Donald Trump has resumed his offensive against Iran, demanding that Tehran must immediately stop its financial and military support for “terrorists and militias” and reiterating that it must never be permitted to possess nuclear weapons.
In what has emerged as a key foreign policy message in the US president’s first international tour since taking office, he returned repeatedly to the need for international action, following his arrival in Israel.
Trump added that he had detected, too, “a growing realisation among your Arab neighbours that they have common cause with you in the threat posed by Iran”.
Trump’s recent comments – echoing similar remarks in his speech in Riyadh on Sunday – prompted a response from the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhaniinsisted on Monday that stability could not be achieved in the Middle East without Tehran’s help.
“Who can say regional stability can be restored without Iran? Who can say the region will experience total stability without Iran?” Rouhani added.
Speaking at his first press conference since his landslide victory in Friday’s presidential vote, the moderate Iranian cleric dismissed the summit Trump attended at the weekend in Saudi Arabia as a “ceremonial [event] that had no political value and will bear no results”.
The latest comments follow Trump’s remarks in Riyadh on Sunday. He said: “From Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen, Iran funds, arms and trains terrorists, militias and other extremist groups that spread destruction and chaos across the region.”
Trump’s analysis – essentially relying on the old saw that the enemy of my enemy is my friend – has not, however, necessary been vindicated by recent history in the region, where Israel and Sunni Arab’s shared d enmity for Iran has not equated to a common cause.
On the first leg of his trip in Saudi Arabia, Trump lashed out at Iran, accusing it of fuelling “the fires of sectarian conflict and terror” and calling for its international isolation “until the Iranian regime is willing to be a partner for peace”.
That refrain echoed the Saudi King Salman’s description of the Iranian government as “the tip of the spear of global terrorism”.
The focus on Iran as a source of instability comes as Trump has pointedly avoided blaming Sunni states – including Saudi Arabia – for their own role in supporting extremist groups and terrorism.
The emerging approach by the Trump administration marks a sharp break with the policy of Barack Obama, who had sought to engage with Iran.
Instead, Trump appears to have chosen to pick sides in uncritical alliance against Iran, not least with Saudi Arabia – agreeing $350bn in arms sales over the next decade – and giving explicit support to the Saudi-led campaign against Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen, a campaign that has drawn sharp criticism from human rights groups.
Speaking on Monday, Rouhani said: “You can’t resolve the issue of terrorism by giving money to super powers. I don’t think people of America would trade the blood they gave in 9/11 in exchange for money raised in arms sales.”
Rouhani also noted the irony of Trump’s remarks, coming, as they do, after an Iranian election that strengthened moderates in the country.
“Mr Trump visited the region at the time millions of our people went to the polls. He went to a country whose people haven’t even seen ballot boxes and elections don’t have any meaning for them. I hope one day Saudi Arabia also drives its national strength through elections. Power should not pass on through inheritance, but through elections,” he said.
Azadeh Kian of Sciences Po University in Paris said: “Battle lines are being drawn and it’s worrying, especially when it comes just a day after the election victory of Rouhani, which showed a real dynamic in favour of democratisation and opening in Iranian society.”
Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who spearheaded the nuclear negotiations, reacted sarcastically, comparing this weekend’s elections in Iran to the lack of democracy in Saudi Arabia.
“Iran – fresh from real elections – attacked by @POTUS in that bastion of democracy and moderation,” Zarif tweeted, referring to the US president.