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Drone Shootdown Dispute Centers On Whose Airspace It Was In

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We are following a new development in the Trump administration's standoff with Iran. Iran's military shot down a U.S. drone in the Persian Gulf. NPR has confirmed the attack with a U.S. official, but there is a dispute over where the drone was taken down. Iran says it happened in its airspace. The U.S. says it happened over international waters.

Trita Parsi is founder and president of the National Iranian American Council. He's with us in our studios. Thanks for coming in.

TRITA PARSI: Thank you so much for having me.

MARTIN: So first, Trita, we had an Iranian attack on the oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, although Iran denies this. We've also got Iran saying it will violate the uranium enrichment rules of the nuclear agreement which the U.S. pulled out of. And now we've got the downing of this drone. What is provoking Iran?

PARSI: Well, first of all, as you mentioned, we don't know what happened with the tanker. We have differing stories about that, and no conclusive evidence has been presented. Same thing goes for some of the attacks that happened in Saudi Arabia earlier on. This drone attack, however, is different because here, the Iranians were the ones that actually announced it and declared that they did so. It very much depends on whether this was in Iranian airspace or not. If it was in Iranian airspace, then obviously it's not surprising if they were to shoot it down. Rest assured, the U.S. would be shooting down every Iranian drone that got into American airspace.

If it is not, however - if it was in international airspace, then it is a very different story. At that point, I think it is more clear that what is happening, including some of these other incidents, probably are part of a pattern in which the Iranians are now trying to exact the cost on the U.S. for the economic warfare that the U.S. has been conducting against Iran for the last two years.

MARTIN: I mean, do you think the Trump administration miscalculated about how strongly Iran would respond to that pressure campaign?

PARSI: Oh, I think the Trump administration - well, let me put it this way. I think Donald Trump has been misled by people like John Bolton as well as some of the leaders in the region, such as Bibi Netanyahu and MBS, who want to see a war with Iran. And I think they have tried to convince him - and I think somewhat successfully - that Iran is no different from Syria, that you can strike it with a couple of Tomahawks and they won't dare to respond. The Iranians are showing quite clearly that they are ready to respond and defend themselves if attacked and perhaps even, if it was in international airspace, escalate tensions themselves.

MARTIN: I mean, does this feel exceptional to you? Because Iran and the United States, historically, have gotten into these back-and-forths.

PARSI: They certainly have. And I think one of the things that is somewhat problematic is that both sides have proven to be quite wrong in some of their statements. So for instance, there is a long history of the Iranian IRGC navy harassing American ships in international waters.

There's also a history of the U.S. denying being inside of Iranian waters when something has happened and later on turning out that it actually was in Iranian waters. So for instance, 1988, the United States' USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian passenger plane. The U.S. first denied it. Later on, it turned out that not only did it shoot it down, it was deep inside of Iranian waters when it shot it down. It was a civilian passenger plane; 290 people got killed.

When the Brits had some of their sailors arrested about 10 or so years ago in the Persian Gulf, they denied that they were in Iranian waters. A British parliamentary inquiry later on revealed that they actually were in Iranian waters.

So we don't know. We need more evidence to be able to truly draw some conclusions of what happened here and what the implications of it is.

MARTIN: How do you de-escalate? I mean, if you were advising the Trump administration, what is the way out of this moment?

PARSI: We need diplomacy more than anything else. But I think it's impossible to have diplomacy while the U.S. is, at the same time, pursuing economic warfare. That economic warfare is going to, at some point - and it may already have - compelled the Iranians to respond. And at that point, if you don't have any exit ramps, you are in a very, very bad situation.

MARTIN: Trita Parsi, a professor at Georgetown University and author of the book "Losing An Enemy: Obama, Iran, And The Triumph Of Diplomacy." Trita, thank you.

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