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U.S. Should Not Go To War Against Iran Over A Drone, Parsi Says

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We are following reports that the Trump administration authorized airstrikes against Iran and pulled those same airstrikes back. Trita Parsi is founder and president of the National Iranian American Council. His latest book is titled "Losing An Enemy: Obama, Iran, And The Triumph Of Diplomacy."

Trita, you were here yesterday. You are with us again this morning because developments are unfolding quickly. What do you make of these reports now that President Trump ordered airstrikes against Iran, and then - planes were in the air already - he ordered that they come back?

TRITA PARSI: Well, we don't know exactly why he ordered them not to come back. But we do know that Pompeo, Bolton and Haspel have been pushing him to react militarily to the downing of the drone, which the military of the United States has warned very likely will lead to a much larger military confrontation. They have made their case to Trump as to why the United States should go to war over a drone. I would like to see them try to make that case to the American people and tell American people why their sons and daughters, fathers and mothers need to die because a drone was shot down.

MARTIN: Do you think this emboldens Iran?

PARSI: I think Trump thinks that this probably serves as a warning - that he was very close to doing it and he can do it. And as a result, it has a deterring effect. Whether that is the case or not, we will have to see how the Iranians react over the next 24 or so hours. I thought it was interesting that the Iranians are saying that there was another manned airplane along with the drone, and they chose not to shoot that down. That may indicate that Trump's warnings that a single American dying would be a redline for the U.S. - and the Iranians respected that.

MARTIN: Right. This came down in a statement. And Iran saying again that there wasn't just a manned aircraft that was flying near this drone, it had 35 people onboard. And they're wanting some kind of credit for using restraint. But at the same time, Trita - in the same statement, they say they took out that U.S. drone because - and I'm quoting here - "we intended to send a message to American terrorists in the region." That doesn't sound like placating language.

PARSI: That is by no means placating language. We have to remember, though, that they are still insisting that the drone was in Iranian airspace. And if it was in Iranian airspace, I don't think we should be surprised if they were to shoot it down, just as much as the U.S. should - would shoot down any Iranian drones in American airspace.

I think it would be really valuable to actually have a proper investigation of what really occurred here. That, in and of itself, has a defusing effect. It causes more time to be added to the clock and puts restraint on all sides, which is exactly what we need at this moment.

MARTIN: And you say investigate because there is still dispute over whether or not Iran shot this drone down because it was flying over its sovereign airspace or whether, as the U.S. argues, it was over international waters.

What happens if President Trump changes his mind again and moves forward with strikes? I mean, does that - would something like that change Iran's behavior? Is there precedent to show that Iran would would alter its aggressive posture in the Gulf and beyond in response to something like that?

PARSI: Well, I think we have to take a second look at the context here because I'm not entirely in agreement that it is the Iranians who have escalated the situation towards this. This whole entire situation has come about because Donald Trump chose to walk out of the nuclear deal. He took a resolved issue and unresolved it. We had a conflict that was close to war a couple of years ago. It got resolved. He unresolved it, and we are now back at the brink of war.

But if Trump does take military action, particularly if the reporting is correct that it would lead to hundreds of deaths on the Iranian side, I fear that that will cause the Iranians to respond accordingly. And then we will have a full war.

MARTIN: Trita Parsi, thank you for joining us. He talked to us on Skype. He's the author of the book "Losing An Enemy: Obama, Iran, And The Triumph Of Diplomacy."

PARSI: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.