Iran’s Zarif Responds to Trump’s Gulf Stance: Suicide Bombers are Saudis, Not Iranians

By Patrick Goodenough | June 15, 2017 | 4:14 AM EDT

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif speaks alongside E.U. foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini in Oslo on June 13. (Screengrab: European External Action Service)

( – Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif suggested this week that President Trump is trying to whitewash Saudi Arabia despite its links to terrorism, while tarnishing Iran’s name.

“I think President Trump is trying to change the nationality, post-mortem, of 15 of the 19 9/11 suicide bombers, or any other suicide bomber that has attacked U.S. soil or any Western country over the past 20 years,” he said during an event in Oslo.

“They didn’t come from Iran – none – so why are they trying to change history?”

Fifteen of the 19 terrorists who attacked American on Sept. 11, 2001 were Saudis, as was Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda terrorist chief who deployed them.

Zarif was answering a reporter’s question about Trump’s “embrace” of Saudi Arabia and hostile view of Iran – a stance reinforced during his visit to Riyadh last month. The autocratic Sunni kingdom and autocratic Shi’ite regime in Tehran are locked in a bitter rivalry, and support opposing sides in the civil wars in Syria and Yemen.

Zarif painted a picture of his country as a benign nation that just wants security, while accusing regional rival Saudi Arabia of continuing to support terrorism – including terrorism against Iran, such as last week’s attack in Tehran.

Because of its geography and size, he said, Iran “is content with everything it has. It just needs security in the neighborhood.”

Putting aside the recent terrorist attack in Tehran, he said, Iran is in fact the region’s “most secure” country, because it allows its people “express their frustration at the ballot box rather than with a suicide vest.”

He noted that that opportunity to vote was not available to many of the people living in neighboring countries.

Notwithstanding Zarif’s attempts to distance Iran from terrorism, the U.S. holds Iran responsible for some of the deadliest suicide bombings in history, among them attacks on the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut in 1983 that killed more than 300 people, including 241 U.S. Marines, soldiers and sailors.

The State Department to this day identifies Iran as the world’s foremost sponsor of terrorism, and during his visit to Riyadh Trump was warmly received as he underlined that view of the regime in Tehran.

Zarif was speaking Tuesday on a platform in the Norwegian capital that included former Secretary of State John Kerry.

‘Great Satan’ and ‘Axis of Evil’

Zarif also said that countries at loggerheads in the Gulf region should be able to resolve their differences through dialogue, and noted that even the U.S. and Iran had sat down to negotiate despite their mutual enmity.

He said he did not want to repeat the epithets that the U.S. and Iran have used for each other – but then moments later, he did, using the terms “great Satan” and “axis of evil.”

Zarif was addressing issues of Iran-Saudi tensions and a row among the Arab Gulf states over Qatar’s alleged support for Islamist extremists and for Iran. He spoke in favor of a permanent mechanism in the region for consultation and conflict resolution.

“If Iran and United States could address the nuclear issue at a time when we considered the United States – what you know we considered them; and they considered us – what you know they considered us. I don’t want to repeat those names,” Zarif said.

“But we were able to resolve one of the most difficult issues through dialogue and through a non-zero sum approach,” he continued.

Zarif then said when it came to the countries in the Gulf region that “call ourselves brothers and sisters – not the ‘great Satan’ nor the ‘axis of evil’ – we call ourselves brothers and sisters, why can’t we start talking in a non-zero sum approach and resolving our problems?”

If there was the political will, he said, “we can do this.”

The regime in Tehran has long referred to the U.S. as the “great Satan” although it’s not a term generally used publicly by “moderates” like Zarif and President Hasan Rouhani.

In his 2002 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush said regimes like Iran, Iraq and North Korea, along with their terrorist allies, formed an “axis of evil” that threatened world peace.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow