US President Donald Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani exchanged taunts at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday with Trump vowing more sanctions against Tehran and Rouhani suggesting his American counterpart suffers from a “weakness of intellect.”
Trump used his annual address to the United Nations to attack Iran’s “corrupt dictatorship,” praise last year’s bogeyman North Korea, and lay down a defiant message that he will reject globalism and protect American interests, reports Reuters.
But much of his 35-minute address was aimed squarely at Iran, which the United States accuses of harbouring nuclear ambitions, and fomenting instability in the Middle East through its support for militant groups in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen.
“Iran’s leaders sow chaos, death and destruction,” Trump told the gathering in the green-marbled hall. “They do not respect their neighbours or borders or the sovereign rights of nations.”
Rouhani, addressing the assembled world leaders later, sharply criticised Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran. He said he had “no need for a photo opportunity” with Trump and suggested the US president’s pull back from global institutions was a character defect.
“Confronting multilateralism is not a sign of strength. Rather it is a symptom of the weakness of intellect - it betrays an inability in understanding a complex and interconnected world,” he said.
Trump’s address was met largely by silence from world leaders still not comfortable with go-it-alone views that have strained US relationships with traditional allies worldwide.
His speech, while delivered in a low-key fashion, was nonetheless a thunderous recitation of his “America First” policies. He has disrupted the world order by withdrawing the United States from the nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord, and threatened to punish NATO nations for not paying more for their common defence.
“We will never surrender America’s sovereignty to an unelected, unaccountable, global bureaucracy,” Trump said, in language popular with his political base. “America is governed by Americans. We reject the ideology of globalism, and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism.”
Besides calling out Iran, Trump also criticised China for its trade practices but made no mention of Russia’s interference in Syria’s war or its suspected meddling in US elections.
Rouhani was defiant in his speech to the world body.
“What Iran says is clear: no war, no sanctions, no threats, no bullying; just acting according to the law and the fulfillment of obligations,” Rouhani said.
Trump, who begins his political rallies with boasts about his economic record in less than two years in office, used the same rhetoric before the crowd of world leaders and diplomats, telling them he had accomplished more than almost any previous US president.
The remark led to some murmuring and laughter in the crowd, taking the president slightly aback.
“I didn’t expect that reaction, but that’s OK,” he said.
Trump attempted to drive a wedge between Iran’s leadership and its people, days after an attack in southwestern Iran on a military parade killed 25 people and unsettled the country.
In remarks to reporters on his way to his speech, Trump said he would not meet the Iranians until they “change their tune.” Though he held out the possibility of a better relationship in the future, he made clear economic pressure on Iran would not abate.
Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, addressing a group called United Against a Nuclear Iran, called the 2015 accord “the worst diplomatic debacle in American history” and had a warning for “the mullahs in Tehran.”
“If you cross us, our allies, or our partners; if you harm our citizens; if you continue to lie, cheat, and deceive, yes, there will indeed be HELL to PAY,” he said.
In May, Republican Trump withdrew the United States from the deal to put curbs on Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for easing sanctions. France, Britain, Germany, Russia, China, and the European Union were part of the accord with Iran.
Foes for decades, Washington and Tehran have been increasingly at odds since May. The accord with OPEC member Iran was negotiated under Democratic US President Barack Obama.
“Additional sanctions will resume November 5th and more will follow and we are working with countries that import Iranian crude oil to cut their purchases substantially,” Trump said.