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U.S. Defense Secretary General James Mattis says it is difficult to create an atmosphere of trust with Iran “until the Iranian people can get rid of [the] theocracy [in their country]”.

The interesting and comprehensive interview with The Islander, the American student-run newspaper of Mercer Island High School, located outside Seattle, was published on June 20 but went largely unnoticed. Then major media outlets picked it up and reported that Mattis, who usually avoids speaking to the media, accepted a student’s request for an interview.

The student, Teddy Fischer, asks pertinent questions about Iran’s role in the Middle East, and Mattis gives some detailed answers.

In one such response, the Trump administration’s top military appointee praises Hillary Clinton’s policy toward Iran.

“What you have to do eventually is what then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did, which was to move sanctions, economic sanctions, against them and force them to the negotiating table because they want to stay in power”

“What you have to do eventually is what then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did, which was to move sanctions, economic sanctions, against them and force them to the negotiating table because they want to stay in power”, he says.

Mattis then goes on to emphasize that the Iranian people are not the problem.

“The Iranian people are definitely not the problem; it’s the regime that sends agents around to murder ambassadors in Pakistan or in Washington, D.C. It’s the regime that provides missiles to Lebanese Hezbollah or the Houthi in Yemen,” he explains.

More than once in the interview, the U.S. defense secretary reiterates that the people of Iran should not be confused with the Islamic regime in power.

“[The Iranian] regime, which is a murderous regime, and remember it has killed a lot of Iranian people and locked up in jail a lot of young Iranians when they demonstrated against them in the Green Revolution a few years ago,” he says.

Mattis also chides the electoral system currently in place in Iran.

“It’s not really an election. It’s the supreme leader who decides who gets to run,” he says, calling the Iranian government the most destabilizing influence in the Middle East.

According to the U.S. defense secretary, Tehran’s support for Syria’s Bashar Assad in addition to the Russian diplomatic veto, and later Moscow’s military presence, has kept Assad in power.

Mattis accuses Iran of being involved in terrorism directly or through surrogates. Meanwhile, he says, there is still hope for the region as there are regimes there that are moderate.

As to who exactly these are, Mattis says, “The king of Jordan, clearly a moderating influence. The Emirates, the United Arab Emirates […] There are moderates you know, Kuwait, they have a very restive legislature parliament.”

ON July 11, after Radio Farda published a report on the Mattis interview on its Persian website, Iran's defense minister Hossein Dehqan, criticized Mattis' remarks as "interventionist and shameless", according to Fars news agency, which is close to the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC).

Fars did not specify if Dehqan's response was to this particular Mattis interview, but there has been no other recent remarks by Mattis directed at Iran.

Mattis’ answer to a question about how to fight extremist ideologies is also somewhat unexpected. “I think the most important thing on that is probably education. An economic opportunity has to be there as well. On the education, I sometimes wonder how much better the world would be if we funded for nations where they have ideology problems”.

The secretary of defense then proposes an idea, that one would expect to hear from a soft power proponent. “I wonder what would happen if we turned around and we helped pay for high school students, a boy and girl at each high school in that country to come to America for one year and don’t do it just once, but do it ten years in a row.”

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