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As Iranian Voters Reject Hardliner, Trump Embraces Saudi Monarch & Vows to Isolate Iran

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President Trump vowed to isolate Iran during his major address to Gulf leaders in Saudi Arabia. He accused Iran of funding, arming and training militias and other extremist groups in region, while ignoring Saudi Arabia’s role in destabilizing the region. Trump’s remarks came just two days after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was re-elected in a landslide vote Friday. Rouhani’s main challenger, hardline judge Ebrahim Raisi, received only 38 percent of the vote. For more on Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia and Iran’s election, we speak with Trita Parsi, founder and president of the National Iranian American Council. He’s the author of the new book, “Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy,” out next week.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As we continue to cover President Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia, I want to turn to his address to dozens of heads of state from across the Muslim world Sunday, when Trump was in Riyadh. Trump said they should unite in their fight against terrorism in a battle he characterized as between, quote, “good and evil.”

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects or different civilizations. This is a battle between barbaric criminals, who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people, all in the name of religion, people that want to protect life and want to protect their religion. This is a battle between good and evil. But the nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them. The nations of the Middle East will have to decide what kind of future they want for themselves, for their country and, frankly, for their families and for their children. It’s a choice between two futures. And it is a choice America cannot make for you. A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and drive out the extremists. Drive them out. Drive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities. Drive them out of your holy land. And drive them out of this Earth.

AMY GOODMAN: Donald Trump singled out Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism during his Riyadh speech. He called on all, quote, “nations of conscience” to isolate Iran.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Starving terrorists of their territory, of their funding and the false allure of the craven ideology, will be the basis for easily defeating them. But no discussion of stamping out this threat would be complete without mentioning the government that gives terrorists all three—safe harbor, financial backing and the social standing needed for recruitment. It is a regime that is responsible for so much instability in that region. I am speaking, of course, of Iran. From Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen, Iran funds, arms and trains terrorists, militias and other extremist groups that spread destruction and chaos across the region. For decades, Iran has fueled the fires of sectarian conflict and terror. It is a government that speaks openly of mass murder, vowing the destruction of Israel, death to America and ruin for many leaders in nations in this very room.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by Trita Parsi, founder and president of the National Iranian American Council, author of the new book, Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the [Triumph] of Diplomacy. Still with us, Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CodePink, author Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S.-Saudi Connection.

Trita Parsi, if you could respond to what President Trump said in this first foreign trip he has made, his first trip to his first country, Saudi Arabia?

TRITA PARSI: Well, I think it’s quite regrettable that right after the Iranian people went out, and, despite all of the undemocratic obstacles they had to overcome, they nevertheless managed to choose the most moderate person on the ballot, the person who had vowed to continue to try to open Iran up, to continue to negotiate to be able to resolve conflicts in the region, and actually wants a better relationship with the United States, Donald Trump’s response to this is to clench his fist and call for Iran’s isolation.

I think it’s also important to recognize that this is not just rhetoric. This is not just something that we can dismiss, mindful of the many things that Trump otherwise tends to say. Here, we’re seeing two building blocks being put into place that can lead to an absolute disaster. The combination of the policy of isolation and rejecting diplomacy, together with a policy of regime change—because in that speech he also called for regime change—is exactly how the Iraq War started. Late in the 1990s, Congress passed the Iraq Liberation Act, that made regime change in Iraq official policy. It was combined with an isolation policy. And all it needed was a spark in order for that to lead to a military confrontation. Donald Trump, perhaps not knowing so, is now laying the groundwork for that type of a conflict, at the request of the Saudis.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to get your comment on Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, saying he hopes Rouhani’s re-election will mean a dismantling of Iran’s network of terrorists and the restoration of human rights. The significance of Tillerson—and, of course, President Trump—making these comments from Saudi Arabia?

TRITA PARSI: Well, it’s fascinating, because, on the one hand, the administration said that we’re not going to focus on human rights any longer. But when it comes to trying to find anything to attack Iran with, then of course it’s being thrown out there again. And for it to be said from Saudi Arabia, where the human rights situation is worse than it is in Iran, obviously is not helping the human rights situation in Iran. In fact, this is exactly what the hardliners in Iran would like. It is so easy for them to dismiss what otherwise is legitimate criticism against Iran’s human rights record, when it is said from Riyadh and when it’s said with this degree of hypocrisy and double standards. It’s actually undermining the human rights situation in Iran when it’s done in the manner that Rex Tillerson did it.

AMY GOODMAN: I’d like to turn to a 2009 diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks on Saudi Arabia. The cable, which was written by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said, quote, “[D]onors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide,” unquote. The cable went on to urge senior U.S. government officials to, quote, “encourage the Saudi government to take more steps to stem the flow of funds from Saudi Arabia-based sources to terrorists and extremists worldwide.” Trita Parsi?

