Award-winning Iranian journalist Kourosh Ziabari interviewed me for the Fars News Agency. Following is the text of the interview, used with his permission.
Jeremy R. Hammond: US Should End Criminal Sanctions Regime Against Iran
TEHRAN (FNA)- Prominent American investigative journalist and political commentator Jeremy R. Hammond says that the sanctions imposed against Iran by the United States and its European allies are illegal and criminal and represent some kind of collective punishment aimed at paralyzing the Iranian government and the livelihood of the Iranian citizens.
According to Jeremy R. Hammond, even the US intelligence community has confirmed and verified that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful and there has not been any single IAEA report indicating diversion in Iran’s nuclear activities; however, the United States and some EU members are adamantly insisting that Iran has a plan to develop nuclear weapons, while they have no evidence to substantiate this claim.
“The near universal failure of analysts and commentators to understand this compounds the problem by misinforming the public. The US mainstream media does so in a manner that serves to manufacture consent for US policy, just as it did in the run-up to the Iraq war by uncritically parroting the lies of government officials and essentially waging a propaganda war against the public. It is a myth that there was an “intelligence failure”. This was not incompetence on display. It was rather an extremely successful counterintelligence operation targeting the American people.,” said Hammond in an exclusive interview with Fars News Agency.
Jeremy R. Hammond is an independent political analyst and recipient of the Project Censored Award for Outstanding Investigative Journalism. He is the founding editor of Foreign Policy Journal and his articles and interviews can be found on his website at Jeremy RHammond.com. He is the author of “Ron Paul vs. Paul Krugman: Austrian vs. Keynesian economics in the financial crisis” and “The Rejection of Palestinian Self-Determination: The Struggle for Palestine and the Roots of the Israeli-Arab Conflict”. His forthcoming book is on the contemporary US role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
What follows is the text of FNA’s interview with Jeremy R. Hammond.
Q: Jeremy; how do you evaluate the international reactions to the election of moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s new president? Does the fact that foreign dignitaries from 60 countries traveled to Iran to attend his inauguration ceremony as Iran’s new president signal the beginning of a new era in Iran’s interactions and relations with the world?
A: This illustrates the failure of the US to isolate Iran to the extent it would like. Try as it might to convince the world that Iran is a rogue state that must be shunned until it is ready to rejoin the community of nations by becoming civilized, by which I mean by obeying orders from Washington, D.C., much of the world remains unconvinced, either that Iran is such a rogue state or that the US’s approach would be an appropriate one even if it was.
The US President, Barack Obama, came into office on rhetoric of “change” and the promise of being willing to engage in diplomacy with Iran. But there has been absolute continuity in his policy from the Bush administration. The policy is really one of regime change. To further this policy, the US hopes it can punish Iran and punish the civilian population of Iran enough that they come to their senses and realize that their current leadership must be overthrown and replaced with a government that understands its place in the world. This is the purpose of the sanctions, which target the civilian population.
The pretext for this policy of collective punishment is the claim that Iran is seeking to build nuclear weapons, just the same as the pretext for waging an illegal war of aggression against Iraq to overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein was the claim that Iraq had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). It’s the same playbook. There are some differences, though. One is that in the case of Iraq, the CIA collaborated with the White House to orchestrate a campaign of deception targeting the American public, along with the rest of the world, in order to manufacture consent for the war that was the means by which Washington executed its policy of regime change. Thus, the CIA pushed so-called “intelligence” saying things like that aluminum tubes acquired by Iraq were intended for building centrifuges to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapon, when in fact the top experts on centrifuges in the U.S. intelligence community, at the Department of Energy, assessed that they could not be used for centrifuges but exactly matched the specifications for tubes for an existing conventional rocket program.
The State Department’s intelligence branch concurred with the DOE experts. Incidentally, this assessment was also shared by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is also actively monitoring Iran’s nuclear program. The CIA alleged that Iraq’s unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, were intended to deliver a payload of chemical or biological weapons (CBW), when in fact the US’s top experts on UAVs, in the Air Force, assessed that they were intended for surveillance. And so on. In the case of Iran, the CIA hasn’t been as willing to fall on its sword the way it was under George Tenet’s leadership under the Bush administration. It has instead honestly delivered the assessment of the US intelligence community, rather than trying to marginalize and conceal it, which is that Iran today has no nuclear weapons program.
The fact that the Obama administration’s policy is founded on the claim that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons even when the US’s own intelligence community assesses otherwise illustrates how Iran’s nuclear program is not the real issue. The real issue is Iran’s intransigence. Iran is a rogue state by definition because it refuses to follow marching orders from Washington. It has been a rogue state since the revolution in 1979 overthrew the government of Iran that was under Washington’s good graces, the brutal but compliant regime of the Shah, installed in 1953 when the CIA orchestrated a coup that overthrew the democratically elected Prime Minister, Mohammed Mosadegh. It was under the Shah, actually, that Iran’s nuclear program began, with Washington’s blessing and active support. This, too, illustrates that the nuclear program is not the real issue.
The near universal failure of analysts and commentators to understand this compounds the problem by misinforming the public. The US mainstream media does so in a manner that serves to manufacture consent for US policy, just as it did in the run-up to the Iraq war by uncritically parroting the lies of government officials and essentially waging a propaganda war against the public. It is a myth that there was an “intelligence failure”. This was not incompetence on display. It was rather an extremely successful counterintelligence operation targeting the American people.
Q: The leaders of several European states, including France, Germany, Italy and Britain, sent congratulatory messages to President Hassan Rouhani following his election as Iran’s new chief executive. Do these messages indicate the EU’s intention and readiness for easing the tensions with Iran by lifting the unjust and cruel sanctions and avoid putting unnecessary political pressure on Iran?
A: I don’t think so. The EU is just obeying the world’s hegemon. It will continue to cooperate with the policy of collectively punishing the civilian population of Iran so long as this remains Washington’s marching orders.
The IAEA and UN Security Council, for that matter, are also just obeying Washington to the extent possible without appearing to all the world to be acting entirely as agents of US foreign policy. The Council has no authority to implement the sanctions resolutions it has passed. Iran is quite correct that these resolutions are actually illegal, a violation of the UN’s own Charter. The nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) makes it explicitly clear that Iran has an “inalienable right” to uranium enrichment for civilian purposes, and that nothing may be done to prejudice Iran’s right to do so.
What has happened is that the UN has cited a demand from the IAEA Board of Governors that Iran cease its enrichment. However, the IAEA has repeatedly reaffirmed that there has been no diversion of nuclear material to any military aspect of its program—in other words, that its enrichment of uranium has been strictly for peaceful civilian purposes. The IAEA has absolutely no authority to demand that Iran cease this perfectly legal uranium enrichment. It is strictly forbidden, in fact, from prejudicing Iran’s “inalienable right” to do so by the NPT, as I already mentioned.
Of course, when the government of Iran points out that the UN sanctions resolutions are illegal, this is just further proof to the world that it is a rogue state that refuses to be a responsible member of the community of nations. Tehran just doesn’t understand that international law is irrelevant when it conflicts with the US policy, since orders from Washington trump whatever international law has to say about the matter. This world order is what is meant by “community of nations”. Anyone who doesn’t accept this order is by definition outside of this “community”. The war of aggression against Iraq, for example, wasn’t just a war waged by the US. It had the backing of the “community of nations”, the so-called “coalition of the willing” who were complicit in waging what was defined at the Nuremberg Tribunal as “the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”
The law is whatever Washington says. That is the existing world order. Iran disobeying Washington’s commandments is unacceptable. The US cannot have countries going around acting independently of its will, because it damages what is termed Washington’s “credibility”. It is like a disease that will spread, so that if an example isn’t made of Iran of the consequences for disobedience, other countries might go and get similar ideas and start disregarding Washington, too. Other countries might go and get it in their heads to challenge US dollar hegemony, for example, by trading oil in other currencies and rejecting the dollar as the world’s reserve currency.
The world order would collapse under this domino effect. The US economy would collapse. Washington obviously can’t allow that to happen, and so Iran’s economy must be crushed and the Iranian people punished and made an example of.
I should add that try as it might, the US will not succeed in sustaining this world order. It is already cracking at the foundations and will inevitably come tumbling down. The role of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency is already under threat, and not only by “rogue states” like Iran and Venezuela. Germany joined Venezuela, for example, in deciding to repatriate its holdings of gold from foreign central banks—the US Federal Reserve, in Germany’s case.
The US monetary system itself is unsustainable, and is currently propped up only through massive monetary inflation of the Fed, which was the same policy responsible for creating the housing bubble that precipitated the financial crisis in the first place. The only difference is that it has since continued on an even more massive scale. Just as the economic growth during the bubble years was an illusory, merely the appearance of growth, but in reality unsustainable, so, too, now, is the talk of “recovery” from what is called the “Great Recession” based on this notion that wealth can come from a printing press. But the US cannot print its way to prosperity with its monetary policy any more than it can continue to bully its way to prosperity through threats and violence with its foreign policy.
