This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Iranian President Hassan Rohani has said his country will present a plan for securing the Persian Gulf “with the help of other countries in the region” to the United Nations, citing threats to the region and the oil industry from foreign forces.
Rohani was speaking on Iranian television on September 22 at the start of weeklong commemorations in Iran of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War — full of military parades and other official events scheduled to show off Iranian military prowess — and ahead of an expected appearance at this week’s UN General Assembly.
Rohani said that Iran would “extend the hand of friendship and brotherhood” to Persian Gulf states and was “even ready to forgive their past mistakes.”
“Those who want to link the region’s incidents to the Islamic Republic of Iran are lying like their past lies that have been revealed,” Rohani said, according to AP. “If they are truthful and really seek security in the region, they must not send weapons, fighter jets, bombs, and dangerous arms to the region.”
“Foreign forces can cause problems and insecurity for our people and for our region,” he added in the speech to Iran’s 81 million people.
The Iranian president also pledged that Iran will not allow anyone to violate its borders and offered a “hand of friendship and brotherhood” toward regional cooperation.
Later on September 22, Reuters, citing Swedish TV, quoted the Swedish owner of a British-flagged tanker seized along with its crew by Iran in July as saying that he had been told that the vessel, the Stena Impero, might be released “within a few hours.”
Middle East tensions have escalated over an attack on Saudi oil facilities that Washington and Riyadh have blamed on Iran, ongoing war in Yemen and Syria, and a U.S.-led effort already under way to ensure freedom of navigation in the strategic Straits of Hormuz amid recent Iranian seizures of commercial vessels.
U.S. President Donald Trump on September 20 authorized a “moderate” bolstering of U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates following the September 14 attack on a crucial Saudi oil-processing plant.
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper called the mission “defensive in nature” and said the Saudis and Emirates had requested assistance.
Iran has denied involvement in the Saudi bombing and warned the United States that any attack would lead to an “all-out war.”
In his September 22 speech, Rohani told foreign powers to “stay away” from the Persian Gulf and suggested their presence was making the region “the site of an arms race.”
“Your presence has always brought pain and misery for the region,” Rohani said, according to AFP. “The farther you keep yourselves from our region and our nations, the more security there will be for our region.”
Talk has dissipated of a possible meeting between Trump and Rohani on the sidelines of the 74th UN General Assembly that kicks off in New York on September 24.
Washington this week imposed a fresh round of sanctions on Iran, including on its central bank and its sovereign-wealth fund.
Describing the measures as “the highest sanctions ever imposed on a country,” Trump on September 20 signaled that he’s not inclined to authorize an immediate military action on Iran in response to the Saudi attack.
Speaking in the Oval Office ahead of a meeting with his national security team, Trump said he believed showing restraint “shows far more strength” and he wants to avoid an all-out war.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement that “Iran’s brazen attack against Saudi Arabia is unacceptable,” and that the United States “will continue its maximum pressure campaign against Iran’s repressive regime.”
The top commander for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) said on September 21 that his forces had carried out “war exercises and are ready for any scenario.”
On September 22, the commander of Iran’s navy, Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi, was quoted by the semiofficial Mehr news agency as saying the country’s defensive might was “at its highest possible level” and the military was “ready to defend [its] marine borders,” Reuters reported.
“In case of any miscalculation and aggression by the enemy, [the navy], along with other armed forces of the country, will give the most crushing reaction in the shortest time possible,” the agency quoted Khanzadi as saying.
Many people have called the Yemeni conflict a proxy war between Sunni Muslim-majority Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite-led Iran.
Iran-backed Huthi rebels, who captured the capital and other parts of Yemen in 2014, have been fighting against a Saudi-led coalition that supports Yemen’s internationally recognized government in a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people and created a humanitarian nightmare for millions more.
UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths on September 21 said Huthi rebels’ pledge that they were halting all attacks on Saudi Arabia could help end the four-year-long civil war in that Gulf of Aden country.