Iranian Leaders Blast Trump’s U.N. Speech, Vow Retaliation

By Ahmad Majidyar | Fellow and Director of IranObserved Project - The Middle East Institute | Sep 20, 2017
Iranian Leaders Blast Trump’s U.N. Speech, Vow Retaliation

Iranian leaders have reacted angrily to President Donald Trump’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly and threatened retaliatory measures if Washington leaves the Iran nuclear deal and imposes new sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Under pressure from hardliners in Tehran, President Hassan Rouhani delivered a fiery rebuke of Trump’s anti-Iran remarks and warned that Tehran would respond decisively if Washington violates the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – the nuclear accord Iran signed with world powers in July 2015. The Trump administration’s threat to leave the deal has also sparked off an intense debate inside Iran. The Rouhani government prefers to stay in the deal and work with other signatories of the agreement – Germany, Britain, France, China and Russia – to “isolate” the United States and minimize the impact of unilateral U.S. sanctions. Many hardliners, however, doubt European powers as reliable partners and are pressuring the Rouhani government to respond more aggressively, including by leaving the accord and resuming nuclear enrichment. The head of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.) also warned that the Islamic Republic will deliver a "painful response" to the United States in the next few months.

Rouhani hits back

Speaking at the U.N.G.A. today, President Hassan Rouhani hit back at Trump. “It will be a great pity if this agreement were to be annulled by rogue newcomers to the world of politics… By violating international agreements and its commitments, the new U.S. administration only undermines its own credibility and will lose the trust of governments and nations to negotiate with it in the future,” the Iranian president said at the Grand Assembly. “I declare before you that the Islamic Republic of Iran will not be the first country to violate the JCPOA; but it will respond proportionately and decisively to its violation [by other parties],” he warned.

Pressure from hardliners

Rouhani’s speech appeared to have been revised the last minute to address Trump’s remarks on the nuclear deal and allegations about Iran’s support for terrorism in the Middle East. Even Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif did not respond to Trump’s speech with his usual diplomatic tone. “Trump’s rude and ignorant remarks… demonstrate the depth of his ignorance and his populist actions and words that – coupled with realities such as the U.S. government’s support for the criminal Zionist regime and despotic regimes in the region as well as strengthening of terrorist groups – will yield no results but to further discredit and isolate the U.S. government at the international level,” he said.  

This is partly after Trump called Iran a “corrupt dictatorship” and “rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed, and chaos,” top military officials and other hardliners in Tehran called on Rouhani to attack Trump’s remarks and U.S. policies during his U.N. speech.

“The American president’s remarks should not go unanswered. And we hope that the respected president [Rouhani] will deliver a firm, revolutionary and strong response during his speech in a way that befits the Iranian nation’s dignity,” Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the chief commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.), said after Trump’s speech. “Now that the reality of America is clearly unmasked, the government must utilize all its options to defend Iran’s national interests.”

The most powerful Iranian general claimed that American leaders have lost “mental stability” after suffering “frequent and humiliating defeats” by Iran and its allies in the Middle East recently. He also sent a veiled threat to undermine U.S. interests in the region. “Taking a resolute stance against Trump is just the beginning, and what is strategically important is that America will encounter more painful responses through actions and decisions that Iran will take in the next few months.”

Gholam-Hossein Gheibparvar, the head of Iran’s Basij Organization, also urged Rouhani to “strike a blow to this rude enemy’s mouth” at the U.N.G.A. “The U.S. president did his utmost to insult our revolution and faithful people. In fact, there is a difference between this American president and previous ones: They understood the language of diplomacy. This ignorant person is unfamiliar with diplomatic language.”

Unity in Tehran

While Iranian reformists and hardliners usually differ on domestic and foreign policy, Trump’s speech apparently brought a rare moment of unity between the two camps. Mohammad Reza Aref, the head of reformist Hope Faction at the Iranian Parliament, wrote on Twitter that “Trump’s speech was full of hate” and that “extremists and warmongers will be more isolated every day.”

