Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday claimed that Israel was backing the Islamic State jihadist group, and accused the United States of being the primary supporter of terrorism in the Middle East.
“Israel… on a daily basis targets the people of Palestine, Lebanon and most recently even Iraq and Syria… there is no terrorism in the world that matches the activities of Israel,” he said in a Fox News interview on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
“Those who fight for the freedom for their land, they are not terrorists,” he said, referring to Palestinian groups that target Israelis.
“The ones who are terrorists are those who render aid to Daesh,” he said, using the Arabic name for the Islamic State.
Rouhani said that Israel was “certainly and undoubtedly” supporting the jihadist group, based on the fact that it had provided some aid to rebels fighting against the Assad regime in Syria, one of Tehran’s staunchest allies in the region.
“Israel is the country that takes care of injured IS fighters and they make weapons available to them — so Daesh are the terrorists,” he said.
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While Israel has set up a field hospital for injured Syrians and even given some rebels aid and safe passage out of the country, it has strenuously rejected any connection to the terrorists of the Islamic State group.
In the interview, Rouhani also hit back at Donald Trump’s “bloodlust” remarks to the General Assembly the same day, saying that it was Washington, not Tehranm that was the key backer of terrorism in the Middle East.
“Today, America, unfortunately, is the supporter of terrorism in our region — and wherever America has gone, terrorism has expanded in the wake,” Rouhani said as he geared up to speak on the second day of the UN General Assembly’s annual gathering of world leaders Wednesday.
“Wherever we have gone, on the other side, we have defeated terrorism,” he added.
“I am amazed at the interpretations of Mr. Trump, vis-a-vis terrorism,” Rouhani said, pointing to US military involvement in Syria without the permission of the Assad regime as an example of ongoing American “terrorism” in the region.
When asked about the September 14 attacks on a Saudi oil facility that rattled the Middle East and global oil markets, Rouhani denied that Tehran was responsible, saying they were solely the work of Yemeni rebels.
He also downplayed the prospect of meeting Trump on the sidelines of the General Assembly this week, saying he would not even consider sitting down with the US president until he lifted the economic sanctions.
“Why would we bump into one another? If we seek to pursue higher goals to benefit both countries, both people, it must be planned,” Rouhani said.
“But prior to that, we must create mutual trust and the trust is something that Mr. Trump took away from this framework. We had an agreement and Mr. Trump exited without a valid justification and illegally from an international agreement,” he said of the nuclear deal reached between Tehran and world powers in 2015.
“Trust must be restored, and the restoration of trust consists in taking away the pressure imposed upon the nation and the people of Iran which show that clearly there is animosity even towards our children, our ill people, because we — they even have difficulty in obtaining basic medications and medical equipment.”
“This is a type of terrorism. This is inhumane, and if there is a cessation to this, then, of course, the atmosphere will change. Of course, then it can be envisioned, and we can talk about many different topics of mutual interest for both sides.”
Rouhani’s remarks came hours after Trump blasted what he called Iran’s “bloodlust” and rising aggression at the UN General Assembly.
In his remarks, Trump rejected “globalism” and liberal immigration policies, but reserved much of his ire for Iran, which he called “one of the greatest threats” to the planet.
“Not only is Iran the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism, but Iran’s leaders are fueling the tragic wars in both Syria and Yemen,” Trump told world leaders. “All nations have a duty to act. No responsible government should subsidize Iran’s bloodlust.”
In a flurry of diplomatic activity this week, European and other leaders have pushed for a thaw in the nuclear standoff between the Iran and Washington.
On Tuesday, Trump met separately with France’s Emmauel Macron and Germany’s Angela Merkel, both of whom have been urging Trump to meet with Rouhani while the two are in the same city.
“If he (Rouhani) leaves the country without meeting with President Trump this is a lost opportunity,” Macron told reporters as he and Rouhani met with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Trump did raise the possibility of a diplomatic breakthrough with Iran during the General Assembly while meeting with Iraq’s prime minister.
“They would like to negotiate,” Trump said of the Islamic Republic on Tuesday. “We haven’t really worked that out. They’re here. We’re here, but we have not agreed to that yet.”
AP contributed to this report.