The United States government is lobbying on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly to build an anti-Iran coalition of like-minded countries, which may exclude some of its key European allies, IranWire has learned.
While the US has not committed publicly to leave the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, it is quietly working to build a coalition of countries that would be amenable to its anti-deal attitude, even if chief allies like France and Germany won’t be, two US and EU diplomats told IranWire.
The US diplomat told IranWire that Iran’s reputation in the region meant the US was able to garner support from a number of countries. “Everybody does the nice talk about the Iran Deal but Iran isn’t exactly popular in the region,” the diplomat said. “We have high hopes of bringing countries like Jordan and Saudi Arabia on side. They’ll be with us on any plan, really. And they carry much of the region behind them.”
The US diplomat who spoke to IranWire used the term “coalition of the willing,” the same term used by Bush’s government when he tried to circumvent the US’s traditional European allies by building a diverse coalition of international support for the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
“Trump’s ideas appeal to a lot of people around the world; he is part of a global phenomenon.” the diplomat said. “We are going to go after countries, no matter where they are, who are ready to put patriotism first and recognize the threat of Iran without resorting to liberal, diplomatic niceties. This will be our coalition of the willing.”
“They are going heavy after all countries they can find to back the new course,” the EU diplomat told IranWire, speaking on condition of anonymity. “I know they were even courting the Marshal Islands!”
Some European diplomats have privately complained about President Trump’s aggressive tone during his maiden speech at the UN. For some, the speech was reminiscent of President’s George W Bush’s “Axis of Evil” State of Union address in 2002. Trump called the Iranian government “a corrupt dictatorship behind the false guise of a democracy,” and said the Iran Deal was “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.” But he didn’t commit to quitting the deal.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif met with his European Union counterpart Federica Mogherini yesterday, and is expected to have his first-ever meeting with the US’s new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tonight as part of a P5+1 meeting. The P5+1 group of countries — the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China plus Germany — and Iran agreed on the JCPOA two years ago in Vienna.
Israel Applauds “Courageous” Speech
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Trump’s speech, calling it the most “courageous” speech he’s ever heard in the UN. In his own address, Netanyahu said Tel Aviv’s approach to the Iran Deal can be summed up as “fix it or nix it.” Of the “many things” that Netanyahu, or Bibi as he is often known, counted as requirements for “fixing the deal,” the most noteworthy are opening all “suspicious” military sites to inspection, penalizing Iran for every violation, and getting rid of the so-called “sunset clause,” which rewards Iran by lifting some of its limitations. He also said Iran’s work on ballistic missiles should be stopped and its “growing aggression in the region” should be rolled back. Iran has said that the Iran Deal is “non-negotiable.”
The tough talk by Trump comes as his government once again extended sanctions relief to Iran last week, as it was required to do under the JCPOA agreement. Now a new deadline looms: On October 15, Trump needs to report to Congress whether Iran is still complying with the deal or not. If it choses not to “certify” Iranian compliance, Congress can then go on to re-impose sanctions on Iran, putting a huge dent in the implementation of deal. This path of action was suggested as a possible way forward in a recent policy speech given by UN Ambassador Nikki Haley at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
This approach has met with heavy criticism, in public and private, by European diplomats, especially those representing the French government headed by newly-elected President Macron. Such European skepticism of Washington intentions hasn’t happened since the days of President Bush’s push for invasion of Iraq in 2003. Faced with lack of support for allies, Bush instead went on to build a “coalition of willing” of countries around the world who were ready to join US efforts. Trump is preparing the grounds for a similar policy by proposing such a coalition as a possibility to several countries on the sidelines of the General Assembly.
The US State Department told IranWire they had no one available to comment on Washington’s new Iran policies, in direct contradiction to the department’s approach in recent years, when a Persian-speaking spokesperson was available to give interviews to a wide-range of Iranian media and tried to communicate their policies to Iranians.
“Our programming is very topic-specific,” a diplomat handling the State Department media requests wrote in an email to IranWire this morning, before referring us to Trump’s speech.
Rouhani Lashes out at Trump
In his address to the General Assembly today, President Rouhani attacked Trump’s speech at the UN, dismissing it as "ugly, full of wrong information and baseless accusations against Iranians.” His address, he said, did not befit the UN.
He said Iranians had voted him in for a second term because they supported his program of domestic moderation and "constructive interaction" with the world. He projected Iran as stable and solid — a far cry from Trump’s characterization of the Islamic Republic as a “corrupt dictatorship.”
He praised his country’s integrity and support for suppressed nations and peoples, and stressed that the country was not interested in dominance or isolation. “Our ambassadors are our poets," Rouhani told the General Assembly. "With Rumi we've come across the Atlantic. With Saadi we've conquered heart of Asia.”
But for all Rouhani’s attempts to shine a light on what he saw as Iran’s beneficence and exemplary behavior, he also had a direct message for the assembly, and for Trump. “The Iran Deal belongs to the whole world,” he said, and warned that the Trump administration risked hurting the US’s credibility if it shirked its commitments under the deal. He insisted that Iran’s missiles were only defensive measures to "keep peace and security in the region.” And he invited delegates to "imagine how the Middle East would look” without it — a vision he no doubt hoped was more than unsettling for his audience.