Trita Parsi is the founder and president of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) in Washington D.C. Dr. Parsi is a recognized thought leader in international affairs and global geopolitical dynamics with frequent appearances in leading news media outlets, both print and online. Dr. Parsi is the author, most recently, of Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy, a detailed account of nuclear negotiations between Iran and world powers that led to the 2015 historic Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal. Dr. Parsi recently spoke to Foreign Policy Concepts about the current Middle East dynamics and relations between the U.S and Iran.
You start your book by writing that the regional security interests of Israel and the U.S did not only fully coincided, but after the 2003 invasion of Iraq they further diverged. What post-invasion factors played a role in diverging the security interests of the two countries?
The invasion of Iraq was aimed at eliminating hostile governments and replacing them with pliant regimes in order to reinforce American hegemony in the Middle East. But the plan failed miserably. Not only did the US destroy the existing order—which centered on Iran’s isolation—it also weakened itself to the extent that it no longer had the capacity to enforce a new equilibrium on the region.
The cost of American hegemony grew, while its benefits dwindled, mindful of the dwindling significance of oil cake and the loss of Middle East’s strategic significance compared to Asia’s, to name a few factors.
But for Israel and Saudi Arabia, who were the main benefactors of Pax Americana, their interest had not changed. They still wanted and needed the protection of America’s security umbrella. They wanted the US to restore the old balance, regardless of its cost and benefit to the US.
How do you characterize the de-facto alliance between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the state of Israel? What is driving them to forge closer ties?
Their main point of commonality is to have the US return to the region with a strong military presence, re-establish American dominance and protection of its allies, and counter Iran. That common interest has existed for quite some time, but it became more urgent as a result of the nuclear deal and their fear of US-Iran rapprochement.
How serious is the Trump administration in scuttling the JCPOA and what stands in his way in doing so?
It looks increasingly likely that Trump will leave the nuclear deal, though the White House likely will not rest its case on the argument that Iran is violating the letter of the nuclear deal. Trump will rather use the argument that Iran’s regional policies change the context and make the nuclear deal unattractive from the perspective of US national interests, as they constrain America’s ability to confront Iran in the region.
Since the signing of the nuclear deal, Iran has seen continuous improvement of trade ties and investment with mainly European countries. How could an economic tilt toward the West by Iran impact its relations with China and Russia?
One of the lessons of the sanctions era for Iran has been that it needs to diversify its trading partners. From a Russian and Chinese perspective, Iran’s growing trade with Europe is not necessarily a threat. These two powers would be much more concerned if Iran and the US had increased their political and economic ties. They don’t want to see Iran fall into the American orbit. But admittedly, their understanding of both Tehran and Washington has reassured them that a US-Iran alliance simply isn’t in the cards in the immediate future, even if Trump had not won in the 2016 elections.