Eshaq Jahangiri, a reformist politician and the first vice president in the Rouhani government, called on the international community to “pressure the rogue Trump administration to implement the J.C.P.O.A. and its international commitments.” He also rejected Trump’s claim that there is a distinction between the Iranian people and the regime. “The laughable and duplicitous claim to separate the Iranian people from the regime by a person who right after taking office issued an order to ban the entry of Iranian citizens to his country also shows confusion and contradiction in words and actions by some American statesmen,” he added.

No more negotiations

At the U.N.G.A., both Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the Iran nuclear accord as a flawed deal that needs to be fixed or canceled. The Trump administration argues that the nuclear accord does not serve U.S. national interests unless its loopholes – such as sunset provisions that allow Iran to resume nuclear enrichment after a decade or the fact that the nuclear agreement does not address Iran’s controversial missile program – are renegotiated and resolved. French President Emmanuel Macron has suggested that the nuclear deal can be “supplemented” with additional provisions that would address those issues.

But Iranian leaders have ruled out any renegotiation of the deal.

In response to Trump’s speech, the deputy head of the Iranian Armed Forces, Brigadier General Massoud Jazayeri, said that Trump “must realize that he cannot gain concessions” from Iran by “bluffing” about leaving the deal. “We won’t chicken out for cowboy-like acts of Trump,” he added.  

Ali Akbar Velayati, a top aide to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, also rejected Macron’s proposal. “Under no circumstances, the Islamic Republic of Iran will negotiate more over the J.C.P.O.A.,” he said. The chairman of Iranian Parliament's Committee on National Security and Foreign Policy, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, echoed a similar view. “No negotiations to change the J.C.P.O.A. will take place and America is obligated to implement this international document as one of its signatories,” he stressed. And on September 14, Zarif had also dismissed the possibility of renegotiating the nuclear deal. “The #JCPOA is not (re)negotiable. A "better" deal is pure fantasy. About time for U.S. to stop spinning and begin complying, just like Iran,” he tweeted.

Reacting to Trump’s speech, Nasrallah Pazhman-Far, a conservative Iranian lawmaker, said the government should offer no more concessions to the West. Until what time will government officials want to say that they will attain our rights on the negotiating table? While the Europeans say they support the J.C.P.O.A., they in reality have not backed he accord,” he said. “The only way to confront America is determination, resistance and reliance on the people. Those who pinned hope on America… today have to listen to the demands of the Iranian people.” 

“Trump won’t leave the deal”

The popular belief in Tehran is that the United States cannot and will not leave the deal because the nuclear accord is an international agreement and such a unilateral move would isolate Washington as other signatories of the accord want it to be implemented.  

Speaking to reporters after his U.N. speech, Rouhani said he does not expect Washington to walk away from the deal. “We don’t think Trump will walk out of the deal despite (his) rhetoric and propaganda.”

An article in reformist Shargh newspaper wrote today that “international norms do not allow America to unilaterally tear up an international accord as Trump wishes.” But it warned that the Trump administration is working with Israel and Saudi Arabia to increase pressure on Tehran and deter foreign companies from doing business with the Islamic Republic. While hardliners often cast doubt about European countries’ sincerity, the article in Shargh questioned Russia and China as a reliable partner.  

Can Tehran trust E.U.?

With the Trump administration threatening to walk away from the nuclear accord, there has been an intense debate inside Iran – particularly between pro-Rouhani team and hardliners – whether Tehran can trust the Europeans to confront the United States. The Rouhani government wants to stay in the deal even if Washington leaves it as it believes that Tehran can still attract foreign investment from Europe if it remains committed to the J.C.P.O.A. After his U.N. speech, the Iranian president said Tehran believes in “win-win policy” and encouraged all countries to come and invest in Iran.

But many hardliners disagree. They say European powers have historically sided with Washington to impose crippling sanctions against Iran and will do so in the future for their national interests. Hassan Hanizadeh, an Iranian international affairs expert, told Fars News Agency today that Tehran should give all other six signatories of the Iran deal a three-month ultimatum to honor their commitments. If any party to deal fails to do so, he suggested, Iran should resume high-level nuclear enrichment.

Hossein Shariatmadari, an aide to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the editor-in-chief of Kayhan, said the nuclear deal was not in Iran’s national interest at the first place and urged the government to leave the deal and resist American pressure and threats like North Korea.