A muted Mahmoud at UNGA
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, speaking in his eighth (and perhaps final) address to the U.N. General Assembly, denounced the "uncivilized Zionists’" military threats against Tehran and attacked Western leaders of the "oppressive international order" as handmaidens of the devil. Standard fare, then, from Ahmadinejad — and, if not for Israel and the United States, something ...
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, speaking in his eighth (and perhaps final) address to the U.N. General Assembly, denounced the "uncivilized Zionists'" military threats against Tehran and attacked Western leaders of the "oppressive international order" as handmaidens of the devil. Standard fare, then, from Ahmadinejad -- and, if not for Israel and the United States, something that the international press pool looks forward to with a measure of barely concealed glee.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, speaking in his eighth (and perhaps final) address to the U.N. General Assembly, denounced the "uncivilized Zionists’" military threats against Tehran and attacked Western leaders of the "oppressive international order" as handmaidens of the devil. Standard fare, then, from Ahmadinejad — and, if not for Israel and the United States, something that the international press pool looks forward to with a measure of barely concealed glee.
But, in some ways, the Iranian president delivered a less provocative and less notable speech than in his previous addresses to the U.N. body, marking a muted farewell from the world stage. Several European delegations, who were represented by low-ranking diplomats, sat through the lengthy speech, a contrast to their customary walk-outs of past Iranian General Assembly addresses. He’s still a firebrand, but one that is moving further from the center of power at home in Iran. Real power in Iran revolves around the country’s Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has increasingly pushed the president to the sidelines.
The Iranian leader’s U.N. visit comes at a time of heightened nuclear tension between Israel, which has warned that Tehran is close to becoming a nuclear weapons power, and Iran, which insists its nuclear program is peaceful. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is scheduled to address the U.N. General Assembly tomorrow, has urged President Barack Obama to take a more confrontational stance against Iran, and to clarify a set of "red lines" which would trigger a military response to Iran’s nuclear developments.
But in a speech that drew heavily on religion and history, Ahmadinejad devoted little attention to the nuclear clash, using his speech to advance Tehran’s case for a greater say in world affairs as the new leader of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), where it is serving a three-year term as chair. The NAM was established at the height of the Cold War to provide a forum for developing countries to pursue their interest outside the orbit of the superpower rivalry, but its influence and relevance has declined in the post-Cold War era.
"There is no doubt that the world is in need of a new world order and a fresh way of thinking," he said. "The current abysmal situation in the world and the bitter incidents of history are due mainly to the wrong management of the world and the self-proclaimed centers of power who have entrusted themselves to the Devil," he said.
Shortly before the speech, the United States said that it would boycott the meeting because Ahmadinejad had selected the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur on which to deliver his speech. Israeli diplomats, who do not work on Yom Kippur and who walked out of an earlier U.N. meeting on the rule of law to protest Iran’s presence, also did not attend.
"Over the past couple of days, we’ve seen Mr. Ahmadinejad once again use his trip to the U.N. not to address the legitimate aspirations of the Iranian people but to instead spout paranoid theories and repulsive slurs against Israel," said Erin Pelton, the spokeswoman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations. "It’s particularly unfortunate that Mr. Ahmadinejad will have the platform of the UNGA on Yom Kippur, which is why the United States decided not to attend."
In his address, Ahmadinejad returned to a familiar theme — the excesses of American power in the world — but did so without specifically naming the United States, denouncing big power domination of the U.N. Security Council, "unilateralism, application of double standards, and impositions of wars, instability, and occupations to ensure economic interests."
Ahmadinejad made passing reference to some of his more controversial past statements — recalling his previous proposal to conduct a fact-finding mission to investigate who was responsible for the 9/11 terror attacks — and criticizing the United States for "killing and throwing the culprit into the sea without trial."
The Iranian presidents’ critics were out in full force.
"President Ahmadinejad’s mix of attacks against ‘Zionists’ and ‘hegemonic’ powers for their rights abuses fails to distract from Iran’s own appalling rights record," said Philippe Bolopion, U.N. representative for Human Rights Watch. "His celebration of ‘woman’s sublime role and personality’ is nothing short of an insult for the millions of Iranian women who face severe restrictions including new limits this month on their right to pursue certain university subjects of study. Equally perplexing is President Ahmadinejad’s enthusiastic celebration of the ‘spring of all the justice-seekers’ in light of his government’s support for the Syrian government’s bloody crackdown."
Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
Colum Lynch was a staff writer at Foreign Policy between 2010 and 2022. Twitter: @columlynch
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