Q: In his recent press conference, President Rouhani talked of Iran’s preparedness for engaging in serious and substantive talks with the world powers over its nuclear program. He said that some of Iran’s basic rights like the right of uranium enrichment are not negotiable, but his government is ready to alleviate the western concerns through taking confidence-building measures and offering more transparency. How should the West embrace this new opportunity for constructive talks with Iran? What do you think about President Rouhani’s approach to the nuclear talks?
A: What the West should do is end its criminal sanctions regime against the Iranian people, recognize and respect Iran’s rights, and engage in trade with the country. What it will do is another story. The present US policy, which is very much anti-free market, will regrettably continue.
As for Rouhani’s approach, I also see little difference in it from his predecessor’s. President Ahmadinejad also repeatedly expressed Iran’s interest in engaging in talks with the West on the basis of mutual respect. But Washington refused to do that and instead maintained its ultimatum as a precondition for talks that Iran must surrender its rights under the NPT and end its uranium enrichment. When Iran refused to enter into a dialogue with the West on those terms, it was just further proof that Iran was a rogue state refusing to join the civilized community of nations.
Q: President Rouhani has just been inaugurated and the Parliament has just approved his proposed ministers. However, the interesting thing is that on July 31, the US House of Representatives controversially passed a bill that imposes a new round of sanctions on Iran’s oil, mine and automobile sector. How is it possible to justify this new round of sanctions when the new foreign minister took office three days ago? Won’t such imprudent and reckless decisions by the Congress extinguish the chances of reconciliation between Iran and the United States and bring to a failure a possible negotiated solution to the Iran-West nuclear standoff?
A: Well, as I said, Rouhani’s approach to talks is really not substantially different from Ahmadinejad’s. The problem for Washington is that he is still insisting that the West respect Iran’s rights. He hasn’t shown any willingness at all to surrender Iran’s right to uranium enrichment. Hence, the US policy of punishing the Iranian people must not only continue, but be escalated. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. The reason it does is because, as I said before, there is a near universal failure among analysts, journalists, and other commentators to understand that Iran’s nuclear program isn’t really the issue. Thus, when there is elected a leader in Iran who expresses his desire to talk with the West to resolve the standoff over its nuclear program, and the US reacts by just doubling down on its sanctions regime, there is this mystification and puzzlement over it, because it seems contrary to Washington’s own rhetoric about engaging in diplomacy with Iran and seeking a negotiating partner. But if you understand the real problem, it isn’t an enigmatic contradiction at all. It is absolutely consistent with longstanding US policy.
It’s interesting, because Rouhani, as I understand it, was actually instrumental in Iran’s decision to temporarily halt enrichment on a voluntary basis in 2004 or 2005. The quid pro quo for that decision was that the EU was supposed to offer Iran security guarantees, which was understood to mean that it would work to get the US and Israel to drop their threats to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, which is to say that the EU was supposed to use its influence to establish a basis for real diplomacy and meaningful negotiations, without ultimatums and threats of violence—which are in fact a violation of international law, as the UN Charter prohibits member states from not only the use of force, but the threat of the use of force in international relations. The EU failed to live up to its end of the bargain, and Iran consequently renewed its legal enrichment program.
The IAEA then also betrayed Iran by treating that suspension as though it had been legally obligated to do so, when it was made explicit from the start that the suspension was strictly on a voluntary basis. This goes back to what I said before about how the UN has no authority for its sanctions resolutions.
Q: In his latest statements, President Rouhani alluded to an unseen rift between the White House and the Congress in making decisions on Iran and other major foreign policy issues. He said that the White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has sent a congratulatory message to him following his inauguration, but the Congress has hastily imposed a new round of sanctions against Iran a few days later. What does this duality indicate? Who is prodding the Congress to put pressure on Iran? Can we conclude that a powerful and influential Israeli lobby is persuading the Congress to pressure Iran?
A: No, the Israeli lobby has nothing to do with it. Certainly, the Israeli lobby is supportive of the existing US policy, but it just as certainly isn’t the reason for it. I’ve already explained the motivating factors behind the policy. The US has its own “interests”, as narrowly defined by policymakers, and they just so happen to coincide with Israeli interests, likewise defined, in this case.Even if a new Israeli government came to power that wished to normalize relations with Iran, the US policy would continue as is.
I understand that AIPAC was largely behind the latest legislation pushing further sanctions. It does play a role and have influence in the Congress in that respect. But are we to presume that the Congress wouldn’t try to further the existing policy if AIPAC didn’t exist? I’m extremely dubious of this assumption. Members of Congress need no influence from AIPAC to engage in their warmongering. It is quite within their own nature to do so. It is evident that the Congress would pursue this policy with or without the existence of AIPAC, for the reasons I’ve already explained.
