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In Iran, Parliament Building And Major Shrine Attacked

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's get one perspective now on today's attacks inside Iran. As we've been reporting throughout the morning, gunmen stormed Iran's Parliament building today while suicide attackers struck a major shrine elsewhere in the capital city Tehran. Authorities say 12 people were killed, and the attackers have been killed. We'll wait for updates on that information as we get them.

Trita Parsi has been following all this. He's president of the National Iranian American Council and author of a new book about Iran and the United States called "Losing An Enemy." Welcome back to the program.

TRITA PARSI: Thank you so much for having me.

INSKEEP: Were you surprised by this attack?

PARSI: I was quite surprised, particularly if it turns out that this is ISIS, not because ISIS has not tried to strike at Iran. In fact it has tried several times. And in some cases, in the border areas, al-Qaida or Wahhabi-affiliated groups have been successful. But striking in the heart of Tehran in the Parliament...

INSKEEP: This highly secured, almost police state.

PARSI: ...This is very, very surprising.

INSKEEP: But you said if it turns out to be ISIS. ISIS has claimed responsibility. Do you have any doubt?

PARSI: I do have the doubt mainly because of the fact that this is not the way ISIS usually takes credit. Usually, ISIS takes credit after an attack, not during an attack. And it's not even immediately after an attack. And so that does raise some question marks. But clearly you cannot rule it out. And there is also a video that ISIS released taken by some of the gunmen, which clearly indicates that they may have something to do with it.

INSKEEP: Is there anybody else you would suspect?

PARSI: Well, there are al-Qaida groups that have been quite active in the Baluchestan area of Iran. They have committed several acts. But they have usually been in the border areas. It's been difficult for them to be able to penetrate as deep into Iran as into Tehran.

And of course, there's also the Iranian terrorist organization Mujahedin-e Khalq, who has committed acts of this kind in the past, certainly have the capacity of pulling off things of this magnitude and who has a much easier time penetrating deep into Iran than any of these other groups have, precisely because of local knowledge, linguistic skills, et cetera.

INSKEEP: Isn't this a remarkable moment of pressure on Iran? They're facing pressure from multiple sides, it would seem.

PARSI: There is a remarkable moment of pressure in the region as a whole. In some ways, I would say Iran is under less pressure than it was five years ago. Five years ago, it didn't have the relations with the Europeans that it does today. The nuclear deal was still a very, very significant international crisis.

INSKEEP: The sanctions were underway...

PARSI: Sanctions were underway. Much of that is now starting to change, and certainly the relationship with Europe is very, very different today. But the region is under a tremendous amount of pressure. And we see how the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran has really escalated in the last couple of months.

We've seen how President Trump's trip there seems to have at least been read by the Saudis as a green light to go forward with a lot of things that they probably wouldn't have done, such as the escalation with Qatar that we saw yesterday.

INSKEEP: Would you explain what that has to do with Iran? When we - when we hear that Saudi Arabia and other nations cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar there in the Persian Gulf, why is that involve - why does that involve Iran?

PARSI: It's not entirely clear if it's linked to Iran. But there certainly seems to be one reason to believe that it could be. We've seen that the Qataris have had a rather different approach towards Iran than the Saudis have.

INSKEEP: Friendlier.

PARSI: Much friendlier. And in fact, a lot of the Arab states feel that the Saudis are obsessed with Iran, and they don't share that obsession. They may see Iran as a threat. They may see Iran as a negative actor. But the degree of obsession we're seeing in Riyadh is quite unique. And the Saudis are very annoyed with that because Qatar has Al Jazeera, and as a result they can challenge...

INSKEEP: Lot of power. Trita Parsi, thanks very much. Enjoyed talking with you.

PARSI: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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