In a televised speech on Sunday marking the anniversary of the start of the Iran-Iraq war in 1980, Rouhani said Iran extended its “hand of friendship and brotherhood” towards countries in the region willing to cooperate in the Tehran-led effort to oversee security in the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz – a vital gateway for the global oil industry.
In response to a recent decision by the United States to send more troops to the area, Rouhani went on to warn against the presence of foreign troops in the Gulf.
“Foreign forces can cause problems and insecurity for our people and for our region,” said Rouhani, who will travel to New York City later this week for the annual gathering of world leaders at the UN.
But some analysts expressed scepticism on whether Rouhani’s security initiative could come to fruition, particularly without the United States being involved.
Simon Mabon, a senior lecturer on international relations at Lancaster University, said Iran sees itself as being “uniquely qualified” to organise a regional security structure.
Rouhani is likely to argue the past presence of foreign militaries has only “brought devastation” and they need to extricate themselves from the Gulf, while Tehran wants only to work with neighbouring nations based on “dialogue and consensus”, he said.
“[But] that type of rhetoric will not be well received in Riyadh and, to be honest, I can’t see this taking off the ground if there is no place for the United States in this security architecture,” Mabon told Al Jazeera.
Saudi oil attacks
Tensions in the region have reached new heights following attacks on two major oil facilities in Saudi Arabia last week.
The United States and Saudi Arabia have accused Iran of being behind the attacks on the Saudi Aramco plants, responsibility for which was claimed by Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who have been locked in a war with a Saudi-UAE-led military coalition since 2015.
Iran has denied any involvement.
Saudi Arabia will seek to make a case at the UN General Assembly for concerted action to punish and deter arch-foe Iran after the oil strikes.
However, even Riyadh’s main allies – the United States and the United Arab Emirates – have little appetite for a conventional military confrontation, which may spark a war in the Gulf and drag in other oil producers, diplomats say.
The September 14 attack “was a big escalation, there is a clear problem. But it is a real dilemma of how to react without escalating further”, said a Western diplomat. “It is not clear yet what the US wants to do.”
Following the oil attacks, Washington said it was preparing to send weapons and hundreds of troops to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The US is also leading a maritime coalition, which includes the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UK and Australia, to secure the area’s waterways and key oil trade routes.
In his speech, Rouhani called on the foreign powers to vacate the Gulf region.
“Wherever the Americans or our enemies have gone … there has been insecurity afterwards,” he said.
“Your presence has always brought pain and misery… The farther you keep yourselves from our region and our nations, the more security there will be.”
Rouhani’s speech was largely seen as a rallying call, said Al Jazeera’s Assed Baig, reporting from Tehran, where a military parade marked the 39th anniversary of the start of the eight-year war with Iraq that began when Saddam Hussein invaded Iran in 1980.
At the parade, Iran displayed the Khordad-3 air defence system that shot down a US drone in June. It also showed an Iranian medium-range missile that can travel up to 2,000 kilometres (1,250 miles) putting it in range of Iran’s archrival Israel and US bases in the region.
Similar parades were held in major cities and towns across the country including the port city of Bandar Abbas near the Strait of Hormuz.
State TV showed scores of Iranian fast-attack boats, as well as air defence and other military equipment. It also carried images of Iranian Revolutionary Guard naval forces rappelling down the side of a sailing ship.
The attacks in Saudi Arabia have deepened a crisis that has escalated since US President Donald Trump withdrew from the multilateral nuclear deal signed in 2015 between Iran and world powers. Since then, Washington has reimposed crippling sanctions on the Iranian economy and pledged to drive Iran’s oil exports to zero.
In response, Tehran has gradually scaled back its nuclear commitments and rejected any talks unless all sanctions are lifted.
During his speech, Rouhani described the sanctions as “economic terrorism” but said the “revolutionary people” of Iran were not intimidated by what he described as “threats”.
“Our people, for the last 40 years, and over the last 10 years specifically, we have been able to tolerate the pressure of the sanctions,” he said.
Ahead of the UN General Assembly, Riyadh said it wants a peaceful resolution, but if a probe proved the strike came from Iran then “this would be considered an act of war”.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday the US aims to avoid war with Iran, noting the additional forces deployed to the Gulf were for “deterrence and defence”.
But he added: “If that deterrence should continue to fail, I am also confident that President Trump would continue to take the actions that are necessary.”
The threat of outright war is likely to make all sides cautious.
“I doubt anyone has the appetite for a direct clash between the US and Iran,” said Barbara A Leaf, who was US ambassador to the UAE from 2014-2018 and is now a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
“It really requires re-establishing deterrence. Clearly there is none now.”