US senator and former presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders called for Washington to adopt a friendlier approach to Iran, and said he would consider supporting slashing US aid to Israel over the Jewish state’s policies towards the Palestinians.
In an interview Thursday with The Intercept, the Jewish senator said the US was “complicit” in what he termed Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians, but was not the only guilty party, and urged Washington to play a more fair role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Certainly the United States is complicit, but it’s not to say… that Israel is the only party at fault,” he said.
“In terms of Israeli-Palestinian relations, the United States has got to play a much more even-handed role. Clearly that is not the case right now,” he added.
US funding, said Sanders, “plays a very important role, and I would love to see people in the Middle East sit down with the United States government and figure out how US aid can bring people together, not just result in an arms war in that area.”
The senator said that there was “extraordinary potential for the United States to help the Palestinian people rebuild Gaza and other areas. At the same time, demand that Israel, in their own interests in a way, work with other countries on environmental issues.”
When asked if he would “consider voting to reduce US aid to Israel or US arms sales to the Israeli military, Sanders said “the answer is yes.”
Sanders has long been critical of Israel vis-a-vis the Palestinians and in June said “the occupation must end” in a video marking “50 years of Occupation” since Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the 1967 Six Day War.
The self-described democratic socialist from Vermont also issued harsh words for Saudi Arabia, saying the desert kingdom is “not an ally” of the US and calling for a “rethink, in terms of American foreign policy… vis-a-vis Iran and Saudi Arabia.”
Sanders said Saudi Arabia is “an undemocratic country that has supported terrorism around the world” and is therefore “not an ally of the United States.”
Despite Saudi Arabia being an “incredibly anti-Democratic” country, Sanders said the US has repeatedly backed Riyadh, while maintaining hostile relations with Iran, “which just held elections” and “whose young people really want to reach out to the West.”
Sanders did not mention that in May’s Iranian presidential election, in which President Hassan Rouhani was reelected to a second term, only candidates handpicked by the regime were allowed to run, nor that leading opposition figures were held under house arrest.
While saying that he has “legitimate concerns…about Iran’s foreign policy,” which is characterized largely by its opposition to Israel and the US, Sanders said he wanted a more “even-handed” approach from the US to the “Iran and Saudi conflict.”
While strongly criticizing Saudi Arabia’s support for terrorism through its funding of ultra-conservative Islamic seminaries, Sanders did not address Iran’s material and financial support for a number of terror groups, namely Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Palestinian terror group Hamas.
Sanders’ comments on Iran came as the tensions between the US and the Islamic Republic have recently escalated amid US President Donald Trump’s threat to scrap the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, declaring Tehran not to be in compliance with the accord meant to limit Iran’s nuclear program.
In the interview, Sanders also said US drone strikes in which civilians have been killed are one of the “root causes” of terrorism and called US President Donald Trump a “racist” for his efforts to “delegitimize” former US president Barack Obama.
“I think Donald Trump has strong racist tendencies,” he said. “And I say that not just because of his absurd and horrific remarks on Charlottesville, but because… when you lead the effort to try to de-legitimize…the first African-American president in our history, I think that’s racist. When you argue about the Central Park 5, I think that’s racist — so I think it’s fair to say he has strong racist tendencies.”
Trump drew international ire last month after a far-right rally ended in violence when a counter-protester was run over and killed in Charlottesville, Virginia by a man with neo-Nazi sympathies and the president blamed “many sides” for the violence.