With the Middle East on high alert after an attack on Saudi oil facilities, world leaders were jockeying at the United Nations Monday to respond to the attack and find a resolution to heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran.
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President Donald Trump said he was ready for a new agreement with Iran, a year and a half after he withdrew the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal and stringently reimposed sanctions on Tehran. But Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, who arrived in New York Monday for the U.N. General Assembly, has said there will be no negotiations until Trump eases or lifts sanctions, which the U.S. agreed to do under the original deal.
When asked by ABC News Monday whether Rouhani would meet Trump, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded emphatically, “No!”
(MORE: Trump heads to UN amid tensions with Iran, questions over call with Ukrainian leader)
Peter Foley/EPA-EFE/REX via Shutterstock
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif departs from the 2019 Climate Action Summit which is being held in advance of the General Assembly of the United Nations at United Nations Headquarters in New York, September 23,2019.
After expressing an openness to meeting Rouhani last month, Trump seemed to admit it’s no longer likely: “We have a long way to go. We’ll have to see what happens. We’re doing just fine,” he told reporters as he entered the U.N.
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President Donald Trump departs after a meeting at the United Nations for a global call to protect religious freedom ahead of the General Debate of the General Assembly of the United Nations at U.N. Headquarters in New York, Sept. 23, 2019.
Still, while the U.S. and Iranian delegations are not likely to meet, other world leaders are trying to step in to resolve tensions between the two. French President Emmanuel Macron spoke to Trump Monday morning before his meeting with Rouhani Monday evening. He will also meet with Trump on Tuesday, he told reporters, as he pushes for an interim agreement where Iran returns to compliance with the nuclear deal in exchange for the U.S. permitting some economic aid to Iran, for example through a $15 billion line of credit. If the two sides agreed to that, a diplomatic source told ABC News, the hope is that they could begin negotiations on a new deal that extends the nuclear deal’s limits on Iran and addresses its ballistic missile program.
Iranian Presidency/Handout via AFP/Getty Images
A handout picture provided by the Iranian presidency on September 23, 2019, shows President Rouhani attending a farewell ceremony at the Mehrabad airport in Tehran, shortly before leaving Tehran for the UN General Assembly in New York.
(MORE: US-Iran diplomatic deal seems dead as Tehran breaches new nuclear limit)
Boris Johnson, the United Kingdom’s new prime minister attending his first U.N. General Assembly, went even further and told reporters Monday, “Whatever your objections to the old nuclear deal with Iran, it’s time now to move forward and do a new deal.”
When Macron first broached the subject with Trump during the G-7 summit in late August, Trump said he liked the idea and would consider it. But since then, his senior advisers, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, have shot down the idea and made clear they will do nothing to halt their “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran.
That campaign involves the tightest economic sanctions against Iran ever, with a push to halt all Iranian oil exports and the designation of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, an elite wing of its military, as a foreign terrorist organization. In response to that pressure, Iran has spent the last few months lashing out in the Persian Gulf — attacking commercial oil tankers, shooting down a U.S. drone, seizing a handful of ships, and attacking one of the world’s largest oil processing facilities in Saudi Arabia.
Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters
Smoke is seen following a fire at Aramco facility in the eastern city of Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, Sept. 14, 2019.
Iran denies responsibility for that attack, which took out more than half of Saudi oil production. But it has started to violate its commitments under the nuclear deal, with each step demanding that European powers step in and provide economic aid or else they’ll violate another threshold.
Those incremental violations have unnerved the Europeans, who remain committed to the nuclear deal despite the U.S. Macron has continued to push that interim agreement as a way forward.
During the General Assembly, the Trump administration intends to bring the focus on Iran after blaming it for the massive Saudi attack, according to a senior State Department official, but they added that the U.S. is really looking for the Saudis to take the lead and present evidence to the U.N. to rally international support for them after they suffered this attack.
“Now it’s up to the international community and really up to Saudi Arabia for what they’re going to say this week, what they’re going to present to the U.N. because it was the Saudis that were attacked and had almost 60% of their oil supply taken off the market,” the official said.
Boris John told reporters on his plane to New York that the U.K blamed Iran for the attack on the oil facilities.