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Former senior Iranian diplomat Seyed Hossein Mousavian says the policies of Saudi Arabia and the Trump administration helped fuel the ISIS attack on Tehran that killed 12 and wounded dozens

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Aaron Mate: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Mate. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a pair of deadly attacks in Iran’s capital, Tehran. 11 people were killed and dozens wounded when gunmen in suicide vests stormed the Iranian parliament. One person was killed when a suicide bomber hit the mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini. It’s the worst attack Iran has seen in years. After ISIS took credit, Iran said the US and Saudi Arabia are also at fault. The attack comes just weeks after President Trump took aim at Iran during his trip to the Saudi Kingdom. Just this week, Trump backed Saudi Arabia’s efforts to isolate Qatar, which has friendly ties Tehran. In a statement today, Trump suggested Iran had brought the attack upon itself. Trump said, while he grieves and prays for the victims, quote, “We underscore that states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote.” Now, just before that statement came out, I spoke to Seyyed Hossein Mousavian, a former senior Iranian diplomat, now a Middle East an nuclear policy specialist at Princeton University. Dr. Mousavian, welcome. Dr. Mousavian: Thank you. Aaron Mate: Thanks for joining us. If we could start to your reaction to this attack in Tehran today? Dr. Mousavian: It is a horrible attack. It is not something new. We have had the same attacks in London, Paris, Brussels, Madrid, California, everywhere in the world, and Tehran is another incident showing that ISIS is the major threat to international peace and security. However, this is the first major attacks ISIS have been able to do in Iran. Iranians heard about two weeks ago from Saudi Defense Minister, the international community actually, had the Saudi Defense Minister who is the real king of Saudi Arabia said, “We will take the fight inside Iran. We will combat Iran inside the country” and just hours before the terrorist attack in Iran, al-Jubeir, the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, said, “We will punish Iran.” Therefore, it is clear evidence that ISIS terrorist attack in Tehran is managed, orchestrated by Saudi Arabia, in order to confront Iran. The reason is clear. Iran is the real major force fighting ISIS in the region, from Syria to Iraq, to Yemen, everywhere. That’s why Saudi Arabia is trying to revenge Iran, because ISIS is the real asset, ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, all these terrorists groups, they are the real assets of Saudi Arabia in the region, and Iran is fighting them. Therefore, this is a revenge terrorist activity orchestrated by Saudis inside Tehran. Aaron Mate: I want to make sure I understand you correctly. When you say that the Saudi Kingdom managed … When you say Saudi Arabia managed this attack, are you saying that’s the Saudi Kingdom or just elements outside the government inside Saudi Arabia? Dr. Mousavian: No, it is inside the government, because the Defense Minister of Saudi Arabia, two, three weeks ago, publicly said, “We will start to fight Iran inside Iran. We will take the fight inside Iran.” This was public announcement of the Defense Minister of Saudi Arabia who is the real king. I mean, he is the real power in Saudi Arabia, and just some hours before the terrorist attack, al-Jubeir, the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, publicly said, “Tehran should be punished because of the regional policies of Iran.” You remember we had also President Trump visit to Saudi Arabia about two weeks ago, and there was about 300 billion dollars of arms sales and the whole narrative of his trip to Saudi Arabia, selling 300 billion dollars of sophisticated US arms to Saudi Arabia was confronting Iran. Therefore, they are also saying that Saudi Arabia is punishing Qatar, because Qatar is going to have a normal relation with Iran. Therefore, it is clear the triangle of Saudi Arabia, the US, and Israelis already have publicly they have established this triangle to confront Iran. This is publicly said, and Saudi officials also, they publicly said they would take the fight inside Iran, and there are a lot of, hundreds of thousands of reports, official positions from US government to European, to Russians, every country, they know where is the source of ideology, where is the source of funding, and where the source of weapons is coming for ISIS. Everybody knows, everybody says, from Washington Post to New York Times, [inaudible 00:05:52] Courier to Guardian Newspaper in UK, they all the say ideology and the source is Saudi Arabia. Aaron Mate: Iran also pointed to the US in its statement responding to today’s attack. Dr. Mousavian: Yes, because … Aaron Mate: Let me read to you a quote, Dr. Mousavian. When