By Michael Georgy
DUBAI, Sept 23 (Reuters) – President Hassan Rouhani said on Sunday Iran was ready to confront the United States and its Gulf Arab allies, a day after an attack on an Iranian military parade killed 25 people, including 12 members of the elite Revolutionary Guards.
Speaking before leaving Tehran to attend the annual U.N. General Assembly in New York, Rouhani accused U.S.-backed Gulf Arab states of providing financial and military support for anti-government ethnic Arab groups in Iran.
“America is acting like a bully towards the rest of the world…and thinks it can act based on brute force,” said Rouhani, who engineered Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal that ushered in a cautious detente with Washington before tensions resurged with President Donald Trump’s decision in May to quit the accord.
“But our people will resist and the government is ready to confront America. We will overcome this situation (sanctions) and America will regret choosing the wrong path.”
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) has been the sword and shield of Shi’ite clerical rule in Iran since its 1979 Islamic Revolution.
It answers to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and runs its own business empire in Iran, a major oil producer that has been relatively stable compared with Arab states that have grappled with unrest since uprisings in 2011.
Since pulling out of the big powers’ nuclear pact with Iran, Trump has reimposed U.S. sanctions aimed at isolating Tehran and forcing it to negotiate tougher curbs on both its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes. Iran has ruled this out.
“America wants to cause chaos and unrest in our country so that it can return to this country, but these are unreal fantasies and they will never achieve their goals,” said Rouhani.
Shi’ite Iran is at odds with Western-allied Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia for predominance in the Middle East. The two regional powers back opposing sides in the conflicts in Yemen and Syria as well as rival political groups in Iraq and Lebanon.
“The small puppet countries in the region are backed by America, and the United States is provoking them and giving them the necessary capabilities,” said Rouhani.
There was no immediate comment from Saudi Arabia on Rouhani’s allegations.
The shooting attack on the military parade in the southwestern city of Ahvaz was one of the worst ever against the Guards – Iran’s most powerful military force – and is bound to ratchet up tensions with Saudi Arabia.
“Iran’s answer (to this attack) is forthcoming within the framework of law and our national interests,” said Rouhani, adding that the United States would regret its “aggressiveness”.
An Iranian ethnic Arab opposition movement called the Ahvaz National Resistance, which seeks a separate state in oil-rich Khuzestan province, claimed responsibility for the attack.
“The Persian Gulf states are providing monetary, military and political support for these groups,” said Rouhani.
Islamic State militants also claimed responsibility. Neither claim provided evidence. All four attackers were killed.
The assault, which wounded at least 70 people, targeted a viewing stand where Iranian officials had gathered to watch an annual event marking the start of the Islamic Republic’s 1980-88 war with neighbouring Iraq.
“Hopefully we will overcome these sanctions with the least possible costs and make America regret its aggressiveness towards other countries, and particularly Iran,” said Rouhani.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Mark Heinrich)