UNITED NATIONS — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the United States “isolated” on Wednesday after most members of the UN Security Council praised his country's nuclear deal brokered by the Obama administration before President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the accord.
“A resolute majority called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action an accomplishment of diplomacy,” Rouhani said during a news conference in a hotel across the street from the UN. “The United States of America has become alone and isolated.”
Trump, in his remarks earlier Wednesday as chairman of the Security Council meeting on weapons of mass destruction, labeled Iran as “the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism.”
Trump added: “For this reason, I announced earlier this year that the United States would withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. This horrible, one-sided deal allowed Iran to continue its path toward a bomb and gave the regime a cash lifeline when they needed it the most. They were in big, big trouble. They needed cash. We gave it to them.”
Iran supports Hezbollah, a militia group in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen and Syrian President Bashar Assad, who experts said has used chemical weapons in a civil war that has claimed over 500,000 lives.
Rouhani said the most significant change in circumstances since he last took part in the UN General Assembly’s General Debate in 2017 is the U.S. withdrawal last May from the nuclear pact, which was forged over several years and involved several countries, including the United States, China, France, the United Kingdom, Russia, the European Union and Germany.
The deal was endorsed by the 15 members of the UN Security Council, including the United States, and went into effect in 2015, making it international law. That allowed Rouhani to call the U.S. departure an “illegal withdrawal.”
Trump has threatened to punish those who do not comply with U.S. sanctions that were reimposed after the May pull out although the accord is legally binding.
“Any individuals who fail to comply with these sanctions will face full consequences,” Trump warned.
But Security Council members, including U.S. allies, did not express the same fears about the pact, saying the deal was “imperfect,” in the words of French President Emmanuel Macron, but still an effective deterrent to any nuclear ambitions Iran has, as it allowed for inspections of Iran’s facilities and provided an avenue for the development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
“We, all of us, still retain the same objectives — that is to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons,” said Macron, who was echoed by Theresa May who called it the best vehicle to deter Iran’s ambitions toward obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Margot Wallstrom, Sweden’s foreign minister called the nuclear deal “a historic achievement.”
“This is why Sweden, together with the rest of the EU, deeply regrets the United States’ unilateral withdrawal from the agreement — a decision with far-reaching consequences that makes our world more unsafe," Wallstrom said. "And frankly, what are the alternatives to this agreement?”
Rouhani was not without his critics. A group of hundreds of Iranian nationals demonstrated Wednesday for the second day in a row outside UN buildings to denounce his administration, saying he heads a repressive government that violates human rights and is beholden to the mullahs who control Iranian politics and civic life.
“The regime is on the ropes,” said Ali Safavi, a senior officer with the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which hosted a major conference drawing 1,500 Iranian dissidents in Manhattan on Saturday, adding that the Iranian economy is weakening as citizens protest against their leaders. “The Iranian opposition is on the offensive.”