No Peace in the Middle East Until U.S. Troops Leave, Iran's President Tells UN General Assembly

Regional stability in the Middle East cannot be achieved while U.S. troops are still deployed there, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned on Wednesday at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Rouhani presented a new peace proposal designed to soothe tensions in the region, calling on neighboring nations to join Iran and douse "the flames of war, bloodshed, aggression, occupation and religious and sectarian fanaticism and extremism."

Rouhani said his HOPE—standing for the Hormuz Peace Endeavor—security coalition would secure the region around the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, thus ensuring the unhindered flow of oil and shipping through the waterway and a mutually beneficial outcome for nations nearby.

But HOPE could not include the U.S., Rouhani said, suggesting that outside intervention will only exacerbate friction in the Persian Gulf and wider Middle East.

"The security of our region shall be provided when American troops pull out," Rouhani said, according to NPR. "Security shall not be supplied with American weapons and intervention."

The president also suggested that the U.S. has "failed to reduce acts of terrorism," despite waging its diffuse War on Terror across the region for 18 years.

Citing the intractable conflict in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, Rouhani said the U.S. "is clearly unable to resolve more sophisticated issues of today."

Instead, he called on arch-rival Saudi Arabia to take responsibility for its own actions, arguing the country's security "shall be guaranteed with the termination of aggression to Yemen, rather than by inviting foreigners."

"Our region is on the edge of collapse, as a single blunder can fuel a big fire," Rouhani warned. He then attacked the U.S. for "merciless economic terrorism" against Iran and accused Washington of resorting to "international piracy by misusing the international banking system."

Rouhani's appeal to regional powers seems to have fallen on deaf, or rather absent, ears. Saudi Arabia's State Minister for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir was spotted leaving the UN building before Rouhani delivered address, suggesting his government is in no mood to join hands with its greatest geopolitical foe.

Both Saudi Arabia and the U.S. have blamed Iran for this month's attack on Saudi oil infrastructure in the east of the country.

The Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen—currently fighting against a Saudi-led coalition as part of the country's civil war—claimed responsibility for the strikes on the Abqaiq petroleum processing facility and Khurais oil field. However, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia argue that Houthis could not have pulled off such a sophisticated operation alone.

President Donald Trump recently introduced new sanctions on Iran as part of its "maximum pressure" campaign against Tehran. The White House wants to force Iranian leaders to negotiate a new, more stringent nuclear deal to replace the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, from which Trump unilaterally withdrew in May 2018.

Rouhani has refused to negotiate a new deal under the pressure of sanctions, demanding that the U.S. return to compliance with the JCPOA before any talks are held.

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo dismissed Rouhani's depiction of Iran as a victim of U.S. aggression. "Iran has rampaged for four decades—and sadly, with too few consequences," Pompeo said. The graphic below, provided by Statista, shows the current U.S. troop numbers in the Middle East.

U.S. Troops in the Middle East
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An F/A-18E Super Hornet is pictured taking off from the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier on September 16, 2019, in the Persian Gulf. Michael Singley/U.S. Navy