For a rare afternoon at U.N. headquarters, the U.S. and Iranian governments took a break from bashing one another. Instead, they were getting ready to go to the mat.
The U.N. cafeteria provided the stage for a bout of international sports diplomacy, as American, Iranian, and Russian wrestlers gathered for lunch as well as an opportunity to rally behind a common cause: appealing to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to keep wrestling in the Olympics.
Today's U.N. event -- sponsored by USA wrestling, FILA, and the Committee for the Preservation of Olympic Wrestling, and hosted by the U.N. Correspondent's Association -- comes one day before the Rumble on the Rails at Grand Central Station, a wrestling contest that will match up the world's best Greco Roman wrestlers from Iran, the world's top wrestling team, with the United States and Russia, two other national powerhouses.
It provided a forum for scripted diplomatic pronouncements about the importance of preserving the sport from senior Iranian and Russian diplomats, who recalled wrestling's long, revered place in their country's history. State Department officials were present at the event, but the U.S. government played a low-key role, absent from the list of speakers. Instead, a group of American wrestling advocates, including the actor Billy Baldwin, a former wrestler himself, took the podium to speak up for the sport on America's behalf.
Not surprisingly it wasn't Baldwin, but a young Olympian that best captured the spirit of the event, arguing that Greco Roman wrestling had something to teach international diplomats and politicians.
"We can get together, me and the Iranians and the Russians, and we can go out on the mat and physically do everything possible to beat the crap out of one another," explained Jake Herbert, 28, an American silver medalist in the 2012 Olympics. "No one is going to get killed; no one is going to get injured; you're going to leave it out on the mat and then be friends. We're united -- Iran, Russia, and the USA -- all through sports, something they have never been able to do through politics before and something they should be able to look at and learn."
In fact, the event provided a rare respite from the diplomatic clashes over a range of issues -- from Iran's nuclear ambitions to the international response to the Syria crisis -- that more typically define U.S. relations with Tehran. On Monday, Erin Pelton, spokeswoman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, sounded off on Iran's upcoming assumption, through rotation, of the presidency of the U.N. Conference on Disarmament (CD), calling it "unfortunate and highly inappropriate."
"The United States continues to believe that countries that are under Chapter VII sanctions for weapons proliferation or massive human-rights abuses should be barred from any formal or ceremonial positions in U.N. bodies," she said. "While the presidency of the CD is largely ceremonial and involves no substantive responsibilities, allowing Iran -- a country that is in flagrant violation of its obligations under multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions and to the IAEA Board of Governors -- to hold such a position runs counter to the goals and objectives of the Conference on Disarmament itself. As a result, the United States will not be represented at the ambassadorial level during any meeting presided over by Iran."
Despite the administration's diplomatic campaign to isolate Iran, the United States has largely embraced the effort to improve relations with Iran through wrestling. American wrestlers have competed against the Iranians 11 times since 1998, when USA Wrestling sponsored its first match in Iran in decades -- a 1998 competition at the Iranian Takhti Club in Tehran. In February of this year, the U.S. wrestling team competed in Tehran.
Just days before, on Feb. 12, the International Olympic Committee executive board recommended that wrestling no long be considered a core sport at the Olympics. A final decision will be made in September.
Mike Novogratz, an investor who helped organize the Grand Central wrestling matches through his organization Beat the Streets Wrestling, said it was an "absurd decision" by the IOC board to propose remove wrestling from the Olympics in 2020, describing it was one of the most popular sports in the Muslim world.
Wrestling advocates, he said, are seeking to use the New York event, as well as an upcoming match in Los Angeles, to raise international awareness about the sport and convince the IOC to reverse its decision. As a fall back, he said, wrestling organizers, have been considering asking the Olympic governing body to readmit wrestling as a new sport. In order to do that, they are considering improving the sports marketing component and implementing some changes in the rules to make it more accessible to younger audiences who have had trouble understanding the sport's sometime arcane rules.
It wouldn't hurt to see the Obama administration embracing the sport of wrestling with the same passion as Russian President Vladimir Putin and outgoing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said Dan Gable, a 1972 Olympic gold medal winner who, as a coach, led the University of Iowa to 16 NCCA championships. "I really feel both in Russia and Iran wrestling comes right out of their government offices," he said. "Our president, Obama, he's not involved as much."
He said Obama had good reason to take an interest, noting that another American president from Illinois had a keen interest in the sport, one that he hoped Obama might be compelled to emulate. "Lincoln was a wrestler; he held matches on the White House lawn."