the attack happened today, one of the first things I thought of was the comments by Defense Secretary James Mattis last year. He said, and I’ll read you his quote. He said, “Iran is not an enemy of ISIS, because the country in the Middle East that has not been attacked by ISIS is Iran.” Dr. Mousavian: Yes, I heard, and this was before General Mattis, it was the same statement by Saudis. Now, this is clear evidence. Of course, ISIS tried during last two years, hundreds of attempts of ISIS groups, they were captured or they were controlled, or they were defused by Iranian intelligence, and military institutions. They were going to do a lot of terrorist activities, they were not successful. This is the first time they have been practically successful. This is, I think, a good response from ISIS to General Mattis, that they are also doing terrorist activities, attacks in Tehran. Aaron Mate: Can you talk a bit more about why ISIS would want to carry out this attack inside Iran? Also, if it’s possible to speculate, who their proxies inside Iran might be who would carry this out? Dr. Mousavian: The proxies, either they entered from the borders or they maybe some MEK terrorist groups already. They established in Iran for 38 years, MEK has carried about hundreds of terrorist activities. They have killed about 20,000 Iranians in last 40 years. Nowadays, MEK is fully aligned with Saudi Arabia. You’ll remember last year, the high Saudi Kingdom family, high level guy, attended MEK conference in Paris, supporting MEK to fight Iran. Prince Turki, the former Saudi Intelligence Minister, attended the annual conference of MEK and publicly said Saudi Arabia would support regime change in Iran and Saudi Arabia would support MEK. MEK has killed Prime Minister, President, dozens of parliamentarians, cabinet ministers, Friday prayers, religious leaders, and over 17-18,000 of civilians during last 40 years. Therefore, this is the clear tie relationship between MEK and Saudi Arabia. Nowadays, MEK is fully funded by Saudi Arabia. This is one side. The other side, ISIS in the region, [inaudible 00:09:14] in the region, is funded and helped by Saudi Arabia. Therefore, Saudi Arabia can orchestrate cooperation between ISIS and MEK to carry the terrorist activities inside Iran. Aaron Mate: If we’re talking about the MEK, known as the People’s Mujahedin, we should also mention that they have extensive ties here in the US, across partisan lines. Their lobbying wing has enlisted some huge names from both Republican and Democratic administrations. Dr. Mousavian: You know, the US officials, they have not denied their failure on funding terrorist groups like Taliban, Al-Qaeda, ISIS. You remember hearing from Hillary Clinton, said that the US practically was one of the founders of this radical terrorist groups, and also, you remember President Trump, during campaign, presidential campaign, blamed Obama administration, saying the US has been the main source of supporting or finding ISIS in the region. Therefore, the US knows and the officials at a very high level already, they have accepted their failure and their mistakes, as supporting such terrorist groups in the past. However, during Obama administration, there was a different policy. Obama was not supporting Saudi Arabia’s terrorist activities all over the region and all over the world. Obama was blaming Saudi Arabia, publicly Obama said that they have to distance from this terrorist activities. But President Trump first trip was to Saudi Arabia. He did not say a word about human right, he did not criticize or condemn even by one word, when he was in Saudi Arabia, about human right and democracy. He said nothing about human right and democracy, because he knows there is no human right and democracy there. During the campaign, President Trump said Saudi Arabia is the source number one of terrorism, but when he was in Saudi Arabia, he said Iran is everything about terrorism. After Saudi Arabia cut their diplomatic relation with Qatar, just yesterday, President Trump said, “You know, when I was in Saudi Arabia, when we were talking about terrorists, everyone was referring to Qatar.” Therefore, it means Trump administration is not going to blame Saudi Arabia for their hand in supporting the ISIS, [inaudible 00:12:18], and they are very happy just to sell some arms. That’s why Iran is also putting finger on the US as a country who is responsible for such terrorist activities. Aaron Mate: Finally, Dr. Mousavian, in light of this development this week with Qatar, Trump as you say backing Saudi Arabia’s effort to isolate Qatar in part, it’s widely believed, over Qatar’s ties to Iran. Also, in the aftermath of this attack today, I’m wondering if you can comment on the challenges right now for President Rouhani, who you are close to? He recently won reelection in a vote with massive turnout, I think 73%. His signature achievement in his first term was the Iran nuclear deal. In the second term, he said he wanted to increase