Furthermore, where the lobby does have any kind of influence in this regard is limited to the Congress. It has none in the White House. It cannot explain the foreign policy implemented by the Executive branch of the US government.
The idea that Israel, through some kind of monolithic, broadly defined “Israeli lobby”, dictates US policy is a popular one, but one that I find hard to take seriously. The “Israeli lobby” is also widely charged with being responsible for the US policy that led it to war with Iraq, for example. But this is preposterous. This idea is advanced by defining the misnamed “neoconservatives” in Washington who advanced the policy as members of the “Israeli lobby”, as though they were nothing more than agents of Israel who had no US interests in mind when they decided to go to war. It’s true many so-called neoconservatives are Zionists, and many are Jewish, but that circumstance is about as far as the logic behind this argument goes.Proponents of this hypothesis point to a document titled “A Clean Break” written by a number of prominent American neocons in the mid-90s for the Netanyahu government, which outlined reasons why it would be in Israel’s interests to support a policy of regime change in Iraq. But this document hardly supports the hypothesis, because it wasn’t the Israelis trying to convince the Americans to further this policy, but vice versa.
And are we supposed to believe that guys like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and George W. Bush had Israel’s interests in mind rather than the US’s? All one has to do to understand the motives behind the policy the neocons favored is to read their own policy documents. They were perfectly candid about their reasons. Read the manifesto of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), for example, titled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses”, for example.We are supposed to believe that US global hegemonic designs had nothing to do with it, despite the policy documents explicitly stating otherwise? Iraq’s oil had nothing to do with it, despite the policy documents explicitly stating otherwise? Propping up the dollar’s role as the world’s reserve currency had nothing to do with it? Maintaining US “credibility” after a decade of failed sanctions—which were becoming politically untenable due to the punishing effect on the civilian population, having been directly responsible, according to UN estimates, for over a million Iraqi deaths, including half a million children—had nothing to do with it?
This idea that Israel through this broadly defined “lobby” controls US policy in the Middle East is one that unfortunately is taken with more seriousness than it deserves. It is also unfortunate because trying to blame Israel for US policies and their consequences shifts the focus away from the American policymakers who are 100% responsible for the actions of the US government. The whole issue tends to serve as a red herring in this regard.
Q: The spokesman to the EU foreign policy chief, Michael Mann, has said that if Iran demonstrates that its nuclear activities are peaceful, there will be no need for the further imposition of sanctions or the continuation of the current disputes. What’s your viewpoint about his remarks? Is it Iran’s responsibility to convince the world that its nuclear program is peaceful? What about EU’s response? How should it prove its goodwill and that it is not seeking hostility towards Iran?
A: His remarks illustrate how the EU just goes along for the most part with whatever policy comes out of Washington. His statement is nonsense. It is asking the impossible of Iran. The West has made sure to make it impossible for Iran to ever be able to demonstrate that its nuclear activities are peaceful, the same way they made it impossible for Iraq under Saddam Hussein to prove that it had no WMD. The fact is that the IAEA is actively monitoring and inspecting Iran’s program and has continued to verify the non-diversion of nuclear material to any military aspect of the program. The fact is that the US’s own intelligence community assesses that Iran has no active nuclear weapons program. What more can Iran do to “demonstrate” that its program is peaceful besides honoring its safeguards agreement with the IAEA under the NPT regime? This is the whole point of the existence of the IAEA.
What the EU is really saying with such remarks is that Iran must obey Washington and surrender its right to uranium enrichment. This will be the demonstration required that is program is for peaceful purposes. Once Iran obeys, then and only then will the EU consent to lifting the sanctions regime. This is the meaning of the EU’s statement. If the EU wished to demonstrate that it has goodwill towards Iran, it would immediately end its criminal sanctions. The fact that it doesn’t is made self-evident by the fact that it won’t.
Q: Iranian people and statesmen have usually voiced skepticism toward the US government and its calls for dialogue with Iran. They cite the black record of Washington’s policy of failed military intervention, sanctions, media propaganda and terror campaign against Iran and say that the United States is not a reliable partner. However, some people say that Washington can correct its mistakes and return to the table of negotiations with Iran based on mutual respect and on equal footing. What’s your take on that?
A: The Iranian people clearly understand the situation better than the intelligentsia in the United States who shape the discussion in the US media to manufacture consent for the government’s policies, with room for permissible dissent only along very narrow grounds. Certainly, the US government can correct its criminal and immoral policies, just as the US can, very easily, cease its support for Israel’s constant violations of international law. The real question is whether it will, and I think the unfortunate answer to that is already evident.