As expected, Donald Trump used his UN General Assembly speech to defend and otherwise promote his “maximum pressure campaign” on Iran, which last week escalated to sanctions on the country’s central bank and sovereign wealth vehicle.
The administration’s latest efforts to choke the theocracy come as the international community joins Riyadh and Washington in blaming Tehran directly for the attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure. Iran denies the attacks were launched from its territory. The IRGC-backed Houthis claimed responsibility, which means that even in the absence of a “smoking gun” showing the drones and missiles were in fact launched from somewhere other than Yemen, the European powers don’t risk much by saying the attacks were “sponsored” by Iran.
Trump on Tuesday told the UN that Iran represents “one of the greatest threats to peace-loving nations”. He went on to presumptuously speak for everyone. “The regime’s record of death and destruction is well known to us all”, the president mused, before repeating the dubious talking point that casts Iran as “the number-one state-sponsor or terror”. That characterization assumes you want to classify the Houthis, Hezbollah and Iraq’s Shia militias as “terrorists”, despite the fact that the latter two were instrumental in defeating ISIS. On a more “conventional” definition of “terror” (where that means Sunni extremist groups), it is, in fact, the Sunni powers, including Saudi Arabia, that are the top state “sponsors”.
“The regime is squandering the nation’s wealth and future in a fanatical quest for nuclear weapons”, Trump went on to claim.
There is no evidence whatsoever that Iran sought to pursue nuclear weapons during the period covered by the nuclear accord which Trump unilaterally abandoned. Recent steps towards non-compliance have all been in response to the Trump administration’s economic pressure campaign.
Trump also parroted the manifestly false line that his decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal has somehow reduced the odds of Iran obtaining a bomb. In reality, his decision has accomplished the exact opposite. Over the past five months alone, Iran has breached a stockpile limit on enriched uranium and exceeded the enrichment ceiling.
Finally, the US president said sanctions would only get tighter from here if Iran doesn’t change its “menacing behavior”.
Prior to the attacks on the Saudis’ oil infrastructure, the US was said to be angling for a meeting between Trump and Hassan Rouhani, perhaps at the UN. In fact, most accounts of John Bolton’s resignation suggest he incurred Trump’s wrath (or maybe it’s more accurate to say Trump incurred Bolton’s wrath) in an Oval Office meeting during which administration officials discussed the easing of some sanctions in an effort to fast-track a prospective face-to-face between Trump and his Iranian counterpart as soon as this month.
The drama in Saudi Arabia effectively nuked (pun fully intended) those hopes, although one imagines there’s back-channeling going on in New York.
On Friday evening, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford, announced the deployment of US troops to Saudi Arabia – for “defensive purposes”, of course.