeguards and protocols. There is a system of checks and balances in place, and the United States can put their trust in science, not the Iranian government. Dr. Williams argued again that this deal is just not good enough, to which Trita responded that you don’t make peace with your friends. The job of foreign policy leaders is to be pragmatic, and find the risks and do something about them. If this deal moves forward, Iranian society will be empowered, and it will move Iran into a progressive relationship with the United States.

Mr. Parsi then took questions from the energized audience. The questions ran the gamut, with the first question coming from a Young Professionals in International responded that it simply cannot happen. The negotiators were confident in their abilities to know what it going on, and that this deal makes certain that that option will not exist for Iran. Other questions dealt with the possibility of the next US President overturning the deal or snapping back sanctions, what the religious influence was in Iran for this deal, and the possibility of conventional warfare over this in the Middle East. In his confident yet cordial style, Dr. Parsi answered each question and ended with an impassioned plea for each person sitting in the audience, whether or not they agreed with his argument, to contact their Congressmen and Senators and tell them how they feel about the Iran deal. Even as time ran over for the session, he continued to speak with the students who were gathering at the book signing table.

By: Sarah Riley

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