UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday denounced Iran’s “bloodlust” and called on other nations to join the United States to apply pressure on Iran after attacks on Saudi oil facilities, but said there is a path to peace.
“America knows that while anyone can make war, only the most courageous can choose peace,” Trump said in an address to the United Nations General Assembly annual gathering of world leaders.
The leaders of France and Britain pressed Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to meet Trump, with French President Emmanuel Macron warning him it would be “lost opportunity” if he did not and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggesting the Iranian leader should take the plunge.
Iran has ruled out bilateral talks with the United States unless it returns to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that Trump abandoned last year and eases the severe economic sanctions that he has since imposed on the Islamic Republic.
In his third U.N. appearance, Trump offered a more subdued tone compared to the bombast of his previous speeches in 2017 and 2018, looking to convey a more reassuring presence as he asks Americans for a second four-year term next year despite a fresh push for his impeachment among Democrats.
While offering his habitual defense of national sovereignty - “the future must never belong to globalists” - Trump tempered his language, stressing the U.S. desire for peaceful relations with all and calling for collective, rather than unilateral, action.
The response to Trump in the chamber was relatively muted, a year after the crowd laughed when he boasted about his achievements and gasped in 2017 when he threatened to wipe out North Korea.
The Sept. 14 attacks in Saudi Arabia, widely blamed on Iran, have rattled the Middle East and raised concerns about a broader war. Iran denies involvement. Trump has shown restraint in the crisis, holding back from military retaliation despite pressure from hawkish allies, at least for now.
But he promised to keep trying to squeeze Iran’s economy with sanctions until Tehran agrees to give up what Washington says is a pursuit of nuclear weapons. Iran has said its nuclear program has always been for peaceful purposes only.
“All nations have a duty to act. No responsible government should subsidize Iran’s bloodlust. As long as Iran’s menacing behavior continues, sanctions will not be lifted, they will be tightened,” Trump said.
Fox News Channel aired a clip of an interview with Rouhani in which he replied to a question about Trump’s “bloodlust” comment.
The United States was carrying out air strikes in Syria, he said. “And today America unfortunately is a supporter of terrorism in our region. And wherever America has gone, terrorism has expanded in their wake,” Rouhani said.
In the interview, Rouhani also reiterated Iran’s stance that the United States must lift economic pressures that he said made it difficult for his country to procure even basic medicines.
“This is a type of terrorism, this is inhumane. And if there is a cessation to this, then, of course, the atmosphere will change,” Rouhani said, according to a translation of his remarks by Fox, saying that if Washington did so, the two sides could reach agreements on nuclear as well as other issues.
Trump had a stern message for China and its president, Xi Jinping, with whom he is locked in a trade war that is damaging both country’s economies. He said the world is watching how Beijing handles mass demonstrations in Hong Kong that have heightened fears of a potential Chinese crackdown.
“How China chooses to handle the situation will say a great deal about its role in the world in the future. We are all counting on President Xi as a great leader,” he said.
Trump has sought to pressure China to agree to reduce trade barriers through a policy of increasing tariffs on Chinese products. He accused China of the theft of trade secrets “on a grand scale” and said it was taking advantage of World Trade Organization rules that give Beijing beneficial treatment as a “developing economy.”
“Hopefully we can reach an agreement that will be beneficial to both countries. But as I have made clear I will not accept a bad deal for the American people,” Trump said.
Trump was tough on Iran and its leadership, with Rouhani in New York for U.N. activities amid speculation about whether they might meet to discuss their differences.
An Iranian diplomat sat in Iran’s second-row seat for Trump’s speech. Rouhani was at his New York hotel, not in the U.N. chamber.
In remarks to media on Tuesday Rouhani said he was open to discuss small changes, additions or amendments to a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers if the United States lifted sanctions imposed on the Islamic republic.
France’s Macron and Britain’s Johnson both urged Rouhani to meet with Trump this week, according to a UK press pool report.
“What is important is that if he leaves the country without meeting with President Trump, this is a lost opportunity. Because he will not come back in a few months. And President Trump will not go to Tehran so they have to meet now,” Macron said during a meeting with Rouhani and Johnson.
“I think I agree with Emmanuel. You need to be on the side of the swimming pool and jump at the same time,” Johnson added.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel met Rouhani on Tuesday and said she told him she would welcome U.S. talks with Iran but that it was unrealistic for Tehran to think sanctions would be lifted before talks take place.
Over the past week, Trump has tightened economic sanctions on Iran and ordered more U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in a show of support for those U.S. allies in the tense region.
“America is ready to embrace friendship to all who genuinely seek peace and respect,” Trump said. “The United States has never believed in permanent enemies. We want partners, not adversaries.”
A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said details of U.S. defensive equipment and forces going to Saudi Arabia will likely be unveiled this week and that Washington could change what it sends if European allies can contribute, as the Pentagon hopes.
The U.S. contributions will likely focus on air defense systems to protect vulnerable targets, the official said.
Reporting by Steve Holland and Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed, Michelle Nichols, John Irish, Parisa Hafezi, David Brunnstrom, Stephen J. Adler, and Kylie MacLellan in New York, Mohammad Zargham in Washington and Idrees Ali in Norfolk, Virginia; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool