RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The new U.S. sanctions against Iran placed restrictions on top officials, including Iran's leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Overnight, Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, came down hard on the Trump administration's move. Afterwards, an Iranian English-language TV station wrapped it up this way.
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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: President Rouhani said all of the U.S. system, including the White House, the Pentagon and others, are confused at this point. And U.S. policy towards Iran displays the Trump administration's despair. And in the words of the president, the White House is, quote-unquote, "mentally retarded."
MARTIN: So that is how low the dialogue has sunk between these two countries. The question now - will the administration's new round of sanctions eventually cajole Iran back to the negotiating table? We are joined now by Ariane Tabatabai. She's a political scientist at the Rand Corporation. Thanks so much for coming in this morning.
ARIANE TABATABAI: Thanks. Good morning.
MARTIN: What do you make of that comment and just where things stand at this moment between the U.S. and Iran?
TABATABAI: Well, as you put it, we are sinking pretty low at this point. There has been an escalation of tensions over the past couple of weeks, and now we have more sanctions kicking in, which is how we got to this point to begin with. The Iranians were reacting in large part to the United States' pressure campaign on Iran. And there is no off ramp, and one of the only off ramps here seems to be a new target in this coming week. Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, is going to be potentially sanctioned as well, and that seems to close the door to future negotiations, at least for the time being.
MARTIN: Right. Because he's the guy who would lead the negotiations. He is the person who does the interfacing with United States, and if he is sanctioned, that does not portend good things for any diplomacy.
TABATABAI: That's exactly right. Not only that, he is the face of engagement with the West at home. So he is the symbol of the nuclear negotiations, of any kind of overture to the United States and the West.
MARTIN: Can you describe what life is like in Iran under sanctions and what difference these new sanctions will make?
TABATABAI: Well, it's increasingly getting difficult from all the reporting we're seeing. Public opinion polling in most countries is not very reliable but especially in autocratic systems. But what we're seeing is more reporting, more indications that the propaganda that the Islamic Republic had been hammering home for 40 years is slowly but surely gaining ground within the population itself. People are increasingly upset with not just their own government but also the United States about the sanctions. And we know that, for example, cancer patients are having a hard time finding treatments. Treatment is getting scarce but also expensive. Food items are increasingly expensive. So this is affecting the lives of people on a daily basis in Iran, and the sanctions are not happening in a vacuum as we tend to think.
MARTIN: The question, though, is, who are the people most upset with, right? You say they are placing their ire at the U.S. and their own government. The U.S. presumably wants to put pressure on the Iranian government so much so that the people would rise up, criticize their own government, blame them and put pressure on them to change their behavior to ease the sanctions. Is that happening?
TABATABAI: That's exactly right. That is the stated policy objective of the administration. The challenge being that, you know, in terms of the things that the United States is looking to change in Iranian behavior, including its pursuit of a ballistic missile capability, including its support for terrorism, including its interventions in the region, all of those things are seen as key pillars of the Iranian national security by the elites. And so the public has very little input in that sense. So - and I have to add also that the administration, of course, is not looking to target cancer patients in Iran. That is a byproduct of the sanctions. What I think is not happening, though, is enough of an emphasis that what we're trying to do here is not hurt the people and to try to actually minimize the impact of sanctions on everyday people. That's something that was done a bit more in the first - in the previous round of sanctions under President Obama that I don't think is being done enough today.
MARTIN: I'm asking you to prognosticate, but what's Iran's next move after these sanctions?
TABATABAI: Well, I'm concerned that, you know, we're going to see more of the same, at least for the time being at the - again, the escalation of the past few weeks has happened in large part as a result of the pressure campaign. And I think that the Iranians are seeing this and looking at it as, you know, we need to make sure that the United States feels the cost and the pain of the sanctions as well.
MARTIN: Ariane Tabatabai from Rand Corporation, thanks for your time.
TABATABAI: Thanks for having me.