At UN, Saudi Arabia Takes Aim at Iran, Calls for 'Utmost Pressure,' More Sanctions

Iran continues to deny it was behind the September 14 attack on Saudi oil facilities, says continued pressure makes the possibility of negotiations ever more remote

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Saudi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf speaks at the UN General Assembly, New York, September 26, 2019.
Saudi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf speaks at the UN General Assembly, New York, September 26, 2019.Credit: AFP

Saudi Arabia took aim at archrival Iran, urging the world to apply "utmost pressure" and cut off the regime's financial resources, while Tehran insisted that such a policy had failed and would kill all chances of successful negotiations.

Rising tensions in the Gulf took center stage again on the third day of debate Thursday at the UN General Assembly, where the world's leaders are laying out their hopes for their countries, expressing their fears for the world, and often settling old scores with rivals. Two more adversaries will face off Friday, when both Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan take the stage in the morning.

In his speech Thursday, Saudi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf again blamed Iran for the September 14 missile and drone attack on Saudi oil facilities, which jolted global oil prices and temporarily knocked out nearly 6% of daily global crude production.

>> Read more: Why Iran's audacious attack in Saudi Arabia is a wakeup call for Israel | Analysis

"We have known that regime for 40 years. It is good at nothing but masterminding explosions, destruction and assassinations, not only in our region but also throughout the world," al-Assaf said. "Utmost pressure with every tool available should be applied to end the terrorist and aggressive conduct of the Iranian regime."

He said cutting off "sources of finance" would be the best way to force the regime to change course.

Saudi Arabia insists Iranian weapons were used in the attack on the oil installations and has invited UN investigators to assess where the strikes were launched. The United States, France, Britain and Germany also blame Iran, which has been under U.S. sanctions since 2018.

Iran has vehemently denied that it was behind the attacks, and its president argued Thursday that the tactics the Saudis were advocating would only serve to make the possibility of negotiations ever more remote.

"Cease this policy of maximum pressure and pursue a policy of dialogue and logic and reason," Iranian President Hassan Rohani said at a wide-ranging news conference a day after his own address to the UN General Assembly.

He said the Americans are still using "more pressure aimed at reaching discussions, which is the same thing that is taking them farther and farther away from discussions and negotiations."

Rohani stuck to his insistence that U.S. sanctions must be lifted before he would talk with U.S. President Donald Trump, although he did not explicitly rule out such a meeting if they remain in place.

Attention will turn Friday to another hotspot, where simmering tensions are threatening to erupt into open conflict: India and Pakistan's standoff over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.

Khan, Pakistan's prime minister, has warned in recent days that war is possible over India's crackdown in Kashmir. All eyes will be on Khan and Modi to see if they use the UN stage to ratchet up or down the temperature. Khan has already promised to use his speech to expose what he said was years-long Indian oppression and human rights violations in the region.

The nuclear-armed rivals have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir, and tensions over the region soared again in August, when Modi stripped the portion of Kashmir that India controls of its limited autonomy. His Hindu nationalist-led government imposed a sweeping military curfew and cutting off residents in the Muslim-majority region from virtually all communication.

India and Pakistan's conflict over Kashmir dates to the late 1940s, when they won independence from Britain. The region is one of the most heavily militarized in the world.

Representatives of China and Russia will also speak Friday.

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