Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is to present a plan for Gulf security at this week’s UN General Assembly in New York.
Since the September 14 drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabian facilities that took out half of Saudi oil production capacity—blamed on Iran by Riyadh and Washington but attributed to the Houthi rebels in Yemen by Tehran—the US and Tehran have entered into a diplomatic tussle to convince the world that it is they who have the best interests of the Middle East at heart.
Rouhani made clear the Iranian proposal did not envisage a role for the US, while denouncing the presence of foreign powers in the Gulf, saying they were heightening the region’s “insecurity”.
“The security of the Persian Gulf, the strait of Hormuz, and the Sea of Oman is indigenous,” the Iranian president said at a military parade marking the 39th anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war. “Foreign forces could cause problems and insecurity for our nation and region,” he added.
Rouhani said Iran was "ready to let go of the past mistakes" made by regional neighbours. That was no doubt a reference to Arab allies of the US including Saudi Arabia. "In this sensitive and important historical moment, we announce to our neighbours, that we extend the hand of friendship and brotherhood to them," he added.
Trump—accused by his critics of dithering on his response to the attacks on Saudi Arabia because he is averse to getting sucked into a major Middle East conflict that could mar his 2020 re-election chances—said on September 22 that he was open to hearing Iran’s plan. “I’m always open,” he said. “We’re doing our own thing with Iran,” the president added, claiming “tremendous progress” has been made.
US officials have again been taking the line that Washington’s response to the attacks will be diplomatic—but at the same time more US military hardware and a moderate number of additional troops are being sent to Saudi Arabia. A destroyer, the USS Nitze, has reportedly arrived at the northern end of the Gulf to help boost up Saudi defences.
In the wake of news on the deployments, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) doubled down on the line that any retaliatory attack on Iran for the strikes on Saudi Arabia would draw far more than a limited response. IRGC Commander Maj Gen Hossein Salami said: "Whoever wants their land to become the main battlefield, go ahead. Be careful, a limited aggression will not remain limited. We will pursue any aggressor."
September 22 also saw US Secretary of State tell CBS: “Apparently the Iranians are bloodthirsty and looking for war. President Trump and I, we’re looking for a diplomatic resolution to this.”
The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, reported on September 22 that Houthi officials had informed diplomats that Iran was putting them under pressure to take part in a second wave of attacks. Recent days have seen the Houthis offer a ceasefire to the Saudi-backed Yemeni government. The Saudi response has so far been cautious.
Trump’s response to the attacks on Saudi Arabia has also included the introduction of more sanctions on Tehran.
The fresh sanctions target the Central Bank of Iran, the National Development Fund of Iran and Etemad Tejarate Pars Co, an Iranian company that US officials said is used to conceal financial transfers for Iranian military purchases, the US Treasury Department said in a statement.
Analysts, however, largely took the line that the latest sanctions were largely cosmetic given the unprecedented range of heavy sanctions that the US has already hit Iran with in the past year.
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