TEHRAN (Press Shia) – An American political commentator praised the timing of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s recent visits to regional countries, including India and Iraq, saying the trips were “an attempt to capitalize on the growing distrust toward the US”.    

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“Zarif's trip is an attempt to capitalize on the growing distrust toward the US,” John Steppling, who is based in Norway, told the Press Shia News Agency in an interview.

“And after (US Secretary of State MIke) Pompeo's nearly insane speech in Cairo, it is likely good timing on the part of the Iranian leadership,” he added.

Steppling is a well-known author, playwright and an original founding member of the Padua Hills Playwrights Festival, a two-time NEA recipient, Rockefeller Fellow in theater, and PEN-West winner for playwriting. He is also a regular political commentator for a number of media outlets around the world.

Following is the full text of the interview:

Press Shia: As you know, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the head of a high-ranking economic and political delegation recently made official visits to some regional countries, including India and Iraq as well as Iraqi Kurdistan. His trips come against the backdrop of Iran’s efforts to boost its foreign trade in the US sanctions era. What do you think about the objectives behind Zarif’s visits? Is Iran moving toward its traditional allies?

Steppling: It is difficult to comment on Zarif's trip without also, simultaneously commenting on Pompeo's trip. Zarif's trip is an attempt to capitalize on the growing distrust toward the US. And after Pompeo's nearly insane speech in Cairo, it is likely good timing on the part of the Iranian leadership.

Press Shia: The Iranian top diplomat’s trips were concurrent with the barnstorming tour of Pompeo that took him to eight countries in one week. Jetting from capital to capital, meeting with kings, princes, and presidents, Pompeo’s goal was to get Arab countries to work together to roll back Iranian influence in the region. What is your take on that? What does the concurrence mean?

Steppling: Let’s start with Pompeo's speech in Cairo because it may go down as one of the most virulent and toxic statements of US Imperialism in history. It also suggests Pompeo, the rabid Dominionist evangelical Christian that he is, may not be the any less extreme or unbalanced than John Bolton. Remember that Pompeo, like Betsy DeVos and Larry Kudlow and Rick Perry, just to name a few, is part of a huge evangelical contingent in Washington. These are guys who have their weekly prayer meeting — which serves to keep Evangelical Christianity at the forefront of US foreign policy — well, and domestic, too — but this is something that gets far too little coverage. I say that because Dominionists –who are the extreme lunatic fringe end of the spectrum of Christian thought — believe in the Rapture, believe in angels, and believe Christians should rule the world. Have "Dominion" over it. Pompeo in particular it seems holds a deep animosity toward other religions. And most all against Islam.

Now notwithstanding Trump's statement about pulling troops out of Syria, the US almost certainly is not going to do that. It may provide sleight of hand maneuvers to hide the fact that, if anything, this pull-out will more likely be some form of escalation. Israel may well take up the slack, for one. The other possibility is that Trump goes ahead and privatizes the war. Eric Prince famously has suggested himself as Viceroy for Iraq or Afghanistan. The colonial policies of the West have resurfaced in a big way.

Bill Van Auken wrote of this visit…"Pompeo introduced himself as the personification of Washington’s role in promoting “goodness” in the Middle East, noting in his opening remarks that the visit to Egypt was “especially meaningful for me as an evangelical Christian” and sharing with his audience that “In my office, I keep a Bible open on my desk to remind me of God and His Word and The Truth.”.

The US does not spend billions to build bases and infrastructure to then later just leave. There is too much at stake for them in the region. Rare earth minerals in Afghanistan, and oil and natural gas, and in Syria, there is simply the strategic location, but also it has ideological symbolism, not to mention logistical importance. Besides which the US has wanted Assad gone and they feel embarrassed by the Syrian people and by Assad himself. Remember, too, the US has been targeting Syria for decades. So, Syria cannot be separated from Iran when speaking of US intentions. The US leadership right now, meaning not so much Trump, but his "advisors" like Pompeo and Bolton and Gina Haspel and the joint chiefs — these are the anti-Iranian hardliners among the neocons. They are also, all of them, very close with the Likud government in Israel. They are very pro-Israel regardless. And they know Israel serves as the enforcer for US plans in the region. Now, Zarif's trip was reasonable, and likely will have achieved at least some of what it sent out to do. No nation in the region actually supports or wants US bases and troops on their soil.  But the danger here is Pompeo and his delusions. We are talking about a guy who is a zealot, a near-Mafia like figure, albeit one who thinks angels speak to him, who is being supported in DC by the equally irrational John Bolton.

Press Shia: Nearly a week after Pompeo’s visit to Iraq and the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, Zarif went to Baghdad, Erbil, and Sulaymaniyah. He was warmly welcomed by top Iraqi officials and the Kurdish leaders. During a Tuesday meeting with Zarif, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani praised Iran’s support for the Iraqi Kurdish people during attacks by the Daesh (ISIS or ISIL) terrorist group and said the Kurds will never forget Tehran’s backing. What do you think about the economic and political achievements of Zarif’s visits?

Steppling: The Kurdish question is both complex and opaque. The US predictably threw the Kurds under the bus. The Kurdish leadership is split anyway. There is not going to be a Kurdish state. Not anytime soon, anyway. Erdogan and Turkey are NATO allies. The US needs their air bases. They need Turkish assistance overall. They are not going to cause a dangerous breach in diplomacy with Turkey just because they promised the Kurds something. One would think the Kurds might have learned to stop trusting the US by now. The US has been invading and occupying (which they call “liberating”) countries in this region for seventy years. It’s what they do regardless of who is president.