The United Nations General Assembly Session over the years has been the scene of many speeches both famous and infamous. Some of the more memorable addresses by some infamous people include Venezuelan strong man Hugo Chavez in 2006, Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2009 and Iranian regime leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2010.
It has been used as a platform to bully the world. It has been used to make extravagant accusations. It has been used to charm and lull the world into believing false narratives.
It has also been used to raise human rights issues. It has been used to advocate for peace, democracy and tolerance. It has been used to raise the hope for a world seeking to make a better place for the future.
The General Assembly exists to serve the aims of whoever chooses to speak and the annual general session is a free for all so world leaders can make their rhetorical claims on whatever topic they choose.
Into this platform has stepped Hassan Rouhani, the handpicked president of the Iranian regime who has used previous sessions to make lofty promises of openness, moderation and dedication to finding diplomatic solutions to intractable problems.
Unfortunately, the reality of the Iranian regime’s actions has never lived up to his rhetoric.
As recently as Rouhani’s address to the UN last year, he suggested that the nuclear agreement reached with Iran and world powers would help create the basis for broader engagement, in a speech that was noted for its departure from the strident tone of his boss, top mullah Ali Khamenei.
Last year Rouhani spent considerable time extolling the diplomatic success of the agreement, claiming it would lift years of painful economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for verifiable guarantees that its nuclear activities remain peaceful.
In the year since he gave that optimistic speech, relations between the Iranian regime and the rest of the world has plummeted to new lows. Among the regime low-lights since he gave his speech:
- Iranian regime has stepped up arrests of dual-national citizens following the linking of releasing American hostages in exchange for $1.7 billion from the U.S.;
- Iranian regime has expanded proxy wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen through its continued support of terror groups such as Hezbollah and its recruitment of Afghan mercenaries and arming of Shiite militias and Houthi rebels;
- The regime has continued development and test firing of ballistic missiles in defiance of UN restrictions, alongside being granted exemptions from the nuclear deal allowing it to maintain large stockpiles of heavy water and operating “hot cells” for the handling of nuclear materials;
- Iranian regime has instituted large crackdowns against dissidents, students, journalists, ethnic and religious minorities, including knocking off the majority dissident and moderate candidates from parliamentary election ballots; and
- Iranian regime stepped up open confrontations in the Persian Gulf with U.S. Navy warships, necessitating evasive maneuvers and even warning shots to be fired, even as the regime engages in a massive military build-up with purchases from Russia.
It has hardly been a year of peace and moderation as Rouhani claimed and the Iran lobby has argued for since the nuclear deal was reached.
A closer look at Rouhani’s travel itinerary shows his focus on a tour of designed to expand the regime’s sphere of influence into Latin America as he visits Venezuela this week.
At the UN General Assembly though, Rouhani’s task will be more difficult—not only because more people are likely disbelieve his assertions given the regime’s track record—but also that Khamenei may be finding Rouhani’s utility waning and the need for this particular puppet lessening.
Many analysts and Iranian dissidents have predicted that Rouhani’s selection in a purportedly rigged presidential election was designed to allow the regime to present a more genial and media-savvy face to open a rapprochement with the U.S. in order to secure a favorable deal alleviating the regime of crippling economic sanctions.
Now that the regime has been appeased through the nuclear agreement, the need for friendly regime face may be fading as Khamenei has indulged his desire for more aggressive confrontations with the U.S. and its allies.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, president of the International American Council, says a sign of that shift may come if Rouhani’s speech criticizes the U.S., highlighting Washington’s failure to let Tehran rejoin the financial global system.
Iran’s UN speech will most likely repeat Khamenei’s message, in a more diplomatic way, that the US has been “breaking oaths, not acting on their commitments and creating obstacles,” he said.
Rouhani’s speech is also unlikely to make any mention of the current hostages being held by the regime, including Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian dual citizen, who was detained in April at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Airport.
An Iranian court just handed down a harsh five year prison sentence on her, even though the exact charges have not been disclosed by the regime. Zaghari-Ratcliffe works at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the company that owns the Reuters news agency and her plight, along with other hostages such as Canadian professor Homa Hoodfar, have revived concern about the regime’s plans for more cash for hostage swaps.
As the Wall Street Journal editorialized in an opinion piece:
“One purpose of the harsh sentence is to remind Iranians in the diaspora tempted to return home in the wake of the nuclear deal that the regime sees them as traitors. It’s also no accident that the sentence came shortly after the U.K. upgraded its diplomatic relations back to ambassador level.
“Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson cheered the new opening to Tehran last Monday, only to receive a rude awakening days later. Now the regime has a new political and financial bargaining chip, and Mr. Obama has created a cash-for-hostages incentive system with his earlier ransom. Let’s hope the British government is wiser than to stuff briefcases with unmarked bills.”
The UN should plan on asking Rouhani the tough questions it didn’t ask him the last three times he spoke at the General Assembly.
By Michael Tomlinson