By Parisa Hafezi and Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday that the United States must “pay more” for any agreement that goes beyond the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that Washington abandoned.
Rouhani also appeared to reject meeting U.S. President Donald Trump while the two are in New York this week for the annual United Nations General Assembly and warned world leaders that the Gulf region was on the verge of going up in flames.
“Our response to talks under pressure is no,” Rouhani said in a speech to the U.N. even as the United States increased the pressure by sanctioning Chinese firms for dealing in Iranian oil despite U.S. sanctions.
The U.S.-Iranian confrontation has ratcheted up since last year, when Trump withdrew from Iran’s nuclear deal with major powers and reimposed sanctions that have crippled its economy.
Trump wants an agreement that goes beyond the 2015 nuclear deal and would further curb Iran’s atomic program, restrict its ballistic missile work and end its support for proxy forces in the Middle East.
“If you wish more, if you require more, you should give and pay more,” Rouhani said in his U.N. General Assembly address, without giving details.
In his own speech on Tuesday, Trump accused Iranian leaders of “bloodlust” and called on other nations to put pressure on Iran after Sept. 14 attacks on Saudi oil facilities that Washington blames on Tehran despite its denials.
The United States plans to increase its military presence in Saudi Arabia following the attacks.
Rouhani, however, said the Gulf region is “on the edge of collapse, as a single blunder can fuel a big fire.”
“We shall not tolerate the provocative intervention of foreigners. We shall respond decisively and strongly to any sort of transgression to and violation of our security and territorial integrity,” Rouhani said in his speech.
Trump had said there was still a path to peace and Rouhani, the nuclear pact’s architect has also left the door open to diplomacy, saying that if sanctions were lifted, Washington could join nuclear talks between Tehran and other powers.
NO TRUMP-ROUHANI MEETING SEEN
Despite the French and British leaders urging Rouhani to meet Trump, an Iranian official told Reuters there was no chance that the U.S. and Iranian presidents would meet this week.
“The chances of a meeting are zero. They know what to do. They should return to the JCPOA, lift sanctions and end this unfair maximum pressure on Iran,” the official said, referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) 2015 deal.
“Then, of course, they can join the talks under the deal,” the official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, added.
Under the 2015 deal, Iran limited its nuclear program in return for relief from economic sanctions that constricted its ability to trade with the world.
Since abandoning the deal last year, Trump in May tightened sanctions on Iran in an effort to reduce its oil exports – its main source of foreign exchange and government revenues – to zero.
On Wednesday, the United States sanctioned five Chinese people and six entities it accused of knowingly transferring oil from Iran in violation of Washington’s curbs on Tehran. The entities include two Cosco Shipping subsidiaries but not the parent company itself.
While it originally respected the deal despite Trump’s withdrawal, Iran has gradually reduced its compliance and has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf, through which an estimated one-fifth of the world’s oil passes.
The United States has blamed Iran for a series of actions since May – some of which Iran has denied – that have roiled oil markets, including attacks on half a dozen tankers, shooting down a U.S. drone and the Sept. 14 attacks on Aramco facilities.
The airstrikes on the heartland of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry damaged the world’s biggest petroleum-processing facility and knocked out more than 5% of global oil supply.
Saudi Arabia’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir said Riyadh was consulting “with friends and allies about the next steps to take” once an investigation into who was responsible for the attack was complete.
The United States, European powers and Saudi Arabia have blamed the attack on Iran, instead of the Yemeni Iran-aligned Houthi group that claimed responsibility. Iran distanced itself from the attacks but said it was ready for “full-fledged” war.
The confrontation could tip the balance of power in Iran in favor of hard-liners looking to constrain Rouhani’s ability to open up to the West, particularly because Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s aversion to Washington remains a formidable barrier to any diplomatic solution.
In the penultimate sentence of his speech, Rouhani raised the possibility of talks.
“This is the message of the Iranian nation: Let’s invest on hope toward a better future rather than in war and violence. Let’s return to justice; to peace; to law, commitment and promise and finally to the negotiating table,” he said.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi and Michelle Nichols; Additional reporting by John Irish, Arshad Mohammed and Humeyra Pamuk; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; editing by Grant McCool)