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Negotiate a deal or we’ll have another war in the Middle East — that’s what Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, says is at stake in the current negotiations with Iran over curbing its nuclear program.
Parsi has been talking to diplomats on both sides and he believes that what is taking shape in Geneva is a “durable deal that enhances America’s security and non-proliferation goals while making Iran much less hostile, and U.S. allies in the region much more safe.”
Parsi also sees this as a unique moment. He says that not only is Iran eager for a deal, Washington also needs one, because the sanctions that have brought Iran to the negotiating table could disintegrate.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
Well, let's get some reaction to what's going on from Trita Parsi. He is the president of the nonprofit National Iranian American Council. He's the author of "A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama's Diplomacy with Iran." Trita, welcome.
TRITA PARSI: Thank you so much for having me.
HOBSON: Well, you've been talking to negotiators on both sides of this. What are you hearing?
PARSI: I think they are close to what essentially will become quite an important, perhaps even historic, deal. I think this is going to be tremendously positive for U.S. national security and actually goes a very long way in resolving this issue. Unfortunately, there are those in this country, in Iran, as well, as in the region, who are more fearful of a resolution of this issue than they are fearful of the status quo and perhaps even a military confrontation. But so far the negotiators have been going forward and have made some significant progress.
HOBSON: Well, let's listen to some of the opposition to this. And we just heard about Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and what he thinks. I want to hear a clip of him talking about this.
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: So Iran got the deal of the century, and the international community got a bad deal. This is a very bad deal. And Israel utterly rejects it, and what I'm saying is shared by many, many in the region, whether or not they express it publicly. Israel is not obliged by this agreement, and Israel will do everything it needs to do to defend itself and to defend the security of its people.
HOBSON: Trita Parsi, how do you respond to that?
PARSI: Well, I think it's important to understand that the Israel prime minister is in somewhat of a similar position as perhaps the Tea Party Republicans were during the discussion regarding the shutdown of the U.S. government. He has a political interest to just stick to his guns, even though he knows: A, that there most likely will be a deal; B, that he's not going to be able to change the parameters of that deal even if he speaks this aggressively; and C, which is perhaps most important, that at the end of the day this deal will also be good for Israel. However, for his own domestic political considerations, he cannot come out and say it.
HOBSON: But would President Obama go ahead with a deal if it's got such opposition from Israel?
PARSI: At the end of the day, the president of the United States is the president of the United States. This is a good deal because it will ensure that Iran does not get nuclear weapons. It will ensure that the security of other allies in the region actually will be enhanced. But it all also ensure that there will not be a war with Iran.
And unfortunately we do know, based on what Netanyahu has said, based on what the king of Saudi Arabia said, according to the WikiLeaks, that they want the United States to go to war with Iran. And I think they're afraid that that possibility for war will now be eliminated, and that's why they're upset.
HOBSON: You think that there would be a war with Iran if this deal is not reached? Explain.
PARSI: If there isn't a deal on this issue, and the Iranian nuclear program continues to advance, and they get closer and closer to weapons capability, the red line of the United States has been quite clear. The president has been quite clear that he is not going to permit it. And I think there will be a tremendous amount of pressure, much more than there is now, if that scenario were to come true for the president to take military action, even though most military analysts say that at the end of the day military action would not really resolve the issue.
HOBSON: You say that this is a unique moment, that on the one hand Iran wants an agreement but on the other hand the U.S. needs one. And I'd like you to explain that because it seems to me that there is more at stake for Iran, with the sanctions that are going on right now, than there is for the United States.
PARSI: I think both sides have an interest in this. The Iranian economy is suffering tremendously from this, but it's also about the trajectory of the leverage that currently exists. Sanctions on Iran have had a devastating effect on the Iranian economy, but the Iranian charm offensive internationally since Rouhani came into power has also been very effective.
And as a result, there is an expectation outside of Israel and Saudi Arabia, that the United States and Iran should be able to come to some sort of a reasonable compromise. If that doesn't happen because of opposition from Israel, Saudi Arabia and from the U.S. Congress, there's a high likelihood that the discipline around the international sanctions regime that currently exists will fall apart because too many countries are paying a very high economic price to sustain those sanctions.
And if that happens, then Iran will be escaping from the economic pressure while continuing to advance its nuclear program, essentially getting sanctions lifted, at least certainly a degree of them, without giving any concessions on the nuclear issue. That's a very bad scenario for the United States.
HOBSON: What are you hearing from people in Iran, because earlier this week there were these massive anti-American rallies in Tehran. They were seen as trying to send a message to Hassan Rouhani not to expand dialogue with the U.S. What do Iranians think of this?
PARSI: Just as the president of the United States is dealing with hardliners on his own side, Rouhani is dealing with hardliners in Iran who are uncomfortable with what could be an agreement with the United States, who view it both from a strategic, from an ideological and from a purely economic perspective to be negative for them, mindful of how this could actually undermine their position within the country.
But I think it's very, very clear they are in a minority because at the end of the day, they did not manage to defeat Hassan Rouhani in the past elections. He went up against five or six other people, most of them far more conservative than him, and he got more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round of the elections.
HOBSON: Trita Parsi is president of the nonprofit National Iranian American Council, also author of "A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama's Diplomacy with Iran." Trita, by the way, on a scale of one to 10, how likely is it that there will be a deal?
PARSI: I would at this point say that it's probably 90 percent, but it's not a foregone conclusion.
HOBSON: Thanks so much, Trita.
PARSI: Thank you.
HOBSON: You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.