US President Donald Trump praised North Korea in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly, in a sharp contrast with his threats to Pyongyang from last year’s lecture, while sharply denouncing Iran.
Iran’s leaders “sow chaos, death and destruction,” Trump said on Tuesday, lamenting the fact that Tehran’s neighbours have paid a “heavy toll.” In particular, Trump slammed Iran over its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Trump justified on the world stage his decision this year to withdraw from the multilateral Iran nuclear deal, saying the 2015 agreement had given Tehran a financial “windfall.” Trump pulled out even though there were no signs of violations by Tehran.
French President Emmanuel Macron quickly pushed back, taking to the podium shortly after Trump to say that the “law of the jungle” could not resolve the Iranian nuclear issue.
“We know that Iran was already on the path to a military nuclear capacity,” Macron argued. “What stopped it? The Vienna accord of 2015.”
Iranian President Hassan Rowhani himself later invited the US back to the multilateral negotiating table, saying dialogue starts “right here.”
Just before the US president delivered his speech, Europe, Russia and China deliberately set themselves up to clash with Trump as they announced plans to create new payment channels to facilitate business with Iran.
The announcement late Monday by Frederica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, came as the US had already imposed one set of sanctions on Iran and is set to implement tougher measures on the country’s energy sector in November.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slammed the proposed system, saying he was “deeply disappointed” by the Europeans.
“This is one of the most counterproductive measures imaginable for regional and international peace and security,” Pompeo told an anti-Iranian government forum in New York. He said he imagined the Iranian leadership was “laughing” when they heard the news
“The Iranian regime robs its own people to pay for death and destruction abroad,” Pompeo said, questioning why nations would trade with Tehran, which he dubbed an “outlaw regime.”
The US stands alone among major powers in opposing the nuclear deal, which was negotiated and signed by the previous administration of Barack Obama.
Other nations – especially Europe, China and Russia – are keen to salvage what they can from the global agreement, to ensure global energy supplies and also make sure Iran does not go back to developing nuclear weapons.
However, the US has made clear it is refocusing on Iran’s role in the Middle East where it supports a range of groups and proxies.
Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, is seen as leading a hard line against Tehran. According to prepared remarks from a speech at the same forum with Pompeo, he stopped short of calling for regime change but did not mince words.
“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,” Bolton was due to say. “We are watching, and we will come after you.”
Pompeo and Bolton were at the United Against Nuclear Iran forum, a grouping staunchly opposed to the Iranian government which has the support of Tehran’s regional rivals, including the oil-rich Arab kingdoms in the Gulf, and Israel.
Trump’s rhetoric on North Korea in his keynote speech was a dramatic reversal from last year at the same forum, when he threatened to “totally destroy” that country and dubbed its leader “rocket man.”
This year, the president praised the “courage” of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and insisted progress was being made. He cautioned that sanctions on Pyongyang will remain in place until denuclearization is achieved on the Korean Peninsula.
Before going on to deliver his speech, Trump indicated the US was not interested in regime change in Iran but rather a change in policy.
“Iran has to change its tune before I meet with them,” Trump said, adding that he believed this would eventually happen. In a tweet, Trump called Rowhani a “lovely man.”
However, Rowhani countered, in an interview with CNN, that his government never requested to meet Trump and that such a sit-down would not be “beneficial or appropriate” under the current conditions.