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'Just a show': Iran's president mocks Donald Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia

Tehran, Iran: Flush from his decisive re-election victory, Iran's president struck back on Monday after a weekend of verbal affronts from the Saudi-US summit meeting, describing President Donald Trump's visit to Riyadh as empty theatrics and mocking his support for a monarchy that has "never seen a ballot box."

At a news conference in Tehran, President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate cleric who has sought to open up Iran, said his victory on Friday over a hard-line conservative challenger showed that Iranians had exercised a democratic choice.

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Rouhani suggested that he remained open to dialogue with the United States. But he did not waste the opportunity to exploit the contrasting optics created by Trump's visit with Saudi Arabia's ruling monarchs -- at the moment Rouhani's victory was confirmed.

"Mr. Trump arrived in the region at the time when he saw 45 million Iranians participating in the elections," Rouhani said. "Then he visited a country, which I doubt knows the definition of elections. The poor things have never seen a ballot box."

He added: "I hope one day Saudi Arabia chooses this path."

Rouhani gained further momentum from local-election victories on Friday by fellow reformists and moderates in at least eight major cities, according to newly posted results. Those cities include Tehran, where supporters of Rouhani are now in position to oust its hard-line conservative mayor of 14 years.

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Rouhani's remarks amounted to an emphatic denunciation of the Saudi monarchy's extravagant welcome for Trump in Riyadh on Saturday and Sunday and their portrayal of Iran as the destabilising force in the region.

Rejecting US warnings about testing missiles, Rouhani said Iran's weapons were defensive and the country would test them whenever it deemed necessary.

He also ridiculed the $US110 billion arms deal the United States and Saudi Arabia announced during Trump's visit, suggesting it was Saudi Arabia's way of making amends for the September 11 attacks.

Those attacks were plotted by the Saudi-born leader of al-Qaeda at the time, Osama bin Laden, and at least 15 of the plotters were Saudi citizens.

"I do not think the American people are ready to trade the lives they lost in September 11 with billions of dollars gained through weapons sales," Rouhani said.

He called Trump's meeting with Saudi leaders "just a show" and declared it would not "have any political and practical value."

Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia, his first foreign destination as president, was framed by the ruling Saudi monarchy as a fundamental shift in US policy away from the goal of improved relations with Iran that had been sought by the administration of President Barack Obama.

Guided by Rouhani and Obama, Iran and major world powers reached an agreement on a landmark deal in 2015 that relaxed economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for verifiable limits on Iran's nuclear work.

That agreement alarmed the Saudis, who consider Iran their main rivals for influence in the Middle East. Trump repeatedly denounced that agreement as a giveaway to Iran, but his administration is still abiding by its terms.

Rouhani, asked if he had a message for Trump, appeared to signal that he was still interested in a dialogue despite the increasingly hostile posture taken by the new US president toward Iran.

"Iran and America have gone through lots of ups and downs in the past 39 or 40 years. They have used numerous measures against Iran, all leading to failure," Rouhani said. "Americans were only successful in their engagement with the Iranian nation during the nuclear talks."

He also suggested that the leaders of Iran, like many leaders elsewhere, are still trying to understand Trump and his policies.

"We are waiting for the government to be well established so we can pass judgment," Rouhani said.

While Rouhani's re-election was not necessarily a surprise, his margin of victory was unexpectedly strong. The victories by reformists and moderates in Iran's urban areas also seemed to signal a further weakening of the hard-line conservatives that hold much of the power in Iran.

New York Times