TRITA PARSI: Well, this trip is not about fighting terrorism. If it was, we would have actually have seen much, much firmer position by the United States against these funders in Saudi Arabia, who actually also provided the seed funding for ISIS. Instead, all of the focus is on Iran. Why is that? Well, the reason for this is—beyond the fact that the Trump administration is securing these arms deals, is that there are elements in the Trump administration, and certainly people in Saudi Arabia and in Israel, who want the United States to once again adopt a position of hard hegemony in the Middle East. They want the United States to be completely responsible for the security of the Middle East, meaning that the United States will have to uphold it and pay for it through its own treasure and blood, at—which would obviously then benefit Israel and Saudi Arabia and some of those states that are allied with them. This puts the United States in direct confrontation with Iran, who opposes American hegemony in the region.

The question that is not being asked in Washington, D.C., is: What is the—if one were to assume that there is such a thing as a benefit of hegemony, what is the benefit of hegemony for the United States in a region this chaotic? What is the benefit of being responsible for the security of the Middle East when it is in such chaos? And what would the cost of that be? Those are questions that are not being asked. All the focus tends to be how many potential jobs $300 billion of arms sales will provide. Three hundred billion dollars of arms sales will only lead to further destabilizing the region, which then the United States would be responsible for. The cost-benefit analysis of this makes absolutely no sense, but the question is hardly discussed.

AMY GOODMAN: Trita, new Senate sanctions against Iran are scheduled to be marked up in committee this week. What is your message to Congress in the wake of the Iranian election?

TRITA PARSI: Well, as the Senate bill stands right now, it actually is a violation of the JCPOA, the Iran nuclear deal from 2015. And I think it would be highly problematic if members of Congress, particularly on the Democratic side, vote for this, arguing that this is not a deal breaker and something that would violate the JCPOA, and then, in combination with what Trump is doing right now, further would put us on a path towards a military confrontation with Iran. They don’t have the ability to say, “Well, we didn’t think this would lead to this,” as they could have said when they voted in favor of the Iraq Liberation Act or, later on, when they voted in favor of the Iraq War. It’s very clear what this bill will do as it stands right now. And I think the message to Congress from the American people has to be absolutely clear. They supported the nuclear deal. In fact, the nuclear deal is now more popular amongst the American public than it was two years ago, because they’ve seen that it actually works. And it would be a disaster if Congress, and particularly if Democrats, who fought so hard to save this deal, now actually pull the trigger and kill it.

AMY GOODMAN: And the people’s response in Iran to the election of Rouhani, what you think this means?

TRITA PARSI: Well, Iran is now one of the very few countries—certainly in the region, perhaps beyond the region—in which the population three times in a row have voted in the most moderate person that existed on the ballot. Very few countries in the region can say this. In fact, if you take a look at Israel, for instance, last time the moderates won a landslide in Israel was in 1992. And for them to now see the reaction by the United States to this election result, an election result that very much was about continuing the outreach to the West and continuing the outreach to the United States, is deeply disappointing, to say the least. I’ve spoken to a few people who felt that the jubilant mood after Rouhani’s victory suddenly took a turn for the worse once they heard Donald Trump’s speech in Riyadh.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Medea Benjamin, the ramping up of tension with Iran? And, of course, we see it with North Korea, as well. And President Trump, not that he was that different from President Obama—or was he?—when it came to Saudi Arabia? How many trips did President Obama make to the kingdom? Something like four trips.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: [inaudible] Obama not only traveled to Saudi Arabia, but authorized 42 different deals, totaling $115 billion. But on the other hand, he started, at the very end of his eight years, to reconsider, to pull back U.S. support for the Saudi bombing in Yemen, to put a halt on some of those weapons. And now Donald Trump is doing just the opposite.

But I want to say, Amy, that the people of the Middle East are desperate for solutions, and the people of the United States don’t support continued U.S. involvement in the wars in the Middle East. Donald Trump said he needed a good relationship with Russia to start dealing with the problems in places like Syria. Well, he also needs a good relationship with Iran. So I think our message should be that we need to stop the proxy wars between Saudi Arabia and Iran in the Middle East. We need the countries of the region to all come together. And Donald Trump should be focusing on finding solutions, not inflaming the tensions.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Medea Benjamin, I want to thank you for being with us, co-founder of CodePink, author of Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S.-Saudi Connection. We’ll link to your piece, “10 Reasons Trump Should Not Strengthen U.S.-Saudi Ties.” And thank you to Trita Parsi, who is head of the National Iranian American Council, author of Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the [Triumph] of Diplomacy, which is out next week.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, you may have seen the video of protesters, not in Turkey, but in Washington, D.C., being beaten by security guards, pummeled, kicked in the face, a number of them hospitalized. Well, we’ll talk about what happened and what will happen to the Turkish ambassador—some are calling for him to be expelled—and the U.S. relationship with Turkey, as it was shown that the Turkish president, visiting D.C. at the time, President Erdogan, looked on. Stay with us.

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