Trump, Saudi king take turns attacking Iran as terrorism backer

Comments underscore a common goal in undercutting the Islamic Republic's regional influence
Trump, Saudi king take turns attacking Iran as terrorism backer
US President Donald Trump speaks during bilateral meeting with the Saudi Crown Prince at a hotel in Riyadh. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
By Bloomberg
Mon 22 May 2017 02:09 PM

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and US President Donald Trump took turns launching scathing attacks on Iran, which the Sunni monarch called the “spearhead of global terrorism,” underscoring a common goal in undercutting the Islamic Republic’s regional influence.

The king said on Sunday Saudi Arabia had not witnessed terrorism until the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. Instead of accepting good-faith initiatives, Iran has “pursued expansionary ambitions, and criminal practices and the meddling of other countries’ internal affairs,” he said. The kingdom, however, respects the Iranian people and won’t judge them “by the crimes of their regime,” he said.

Trump later singled out Iran as a terror sponsor. Iran’s leaders speak “openly” of mass murder, Trump said in his keynote speech before dozens of Muslim leaders gathered in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. He said the Iranian government gives terrorists “safe harbor, financial backing, and the social standing needed for recruitment.”

The remarks came a day after Hassan Rouhani, a moderate cleric who helped secure a landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Western powers, easily defeated a conservative rival to win a second term. His victory was seen as dealing a blow to hardliners who had opposed Rouhani’s engagement with the West. In a televised address to the nation, Rouhani said that Iranians had shown they wanted “engagement with the world” over extremism.

Saudi Arabia and Iran are on the opposite sides of several major regional conflicts from Syria to Yemen, where the kingdom has been leading a coalition since March 2015 against Shiite rebels backed by Tehran. The two countries were close US allies before the 1979 revolution that toppled the Shah of Iran.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif linked the harsh tone of Trump’s speech to the trade deals the US struck during his visit to the kingdom, including large weapons sales.

“Iran - fresh from real elections - attacked by @POTUS in that bastion of democracy and moderation,” Zarif said on Twitter. “Foreign policy or simply milking KSA of $480B?”

Trump’s comments were “full of baseless accusations against” Iran, foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi was quoted by news agency IRNA as saying. The intent was to encourage “nations in the region to buy more US arms.”

Saudi Arabia, largely an absolute monarchy, practices a strict version of Sunni Islam. While some attacks during the 1990s were blamed on Iranian-backed groups, the kingdom has suffered the most at the hands of the militants of al-Qaeda and ISIL. In 1979, a group of Sunni extremists temporarily seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, in a joint news conference with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Saturday, played down the suggestion that the reelection of Rouhani would help improve ties.

“We want to see deeds, not words,” he said.

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