A senior State Department official was visibly caught off guard when asked about the US government’s criticism of the Iranian elections and its silence over lack of such democratic process in Saudi Arabia.
The awkward moment happened Tuesday when Acting Assistant Secretary of State Stuart Jones, who accompanied President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Saudi Arabia last week, was holding a press briefing about the trip’s achievements.
“While you were over there, the secretary criticized the conduct of the Iranian elections and Iran’s record on democracy. He did so standing next to Saudi officials. How do you characterize Saudi Arabia’s commitment to democracy? And does the administration believe that democracy is a buffer or barrier against extremism?” the reporter asked.
Jones paused for 20 long seconds to collect his thoughts, during which he drew a deep breath and said “umm” twice, before he could barely answer the reporter’s question.
“I think what we would say is, that at this meeting, we were able to make significant progress with Saudi and GCC [Persian Gulf Cooperation Council] partners in both making a strong statement against extremism and also putting in place certain measures through this GCC mechanism where we can combat extremism,” Jones answered.
“Clearly one source of extremism – one terrorism threat – is coming from Iran. And that’s coming from a part of the Iranian apparatus that is not at all responsive to its electorate,” he added.
Trump concluded his first official tour abroad on Sunday, which took him to Saudi Arabia, Israeli-occupied territories, Belgium and Italy for a G7 summit.
During his visit to Riyadh, Trump signed a $110 billion arms deal with the kingdom. He named Iran as the target of the deal and urged cooperative measures between the US and Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries against what he characterized as Iran’s destabilizing role in the region.
“For decades Iran has fueled the fires of sectarian conflict and terror; it’s a government that speaks openly of mass murder, vowing the destruction of Israel, death to America, and ruin for many leaders and nations in this very room,” he said.
Trump’s accusations against Iran came as the Islamic Republic held a presidential election, where more than 70 percent of eligible voters elected incumbent Hassan Rouhani for another four years.
The US president totally remained silent on the issue of human rights in Saudi Arabia and its deadly war on Yemen which has so far claimed the lives of more than 12,000 people, most of them civilians.