Saudi Arabia Calls For More Pressure On Iran At UNGA

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Ibrahim al-Assaf, addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday. His topic of choice was of course Iran, who he blamed for the Sept. 14 attacks on Saudi Aramco oil factories. In return, al-Assaf called for the international community to stiffen its efforts against Iran, a tactic which US President Donald Trump refers to as “maximum pressure.” Although the US imposed new sanctions on Sept. 20 and again on Wednesday, they are not enough for Saudi Arabia.

“Utmost pressure with every tool available should be applied to end terrorism and the aggressive conduct of the Iranian regime,” al-Assaf declared. In particular, he argued that financial resources for Tehran should be cut off by other governments in order “to compel the regime to renounce its militias, prevent it from developing ballistic missiles and put an end to its destabilizing activities in the region and the world.”

Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility immediately following the attacks, but members of the international community did not buy into it. Although most governments took their time to review the evidence before making accusations, including Saudi Arabia, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo quickly blamed Tehran, equating the offensive to an “act of war.” Germany, France, and the United Kingdom reached a confidence level this week that allowed them to publicly join Washington in blaming Iran. 

“We know very well who stood behind this aggression,” al-Assaf told the UNGA before naming Iran. 

The solution for Saudi Arabia is not a military response, something it is hesitant to engage in without international support, which is currently nonexistent, it is more economic warfare. It may be difficult to imagine how much more Tehran can be hurt economically as its markets have plummeted since the US restored sanctions, but the kingdom is convinced more can be done. New sanctions on Wednesday expanded the scope of Trump’s maximum pressure campaign to include six Chinese companies and their chief executives. China had remained as one of the only buyers of Iranian oil this year and has often defended Tehran’s argument that the US withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal was unwarranted. 

Sanctions on Chinese businesses threaten to dry up one of the only customer-bases Iran had left. Other companies will possibly view the sanctions as not worth sacrificing US markets for.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke to reporters prior to al-Assaf’s speech.

“Those who make the allegations must provide the needed proof. What is your evidence?” he charged. While the supposed evidence has yet to be presented to an international body such as the UN, Saudi officials quickly recovered damaged drones and weapons, and had them on display during Pompeo’s visit to the kingdom after the attack. 

Khomeni had previously met with European leaders on the sideline of the UNGA with further discussion on how to bring the US and Iran back to the nuclear agreement. Iranian Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is pessimistic that any help will come to Europe.

However, according to a statement on his website Thursday, he stated: “Despite their promises, the Europeans have practically adhered to America’s sanctions and have not taken any action and are unlikely to do anything for the Islamic Republic in the future. So one should give up all hope on Europeans,” Khamenei said.

In truth, after nearly a year of meetings with European leaders, Iranian diplomats made zero progress until the recent launch of INSTEX, a barter exchange system designed to skirt US dollar-backed trade. Officials from Tehran made clear the system has done little to improve the economic conditions, however, and Rouhani said European leaders only offer “beautiful words, but no action” in regards to solving the actual problems stemming from the sanctions. 

Al-Assaf’s call for more pressure was echoed by Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz. 

“They promote terror in the Middle East, Europe, Latin America, and all over the world,” he said of Israel’s longtime adversary. “And the world must stop them.”

Officials from several states have now spoken on the Iranian issue at the UNGA, but the status quo is unlikely to change until progress is made in Washington. So far, both of its top allies in the Middle East have urged for more pressure, if that is even a possibility, so it seems outside the realm of possibilities that Trump will soften anytime soon.