The world picks sides ahead of Iran talks
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
NEW YORK - At this week's annual gathering of world leaders at the United
Nations General Assembly, as expected, the twin issues of nuclear disarmament
and non-proliferation received special attention.
As United States President Barack Obama chaired a Security Council meeting
devoted to these two issues, various speakers at the General Assembly raised
issues of concern, such as North Korea and Iran. In return, a number of
developing nations, including Iran, criticized the perceived "double standards"
of the nuclear-weapons states in allegedly skirting their own obligations
toward disarmament while trying to prevent other nations from developing
In his speech to the assembly, Obama implicitly criticized Israel's continued
occupation of Palestinian territories and called for the
restoration of the pre-1967 status quo. Obama did not mention Israel's nuclear
arms among what he described as proliferation "challenges".
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, on the other hand, minced no words in
accusing Tehran of marching toward nuclear weapons and presenting a serious
threat to world peace.
Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev, praising Obama's decision to scrap the
George W Bush-era plan for a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe, hinted
at better arms limitations talks with the US in the near future and also raised
the possibility of endorsing tougher sanctions against Iran. Medvedev conceded
that "in some cases sanctions are inevitable".
Meanwhile, in anticipation of the coming multilateral nuclear talks with Iran
set for October 1 in Istanbul, the foreign ministers of the "Iran Six" nations
met on the sidelines of the UN summit to discuss the nuclear standoff. Still,
Iran would have preferred that the "Iran Six" - the US, Russia, China, France,
Britain and Germany - would have kept the meeting at the level of "political
directors", as was the case in Europe recently.
Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad in his UN speech on Thursday defended his
country's right to nuclear technology without addressing lingering accusations
that Iran harbors "nuclear ambitions". Set to visit Latin American, Ahmadinejad
made a point of questioning the US military's base-building in Colombia. He
also urged Washington to halt its military and interventionist policies in the
Middle East and other regions.
Ahmadinejad also criticized the UN's delay on a report that investigates
Israel's alleged war crimes in the 22-day war in Gaza earlier this year. He
asked the world community how they could sit silent when people in Gaza were
not even allowed to rebuild their homes on the eve of winter months.
Ahmadinejad's intention, it seems, was to represent Iran as a viable voice in
global affairs. His remarks suggested that Iran sees itself as a key regional
power with global intentions and ambitions. The presence of Ahmadinejad's close
ally, combative Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, bolstered the Iranian
At an earlier meeting with a group of American academics, Ahmadinejad
complained that the Obama administration had ignored several of his overtures.
He repeatedly emphasized his desire for improved relations between the US and
Iran, and called for practical steps to reduce tensions between the two
countries, given the proximity of their military forces.
On the issue of the nuclear talks, Ahmadinejad was optimistic about finding
common ground. He discounted US media reports that Russia and China were
backing Obama on sanctions and warned that sanctions "can destroy areas of
The UN summit was an arena for Tehran and its opponents to defend their
positions on Iran's nuclear standoff before the international community.
Momentum for new sanctions in the event of a failure in the Istanbul talks is
rapidly building. Still, there is some counter-momentum that favors Iran coming
from the 118-member Non-Aligned Movement of developing nations. These competing
opinions promise to introduce new cleavages in world politics should the
nuclear stalemate continue or escalate.
Meanwhile, pro-Israel lobbyists and pundits in the US media are wasting little
time rationalizing Israel's sabre-rattling against Iran. Thomas Freidman, a New
York Times columnist, said the US's reluctance to back Israel's military threat
was wrong and did not serve Washington's strategy towards Iran.
Iran's counter-strategy is to threaten serious reprisals against any unprovoked
attacks. Iranian officials repeatedly point to alleged breaches of the nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty obligations toward disarmament on the part of France,
Britain, the US and other "nuclear club" nations that bemoan the threat of
After all, the absence of meaningful disarmament and the failure of
non-proliferation are two sides of the same coin.
Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New
Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) . For his Wikipedia entry,
click here. His
Reading In Iran Foreign Policy After September 11 (BookSurge Publishing
, October 23, 2008) is now available.