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Lack Of Understanding Between U.S. And Iranian Leaders Has Consequences


Steve and I are each in a national capital today, the capital cities of the U.S. and Iran. Leaders in each of these cities try to figure out the thinking of leaders in the other. It is not easy. After 40 years of hostility, few officials have even met one another. But each side's calculations matter a lot as the U.S. imposes economic pressure on Iran.


Today we have a sample of Iranian thinking. It comes from a prominent figure here in Tehran. His name is Amir Mohebbian. He's a conservative writer and newspaper editor. Outside analysts think he represents the views of other conservatives. We found the newspaper editor in a quiet office. He spoke from behind his cluttered desk. When we asked what Mohebbian is thinking, he said he's trying to figure out what President Trump is thinking.

AMIR MOHEBBIAN: Mr. Trump is a dealer. And a dealer and a merchant does not want to pay expenses.

INSKEEP: Mohebbian believes President Trump does not want a costly war with Iran. He thinks the president proved that by calling off airstrikes against Iran. The U.S. has brought enormous economic pressure on Iran. But the editor calculates there is no way to persuade Trump to stop.

MOHEBBIAN: For this reason, if you'll be soft against Mr. Trump, Mr. Trump goes forward and makes more pressure. This is the time to stand up. Strong is more important than being flexible here. Any signal to Mr. Trump that if you are eager to any negotiation, it means make more pressure against us.

INSKEEP: If you offer an accommodation, he will just pressure Iran more.


INSKEEP: If you stand strong, you are saying, he will eventually back down or make a deal.

MOHEBBIAN: Yes. I think the last decision-making is by Mr. Trump, not by Iran.

INSKEEP: Standing up to sanctions is not easy. But Mohebbian had a thought about that too. The United States may think that sanctions can cause Iran's people to rise up against their leaders. Mohebbian thinks if the people are poor, they are less likely to rise up.

MOHEBBIAN: They are in need. And for solving the problems, they go more close to the rulers. And the decision of the rulers is very important for them. Then, for rulers, it is better to control them. In Iran, if you want to make a gap between the system and the people, you should change the economy of the people to be better. In that time, they wants more and more wants, and the system cannot do that because it is against some of the ideals. This makes the gap. But Mr. Trump, by making the pressure to the people, make a kind of closeness between the people and the rulers.

INSKEEP: How difficult are economic conditions in Iran right now?

MOHEBBIAN: Actually, the situation in the economy is not good. It is clear. But it is not so bad that kill us.

INSKEEP: But the United States does say that it has succeeded in cutting Iran's oil exports from millions of barrels down to hundreds of thousands of barrels...

MOHEBBIAN: Yeah. Yeah.

INSKEEP: ...A drastic decrease, a drastic loss of money. Isn't that a disaster for the government and the political system and the people?

MOHEBBIAN: It's a disaster for an economy that is dependent to the oil export. But it is a very good situation for us to save our budget from oil export.

INSKEEP: To go off of oil dependence.


INSKEEP: You said Iran doesn't want conflict to go on and on. But what if it does? Is Iran prepared for this conflict to go for years and years if that is necessary from your point of view?

MOHEBBIAN: Nobody's ready for that because we does not know what's the future. But actually, the decision-making for good situation is not in our hand. We have no choice except resistance.

INSKEEP: Is there a choice in which Iran would change its foreign policy in ways that would make it less objectionable to the United States and other nations - to change its support for Hezbollah, to change its policy in Syria, to change its policy in Yemen, just to give three examples?

MOHEBBIAN: Why we should change our policies when, in Syria, by supporting of Hezbollah, and by this kind of situation in Yemen, we can prevent us from war?

INSKEEP: You're saying that in Lebanon, in Syria and in Yemen, Iran sees threats against itself, and therefore it is reasonable for Iran to be involved there. Is that what you're saying?


INSKEEP: Isn't it really expensive? Setting aside whether it's right or wrong even, isn't it really expensive for Iran to be supporting Syria's government and to be supporting Hezbollah and to be supporting the Houthis in Yemen?

MOHEBBIAN: Tactically, yes, but strategically, no. We are making the future. We are making the future.

INSKEEP: Mr. Mohebbian, thank you so much.

MOHEBBIAN: Nice to meet you.

INSKEEP: Amir Mohebbian is a conservative editor here in Tehran, and he gave us a sample of Iranian thinking as the country confronts the United States. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.