Iran is determined to build a nuclear weapon and US President Joe Biden's diplomatic efforts have yielded nothing but a “green light” for Tehran, Donald Trump's former chief strategist Steve Bannon has said.
In a wide-ranging, exclusive interview with The National, Mr Bannon, who worked in the White House during the first seven months of Mr Trump's term as president from 2017 to 2021, also said right-wing political wins in Europe herald a growing “populist nationalism” movement. He also claimed that the world stands on the precipice of a depression as central banks raise rates in their struggle to tame inflation.
A staunch opponent of the 2015 nuclear deal forged by then-president Barack Obama, Mr Bannon encouraged his boss to exit the deal in 2017, something that ultimately happened the following year.
The Trump administration's argument was that Tehran was violating the terms and the spirit of the deal, and using new inflows of cash to build up proxy militias across the Middle East.
The Biden administration has spent 18 months trying to coax Tehran back into the deal aimed at constraining its ambitions to develop a nuclear weapon, but those efforts appear to have come to an impasse after consecutive rounds of fruitless negotiations.
Tehran's perception is that the Biden administration is “weak” and has essentially given Iran “a green light to get a nuclear weapon”, Mr Bannon said.
“It's incredibly dangerous, and not just that, it jeopardises two of our best allies,” in reference to the Gulf and Israel, which he said “are right in the crosshairs of Iran”.
The long-time Trump ally, who remains a popular figure in America's conservative political circles, was this month charged with money laundering and fraud for allegedly misappropriating millions of dollars donated for building a wall along the US-Mexico border.
He also is due to be sentenced next month for failing to comply with the House of Representatives committee investigating the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol.
“I know I'll win on appeal,” he said.
Describing Iran as the world's “most dangerous hotspot”, Mr Bannon cautioned against any rush to use force to try to destroy Tehran's nuclear programme. He has long spoken out against the unintended consequences of “American adventurism”, such as the protracted conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He said the US should be focused on an all-encompassing sanctions push that would isolate Tehran's rulers and inflict unsustainable levels of economic pain.
“You want to have the popular revolt in Iran with the streets full, with something in addition to the suppression of women they've had there? Put them under economic distress … and let the people overthrow them,” he said.
Critics have accused Mr Bannon, who now runs a populist podcast called Bannon's War Room, of being a dangerous demagogue who delights in the casual use of offensive language and riling up the “elites” of the world.
During the interview, he repeatedly referred to Covid-19 as the “CCP virus”, as a way of blaming China for the pandemic, and he insisted that the Democrats and Mr Biden had “stolen” the 2020 presidential election, even though such claims have been widely debunked.
Iran's “focus is to get nuclear weapons because they believe with nuclear weapons they can control the region in a reign of terror,” Mr Bannon said.
“He will win the primary for president and he'll be the next president in 2024 and have four more years in the White House,” Mr Bannon said.
Mr Bannon, who frequently wades into European politics and was a staunch advocate of Brexit, praised the recent victory of the hard-right coalition led by Italy’s Giorgia Meloni, who is on course to become the country's first female prime minister.
An avid supporter of Ms Meloni, Mr Bannon said the world needs to watch her closely.
Her Brothers of Italy party has neo-fascist roots but Mr Bannon distanced himself from the connection, defending her platform as “common sense” and “middle of the road” dealing with “one sovereignty”.
“Populist nationalism is exploding throughout the world. And it is because people are looking for solutions right now. And they think the elites have made terrible decisions that have only benefited themselves, particularly economically,” he said.
In Spain, the hard-right Vox, a party closely aligned with Ms Meloni, is also surging. In France this year, the far-right leader Marine Le Pen reached the final round of the presidential elections for the second consecutive time.
Perhaps the most unexpected development was support for the Sweden Democrats, once considered an extremist party, which emerged as the second-most popular party in Sweden and will form part of the next government.
Mr Bannon lambasted Britain's Conservatives, predicting “there won't be a Tory government by the spring” because of Prime Minister Liz Truss's and Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng's mini-budget that has seen interest rates soar, the pound nosedive and the value of pension funds collapse.
“They'll be thrown out of office because of these poorly thought-through moves on issues of finance and economics,” Mr Bannon said.
As the UK’s government’s fiscal plan has increased economic uncertainty, Mr Bannon stated that the world economy is “one or two bad moves away from being in a global depression.”