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U.S. and European oil and financial sanctions are imposing hardships on the Iranian public, driving up the cost of living, causing shortages of medicine and meat, and fueling popular resentment against the West, Iran’s top economic official told reporters today.
But the official, Iran’s Minister of Economy and Finance Seyed Shamseddin Hoseini, told reporters at the Iranian mission to the United Nations today the long-term impact of the sanctions would be to make Iran’s economy more self-reliant, and that Tehran would never bow to U.S. and European pressure to halt its nuclear program.
Addressing Western reporters at a breakfast of fruit, fried eggs, walnuts, and croissants, Hoseini said that U.S.-backed sanctions targeting the Iranian Central Bank have made it impossible to transfer funds to companies selling even the most basic goods to Iran. For instance, he said, foreign farmers seeking to export beef to Iran have been unable to secure money transfers to conclude the sale.
“So, as a result, our people are consuming a little bit less meat,” he said. “If you were in the shoes of the average Iranian how would you judge the current situation? What, there is no [difference] between a nuclear installation and beef?”
U.S. and European diplomats say that while international sanctions are designed to impede the government’s ability to develop nuclear weapons they acknowledge that some of the measures imposed on Iran’s oil and financial sector may inadvertently harm ordinary citizens.
But they say that they have exempted basic foods and humanitarian goods, including medicines, from a list of sanctioned goods. Tehran, they contend, bears the greatest responsibility for the plight of the Iranian people because it has repeatedly failed to abide by multiple Security Council resolutions demanding it freeze its uranium enrichment program.
Iran maintains that it has no intention of developing a nuclear weapon, and that the program is for peaceful purposes, including the generation of electricity. It has argued that the West’s exemption on the import of medicines and humanitarian goods is meaningless given the refusal of international suppliers to transfer funds to Iranian banks and business out of fear they may be violating U.S. or European financial sanctions.
Hoseini claimed that the true objective of Washington and other European powers was not simply to curtail Iran’s nuclear program, but to prevent it from competing with them in the wider sciences, including aerospace industries, nanotechnology, and the nuclear sciences.
“We believe that the nuclear issue is not the central reason behind these sanctions; this is only a cover,” he said. “These are forbidden frontiers for us to cross into.” Only the big powers and their friends, he added, have “permission to cross that threshold.”
Iran “will continue our scientific progress and programs,” Hoseini said. In the meantime, the Iranian government is exploring ways to endure the sanctions, including providing rations to Iranian citizens and trying to cultivate new trade partners beyond. “Realism forces you to find new ways to get creative,” he said.
“We were continuing on a path and they created obstacles on our path,” he said. But “we will never stop behind the obstacles they put in our path.”
Despite the challenges, Hoseini said that Iran is coping.
“Don’t think for a moment now … there are no pharmaceuticals or medicines in Iran. Do not think that hospitals are unable to perform their daily health care operations or perform needed surgeries.”
Asked to comment on reports that the sanctions were crippling Iranians, doubling the price of basic staples like meat in the past month, he acknowledged that prices of “foodstuffs have increased across the board.” But, he added, “Of course, I don’t know which butcher shop you use in Iran because I have not heard prices of meat having doubled during the past month. They must have given you a raw deal.”
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The United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly this morning to create the first international treaty regulating the global arms trade, a landmark decision that imposes new constraints on the sale of conventional arms to governments and armed groups that commit war crimes, genocide, and other mass atrocities.
The U.N. vote was hailed by arms control advocates and scores of governments, including the United States, as a major step in the international effort to enforce basic controls on the $70 billion international arms trade. But it was denounced by Iran, North Korea, and Syria, for imposing new restrictions that prevent smaller states from buying and selling arms to ensure their self-defense.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry praised the General Assembly for approving "a strong, effective and implementable arms trade treaty that can strengthen global security while protecting the sovereign right of states to conduct legitimate arms trade."
Kerry said that the treaty "applies only to international trade and reaffirms the sovereign right of any state to regulate arms within its territory. As the U.S. has required from the outset of these negotiations, nothing in this treaty could ever infringe on the rights of American citizens under our domestic law or the Constitution, including the Second Amendment."
Kerry said the treaty would establish "a common national standard" -- similar to that already in place in the United States -- for regulating global trade in conventional arms. It would also reduce the risk that arms sales would be used to "carry out the world's worst crimes, including terrorism, genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes."
