STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says he's not really asking so much of Iran. After President Trump withdrew the United States from a nuclear deal, Pompeo this week offered a dozen demands, from ending nuclear activity to ending support for the armed group Hezbollah.
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MIKE POMPEO: These are a set of simple requirements that the Iranian regime could quite easily comply with, and it would benefit the Iranian people to an enormous extent.
INSKEEP: This is not the only view of the U.S. demands. Trita Parsi regards them as a recipe for confrontation or even war. He heads the National Iranian American Council and is a supporter of the old nuclear deal. He's in our studios.
Welcome back to the program, sir.
TRITA PARSI: Thank you so much for having me.
INSKEEP: So why not make these demands of Iran, tell them to cut off nuclear activity or back off supporting Hamas? You're surely not a big fan of support for terror groups.
PARSI: Certainly not. But this is something we have tried for 20 years. For instance, the demand for zero enrichment is something that the U.S. had been pushing for for quite some time, and we have a proven track record of seeing that that demand goes absolutely nowhere. In fact, in 2003, the Iranians had roughly 150 centrifuges. They sent a proposal to the Bush administration for opening negotiations. John Bolton was in that administration.
INSKEEP: These are the devices that enrich uranium, yeah.
PARSI: Exactly. The Bush administration rejected that proposal, refused any negotiations. By the time Bush left office, the Iranians had 8,000 centrifuges.
INSKEEP: Meaning they massively expanded their nuclear activity...
INSKEEP: ...Rather than...
PARSI: The time that we spent making unrealistic demands that were completely unachievable only granted the Iranians more time to expand their nuclear program.
INSKEEP: Now, you did note publicly the other day that you thought this could lead to war. And we had an opportunity to ask a top State Department official about this. His name is Brian Hook. He was on the program yesterday, and we raised this question of whether the president himself is just seeking confrontation or a war. Let's listen.
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BRIAN HOOK: What we are seeking are changes in the Iranian government's policies. And I think statements like that are overheated and hyperbolic. We've seen the international community come together in the past to create pressure on the Iranian regime, and that brought Iran to the negotiating table.
INSKEEP: That's what Hook says they're trying to do again - get the Europeans on the same page and crank up the sanctions on Iran to really change its behavior.
PARSI: There is a profound misunderstanding here of what actually led to the nuclear deal and what actually led to the negotiations. I described this in detail in my book. The behind-the-scenes story shows that, yes, the United States imposed on Iran crippling sanctions that really hurt their economy, but the Iranians were not just standing still. As this was happening, they were aggressively going forward with their nuclear program, and a race was started between the Iranians trying to present the United States with a nuclear fait accompli and the U.S. trying to cripple the Iranian economy. By 2013 - early that year - the president realized that the Iranians were actually outpacing the U.S. when it came that - to that race.
INSKEEP: This is President Obama you're talking about.
PARSI: President Obama. And he realized that unless something changed, the United States would soon only be faced with two options - either accepting Iran as a nuclear power or going to war.
INSKEEP: You're saying that when this was tried before, the sanctions were not working quickly enough, and so a deal had to be made.
PARSI: Exactly. And that's why the president, in secret negotiations in Oman, went back to the table and changed a core variable in the negotiations. That was accepting enrichment. Now, that was President Obama, who actually had a broad sanctions coalition. That's not President Trump. So the idea that we can re-create that pressure and if we could just have kept that pressure a little bit longer, the Iranians would have caved - reality is, if the president hadn't cut that deal at that time, most likely, we would have ended up in war or the Iranians would have gotten a nuclear breakout capability that was essentially zero.
INSKEEP: Mr. Parsi, you mentioned your book - it's called "Losing An Enemy" - which sketches how you worked on this nuclear deal or toward this nuclear deal for a long time. You've worked for better relations with Iran for a long time. There must be quite a personal sting for you in this moment when President Trump is taking U.S. policy in a very different direction.
PARSI: I'm not taking it personally, but I am extremely worried that we actually had a triumph of diplomacy; we had an opportunity to actually address some of the issues that Brian Hook was talking about and resolving those. Instead, the president now has taken a triumph of diplomacy and turned it into a crisis of choice.
INSKEEP: If you had one sentence to say to the president of advice now, given what he's done, what would that sentence be?
PARSI: If you want diplomacy, you have to pursue it genuinely, not as a pretext for war.
INSKEEP: Trita Parsi, thanks very much for coming by. I really appreciate it.
PARSI: Thank you.
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