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President Trump Has Little Credibility Inside Iran, Ali Vaez says


And now we want to bring in Ali Vaez. He's director of the Iran Project at the International Crisis Group. Good morning, sir.

ALI VAEZ: Good morning.

KING: So these protests changed from being - or the people in the streets, at one point, were mourning the death of Qassem Soleimani. And then days later, you have Iranians out in the streets saying the problem is the Iranian government. Are these protests just about that plane that was shot down, as tragic as that was, or is there something else going on here?

VAEZ: No, it's about much more than that, Noel. In fact, we had massive protests in Iran in November because of pent-up frustration within the Iranian society over economic stagflation and political stagnation. And those protests were brutally suppressed in a matter of a few days; hundreds of Iranians were killed. And Donald Trump then did something for the Islamic Republic that the leadership could not even dream of, which was the killing of General Soleimani, which created the sense of national unity and rallying around the flag effect. We saw millions of people on the streets mourning the passing of a figure that many saw, inside Iran, as a national hero.

And then the accidental shootdown of the Ukrainian passenger jet and the government's effort to cover it up and denying responsibility for three days again, I think, sparked an outpouring of public anger, bringing us back to status quo ante, when the population was more angered at their own government than at the United States and - or anybody else for that matter.

KING: OK. So this is interesting. Many of us have been surprised by how quickly things turned from anti-American protests to protests against the Iranian government. It sounds like you're saying it's not that surprising; there's just a lot of rage pent up.

VAEZ: Absolutely. Look - first of all, yes, the past seven days has been an emotional roller coaster. But the main elements underpinning the current dynamics have not changed. Inside Iran, there's a lot of frustration, and the population is fed up with corruption, mismanagement, repression. And the sanctions that the Trump administration have imposed on Iran have just exacerbated the country's economic situation. Those issues have not changed. The government has failed to bring about any serious political or economic reforms.

And there is a cultural protest in Iran. So every few months, we see serious protests. But I'm seeing, more and more, this kind of revolts or uprisings that are becoming more anti-establishment, more violent and more intense. We used to see serious protests every few months. Now it seems that it's becoming every few weeks.

KING: Yesterday, President Trump was tweeting at the Iranian protesters in both English and Persian. He said, quote - to the Iranian government - "do not kill your protesters" and, quote, "the world is watching."

Do the protesters in the streets care what President Trump says on Twitter?

VAEZ: Unfortunately, President Trump has very little credibility inside Iran because he's the president who's imposed a travel ban on the Iranians from the first days of coming into office and, again, has imposed stifling sanctions on the country and just a few days ago talked about bombing Iranian cultural sites.

KING: Yeah.

VAEZ: So I doubt the Iranian people will take his words seriously.

KING: Ali Vaez of the International Crisis Group, thank you.

VAEZ: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.