The 193 member assembly voted 154 to 3 to adopt the treaty. There were 23 abstentions, including major arms traders like China, India, and Russia, as well as countries, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, that have been supplying weapons to armed opposition groups in Syria, The treaty, which will open for signatures on June 3, will go into force 90 days after it is ratified by 50 states.
The vote came four days after Iran, North Korea, and Syria -- three governments who would likely be targeted by the new measures -- blocked the adoption of the treaty by consensus, arguing that it failed to bar sales to armed groups or foreign occupiers, and that it would strengthen the ability of big powers to restrict small states' ability to buy weapons.
But the vote revealed broader misgivings about the treaty by dozens of countries -- including Egypt, India, Indonesia, and Pakistan -- that the treaty would grant an unfair advantage to the world's largest arms exporters. India's chief negotiator, Sujata Mehta, explained her government's decision to abstain, saying today that the treaty "is weak on terrorism and non-state actors." She previously objected that the "weight of obligations is tilted against importing states."
The United States, which co-sponsored the treaty, said that several U.S. agencies will conduct a review of the treaty before it is presented to President Barack Obama for signature. The treaty would also require ratification by the United States Senate.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) -- which has contended the treaty would weaken Second Amendment gun rights in the United States -- has pledged to fight the treaty's ratification in the Senate.
But U.S. officials and several non-governmental organizations, including the American Bar Association, an attorneys' lobbying group, have challenged the NRA's position, saying the treaty would have no impact on Americans' gun rights. The treaty language recognizes the "legitimate trade and lawful ownership, and use of certain conventional arms for recreational, cultural, historical and sporting activities."
Iran, meanwhile, protested last week that the treaty had provided specific protections for U.S. gun owners, while failing to provide protections for people living under foreign occupation.
Under the treaty, states are banned from transferring arms to countries, including Iran and North Korea, that are subject to U.N. arms embargoes, or to countries believed to be preparing to use them to commit genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes.
The treaty would require governments to establish a national record-keeping system that would allow them to track the trade in conventional arms, and to ensure that weapons are not illegally diverted to terrorist organizations or other armed groups. It would also require that governments conduct a risk assessment to determine the likelihood that arms exports are being used to violate or abuse human rights, particularly against women or children.
The arms treaty would apply to several categories of conventional arms, including battle tanks, combat aircraft, warships, attack helicopters, missiles, and small arms. The treaty includes exemptions that would allow the consideration of defense cooperation agreements between governments and allow states to transfer weapons across international borders, so long as the weapons remain under that state's control.
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Senator Ben Cardin, (D-MD), added his voice to those questioning Chuck Hagel's fitness for the job as defense secretary, faulting his former Senate colleague's preference for U.N. sanctions against Iran over U.S. bilateral measures.
Interviewed on MSNBC on Tuesday, Cardin took issue with Hagel's contention that it is wiser to pursue U.N. sanctions to compel Iran to curtail its nuclear ambitions than to impose unilateral U.S. sanctions.
"I have not supported unilateral sanctions because, when it is us alone, they don't work and they just isolate the United States," Hagel told his hometown paper, The Journal Star on Monday. "United Nations sanctions are working."
Cardin countered that the United States is "looked upon internationally as the leader and we have a responsibility to lead on sanctions." In a sense, Cardin and Hagel are both partly right. U.N. sanctions are having an impact on Iran's ability to do business. But they would not have nearly the same sting if they were not reinforced by a patchwork of U.S. and European measures that target Tehran's financial system and oil industry.
But Cardin used a curious example to make his case. In his interview, Cardin claimed that U.S. leadership on sanctions against South Africa in the era of white rule had helped bring about an end to Apartheid.
"If the United States would waited for the international community we dare say ... [it] ... would have been a lot longer before it ended its Apartheid state," Cardin said. "The United States showed leadership, the rest of the world followed."
Not so fast, Mr. Senator. The U.S. position on sanctions varied since 1948, when South Africa's nationalist party came to power adopting a raft of laws that codified the country's apartheid system that relegated the country's black to second class citizens. But it could hardly be viewed as leading the cause.
The first stirring of unease about South Africa's discriminatory policies emerged in 1946, even before the nationalists came into office, when India asked that the country's discrimination of ethnic Indians be placed on the agenda for discussion during the first session of the U.N. General Assembly.
