Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his nation doesn’t want to go to war with the U.S., striking a conciliatory tone a day after President Donald Trump’s national security adviser warned Iran’s rulers there will be “hell to pay” if they harm the U.S.
“We do not wish to go to war with America anywhere in the region, we do not wish to attack them,” Rouhani told reporters in New York. “But we ask America to adhere to laws and respect the national sovereignty of nations.”
Rouhani’s comments came after Trump used a United Nations Security Council session officially focused on non-proliferation to reiterate his view that the 2015 nuclear agreement with Tehran was a “horrible, one-sided deal.”
Both Trump and Rouhani spoke before the General Assembly on Tuesday, trading accusations against each other’s countries.
The Trump administration is trying to win global support for its tougher Iran policy, which includes the U.S. withdrawal in May from the international nuclear accord negotiated by President Barack Obama, and reimposing sanctions on the Persian Gulf country.
His stated aim is to force Iran’s leaders into a new agreement that also curbs their regional ambitions. But the rest of the world isn’t following suit, with the European Union, China and Russia earlier this week announcing their plans for a financing mechanism to allow “legitimate” business to continue with Iran.
Rouhani on Wednesday said he was “encouraged” by the financing announcement but that more constructive efforts are needed for Iran to remain part of the nuclear deal. He acknowledged the U.S. sanctions were putting pressure on his nation’s economy, but said Iran would hunker down until the Americans eventually return to the deal.
The financing initiative was condemned by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at an anti-Iran event in New York on Tuesday. At the same gathering, national security adviser John Bolton said, “We do not intend to allow our sanctions to be evaded by Europe or anybody else.”
On Monday, Bolton declared that the “days of impunity for Tehran and its enablers are over” and warned: “The murderous regime and its supporters will face significant consequences if they do not change their behavior. Let my message today be clear: We are watching, and we will come after you.”
At his news conference on Wednesday evening, Trump predicted that Iran “is going to come back to me” to negotiate, adding that the country’s fortunes would improve if that happened.
“I want them to have a great economy,” he said. “I want them to sell so much oil” to keep oil prices down.
Rouhani on Wednesday underscored his country’s determination to resist outside pressure, and expressed some optimism for the future. “The U.S. will one day come back to the nuclear deal. What the U.S. is doing does not benefit the people of America or the people of Iran,” he said. “The Iranian government has been in much tougher positions. Our people are patient people, we have resisted such pressures in the past.”
(Toluse Olorunnipa contributed to this report.)
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