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President Trump's Special Assistant Weighs In On Iran Sanctions

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

At midnight tonight, some U.S. sanctions against Iran will go back into effect. These had been lifted under the nuclear deal that President Trump withdrew the U.S. from. Even stronger sanctions are scheduled to resume in 90 days. Joining us now is Victoria Coates. She is special assistant to the president and acting senior director for the Middle East on the National Security Council. Welcome.

VICTORIA COATES: Thank you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: These sanctions are relatively narrow. And more dramatic ones, as we said, take effect in 90 days. So what are you asking U.S. allies to do over the next three months?

COATES: Well, over the previous three months and over the next three months, we're just asking them to review the relative desirability of doing business with Tehran or doing business with the United States of America. And these sanctions actually are not new. These were existing sanctions that had been waived under the nuclear deal that are now being reimposed.

SHAPIRO: You say doing business with Tehran or with the United States. Is the U.S. putting it in that stark of terms, us or them?

COATES: Pretty much. I mean, we obviously are working with our allies. But we've been very clear that we think that doing business with Iran is not a effective path forward, given the degree of bad behavior that they've demonstrated over the last couple of years.

SHAPIRO: Are you concerned that European allies, China, India, Russia all seem to be looking for workarounds of one sort or another that seem like they could undermine the effectiveness of these sanctions?

COATES: Well, obviously they're going to try. But at the same time, I think we've seen over the last 90 days a very severe degradation of the Iranian economy. You look at the rial tanking, for example, all the labor unrest that they're enduring. That wouldn't be happening if everybody thought the Europeans or the Chinese were going to swoop in and save the Iranian economy.

SHAPIRO: I want to ask you about the labor unrest because the administration talks a lot about supporting the people of Iran. How confident are you that these sanctions will only hurt the parts of the government that the U.S. opposes and not the Iranian people that the U.S. says it supports?

COATES: Well, I mean, that's the unfortunate part about the behavior of the Iranian regime. This is all entirely due to them. And President Trump has been extremely clear. He does not want this for the Iranian people. He has opened the door to negotiations with the Iranian regime so that this doesn't have to be. But the blame for this lies not with the United States. It lies with the Iranian regime.

SHAPIRO: But just to give one example, under these sanctions, Boeing will not be able to sell commercial airliners, commercial jets to Iran. Iran has a big air safety problem. That's something that could have helped the Iranian people that is no longer available.

COATES: There are so many things that could help the Iranian people. And the other problem that they have with airlines is that they use commercial airlines to move fighters into Syria, to move weapons into Lebanon for Hezbollah. And that's why these sanctions are taking place.

SHAPIRO: Trump administration officials have criticized the Obama White House for not backing up its support of Iranian protesters with actions back in 2009. How far is the Trump administration willing to go to support protesters in Iran today and back up words with actions?

COATES: Well, I mean, the president has also been very clear on his support for the Iranian people. I mean, one of the interesting things about the protests is they're not protesting against the United States. You don't see protests against sanctions. All of these protests are targeted against human rights abuses, as you mentioned, labor issues and also - I think - quite dramatically, the regime's foreign policy. When you have people chanting, you know, no for Gaza, no to Syria - I want this to be about Iran - I mean, that is a dramatic reversal.

SHAPIRO: President Trump, as you mentioned, has said he's willing to meet with Iran's leader. Now that the U.S. has pulled out of one Iran deal, how can a world leader be confident that a deal with the U.S. would be respected and upheld by a future American president if, for example, President Trump reaches a new deal with Iran?

COATES: Oh, I think you would be confident that this president actually means what he says and keeps his word. The - one of the many, many problems with the JCPA is nowhere in that do you actually find the words binding treaty. You find Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which was - I believe - endorsed by the United Nations Security Council, not ratified by the United States Senate, which is actually how an agreement becomes binding.

SHAPIRO: Oh, so you're saying a future deal would have to be signed on to by Congress?

COATES: The - a future deal would have to at least be signed by the president - which this was not - to have any kind of legal status.

SHAPIRO: Victoria Coates, thanks so much for joining us today.

COATES: Ari, it was a pleasure.

SHAPIRO: She is special assistant to the president and acting senior director for the Middle East on the National Security Council. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.