The U.S. position dating back to the 1960s could be best described as highly ambivalent -- if not outright hostile to sanctions. Washington backed a 1960 Security Council resolution deploring the South African police's killing of 69 unarmed protesters in Sharpesville. And the John F. Kennedy administration backed a voluntary arms embargo. But U.S. administrations dating back to the 1960s opposed calls by developing nations, including African governments, for a mandatory arms embargo and economic sanctions.
In October 1962, a senior U.S. diplomat at the U.N., Francis Plimpton, vowed to "continue to oppose" the imposition of U.N. sanctions on South Africa, dismissing them as ineffective, according to a useful chronology published by The Peterson Institute for International Economics.
On August 7, 1963, the United States voted in favor of a U.N. Security Council resolution recommending states cease the shipment of arms to South Africa, and Washington decided to end U.S. military sales. But days before the vote, Adlai Stevenson, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, argued against making them mandatory. "The application of sanctions in this situation is not likely to bring about the practical result that we seek," Stevenson said at the time. "Punitive measures would only provoke intransigence and harden the existing situation..."
It would be another 14 years -- in response to the violent repression that followed the Soweto riots -- until the United States under President Jimmy Carter backed a mandatory arms embargo against South Africa. The U.S. cut off exports of any items to South Africa as there was reason to believe it would be used by the military. But the United States and its European allies still resisted U.N. General Assembly calls for an oil embargo on South Africa.
U.S. opposition to sanctions resurfaced following President Ronald Reagan's presidential election. Reagan's assistant secretary of state, Chester "Chet" Crocker, inaugurated the policy of "constructive engagement" with the apartheid regime, relaxing trade restrictions on the South African military. But as the Reagan administration sought to bolster relations with the South African government, civil society groups in the United States and abroad began to mobilize economic and political pressure on the Pretoria. "The international economic actions against South Africa that were most damaging were taken by private actors, not governments," Philip Levy argued in this 1999 paper.
As for Iran, Cardin said he still needs to understand why Hagel would be willing to forgo the imposition of unilateral sanctions on Iran when the international community could be expected to follow our lead if we did. "These are questions I think as a senator I have a responsibility to get his answer before making a decision on whether to support his confirmations," he said.
Fair enough. But the assumption that the world will follow is far from proven. Russia and China have made it clear they would block any new U.N. sanctions resolutions that targeted Iran's economy. The truth is that it is extremely difficult to fairly assign credit for the success or failures of sanctions in South Africa or Iraq. But it would help to have a reasonably clear-headed account of the facts.
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An Iranian cameraman traveling with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his recent visit to the United Nations General Assembly defected last week and is now seeking political asylum in the United States, the man's lawyer, Paul O'Dwyer told Turtle Bay.
Hassan Gol Khanban, a long time videographer for the Iranian National News Agency who frequently traveled with the president, went into hiding after the Iranian delegation left New York on Thursday, according to O'Dwyer.
O'Dwyer said Khanban's wife and two young children have also left Iran for a third country and that he is trying to arrange for them to come to the United States.
"He is seeking political asylum on behalf of his belief, and obviously the fact that he defected makes him automatically an enemy of the regime," O'Dwyer said. He was "opposed to how the regime treats people, the level of repression that exists there."
Khanban traveled to the United States on a G-2 diplomatic visa to cover Ahmadinejad's eighth and final visit as president to New York, where he delivered a speech to the U.N. General Assembly, conducted multiple interviews, and gave a press conference with American journalists, editors, and publishers.
The defection provided an embarrassing bookend to a visit in which Ahmadinejad had sought to portray Iran's success in challenging America's dominance on the world stage. In a series of statements, the Iranian leader denounced the United States as a belligerent warmonger that had wreaked havoc in the Middle East with its military adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq. But there was no indication that Khanban would turn out to be a major intelligence coup for the United States.
O'Dwyer said that his client was sufficiently "trusted" by the government to be allowed to travel with the president but that he wasn't "like a policy maker or a policy advisor. He was there to shoot video."
O'Dwyer also said that his client had differed with the Iranian delegation during the visits when they instructed him to "film stuff" that wasn't apparently related to his journalistic duties. O'Dwyer was unwilling to provide any specifics on what he was asked to film.
However, it appears that Khanban may have already been planning to flee Iran before he arrived -- he had arranged for his family to get out of the country before he filed his claim for asylum, which was first reported by the New York Daily News.
O'Dwyer declined to say where Khanban, who is in his forties, is staying "out of concern for his safety.
The Iranian mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment.
