By Edward Carney
On Monday, Al Jazeera recalled attention to the fiery rhetoric that characterized US President Donald Trump’s remarks before the United Nations General Assembly last year.
World leaders are scheduled to deliver the speeches to annual gathering this week, which coincides with a UN Security Council meeting that was chaired by the United States.
Initially announced as focusing specifically on the Islamic Republic, its missile program and malign behavior, the meeting’s agenda was later revised to reflect more general nonproliferation issues, but was ultimately made to focus on the Middle East in general.
In that context, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley repeated a familiar Trump administration talking point, accusing the Iranian regime of leaving its “fingerprints” on virtually every conflict and crisis in the region.
Haley specifically focused attention on Iran’s violation of Iraqi sovereignty with a missile strike targeting Kurdish separatists in the country.
According to The Tower, she then concluded by calling upon all supporters of national sovereignty to help defend the Iraqi people against intrusions from the Islamic Republic, which has contributed to the proliferation of Shiite militias that wield expanding power in Iraqi politics while often swearing allegiance to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
Haley’s harsh words for the Islamic Republic were arguably indicative of the confrontational tone that will predominate between Iran and the US, as well as close allies of each, during the General Assembly.
Al Jazeera pointed to Trump’s previous remarks in order to illustrate his style, but noted that while the previous speech was largely directed against North Korea, he has largely reconciled with that country’s dictator and subsequently focused his nonproliferation efforts almost exclusively on Iran.
Of course, the administration’s Iran policy is concerned with more than just nonproliferation, and Trump’s withdrawal in May from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal was motivated in large part by the persistence of Iranian ballistic missile development and involvement in the affairs not only of Iraq but also of Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, and other countries where the regime has allegedly left its “fingerprints”.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pointed to these issues in a press conference on Monday which gave reporters a sense of what to expect when the president addresses the General Assembly.
Townhall credited Pompeo with effectively confirming that Iran will be the major focus of that speech, and that it will hold the Islamic Republic accountable for a range of issues that contribute to regional instability and the proliferation of terrorism throughout the globe.
Pompeo also echoed Haley’s general call to action and said: “You can bet the President will have well deserved, strong words for the Iranian regime, which is one of the worst violators of UN Security Council resolutions, if not the absolute worst in the world. He'll call on every country to join our pressure campaign in order to thwart Iran's global torrent of destructive activity.”
Pompeo and other administration officials have repeatedly described that “pressure campaign” as being aimed at compelling the Iranian regime to make massive changes in its behavior.
The comprehensive nature of this goal has fueled some speculation about the possibility of that the White House is pursuing an undeclared policy of regime change for Iran.
And that speculation was amplified on Saturday when President Trump’s lawyer and informal advisor Rudy Giuliani predicted a change of government in Tehran while speaking at a gathering of the Organization of Iranian American Communities.
“They are going to be overthrown,” Giuliani said of the Iranian leadership, according to the Washington Post. “The people of Iran obviously have had enough.”
The latter comment referred to several months of anti-government protests that have been flaring up throughout the country in the wake of a nationwide uprising that marked the beginning of the year.
Although President Trump and his foreign policy team have expressed support for those protests, they have stopped short of signaling the expectation that they would lead to regime change, much less that the administration would seek to facilitate that outcome.
Speaking on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, Ambassador Haley once again reiterated that “the United States is not looking to do regime change in Iran” or anywhere else.
Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton delivered the same message on Monday. But Agence France Presse notes that he also underscored that the US will be imposing more sanctions as part of its strategy of imposing “maximum pressure” in order to elicit “massive changes” from Tehran.
But as the Washington Post noted, the administration’s stated policies are apparently at odds with Bolton’s personal preferences, as he has declared more than once in speeches before the National Council of Resistance of Iran that “the declared policy of the United States of America should be the overthrow of the mullahs’ regime in Tehran.” Giuliani has attended and spoken before these same international gatherings.
The presence of these voices in or nearby the administration is naturally a source of anxiety for the Iranian regime, especially in light of the recent, large-scale protests, many of which have been linked to the NCRI’s leading constituent group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran.
In the aftermath of the January mass uprising, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei blamed the unrest on a “triangle” of enemies, with the PMOI acting at the behest of the US, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. The same accusation was repeated, with Arab separatists in place of the PMOI, after an attack upon a military parade in the city of Ahvaz on Saturday, which reportedly killed 29 people.
That incident has given rise to a renewed outpouring of hardline rhetoric on the Iranian side, including threats of “revenge” against foreign powers. That rhetoric now threatens to further strengthen the tone of UN General Assembly, wherever Iran and the US are concerned.
As UPI reported on Monday, just before leaving for the gathering the Iranian president made remarks to the press referring vaguely to neighboring countries that are supposedly linked to the separatists and asserting, “The sponsor of all these small mercenary countries in the region is America.”
These sorts of statements and the associated threats are almost certain to be poorly received by Donald Trump, who responded to his Iranian counterpart’s reference to a possible war between the countries by tweeting, in all caps, “Never, ever threaten the United States again or you will suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before.
We are no longer a country that will stand for your demented words of violence & death. Be cautious!”