During his speech at the United Nations General Assembly on September 19, President Donald Trump labeled Iran’s government “a corrupt dictatorship behind the false guise of a democracy” that has “turned a wealthy country, with a rich history and culture into an economically depleted rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed, and chaos.”
Iranian leaders, to put it mildly, have made clear just how much they hated Trump’s comments — and showed just how far they’re willing to go in launching attacks of their own. The latest, and most striking, came from Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who told Politico’s Susan Glasser how “insulting” he found Trump’s comments.
“This was the most insulting statement that had ever been made by any US president against Iran since the Revolution,” Zarif told Glasser in a podcast released this morning. “[It’s] certainly one of the worst and most negative statements ever made against Iran in the General Assembly by anybody.”
That’s a big claim considering former President George W. Bush put Iran into his infamous “Axis of Evil” speech in 2002 and Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu said the Iranian regime had “genocidal intentions” to destroy Israel during his 2015 UN address.
But this is more than just a war of words and hurt feelings — this spat is centered on the future of the Iran nuclear deal.
The Iran deal could soon end because of Trump
Trump doesn’t like the Iran deal, a 2015 agreement between the US, Iran, and European and Asian powers that lifted a series of punishing economic sanctions in exchange for Tehran accepting strict curbs on its nuclear-related activities.
On October 15, Trump will have to certify to Congress whether Iran is in compliance with the deal’s terms — but he’s signaled that he might not. “Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States, and I don't think you've heard the last of it,” he said to the UN during his September 19 speech. The next day, Trump told reporters he had made a decision on the deal, but didn’t provide any details.
The deal, by all accounts, is working. But the Trump administration says Tehran isn’t living up to the agreement’s “spirit,” pointing to the regime’s support of Hezbollah and other Shia militias in the Middle East, its backing of the brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war, and its human rights violations at home. However, the agreement didn’t cover those issues because it focused solely on Iran’s nuclear program.
In the Politico interview, Zarif noted he still believes the deal has a “better than 50” percent chance of surviving. But if the US pulls out, Zarif said Iran wouldn’t renegotiate a new accord — which could potentially put Tehran on the path toward a nuclear weapon and hurt America’s diplomatic credibility.
The tensions, and the stakes, are high right now. Trump’s comments have made that clear — and the comments from Iranian leaders like Zarif have made that even clearer.