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So what does Iran get out of its chairmanship of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), a Cold War-era body that has frequently been dismissed by Western pundits as a relic of a bygone era?
For one thing: a ready-made constituency of 120 countries -- many of them close U.S. allies like Chile, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore -- supporting Iranian policies on a range of issues, from its pursuit of nuclear self-sufficiency to efforts to rally international opposition to an Israeli strike against its nuclear facilities.
Iran's chairmanship of the body, which will last three years, is also undercutting efforts by the United States, European powers, and Israel to isolate the Iranian government, a fact that was driven home by the participation of key leaders, including U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Egyptian leader Mohamed Morsy, at the NAM summit in Tehran last month. (To be fair, Ban used the occasion to criticize the Iranians, while Morsy blasted Iran's close ally, Syria, for repressing his people.)
Today, Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, delivered a statement on behalf of the NAM at a high-level U.N. meeting on countering nuclear terrorism that underscored states' rights to nuclear power, proposed the creation of a treaty prohibiting military strikes on nuclear energy programs, and demanded Israel "renounce possession of nuclear weapons" and submit its secret, undeclared, program to monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The speech repeated many longstanding positions by the Non-Aligned Movement, which exercises considerable influence over U.N. debates.
But its delivery by a high-ranking Iranian official lent additional weight to Tehran's case that efforts by the United States and other world powers to rein in Iran's nuclear program could be used against others. Iran, which is the target of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding it cease its enrichment of uranium, claims its nuclear activities are allowed by the landmark Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The IAEA, which is responsible for monitoring compliance with the NPT, has expressed serious concerns about Iran's nuclear activities, citing a pattern of withholding critical evidence of their nuclear activities and failing to fully cooperate with efforts to investigate reports that it is pursuing nuclear weapons. The agency recently raised concern that Iran has sharply stepped up enrichment activities in breach of Security Council resolutions.
Salehi's speech also posed an indirect challenge to Israel to hold off any military attack on Iran's nuclear program, which Tehran claims is used solely for the production of electricity, but which Israel insists is a cover for a nuclear weapons program.
"NAM reaffirms the inviolability of peaceful nuclear activities and that any attack or threat of attack against peaceful nuclear facilities -- in operation or under construction -- constitutes a grave violation of international law, and purposes of the UN Charter and regulations of the IAEA," Salehi told the New York gathering. "NAM recognizes the urgent need for a comprehensive multilaterally negotiated instrument prohibiting attacks or threat of attacks on nuclear facilities devoted to peaceful uses of nuclear energy."
The statement also included a broadside against the U.N. Security Council, which has adopted numerous resolutions demanding Iran halt nuclear activities that are not expressively prohibited by the NPT. The Iranian gambit plays on broader resentment at the United Nations against the Security Council, which has been accused of overreaching and seeking to impose constraints on countries nuclear energy programs that are permissible under international treaty.
"NAM underlines the need to ensure that any action by the Security Council does not undermine the UN Charter and existing multilateral treaties on weapons of mass destruction," said Salehi.
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U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon may have defied the wishes of Israel and the United States by traveling to Tehran to attend a Summit of the Nonaligned Movement (NAM), the largest international conference in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which included a side meeting with Iran's president and supreme leader.
But they could hardly have wished for a more sympathetic message to be delivered directly to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In a tough speech, that was not broadcast on Iranian state television, the U.N. chief singled out Iran for censure -- not Israel -- and on its own home court.
Ban dispensed with the carefully balanced language that secretaries general traditionally use in addressing the tough issues in the Middle East.
He made no mention of the struggle of the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, a perennial topic of NAM debates. There was no talk of Israeli settlements. A reference to the Middle East Nuclear Free Zone -- which has often been cited as a cause for Israeli nuclear disarmament -- was used to prod Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions.
"There is no threat to global peace and harmony more serious than nuclear proliferation," he told the gathering, which included Ahmadinejad, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy. "Assuming the leadership of the NAM provides Iran with the opportunity to demonstrate that it can play a moderate and constructive role internationally. That includes responsible action on the nuclear program."
Ban urged Iran to fully comply with Security Council resolutions demanding it suspend its enrichment of uranium, step up cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and resume "constructive engagement" with the United States and other big powers seeking to negotiate a deal on Iran's nuclear program.
"From this platform -- as I have repeatedly stated around the world -- I strongly reject threats by any member state to destroy another or outrageous attempts to deny historical facts, such as the Holocaust," Ban added. "Claiming that another U.N. Member State, Israel, does not have the right to exist, or describing it in racist terms, is not only utterly wrong but undermines the very principles we have all pledged to uphold."
