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As Trump arrives in Riyadh, some lessons from the Obama era

Today’s visit to Riyadh by US President Donald Trump, his first foreign tour since taking office, has been a cause for concern for Iran and those associated with it.

In this context, nine senior officials under former President Barack Obama came together to write an article published on Politico’s website, which they directed to Trump regarding his visit to the Kingdom. They warned Trump that his visit to Saudi Arabia and its results should not harm the nuclear agreement — the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA — or lead to US involvement in Yemen to please the Saudis and Emiratis.

We all appreciate that this visit is important, and that it sends a political message to a number of parties in the region and beyond. We also know that President Trump has taken steps to emphasize his seriousness, the political course he has set for the US, and his substantial differences compared to Obama.

The latest step was the US aerial bombing of Syrian forces and Iranian militias in an area near Jordan, in a clear warning to the Syrian regime and Iran not to encroach on Jordan. Before that came bombings of the Syrian air base, sending an important message over the Syrian regime’s transgressions in using chemical weapons.

The US administration has also shifted its policy over Yemen, and has become a firmer supporter of Saudi Arabia and the coalition fighting the rebels. 

The problem that the nine authors of the Politico article must be aware of is that Iran took the US hostage during Obama’s second term, when Washington was keen on not angering Tehran until it signed the nuclear agreement. The result was that Iran spread militarily in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. The Obama administration lavished Iran with gifts for this agreement, but at the expense of the security of countries in the region.

It is in the hands of the current US administration to get Iran to face a new reality, namely that it must stop the spread of chaos and violence in the region and wider world.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

The authors warned Trump of angering Iran, especially as his visit to Riyadh is coinciding with the Iranian elections, which could see a loss for “moderate” leader Hassan Rouhani and the rise of his conservative competitor Ebrahim Raisi.

However, the former US officials contradict themselves in their article by admitting that the elections may be rigged in favor of the conservative candidate — but also warning of a negative reaction due to Trump’s visit to Riyadh. Iran is ruled by the supreme leader and Revolutionary Guard Corps, and thus it is not important who wins the election. Remember that the military escalation by Iran, and the unprecedented Iranian wars in the region, all happened during the era of the “moderate” Rouhani, and under the eyes of the former US administration. As such, where is this presidential moderation in Tehran?

I believe it is in the hands of the current US administration to get Iran to face a new reality, namely that it must stop the spread of chaos and violence in the region and wider world.

Without sending a clear message to Iran, Tehran will continue to spread crises in the world and create tension, while supporting terrorist organizations and attacking US allies. Iran has taken the region hostage and has blackmailed Washington for many years, only to be finally rewarded — but it has not stopped its actions, even after the reported freeing of more than $100 billion with the lifting of economic sanctions.

• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya News Channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article was originally published.