US and Iran fire salvos at the UN
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
NEW YORK - The United Nations was turned into a battleground for the United
States and Iran on Thursday as President Barack Obama justified sanctions by
accusing Tehran of failing to come clean on its nuclear intentions, while hours
later his Iranian opposite number President Mahmud Ahmadinejad insinuated that
the US government may have instigated the 9/11 atrocities to rationalize the
invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
With his calls for an independent UN committee to investigate the attacks in
New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, Ahmadinejad may have set the
clock back, given the UN's backing of US anti-terrorism efforts that in
retrospect deserved critical scrutiny.
At the same time, beyond their criticisms, both the US and
Iranian presidents declared their readiness to engage in direct negotiations.
Obama hinted at his willingness to resurrect his "Iran engagement" policy by
recalling that last year he had "extended his hand" to the Islamic Republic,
and adding that the door for diplomacy was open should Iran "choose to walk
through it". A joint statement on Wednesday by representatives of the so-called
"Iran Six" nations (the UN Security Council's five permanent members plus
Germany) expressed optimism for "Iran's constructive participation in the
For his part, Ahmadinejad stated Iran's "readiness for a dialogue based on
justice and respect" and scolded Western governments for ignoring the April
"Tehran Declaration" signed by Iran, Turkey and Brazil on a nuclear fuel-swap
deal designed to cool tensions over Tehranís nuclear program.
At a meeting with US academics on Wednesday night, Ahmadinejad drew attention
to the deal for its significance of allowing countries other than the major
powers of the UN Security Council to have a meaningful input in a serious
international issue. Both the Turkish and Brazilian representatives at the UN
have reiterated their commitment to the declaration.
"The Tehran Declaration was a hugely constructive step in confidence-building
efforts which was made possible through the admirable goodwill by the
governments of Brazil and Turkey along with the sincere cooperation of the
Iranian government. Although the declaration received inappropriate reaction by
some and was followed by an unlawful resolution, it is still valid,"
Ahmadinejad said during his UN General Assembly speech.
According to an Iranian diplomat who spoke to the author on the condition of
anonymity, prevailing sentiment in the Iranian government is that if the Obama
administration commits itself to meaningful dialogue, "then it can expect to
find a reliable partner in Iran."
It is possible that Tehran and Washington will engage simultaneously in
dialogue and hostility, given their huge divide on regional and global issues
that coexists uneasily with mutual concerns such as drug-trafficking from
Afghanistan. But, with the US media seizing on Ahmadinejad's "opening a can of
worms" on 9/11 - which undoubtedly sits well with segments of the Arab and
Muslim populations around the world, but not so the West - it may be harder for
the White House to proceed with the feeble attempt at jump-starting a fresh
round of dialogue with Iran.
From Ahmadinejad's vantage point, however, 9/11 as a historical event deserves
full scrutiny, in the same manner as other historical events such as the
Holocaust, particularly since Iran's own national security has been hurt by the
military consequences of 9/11. Ahmadinejad called for a terrorism conference in
Iran next year that could bolster Iran's regional role against terrorism and
cause a minor dent in the "war on terror" paradigm Obama inherited from his
predecessor, George W Bush.
The Middle East peace process, a key topic of both president's UN speeches, is
yet another divisive issue, in light of Obama's call on Israel to maintain the
moratorium on new Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which expires on
September 26. The chances are that the Israeli government reluctantly appeases
Obama on this matter, not the least because several thousand housing units
previously approved prior to the 10-month-long moratorium are still under
The bigger question of meaningful resolution of the settlements problem and the
realization of an independent Palestinian state looms large and Obama may be
setting himself up for disappointment by expressing undue optimism in his UN
speech about future results of negotiations, when the facts on the ground in
the Occupied Territories belie any rosy outlook.
"Compared to his 2009 speech when he mentioned a contagious state on the
Occupied Territories since 1967, this year's speech by Obama lacked that
specific language and was therefore a step backward," a Tehran University
political science professor told the author."Nor did he bother to mention
anything about Gaza and its elected officials from Hamas."
While in the New York, Ahmadinejad sought to portray Iran as a global power
intent on playing a meaningful global role, by addressing the issue of veto
powers and calling for reform of the Security Council, which he characterized
as "undemocratic". This resonated with other speeches, including that of
Brazil's Foreign Minister Celso Luiz Nunes Amorim, who said there was an urgent
need "to redefine the rules that organize international relations". Both Brazil
and Iran are members of the Group of 15 (G-15), set up as a counterweight to
the G-20, which acts today as a fulcrum for the management of issues of global
Cool G-15 heads take the heat, Asia Times Online, May 14, 2010).
On the other hand, much to the chagrin of Tehran, this week Moscow announced it
was halting the sale of S-300 air defense system that Iran has fully paid for,
claiming that it falls under the UN sanctions regime. A close reading of the
various UN sanctions resolutions may yield a different interpretation, however,
and it is clear that Moscow's appeasement of Washington's and Tel Aviv's
demands on this matter will harm Russia-Iran relations.
After taking Western heat on its support for Iran for the operation of the
Bushehr power plant, Russiaís leaders have found themselves in an increasingly
uncomfortable balancing act that may come to haunt them if their decision
proves conducive to a future attack on Iran by the US and or Israel.
As a result, support for Bushehr is potentially a candidate for reconsideration
if Moscow determines at some point that the military option on Iran is again
likely. For now, the opening of the plant is simply yet another cosh for the US
to use to berate Iran, much as Obama in his initial appearance at the UN on
Wednesday lavishly praised Moscow's decision to halt the arms sale, which was
attributed to Dmitry Medvedev, Russiaís pro-Western president.
Overall, the Obama-Ahmadinejad indirect duel at the UN has transpired at a
sensitive time. Whether it leads to more or less tension in the Middle East
depends how it influences the course of Middle East peace talks and the Iran
nuclear standoff, neither of which appears to have any prospect of resolution
anytime soon. Still, much depends on the will of both presidents to initiate
dialogue with moves free of empty rhetoric or propaganda designed to score