WASHINGTON, Sept 23, (Agencies): US President Donald Trump, arriving at the United Nations General Assembly on Monday, was asked about the possibility of meeting Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani after tensions over an attack on Saudi oil facilities. “We’ll see what happens,” Trump told reporters. Rouhani said on Monday new US sanctions blacklisting Iran’s central bank for a second time pointed to US “desperation” in the face of Iranian resistance.
Trump last year quit a 2015 nuclear pact between Iran and six world powers, reimposing and then tightening sanctions that had been lifted under the deal in return for Iran curbing its nuclear program. The United States on Friday imposed further sanctions, including on Iran’s central bank which was already blacklisted, following Sept 14 attacks on Saudi oil facilities that Riyadh and Washington have blamed on Iran.
“Americans are sanctioning institutions that have already been blacklisted. This signals America’s complete desperation and shows that it’s “maximum pressure” has failed … as the great Iranian nation has resisted successfully,” Rouhani said in remarks carried by state television.
Tehran has flatly denied any involvement in the attacks which was claimed by Yemen’s Houthi movement, an Iran-aligned group fighting a Saudi-led alliance in Yemen’s civil war. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday Britain believes it is very likely Iran was behind the Sept 14 attacks. He said London will work with the United States and European allies to reduce tensions in the Gulf. “If Iran was behind this attacks, nothing would be left of this refinery,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters in New York. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday the United States aimed to avoid war with Iran and the additional troops ordered to be deployed in the Gulf region were for “deterrence and defence”. “As a diplomat both secretary Pompeo and I should try to avoid war, not to wage war,” said Zarif.
Iran has threatened a crushing response to any military strike following the Sept 14 attacks, though it said the Islamic Republic had no desire for conflict in the Gulf region. “The region has become intense … They make propaganda about damage (in Saudi) which can be repaired in two weeks … because America wants to conquer the region,” Rouhani said.
The president said he would introduce a regional peace plan dubbed HOPE (Hormuz Peace Endeavour) at the United Nations General Assembly this week. “All countries of the Arabian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz and the United Nations are invited to join,” Rouhani said before leaving for New York to attend the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations. Zarif reiterated Sunday that Iran was not responsible for the attack on the two oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, saying “it wasn’t Iran.”
In an interview on CBS network, Zarif said “the fact of the matter is that the Houthis have accepted responsibility for that. If it were a false flag operation, if somebody else did it, then they should look for that culprit. It wasn’t Iran.” He added “it is difficult for the United States to explain why its state of the art equipment was not able to intercept these weapons.” He stressed “I’m confident that Iran did not play a role. I’m confident that anybody who conducts an impartial investigation will reach that conclusion.”
Asked if Iran would accept the results of the UN investigators, he responded “no, we will accept the results of an impartial investigation.” “We are confident that if the United Nations carries out an impartial investigation the outcome will be that it was not launched from Iran,” he remarked.
Disputes in the Gulf should be resolved peacefully via talks and all sides should remain calm and exercise restraint, Chinese President Xi Jinping told Iraq’s visiting prime minister on Monday. Riyadh is preparing to provide evidence to the UN General Assembly which it says will prove Iran was behind a Sept 14 drone and missile assault on Saudi oil facilities, a view shared by Washington. The assault initially had a drastic impact on Saudi oil output. Riyadh says Iranian weapons were launched from the north and that it is working to pinpoint the exact location. Tehran has denied any involvement and vowed to retaliate against even a limited military response. Meeting Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi in Beijing, Xi reiterated China’s previous calls for calm, according to Chinese state television. “At present the situation in the Gulf region of the Middle East is complex and sensitive,” the report cited Xi as saying, without directly mentioning the attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities.