Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said today that the US is the problem: an isolated violator of international laws led by a team of political and diplomatic novices that is earning the world's disapproval.
"Today it became clear that America is alone," Rouhani said at a press conference in New York, adding that other world leaders told him they disapproved of President Donald Trump's decision to pull out of the nuclear deal that eased sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.
"They referred to the American action as an incorrect action," Rouhani said. Using sober and measured language, Rouhani added that Iran's "intent is to ensure that the United States of America abides by laws and stops bullying, stops pressuring, maintains commitments... [and] adheres to the United Nations Security Council resolution" that oversees the nuclear deal.
Rouhani spoke a day after Trump and his senior officials assailed Iran for its actions in the Middle East and called on other nations at the UN General Assembly to help it squeeze and isolate Tehran.
'Chaos, death and destruction'
National Security Adviser John Bolton warned Tuesday that if Iran doesn't change its behavior it will "have hell to pay." Trump used his speech to the UN Tuesday to ask "all nations to isolate Iran's regime" and its leaders who "sow chaos, death and destruction."
On Wednesday, while hosting a meeting on non-proliferation, Trump added a warning. "Any individual or entity that fails to comply will face severe consequences," he said.
"We're not isolated," Rouhani said Wednesday, saying that every world leader he has met while in New York praised Iran for staying in the nuclear deal despite the US departure and pressure campaign.
He pointed to an effort by the European Union, France, Germany, the UK, China and Russia -- the remaining signatories to the nuclear deal -- to create a mechanism to help Iran trade and avoid US attempts to choke its economy.
"In the General Assembly, America was isolated," he added, referring to Trump's speech Tuesday. "Everyone opposed their move, everyone supported" the nuclear deal, Rouhani said. "We are not alone. The Americans are alone and isolated." Their efforts to isolate Iran, he said, were "neutralized."
Asked about the escalating American rhetoric against his country, Rouhani threw in a dig at Trump and his diplomatic team, indicating he thought they lacked polish and experience. "They speak with a different style, presumably because they're new to politics and have not been practiced in the field of politics," Rouhani said. "Those who are used to politics, their tone and language is different."
Rouhani did not mention Secretary of State Mike Pompeo by name, but alluded to some of his Tuesday remarks about the need for Iran to change. "The one who has been newly appointed Secretary of State, he wasn't a diplomat before this," Rouhani noted. "What he said was not diplomatic at all."
Pointing to the administration's policies on immigration and Palestinians, Rouhani said they suggest an ugly motivation. "The current comportment of the current administration toward Muslims and particularly Palestinians... makes one think about racist comportment and behavior," Rouhani said.
Rouhani sidestepped questions about American hostages held in Iran, or dual citizens who have been imprisoned while on visits to Tehran, but over the course of an hour's remarks to reporters, he repeatedly returned to his theme that the Trump administration is violating more than one international law.
He noted that US troops are present in Syria despite the fact that the regime of Bashar al-Assad does not want them there. "America in Syria, the presence is illegal," he said. More complicated, Rouhani said, is the fact that the US is now threatening to punish other countries if they don't join it in ignoring the UN resolutions that govern the nuclear deal.
"It is quite strange, unprecedented," that the US is asking members of the Security Council "to not adhere to a resolution from that same Security Council, voted on by the US, all members voted in favor," Rouhani said, but now "whoever adheres to that resolution will be punished."
"We say do not sanction illegally and unfairly," Rouhani said. "If America returns to abiding by laws we have no problem with them."
He admitted that Iran is feeling some pressure, but said the country "has been in situations that are much tougher" and "has been able to surpass such difficulties in the past, just as it will be able to do today."
In the meantime, Rouhani said his country has "lived up to every single commitment" of the Iran deal and "until such time" as they ceased to reap the benefits of the deal, "we will remain in the agreement."
"Should the situation change," he added, "we have other paths and other solutions which we will embark upon."
For now, though, Rouhani made clear that Iran is not looking for a clash with the US. "We do not wish to go to war with American forces anywhere in the region," he said. "We do not wish to attack them, none of the above, but we ask the United States of America to adhere to laws and respect national sovereignty of nations."
Rouhani also predicted that despite the Trump administration's departure from the nuclear deal in May, Washington would eventually come back.
"The United States of America one day will come back, sooner or later," Rouhani said. "This does not benefit the Iranian people, it does not benefit the American people or Europe."
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