During his first address at the United Nations General Assembly, US President Donald Trump equated North Korea and Iran, reminding many of the term - "Axis of Evil" - coined by former Republican President George W Bush, to describe Iraq, Iran and North Korea, among others. Trump lambasted not only North Korea, in his maiden UN speech, but was equally harsh on Iran.
He accused Iran of supporting and financing terrorism in the Middle East. The US President said: "Iran using its oil profits go to fund Hezbollah and other terrorists that kill innocent Muslims and attack their peaceful Arab and Israeli neighbours."
He criticised the P5+1 Iran nuclear deal, which was signed during the administration of former US President Barack Obama. The nuclear deal, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), had been signed between Tehran and P5+1 (the United States, the UK, France, Russia, China and Germany) in 2015 and had been dubbed as one of the major accomplishments of Obama. Trump dismissed the deal as one-sided, saying, "The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into. Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States." He further signalled to scrap or renegotiate it, "We cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear programme."
Of course, Iran was quick to deny all the allegations, with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani responded to Trump's speech firmly. The usually measured Rouhani minced no words in his response to Trump. The Iranian President said, "Ugly, ignorant words were spoken by the US President against the Iranian nation. Full of hatred and baseless allegations." He further called it "unfit to be heard in the UN, which was established to promote peace". He cautioned the US that Iran "will respond decisively and resolutely to the deal's violation by any party."
Support for Iran
More importantly, Iran found support not only from China and Russia but also from pro-US countries such as Japan. While Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov termed it as "more important factors of regional and international security". Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi also voiced support for Iran and said that no agreement is perfect. But if the accord is discarded, the entire non-proliferation system would suffer.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during his meeting with Iranian President Rouhani unequivocally extended Japan's support for the 2015 agreement signed by Iran. It would be pertinent to point out that Japan is keen to explore investment opportunities in Iran, especially in petroleum and petro-chemical projects. A bilateral treaty between the two countries came into force in April.
Apart from the above countries, 76 European leaders wrote in an open letter urging Trump to stick to the agreement. "This would damage not only US interests but US international standing and credibility."
French president Emmanuel Macron opposed Trump's assertion on Iran in his UNGA address, saying the nuclear deal with Iran was "essential for peace," labelling its opponents "irresponsible". He further emphasised that it's best to work together to achieve common goals to overcome global challenges. France has significant business interests in Iran. Bpifrance, the country's state investment bank, will finance investment projects of French companies in Iran from 2018, granting up to 500 million euros ($598 million) in annual credits.
"The British government has also made it absolutely clear that it sees the JCPOA as important, it thinks the JCPOA should continue," said Norman Lamont, former chancellor to the exchequer and member of Parliament.
It would be pertinent to point out that UK strengthened its economic ties with Iran in a solar deal worth $720 million less than a day after US President Donald Trump called the Persian Gulf nation a "rogue state" and threat to global security. The UK's trade with Iran rose 42 per cent from January to October in 2016 and 57 per cent in the same period in 2017, according to Lamont. Global trade with Iran rose 13 per cent in 2016 to $113 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
It is not prudent to club and put North Korea and Iran in the same category and judge both of them with the same yardstick. Unlike North Korea, Iran has engaged with the world on its nuclear programme. It has not only halted its nuclear programme, but also devised a mutually acceptable solution in the form of JCPOA. Iran has complied with the agreement fully. Even US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, conceded that Iran "is in technical compliance with the agreement". Moreover, International Atomic Energy Agency - which the deal gave extensive rights to inspect Iran's facilities - has concluded repeatedly that the Iranians are in compliance.
Trump's excessive belligerence vis-à-vis Iran will not just adversely impact the economic interests of other countries, but a number of US companies too. Apart from this, it will weaken the relatively moderate leadership of Rouhani which is willing to engage with the outside world. The US President will hopefully realise the folly of isolating Iran and equating it with North Korea, otherwise he risks annoying a number of his allies.