Iran’s engagement with the world. Can you talk about the challenges he faces right now in light of his neighbors with US backing, appearing to make that very difficult? Dr. Mousavian: I think his first challenge would be Trump administration, and the US Congress imposing more sanctions and pressures on Iran. The second challenge would be the triangle cooperation of Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Trump administration, to confront Iran in the region and beyond. The third challenge would be for him to improve the economic situation of the country, because it was one of the big issues during the election. The fourth challenge was and still is the disputes within the Iranian domestic politics, because of election. During the election, there was a lot of fighting challenges between the fractions, political parties, everybody was supporting different candidates. There was a little bit cleavage inside the political body of the country, but these terrorist activities in Tehran, today, terrorist activity done by ISIS, who 13 people, they were killed, 42 people, they have been injured. I think this would help Iranian domestic situation to be totally unified, not only to fight ISIS, to confront the international and the regional threats. Aaron Mate: Dr. Mousavian, I wanted to ask you finally about how Iran is discussed in the West. I want to play for you a clip. This is Paul Mason. He’s a columnist for The Guardian, and he’s a progressive writer, and he was speaking this week to the show Democracy Now, and this is what he said about Iran. Paul Mason: But I think it is time we in the West had a long look at what is happening. Sure, Iran, Saudi Arabia’s traditional enemy is equally a sponsor of terror, it is equally repressive, but we need to be trying to export as it were, values, and restraint, and multilateralism into that Gulf region. Aaron Mate: That’s Paul Mason saying that Iran is equally repressive and equally a sponsor of terror as Saudi Arabia. A progressive journalist saying this to a progressive audience. Dr. Mousavian, I’m wondering your response to that? Dr. Mousavian: I think on terrorism issue, we have two main differences between Iran and the West. I would say perhaps one major difference, on terrorism, we have a group of ISIS, [inaudible 00:16:06], Ahrar al-Sham, Boko Haram, Jabhat al-Nusra, all these terrorist groups which they are the main force behind terrorist activities today in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, Afghanistan, everywhere, and also they are the source of terrorist activities in Europe, in the US. From 9/11 ’til now, hundreds or thousands have been killed in the Western countries by the ISIS, [inaudible 00:16:37], these terrorist groups, and also hundreds of thousands have been killed in the region because of the rise of these terrorist groups. Iran and the West are in the same boat, fighting this threat of terrorism. Iran and the West, they have common interests, they have the same position to fight ISIS. That’s why there is no difference fighting terrorism between Iran and the West, on this part. The other part of the issue is about Hezbollah, Hamas, who are resisting Israeli invasion. Here, the West is calling Hezbollah and Hamas terrorist groups. Iranians, they believe they are freedom fighters. Iranians, they believe they are resistant groups. Iranians, they believe Palestine is occupied by Israelis, and Hamas is fighting occupation of Palestinian land. Iranians, they believe Israel frequently have invaded Lebanon, and Hezbollah is the only main source fighting the invasion of Lebanon, and defending integrity and sovereignty of Lebanon. Here are the differences. When a person like him is blaming Iran, when the US is blaming Iran, even some Europeans may blame Iran on terrorism, it is about Israel. It is about Hamas, Hezbollah. They do not claim that they have differences on fighting the real threat of terrorism which is ISIS. The UN Security Councils, the US, Europe, they all have said the threat number one of terrorism is ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and all these groups. They all have said the source of terrorism ideology, and funding, is coming from the Sunni Arab countries, led by Saudi Arabia. Therefore, here there is no differences. Aaron Mate: Well, an important context to remember, especially with ISIS attacking Iran today. Seyyed Hossein Mousavian, former Senior Iranian Diplomat, now Middle East and nuclear policy specialist at Princeton University. Dr. Mousavian, thank you. Dr. Mousavian: Thank you very much. Thank you. Aaron Mate: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.

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Ambassador Seyed Hossein Mousavian is a research scholar at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School and a former spokesman for Iran’s nuclear negotiators. His latest book is The Iranian Nuclear Crisis: A Memoir, published by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.