The speech Iranian president Hassan Rouhani delivered to the 74th session of the UN General Assembly in New York on Wednesday, September 25, was partly lies and partly a play on words to distort reality.
Rouhani wasn’t honest when he returned to Tehran the next day either. The French president Emmanuel Macron had tried to persuade him to meet President Trump, but the meeting did not take place. Rouhani put the blame on the US — but the truth was that the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei had refused to give him permission.
The Lie About Economic Growth
“We in Iran, despite all the obstructions created by the US government, are staying on the path of economic and social growth and prosperity,” Rouhani told the General Assembly. “Iran’s economy in 2017 registered the highest economic growth rate in the world. And today, despite fluctuations emanating from foreign interference during the past one and a half years, we have returned to the track of growth and stability. Iran’s gross domestic product minus oil has become positive again in recent months. And the trade balance of the country remains positive.”
But the Islamic Republic’s own Statistical Center of Iran paints a different story [Persian link]. According to the center’s report, Iran’s economic growth in the winter of 2019 fell by around 8.4 percent compared to the same period a year before. Economic growth, excluding the petroleum sector, was -4.1 percent. And the International Monetary Fund predicts that Iran’s economic growth will fall to -6 percent for 2019.
The Nuclear Deal
In his speech, Rouhani called the JCPOA, or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action as the nuclear deal is officially called, the “minimum” agreement that can be reached between the Islamic Republic and world powers, hinting that a “maximum,” or more comprehensive deal, would be possible. And yet a myriad of statements and speeches by Ayatollah Khamenei makes it clear that the Supreme Leader would not allow any other agreements. He has even called JCPOA a “total loss” [Persian link].
“I would like to make it crystal clear: If you are satisfied with minimums, we will also be working with the minimums; either for you or for us,” said Rouhani. “However, if you require more, you should also give more. If you stand by your word that you only have one demand for Iran, i.e. non-production and non-utilization of nuclear weapons, then that can easily be attained with IAEA [the International Atomic Energy Agency] supervision and more importantly, with the fatwa of the Iranian leader. Instead of a ‘show’ of negotiation, you should return to the reality of negotiation. A photo op is the last step of negotiation; not the first.”
The Supreme Leader, however, has repeatedly rejected American offers to negotiate over regional issues. Members of Iran’s nuclear negotiating team, including Abbas Araghchi, have clearly stated that they were only allowed to negotiate about the JCPOA.
And in his latest speech on Thursday September 26, Ayatollah Khamenei rejected any negotiations with the US or Israel. “One point about Europe and the foreign policy affairs is that we have not closed the door for establishing relations and negotiating with any country in the world, apart from the Zionist Regime and the US,” he said [emphasis added].
Did the Islamic Republic “terminate” ISIS?
The “Islamic Republic of Iran managed to terminate the scourge of Daesh [ISIS] with the assistance of neighboring nations and governments,” Rouhani boasted at the UN. This claim was also made two years ago by General Ghasem Soleimani, commander of the expeditionary Quds Force, who wrote a letter to the Supreme Leader and told him that the lowering of the ISIS flag in the Syrian city of Abu Kamal signaled that the “Daesh Dominion” had been terminated.
Let us set aside, for the moment, the fact that ISIS still controls parts of Iraq and Syria. The claim that the Islamic Republic was solely responsible for “terminating” ISIS is a claim supported by officials of the Islamic Republic and nobody else.
Sanctions as “Preconditions” for Negotiations?
In his press conference in New York, Rouhani claimed that US sanctions were the Trump administration’s preconditions for negotiating with Iran.“Maximum pressure is the American precondition for negotiation, [but] we will not accept that,” he said. The sanctions can be seen as a means to encourage Iran to negotiate, but American officials have never characterized them as “preconditions.”
In fact, it is President Rouhani who talks about “preconditions.” He has announced several times that the US lifting the sanctions would be a “precondition” for Iran to negotiate with the Americans, although it is not clear that even if the US does lift the sanctions, the Supreme Leader would permit Rouhani to negotiate on other issues.
“The US must choose a policy of negotiations, a policy of logic, a policy that benefits the American nation and the world and when wrong preconditions are lifted then negotiations with the US becomes possible,” Rouhani had said earlier, whereas Ayatollah Khamenei had already rejected the Trump administration’s offer for unconditional negotiations.
Even during the presidency of Obama, who did lift the sanctions, Iran refused to negotiate with the US on regional issues.
Iran’s Role in the Attack on a Saudi Oil Installation
While Ayatollah Khamenei’s closest allies have been proudly cheering the attack on Saudi oil installations, Rouhani denies that Iran played any role in the attack. “Why should we explain about Yemen and the attack on the Aramco oil facilities? What does it have to do with us?” he replied when asked about the attack.
Among others, a number of Iranian Friday Imams have characterized the attack as a response to American actions against the Islamic Republic. “When the authorities announced that if our oil cannot be exported then no oil can be exported through the Persian Gulf, they thought we would block the Strait of Hormuz,” said Hashem Hosseini Bushehri, Qom’s Friday Imam in his sermon on September 20. “But we do not need to close the Strait of Hormuz. Today the resistance movement [the coalition of anti-Israeli and anti-American forces in the region] is mature enough to strike at you and, as you saw, strike it did.”
On the same day, Ahmad Elmolhoda, Mashhad’s Friday Imam, said: “Today Iran is not merely a geographic boundary and it is not limited to this boundary. Today, Iran is the resistance movement, along with the Lebanese Hezbollah, Yemen’s Ansar Allah [the Houthis], Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.”
A Peace Coalition? Or Attacks on Oil Tankers?
“Based upon the historical responsibility of my country in maintaining security, peace, stability and progress in the Persian Gulf region and Strait of Hormuz, I would like to invite all the countries directly affected by the developments in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz to the ‘Coalition for Hope’, meaning the Hormuz Peace Endeavour,” said Rouhani in his speech. “The goal of the Coalition for Hope is to promote peace, stability, progress and welfare for all the residents of the Strait of Hormuz region, and to enhance mutual understanding and peaceful and friendly relations amongst them.”
Rouhani went to the UN touting his peace plan for the Persian Gulf region, and yet earlier he had threatened that if Iran cannot export its oil, other countries would not be able to exploit theirs either. And this threat was echoed by other Islamic Republic officials, including Commodore Alireza Tangsiri, commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Navy, who said that Iran would provide security for the Strait of Hormuz only as long as it can export its oil.
And these threats were carried out. Shortly after, a number of oil tankers were attacked in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.
Nizar Zakka’s Release: A Gift to Lebanon or to the US?
Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese businessman and a permanent US resident, was arrested in Iran in 2015 and charged with espionage for the US. He was eventually released in June 2019. “The ball is the US court,” President Rouhani has said about Zakka’s release. “Instead of promises made [by the Americans] to reciprocate and release a few Iranians, they merely thanked Iran.” But prior to this, Keyvan Khosravi, the spokesman for Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, had said that Washington had played no role in securing Zakka’s freedom. “No third country played any role in Zakka’s release,” he told the Lebanese Al Ahed News. “This action was purely a response to a request by the Lebanese President Michel Aoun, with the mediation of Hassan Nasrallah, Secretary General of the Lebanese Hezbollah.”
Enmity with Saudi Arabia: Is it only about Yemen?
“Continuation of Yemen's war is not in anyone's interest; problems with Saudi Arabia will be settled more properly if a ceasefire is established,” Rouhani told reporters during his press conference.
But this is obviously untrue. Tensions in the relations between the two countries already ran high under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, well before the war in Yemen and even before the Arab Spring. And, contrary to Rouhani’s assertion, the tensions are not limited to the question of Yemen. One good example is that Rouhani made no mention of the civil war in Syria, where the countries are on the opposite sides.
So who would have agreed with Rouhani’s statements at the UN? Who shares his interpretation of events and political relations? His lies at the UN will have done nothing to clear a path for future action on any side.
Was Iran’s Seizure of a British Ship Legal?, July 20, 2019
Sanctions on Ayatollah Khamenei are Much More Than Symbolic, June 25, 2019
Guards Fear Internal Turmoil as Much as US Attack, June 21, 2019
Does Iran Really Want to Negotiate with the US?, June 21, 2019
Can Iran Legally Close the Strait of Hormuz?, July 5, 2018