Rouhani: Middle East one blunder away from war

“We do not tolerate the interference of outsiders. We shall respond decisively to any transgression or violation of our security and territorial integrity,” Rouhani said.

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September 26, 2019 04:49
Rouhani: Middle East one blunder away from war

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., September 25, 2019. (photo credit: REUTERS/LUCAS JACKSON)

US-Iranian tensions ratcheted up on Wednesday as Tehran warned that the Middle East was one blunder away from war, just hours after the Trump administration announced it had imposed a new round of sanctions against the Islamic republic.

“Our region is on the edge of collapse, as a single blunder can fuel a big fire,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told the United Nations General Assembly. “We do not tolerate the interference of outsiders. We shall respond decisively to any transgression or violation of our security and territorial integrity.”

As Rouhani began his speech, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon slowly got up out of his seat, straightened his suit jacket and walked out of the room.

“Israel will not respect the world’s number one exporter of terrorism,” Danon later said. “Rouhani takes advantage of the UN stage to distract and blind the international community from his regime’s aggression. World leaders need to issue a clear ultimatum to Rouhani: dismantle the nuclear program or we will bring more sanctions to bring the collapse of the regime.”

Earlier in the day, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the US Treasury announced new Iran-related sanctions on five Chinese individuals and six entities it accuses of knowingly transferring oil from Iran in violation of Washington’s curbs on Tehran. The entities include two Cosco Shipping subsidiaries, but not the parent company itself.

The move came as it appeared that efforts to hold a meeting between Rouhani and US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the UNGA had failed.

There is no chance that the American and Iranian presidents will meet during the United Nations General Assembly this week, an Iranian official told Reuters on Wednesday.

“Zero,” said the official on condition of anonymity.

At the UNGA, Rouhani also made it clear that no such meeting would take place unless the US lifted all sanctions against it.

“A photo shoot ceremony is the last – not first step – in negotiations,” Rouhani said. He called US sanctions “international piracy” and “economic terrorism,” and said that America’s foreign intervention has inflamed the region.

“The security of the region needs the withdrawal of US forces who failed in 18 years where Iran, with the aid of neighboring nations and governments, succeeded to end ISIS’s dominance,” Rouhani said.

The route to peace and security in the Middle East is “democracy at home; diplomacy abroad,” he added.

“For a year and a half, the US government has sought to deprive Iran of its right to access the world economy by threats and extra-territorial sanctions,” Rouhani said.

He took issue with the US decision to exit the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which was negotiated under the Obama administration between Tehran and six world powers. The deal provided Iran with sanction relief in exchange for limiting its nuclear capabilities. It was negotiated with the US, Russia, China, France, the UK and Germany.

The US left the deal last year and reimposed even stiffer sanctions against Iran, in hopes of renegotiating a deal that would prevent Tehran from producing nuclear weapons and deal with the threat of its ballistic missile system.

Rouhani made it clear that no such talks were possible while sanctions are in place.

“We once negotiated under sanctions. We will not do so again,” Rouhani said. “Halt the sanctions and return to your commitments so the dialogue may reopen.”

If the US wants a deal, it should return to the original document, Rouhani said.

“If you are sensitive to the very name of the JCPOA, you can still return to its spirit by respecting the framework of Security Council Resolution 2231,” he said.

If the US wants something more, it has to give Tehran additional incentives.

“The JCPOA was a minimum: for you and for us,” he said. “If you require more, you should pay more. If what you truly demand is for Iran not to obtain and use a nuclear weapon, this can be achieved through the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran’s Supreme Leader’s fatwa.”

Rouhani rejected calls by the US and European countries for a regional security system, noting that the outsider here was the US and that any regional security team should only involve Middle Eastern countries. He suggested forming what he called a “Coalition of Hope,” which would also deal with issues involving the passage of oil tankers through the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz.

“I invite all countries affected by the developments in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz to join the Coalition of Hope and the ‘Hormuz Peace Endeavor,’” Rouhani said. “This initiative covers different areas such as energy security, navigation and oil transfer in Hormuz and beyond. Any security coalition with foreign leadership is tantamount to interference in regional affairs. The security approach to shipping negates the freedom of navigation and fuels tension and mistrust while jeopardizing regional peace, security and stability,” Rouhani said.

With regard to Saudi Arabia, he said the country’s security “requires ending the aggression to Yemen and not by inviting foreigners.”

“Rather than leveling allegations against the innocent, the warmonger should be found,” the Iranian president said.

In his UN speech on Tuesday, Trump accused Iranian leaders of “bloodlust” and called on other nations to join the US in applying pressure on Iran, after September 14 attacks on Saudi oil facilities that Washington blames on Tehran despite its denials.

On Wednesday, British, Chinese, French, German, Russian and EU officials met with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to discuss salvaging the JCPOA.

“Diplomacy is the only way to resolve issues,” Zarif said.

After the meeting of parties still in the 2015 deal, even Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief who is one of its strongest supporters, sounded downcast about the chances of getting Iran to comply with the pact after the US withdrawal.

“I believe – I don’t believe, I hope – that rationality will prevail,” she said. “It is in the interest of all to remain committed to the deal… but it is becoming increasingly difficult.”

Reuters contributed to this report.


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