On May 22, President Hassan Rouhani criticized U.S. foreign policy in his first press conference since he was reelected. “Americans have always made mistakes with regard to our region – when they attacked Afghanistan and Iraq, when they imposed sanctions on us, and in Syria and Yemen,” he told domestic and foreign journalists. “Americans do not know our region and the problem is that those who are advising the Americans are unfortunately either rulers who are misguiding the U.S., or buying off people in the U.S.”
Rouhani was responding to allegations leveled by President Donald Trump during his May 20-21 visit to Saudi Arabia. In an address to 50 leaders of Muslim countries, Trump accused Iran of funding and arming "terrorists, militias and other extremist groups" in Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and backing President Bashar al Assad in Syria's civil war.
Rouhani mocked Trump’s trip and his signing of a $110 billion arms deal with the Sunni kingdom. The visit was “just a show” that lacked “political and practical value,” he said. Rouhani called out Riyadh monarchical government. The kingdom “has never seen a ballot box,” he quipped. “Buying arms or building weapons won't make a country powerful.” Rouhani also alluded to the involvement of 15 Saudi citizens in the plotting of the September 11 attacks. “I do not think the American people are ready to trade the lives they lost in Sept. 11 with billions of dollars gained through weapons sales.”
Rouhani, however, seemed to leave the door open to engagement with Washington. He said Iran was waiting for the Trump administration to define its position on Iran. In April, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the administration was conducting a review of its Iran policy across the entire U.S. government. The following are excerpted remarks by Rouhani at the press conference.
The United States and Saudi Arabia
"The assembly in Saudi Arabia, I believe, was a sham assembly without any political and practical vision. We have seen such shows from Saudi Arabia before.”
"Those who congregated in Saudi Arabia have reached the conclusion that they must create a center for moderation and they chanted the same motto that Iran used in 2013. They have come to the conclusion that there is no way other than moderation.”
“We said that we would stand against and fight terrorism, and everybody saw that we helped all nations in fighting terrorism. Therefore, Iran's face is the face of fighting terrorism and establishing peace and security in the region and we will continue this path with more power in the 12th administration.”
Saudi Arabia “has never seen a ballot box.”
"Buying arms or building weapons won't make a country powerful. Military power is only a part of strength and we are fully aware of that. But the foundation of power is national strength and this is only achieved through elections.”
"I hope that the day will come that Saudi Arabia will adopt this path. They should have polling stations in place for the people and let the rulers not be chosen on a hereditary basis. They should be picked by the people."
“I don't think the people of the United States would be willing to trade the blood they gave in 9/11 with billions of dollars in arms sales, surrendering to terrorists in the region. The U.S. administration has never combated terrorism, but the people of that country are against terrorism and want it eliminated.”
“Saudi Arabia has cut several $100 million dollar deals before. Maybe they think they need to buy arms but we do not need to buy arms, we make them. I believe that Saudi Arabia cannot use these weapons and they will eventually be forced to take US military advisors to its region.”
"Within the past 39 years, Iran and the US have traveled a twisty road with each other. Americans have used myriad of ways against Iran and have always failed. But maybe in one situation they achieved a partial success and that was the nuclear negotiations, where we achieved a win-win result, and that was to the benefit of Iran, the US, P5+1 (major world powers) and the whole world. And if the U.S. chooses another way, it will undoubtedly fail again.”
"There are two things about the new U.S. administration: one of them is that we are waiting for the new U.S. administration to reach an established position with regard to its way of thinking and stances, as well as future plans, and we hope that it can reach an established position to let us have a more precise judgement about the group at work in Washington.”
"The other point is that unfortunately, Americans have always made mistakes with regard to our region, when they attached Afghanistan and Iraq, when they imposed sanctions on us, and in Syria and Yemen. Americans do not know our region and the problem is that those who are advising the Americans are unfortunately either rulers who are misguiding the US, or buying off people in the US. I hope that the U.S. administration think about the interests of the American people, regardless of the fact that they are not thinking about the interests of other nations.”
"These are dreams. The people of Iran will neither ask nor await permission from anybody about their defensive weapons. Our nation has decided to be powerful and mighty. Our weapons and missiles are for peace, and if Iran does not have weapons, if we do not build missiles, there are some who will make mistakes again in their calculations like they did before when they dragged the region into war.”
"The American authorities must know that whenever we need to test-fire missiles for technical reasons, we will test them and will not await permission from them.”
"Our policy is interaction with the world and for development, peace and stability in the world, we have no way other than interaction with other countries. If we have problems with Americans, they started it, otherwise we had no problems with them from the beginning of the revolution.”
"The Americans had an embassy in Iran, their diplomatic groups were active here, they had commercial relations with us, and their companies used to buy Iran's oil. We had no problem with them but they started animosity with our nation and revolution. If they did not hold hostility, we would have no problem with them.”
Regional Policy and Terrorism
"Who in the region can claim that without Iran, stability will be maintained in the region? Who can claim that without Iran, full security will be established? It was the Syrians and Iraqis who fought the terrorists and Iran, Hezbollah and Russia were by them. Those who are supporting terrorism cannot claim to be fighting terrorism.”
"In economic fields, we want to cooperate with all countries based on mutual interests and we will work with Latin American countries. The region is a very valuable potential, it has good people and ample talents and Iran will have plans for developing ties with these countries".
"Some people being in favor and some against the government, is the case in all countries but it is the people who make the ultimate decision. This is all we are saying about Syria, Iraq and Yemen.”
"Azerbaijan is our good neighbor and we have had good relations with this country from the beginning of its independence. We have had several meetings with President Ilham Aliyev to promote bilateral and trilateral ties.”
"In the field of transportation, we have a very important plan in which our railway will be connected to Azerbaijan through Astara and from there, to Russia, Georgia and European countries.”
"From the beginning of the 11th administration, we announced to the world that violence and extremism are great dangers for our region and the world and we want a world against terrorism and extremism, and it was accepted by the whole world.”
"If we succeeded in the field of nuclear negotiations, it was because the whole Iranian nation were behind the Supreme Leader, building up a national integrity and unity, helping the administration to use people's power in international stages.”
"Our aim is to eliminate absolute poverty by the end of the 12th administration. What we said was based on expert opinion and what we presented to the Majlis (Parliament), and we will attempt in this regard."
Iran’s Presidential Election
"With their 42 million turnout, our people demonstrated an incomparable presence in Iran's history.”
"With this election, people wanted to say that no faction, group, idea and school of thought cannot be eliminated and everybody is present and we must make use of everyone to build Iran.”
"No one has the right to drag Revolution into its own tent. The Supreme Leader belongs to the entire Iranian nation.”