The utter futility of European attempts to keep faith with the flawed Iranian nuclear deal has been brutally exposed in the wake of the uncompromising approach adopted by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during the UN General Assembly. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
The utter futility of European attempts to keep faith with the flawed Iranian nuclear deal has been brutally exposed in the wake of the uncompromising approach adopted by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during the United Nations General Assembly.
In the build-up to the UN’s annual jamboree of global networkers, there had been much speculation that, against a background of mounting tensions in the Gulf over Tehran’s aggressive conduct, the forum might provide an opportunity to re-establish a dialogue with the ayatollahs.
To this end French President Emmanuel Macron has, in particular, been actively trying to broker a diplomatic rapprochement between Tehran and Washington, to the extent it was even suggested that a bilateral meeting might be possible between US President Donald Trump and Mr Rouhani.
The reality of the delusional approach adopted by Mr Macron and other European leaders was, though, brutally exposed the moment Mr Rouhani arrived in New York. Instead of showing any sign of seeking to repair Tehran’s strained relationship with the West and its allies, he instead indulged in an orgy of self-justification in which he sought to portray his country as an innocent victim of Western aggression rather than accepting, as is really the case, that Iran was the primary instigator of the latest escalation in tensions.
Not even the charm offensive applied by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose presence in New York was no doubt a welcome distraction from his domestic political woes, was able to make much impression on Mr Rouhani’s demeanour. Mr Johnson briefly raised a laugh from the Iranian leader when he suggested he make a return visit to Glasgow — a city Mr Rouhani knows well from the time he studied there in the 1990s — while remarking, “As you know, Glasgow is lovely in November” — a reference to the city’s notoriously cold and wet climate at that time of year.
The atmospherics — to use the diplomatic jargon — might have appeared promising during Mr Johnson’s one-to-one with the Iranian leader, but reality soon set in the moment Mr Rouhani took to the UN podium and embarked upon an extraordinary exercise in self-justification, one in which the US and its allies were the villains and Iran was portrayed as a nation wronged.
The prime target of his attack was, unsurprisingly, the US, which he accused of engaging in “merciless economic terrorism” following the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal and impose a new round of economic sanctions against Tehran.
Washington’s policies, Mr Rouhani contended, were designed to “deprive Iran from participating in the global economy” by resorting to tactics that amounted to “international piracy.”
He also made it clear that, despite the concerted efforts of European leaders to persuade Tehran to renew negotiations with Washington, there was no possibility of talks taking place until the sanctions had been lifted — a policy no one in the Trump administration is prepared to support.
Nor was Mr Rouhani’s outburst confined to the sanctions. In his view, the US was responsible for the recent escalation in tensions in the Gulf after Washington increased American military deployments in the region following a series of aggressive acts undertaken by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. “The security of our region shall be provided when American troops pull out,” he said.
Perhaps the most eye-catching claim the Iranian leader made came during his appearance on Fox News, when he sought to defend Iran’s support for terror groups such as Hamas and Hizbollah. Mr Rouhani insisted that these groups were freedom fighters, not terrorists, and went on to make the laughable claim that “Iran during the last four decades fought against terrorism unequivocally” — a claim that will no doubt provoke few wry smiles in Jerusalem.
In short, the tone of Mr Rouhani’s address to the UN was that of a politician who wants to maintain his confrontational stance against the West, rather than of a man who genuinely seeks peace.
This will have made for uncomfortable listening for all those European leaders who still believe that the best way to resolve the global crisis with Iran is by trying to save the nuclear deal.
The reality is that, so long as Tehran remains committed to its hostile stance towards the West, there is little prospect of having a constructive relationship with Iran.
Con Coughlin is the Telegraph’s Defence and Foreign Affairs Editor and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute.