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Awkward: State Dept Official Struggles To Explain Why Iran’s Elections Are Bad and Saudi Arabia’s Monarchy is Good

Fresh off President Trump‘s semi-successful first foreign trip, the State Department held a presser highlighting the multi-billion dollar arms deal signed with Saudi Arabia and the somewhat curious establishment of the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology–which is to be led and financed by Riyadh.

Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Stuart Jones was the official tasked with answering questions.

Most of the exchanges were par for the course. But the final question, posed by Dave Clark, a reporter with Agence France Presse put Jones in a bit of a bind.

The Intercept‘s Alex Emmons noted the controversy:

Jones asked:

“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?”

Jones was visibly caught off guard by the question. He drew a deep breath, said “umm” twice and then paused for a full 20 seconds before answering:

“I think what we would say is, that at this meeting, we were able to make significant progress with Saudi and GCC 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. 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.”

For context, Saudi Arabia is a hereditary Sunni monarchy and the global source of radical Islamic terrorism–but an erstwhile U.S. ally. Iran is a semi-democratic republic which just held free elections where a reform candidate seeking greater ties with the West just cleaned the clock of the conservative hardliner–but the Shia-majority nation is one of America’s official state enemies.

So, in that light, Jones’ response was fairly diplomatic.

For the entire press conference, see the video clip above.

[image via screengrab]

Follow Colin Kalmbacher on Twitter: @colinkalmbacher

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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