U.S. President Biden and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said in separate speeches to the U.N. General Assembly Wednesday that they want to reach a new nuclear deal, but their remarks underscored how difficult striking an agreement will be.
Mr. Raisi told the United Nations General Assembly that Tehran is “not seeking to build or obtain nuclear weapons,” and accused America of “trampling” the 2015 nuclear deal Mr. Biden has spent the past two years trying to revive with the Islamic republic.
Just hours later, Mr. Biden told the world body that Iran cannot be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon, while underscoring he still hopes to save the tattered multinational deal that was negotiated under President Obama and repudiated three years later by President Trump.
“The United States is clear: We will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. Diplomacy is the best way to achieve this outcome,” Mr. Biden said in a speech that focused heavily on the Ukraine-Russia war and other matters.
Mr. Raisi, an Islamist hardliner whom Republican lawmakers sought to block from attending the General Assembly, seized on his moment in the spotlight before world leaders to push the theory that the Islamic State terror group (ISIS) was “created by the United States.”
The claims in Mr. Raisi’s speaking debut before the world body come at a moment of heightened friction between Tehran and Washington as talks to revive the nuclear deal have stalled over recent weeks. The Iranian leader in his remarks insisted Tehran still wants a nuclear deal — if the U.S. offers suitable guarantees — and is open to “extensive relations with all our neighbors,” amid tentative diplomatic feelers recently to Saudi Arabia and other Arab rivals in the region.
Negotiations in Vienna over a new nuclear deal are reaching a make-or-break point, European diplomats say. Mr. Raisi has already ruled out any direct talks with Mr. Biden as the 2015 agreement hangs by a thread.
In 2018, Mr. Trump pulled the United States out of the deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran’s economy. He said Tehran violated the spirit of the agreement by continuing to back militant groups across the Middle East and by testing ballistic missiles in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
The Biden administration and Iranian officials had recently appeared close to a new deal, trading written responses on the finer points of a road map for how the U.S. would lift certain Trump-era sanctions in exchange for a commitment from Iran to restrict its rapidly advancing nuclear program.
But U.S. officials accuse Iran of dragging out talks ahead of the U.N. gathering. Mr. Raisi warned in early September that any road map to restore the deal would require international inspectors to end their investigation of man-made uranium particles found at undeclared nuclear sites in the country. Iran is also demanding guarantees that the U.S. won’t repudiate the deal again in the future the way Mr. Trump did — a guarantee that the Biden administration says it cannot give.
“Our wish is only one thing: observance of commitments,” Mr. Raisi said at one point.
In his speech Wednesday, the Iranian president claimed Tehran signed the 2015 agreement with “good will” and “in a first phase did live up to all of her commitments without any exceptions.”
“But the result of that was a trampling upon by America on that agreement,” he said.
U.S.-Iranian relations hit a lot point in early 2020, when a U.S. drone strike killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian military’s elite Quds force, which oversees relations between Tehran and proxy militants. The deputy commander of Iran-backed Shiite militias in Iraq was also killed in the strike, which was carried out near the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.
Mr. Raisi on Wednesday referred to Soleimani as a “beloved late martyr,” and claimed that he died as part of a battle that Iran, a predominantly Shiite Muslim nation. was waging against ISIS, a Sunni Muslim extremist group.
The Iranian president claimed “the previous president of the United States of America announced that ISIS was created by the United States of America,” an apparent reference to heated 2016 U.S. presidential campaign rhetoric in which then-candidate Trump had accused President Obama of being “the founder of ISIS” because of his policies in Iraq.
The 2016 rhetoric was quickly condemned by U.S. officials and counterterrorism experts, who noted that the Obama administration was actually leading a then-growing international military campaign to destroy ISIS. But it fed into conspiracy theories and propaganda promoted by the government of Iran, which has positioned itself as the champion of minority Shiite Muslims in the clash with more populous Sunni Muslim nations.
“For us, it makes no difference whether ISIS was made by which American government,” Mr. Raisi said on Wednesday. “What matters is that a government on the other side of this planet decided to bring havoc and chaos to the geography of our region at the expense of the lives and the blood of women and children and the innocent.”