Analysis: After UN visit, Iran faces diminishing choices

Sep 26, 2019, 5:35 AM
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly, ...
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
(AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Iran has long prided itself on its forceful defiance of the United States and Israel, a resistance that has defined the Shiite-led Islamic Republic for the 40 years since its revolution.

But the limits of Iran’s ability to go it alone were on display at the United Nations this week as it engaged in a flurry of diplomatic outreach amid increasingly crippling isolation by U.S. sanctions that are eating into its economy and its ability to sell its oil.

For months, the European nations that signed Iran’s nuclear accord have been trying — unsuccessfully — to find ways around U.S. sanctions that were imposed after President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the agreement last year. Trump argues the deal, completed under the Obama administration, fell far short of the curbs needed to block Tehran’s regional ambitions.

Addressing world leaders Wednesday, Rouhani’s message pointed a clear way toward easing tensions and resuming negotiations: “Stop the sanctions.”

But before getting to that, he opened his speech by paying homage “to all the freedom-seekers of the world who do not bow to oppression and aggression.” He also slammed “U.S.- and Zionist-imposed plans” against the Palestinians. Such language characterizes Iran’s self-styled championing of Islamic causes worldwide.

Away from the podium this week, Iran has been engaging in nothing short of a public relations blitz with America’s biggest news outlets. Rouhani met with leaders of media organizations including The Associated Press and granted an interview to Fox News, where Trump and his Iran policies enjoy vehement support.

The Tehran government’s fraught history with the U.S. has essentially locked it out of the global financial system, making it difficult to find partners, allies and countries willing or even able to do business with it.

Rouhani accused the U.S. of engaging in “merciless economic terrorism” against his country, saying America had resorted to “international piracy by misusing the international banking system” to pressure Iran.

As Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers unravels under the weight of Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign, previously unimaginable alliances are emerging between Gulf Arab states and Israel, united by what they see as a common threat.

Across the Middle East, Iran’s reach is consequential in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, where proxy wars have taken on a sectarian tone that pits Iran-supported Shiites against Saudi-backed Sunnis.

On the battlefields, Tehran’s rivals see it as a menacing and destabilizing force that has exploited failed uprisings, military interventions and chaos to expand its foothold in Arab states.

Iran counters that it was the U.S. that invaded Iraq and Saudi Arabia that invaded Yemen. In his U.N. speech, Rouhani pointed to Iran’s role in fighting Sunni Muslim extremist groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaida. He described Iran as a “pioneer of freedom-seeking movements in the region.”

Iran’s elite paramilitary force has led that charge, cementing Tehran’s footprint far beyond the country’s borders.

The Revolutionary Guard Corps, created after Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution in parallel to the country’s armed forces, is effectively a corps of soldiers charged with preserving and advancing the principles of the uprising that created modern Iran.

It answers only to the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and its power is not just theoretical but very real: The force directly oversees the country’s ballistic missile program.

It is the Guard Corps that has become a major sticking point in Iran’s relations, or lack thereof, with the United States under Donald Trump.

The Trump administration, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel say Iran used money from sanctions relief under the nuclear accord to increase the Revolutionary Guard’s budget.

Those nations say any new negotiations must include discussion about the Guard’s activities in the region and its missile program, and support for that notion seems to be gaining traction.

This week, Britain, France and Germany joined the U.S. and other allies in blaming Iran for an attack on Saudi oil sites earlier this month. The implication: That because missiles were involved in those attacks, so was the Guard.

Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York this week, a top Saudi diplomat described Iran as being “obsessed with trying to restore the Persian Empire and trying to take over the region.”

“Their constitution calls for the export of the revolution,” Adel al-Jubeir said. “They believe that every Shiite belongs to them. They don’t respect the sovereignty of nations.”

“Iran,” he said, “has to decide: Are you a revolution or are you a nation-state?”

As Rouhani departs a city that is effectively enemy territory and goes back home this week, he and Tehran’s clerical leadership must decide which of those paths to take: Will they merely confront, as the 1979 revolution did? Or, as nation-states do, will they sit down and talk as well?


Aya Batrawy covers the Persian Gulf for The Associated Press and has reported from the Middle East for the past 15 years.


Follow Aya Batrawy on twitter at

Today’s Top Stories


Residents stand in front of building destroyed by missiles in Ukraine...
FRANCESCA EBEL Associated Press

Russian missiles kill at least 19 in Ukraine’s Odesa region

The Ukrainian president's office said three Kh-22 missiles fired by Russian bombers struck an apartment building and a campsite.
2 days ago
A technician works on a component of Rocket Lab's Electron rocket ahead of the launch on the Mahia ...
NICK PERRY Associated Press

NASA hopes New Zealand launch will pave way for moon landing

The mission came together relatively quickly and cheaply for NASA, with the total mission cost put at $32.7 million.
5 days ago
Tim Lister, Julia Kesaieva, Salma Abdelaziz, Pierre Bairin and Jeevan Ravindran, CNN

Russian missiles hit Kyiv as G7 summit begins in Europe

G7 summit begins in Germany, as Russia hits Kyiv with a series of missile attacks.
7 days ago
A fighter in a tank in Ukraine....

Men, morale, munitions: Russia’s Ukraine war faces long slog

Over the weekend, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned the war could last years and warned of "Ukraine fatigue" abroad.
13 days ago
supermoon photos...
Associated Press

AP PHOTOS: Supermoon delights skygazers around the globe

The moon reached its full stage Tuesday during a phenomenon known as a supermoon because of its proximity to Earth. It's also known as the "Strawberry Moon."
18 days ago
President Joe Biden. He will visit Israel and Saudi Arabia in July....

Biden to visit Israel and ‘pariah’ Saudi Arabia next month

The decision to pay a call on Saudi leaders comes after Biden as a Democratic presidential candidate branded the kingdom a "pariah."
19 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Tax Harassment...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
Prescription opioids can be disposed of during National Prescription Take Back Day...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
national heart month...
Intermountain Healthcare

National Heart Month: 5 Lifestyle Changes to Make Today to Keep You Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease
Joseph Smith Memorial Building...
Temple Square

The Joseph Smith Memorial Building is an icon of Salt Lake City | Why hosting an event at this beautiful location will make you a hero this year

Here's why hosting an event at the iconic Joseph Smith Memorial Building in downtown Salt Lake City will make you a hero this year.
Analysis: After UN visit, Iran faces diminishing choices