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World

Iranian-American Journalist Says Trump's Words Similar To That Of Iranian Hard-Liners

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

One of the people in the room last night listening to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blast the Iranian government was The Washington Post's Jason Rezaian. Rezaian went to the address at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library with thoughts of what took place on July 22 four years earlier, the day his family's home in Tehran was raided by Iran's Revolutionary Guard and he and his wife were taken to the country's most notorious prison. Rezaian was charged with being a spy for the U.S. and jailed for a year and a half before his release. Today he's written a column in the Post about what he heard in Pompeo's speech and his concerns about it.

And Jason Rezaian joins us now. He's still in Southern California. Welcome to the program.

JASON REZAIAN: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me on.

CORNISH: So as we heard, Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, had very strong words about the Iranian government. What struck you about the speech?

REZAIAN: Well, I think that what was missing for me were definitive actions to implement any plans that could in the foreseeable future provide benefits to the people in Iran. That's a primary concern of much of this community.

CORNISH: Right. You've said that in the diaspora people have long felt trapped in the middle of a decades-old struggle between a state that doesn't represent their interests and a foreign power that says it does but has shown little regard for assisting them in meaningful ways. What would be a meaningful way?

REZAIAN: Well, I think we talk about the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people. The crippling sanctions that Iranians have faced for much of the past 40 years and over the past five or six years ahead of the nuclear deal and now, since coming out of the nuclear deal, the new sanctions that the Trump administration intends to place on Iran creates a massive burden on the lives of everyday people in most of that country. You know, unless you've lived in a situation where the country that you inhabit is being sanctioned, you can't really understand the devastation and difficulty that that creates.

CORNISH: What does that look like on a day-to-day basis?

REZAIAN: Well, at times - in the years that I was living and reporting from Iran, it made buying different medication difficult for years at a time. It made it difficult to travel. And, you know, the regime has a lot of responsibility in that. But policies by the U.S. government have often exacerbated that with the proclaimed intention that it's for the greater good of the Iranian people. And the folks that I'm talking to, you know, haven't seen the benefit of that yet.

CORNISH: You've written that the Trump administration is taking a page out of the Iranian hard-liners' playbook. In what way? What about Pompeo's comments makes you think that?

REZAIAN: Well, I think that, you know, there's a lot of bluster. But more than anything - and we saw it in the tweet that President Trump sent out yesterday to President Rouhani - the idea that he's threatening Iran in all caps is really something that the Iranian leadership does on a weekly basis, chanting death to America and the like.

CORNISH: When you look at the president's tweets, what's your reaction to that back-and-forth - right? - between our leader and Iran on this level? Is it different from, say, North Korea, the back-and-forth there?

REZAIAN: I don't think it's that different. And I think that ultimately there might be an opportunity that it creates a space for conversation between the two sides. And I think that that's part of the Trump administration's strategy on this. And they look at their outreach to North Korea as having been effective and would like to maybe recreate that with Iran.

CORNISH: You write today that you listened to this speech on your third July 22 as a free man. What else are you thinking about this moment with that personal experience as your backdrop?

REZAIAN: Well, I'll tell you I reflected on that quite a bit last night. And I walked around the room and talked with people and realized that although it'd been four years since I walked freely in Tehran, I didn't find anybody else who had been there any more recently than I. I worry that we're sometimes out of touch with the realities of that country.

CORNISH: Washington Post columnist Jason Rezaian - he attended last night's speech by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticizing Iran. Thank you for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

REZAIAN: It's a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.