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Trump Harshly Criticizes Iran During Speech In Saudi Arabia

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now, on his Mideast trip, the president has also been criticizing Israel's great regional antagonist, Iran.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: 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 American and ruin from many leaders and nations in this very room.

INSKEEP: Karim Sadjadpour was following that speech. He's an Iran analyst at the Carnegie Endowment. Welcome.

KARIM SADJADPOUR: Great to be here, Steve.

INSKEEP: Carnegie Institute for International Peace, to get it correct - I hope correct. Anyway, is that a fair criticism of Iran?

SADJADPOUR: Well, I think the paradox that Trump failed to acknowledge about Iran is on one hand, its leadership has played a malign role in the Middle East, supporting the Syrian dictator, Bashar Assad, and Shiite militias. But it's an incredibly dynamic, vibrant society, as we saw with the recent close presidential elections, but nonetheless elections to try to take the country forward. And I think Trump's speech really failed to acknowledge that anything happened in Iran over the last few days.

INSKEEP: Well, let's describe what happened over the last few days. There was a more moderate president, Hasan Rouhani, the guy who made a nuclear deal with the outside world, just won re-election. Does that make it harder to isolate Iran in reality?

SADJADPOUR: I think it does make it harder to isolate Iran because major countries around the world - China, Russia, even America's European allies - increasingly see Iran as actually a stable force in the Middle East and a potential ally in the fight against ISIS.

INSKEEP: I was really interested, Karim, listening just a moment ago in Tam's report to Benjamin Netanyahu saying, I'd like it if I could take a flight from Tel Aviv to Riyadh. We've talked with Netanyahu on this program. He likes to talk about Arab nations being really more on Israel's side than they like to admit, and he'd like to unite Arab nations in Israel's cause effectively against Iran. Is that the same thing that President Trump is now trying to do?

SADJADPOUR: I think that both President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu see that Arabs and Israel have this common adversary in the Islamic Republic of Iran. But the reality is that Iran is a country of 80 million people, very strongly nationalistic. And it's really too big to isolate in the Middle East. At the same time, President Obama's efforts to try to change Iranian behavior also didn't have great success.

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask about that because Rouhani, the guy who won reelection over the weekend, promised during the campaign, I'm going to get more sanctions lifted against my country. And these are sanctions for terrorism, for human rights abuses. If you're going to get those sanctions lifted, you'd have to change a lot of Iranian policies. Any sign that Iran would be serious about doing that?

SADJADPOUR: I'm skeptical that Hasan Rouhani is going to be able to deliver that kind of change. As you know, Steve, the most powerful man in Iran remains Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini. And in Rouhani's second term, you know, on one hand, he may be - he may try to be bold in his reforms, but he no longer has a partner in Washington and President Obama to try to ease and lessen Iran's isolation.

INSKEEP: OK Karim, thanks very much for coming by, really appreciate it.

SADJADPOUR: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's Karim Sadjadpour, senior analyst at the Carnegie Endowment. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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