During his first address at the United Nations General Assembly, President Donald Trump equated North Korea and Iran, reminding many of the term ‘Axis of Evil’, coined by former Republican President, President George W. Bush to describe Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, amongst others. Trump lambasted not only North Korea in his maiden United Nation General Assembly speech, but was equally harsh on Iran.

He accused Iran for supporting and financing terrorism in the Middle East. The US President, stated:

“Iran using its oil profits go to fund Hezbollah and other terrorists that kill innocent Muslims and attack their peaceful Arab and Israeli neighbours.”

He criticised the P5+1 Iran nuclear deal, which was signed during the Obama administration. The deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), had been signed between Tehran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – the United States, the UK, France, Russia, and China – and Germany in 2015, and was dubbed as one of the loftiest accomplishments of former US President Barack Obama.

Trump dismissed the deal as one sided, saying:

“The Iran deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into. Frankly, that deal is an embarrassment to the United States.”

He further signalled to scrap or renegotiate it: “we cannot abide by an agreement if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear program.”

Of course, Iran was quick to deny all the allegations, with Iranian President Hassan Ruhani responding to Trump’s speech in a firm manner. The usually-measured Rouhani minced no words in his response:

“Ugly, ignorant words were spoken by the U.S. president against the Iranian nation. Full of hatred and baseless allegations.”

He further called it “Unfit to be heard in the UN, which was established to promote peace.” He cautioned the US that Iran “will respond decisively and resolutely to its violation by any party.”


Coterie Of Supporters

Iran found support not only from China and Russia, but also from Pro-US countries like Japan. While Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov termed it as “more important factors of regional and international security,” Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said that no agreement is perfect, but if the accord is discarded, the entire non-proliferation system would suffer.

Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe during his meeting with Iranian President, Rouhani unequivocally extended Japan’s support for the 2015 agreement signed by Iran. It would be pertinent to point out that Japan is keen to explore potential investment opportunities in Iran through petroleum and petro-chemical projects , and a bilateral treaty between both countries came into force in April 2017.

Apart from the above countries, 76 European leaders wrote in an open letter urging Mr Trump to stick with the agreement. “This would damage not only US interests but the country’s international standing and credibility,” read a part of the letter.

French president Emmanuel Macron  opposed  Trump’s assertion on Iran in his UN General Assembly address, saying that the nuclear deal with Iran was “essential for peace,” while labelling its opponents “irresponsible.” He further emphasised that it’s best to work together to achieve common goals to overcome global challenges. Like Japan, France too has significant business interests in  Iran. Bpifrance, the country’s state investment bank, will finance investment projects of French companies in Iran from 2018, granting up to 500 million euros ($598 million) in annual credits.

The British government has also made it absolutely clear that it sees the JCPOA as important, it thinks the JCPOA should continue,” said Mr Norman Lamont, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer and Member of Parliament in the UK.

Notably, the  UK strengthened its economic ties with Iran in a solar deal worth US$720 million (S$967.33 million) less than a day after US President Donald Trump called the Persian Gulf nation a “rogue state” and threat to global security. The UK’s trade with Iran rose 42 per cent from January to October in 2016 and 57 per cent in the same period in 2017, according to Mr Lamont. Global trade with Iran rose 13 per cent last year to US$113 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.


Iran Is Not North Korea

It is not prudent to club and put North Korea and Iran in the same category and judge both of them with the same yardstick. Unlike North Korea, Iran has engaged with the world on its nuclear program. It has not only halted the nuclear program, but also devised a mutually accepted solution in the form of an agreement that it has duly complied with.

Even Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, conceded at the UN that Iran “is in technical compliance with the agreement”. Moreover, International Atomic Energy Agency, which received extensive rights to inspect Iran’s facilities, has concluded repeatedly that the Iranians are in compliance.

Trump’s excessive belligerence against Iran will not just adversely impact the economic interests of its allies, but a number of its own companies too. Apart from this, it will agitate the relatively moderate leadership of Rouhani, which is willing to engage with the outside world.

The US President will hopefully realise the folly of isolating Iran and equating it with North Korea. In a situation otherwise, he risks annoying a number of his allies.

Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi-based policy analyst, and Assistant Professor of Diplomatic Practice at Jindal School of International Affairs, Sonepat, India.

Sandeep Sachdeva is an Independent Policy Analyst.