Iran recognizes that it must return to the negotiating table with the US despite an increase in Tehran’s malign activities, said retired US army general and former director of the CIA Gen. David Petraeus in an exclusive interview with Al Arabiya.
“Iran is in a very serious situation … And with each additional action they take there will be even tighter sanctions ... I think Iran recognizes that it does have to come back to the table,” Petraeus told Al Arabiya's Gilane Fatayri, pointing to the impact of US sanctions policy.
The US has pursued a “maximum pressure” sanctions policy on Iran in response to Tehran’s refusal to stop supporting proxy and terrorist organizations across the Middle East. Tensions have increased in recent months as a result of a series of attacks on oil infrastructure and tankers, including the September 14 attacks on Saudi Aramco facilities which have been widely blamed on Iran.
“I think the US is also recognizing that there's probably value in sitting back down rather than continuing this escalation,” Petraeus added, explaining that while he had never trusted Iran, it was necessary to have “verification mechanisms” to check Iran’s behavior.
Petraeus, who headed coalition troops in Iraq as commander of the Multi-National Force – Iraq in 2007-2008, pointed to Iran’s malign influence in Iraq as evidence of its untrustworthiness.
“I’ve never trusted Iran ... I was the commander in Iraq during the surge when hundreds of our soldiers were killed by weapons that were provided by Iran to the Iraqi militia. Iran is the biggest state sponsor of terror in the world,” Petraeus told Al Arabiya English.
“It’s not a question of still trusting … this is a question of having verification mechanisms that are quite intrusive,” he explained.
Iran has come under increased pressure since the US administration withdrew from the JCPOA, known as the Iran nuclear deal, in 2015. While Iran did not violate the JCPOA, it refused to halt its malign activities abroad, said Petraeus.
“In the meantime, [Iran] was carrying out very malign activities supporting militia in Iraq and Syria, Yemen and Lebanon and also of course carrying out continued missile tests that have enabled it to produce a capability that we saw in the attack on Saudi Arabia.”
Iran has extended its influence to countries across the region through proxy organizations including Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Popular Mobilization Units militias in Iraq, and the Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen. Tehran also uses its proxy organizations to try and avoid US sanctions.
Petraeus retired as director of the CIA in 2011, having served in the US armed forces for 37 years. His positions included commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (2010-2011) and the tenth commander of US Central Command (2008-2010).
The former general also discussed the Turkish military operation in Syria and ISIS in the exclusive interview with Al Arabiya’s correspondent.