Earlier this month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had pleaded with Ban not to attend the NAM summit, saying it would be used by the group's host, Iran, which replaced Egypt in the body's three-year chairmanship, to garner international legitimacy for its policies.
The main purpose of Ban's visit to Tehran was to search for a diplomatic opening to head off a possible confrontation between Israel and Iran. He urged both sides to dial down the rhetoric.
"I urge all parties to stop provocative and inflammatory threats," he said. "A war of words can quickly spiral into a war of violence. Bluster can so easily become bloodshed. Now is the time for all leaders to use their voices to lower, not raise tensions."
But the two sides were hardly in the mood to cool their heels.
Iran's most powerful figure, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, blasted U.S. dominance at the United Nations as a "flagrant form of dictatorship" and accused the West of arming the "usurper Zionist regime with nuclear weapons, which now pose a great threat to all of us."
In a statement today, Netanyahu replied that the "representatives of 120 countries heard a blood libel against the State of Israel and were silent. This silence must stop. Therefore, I will go to the UN General Assembly and, in a clear voice, tell the nations of the world the truth about Iran's terrorist regime, which constitutes the greatest threat to world peace."
Meanwhile, today's event was hardly turning into the diplomatic triumph that Tehran had hoped for -- and that the United States and Israel had feared. Both Ban and Morsy criticized the Syrian government, Tehran's closest regional ally, for its violent repression of pro-democracy forces in Syria and elsewhere in the Arab world.
"The Syrian people are fighting with courage, looking for freedom and human dignity," Morsy said, prompting the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem to walk out in protest, according to a report in the New York Times. "I am here to announce our full and just support for a free, independent Syria that supports a transition into a democratic system and that respects the will of the Syrian people for freedom and equality," said Morsy.
As for Ban, he answered Syrian claims that foreign meddlers are behind the calls for democracy sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa, saying "the Arab Spring was not imposed or exported. It did not arise from an external conflict or dispute between states. It came from within -- from people, who stood up for a better future."
But while Ban faulted Syria for starting the crisis by meeting "peaceful demonstrations" with "ruthless force" he said that any solution to the crisis will require restraint by all. "Those who provide arms to either side in Syria are contributing to its misery."
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that his plan to travel to Tehran later this month is "a major mistake even if it is being made with good intentions," according to a statement from Netanyahu's office.
The U.N. has not announced that Ban is planning to travel to Iran, but U.N.-based diplomats say privately that he will attend a high-level meeting of the non-aligned movement in Tehran later this month.
It will be Ban's first trip to Tehran since becoming secretary general in 2007.
While there, Ban is expected to hold meetings with the Iranian leader on a range of issues, including Iran's nuclear program and its role in Syria.
"During your tenure as U.N. Secretary General, you have acted fairly," Netanyahu told Ban, according to the statement. "This is why I was so disappointed to hear about your intention to attend the non-aligned summit that will be held in Tehran at the end of the month.... Mr. Secretary General your place is not in Tehran"
A spokesman for Ban, Farhan Haq, said "there is no trip to announce, and consequently no comment to make in response to the read out" of Ban's conversation with Netanyahu.
Ban's relationship with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been extremely chilly.
He routinely criticizes the Iranian leader for refusing to comply with Security Council demands to suspend his country's uranium enrichment program. U.N. diplomats said he would use the trip to apply pressure on the Iranian government to try to persuade the Iranian leader to help calm the violence in Syria, Iran's most important regional ally.
But Netanyahu faulted his plans to visit Tehran on the grounds that it would "grant legitimacy" to a regime that has flouted its international obligations and poses an existential threat to Israel.
"To reward Iran for its impudence by a visit of the U.N. Secretary General would be a horrible mistake," the statement said.
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Iran's foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, has directly appealed to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for help in securing the release of more than 50 Iranian nationals seized in Syria and Libya over the past week, saying he feared many of them could be killed in Syria in the coming hours.
The request came just a day after three of 48 hostages captured Saturday by rebel forces in Damascus were reported killed during a government air attack on rebel positions. It is part of a broader diplomatic effort by Tehran to secure the hostages release.
Salehi today visited Turkey to press the government help rescue the Iranians while the Iranian government warned the United States, which has provided limited support to the rebels, that it would be held responsible for the fate of the Iranians. Iran's security chief, Saeed Jalili, meanwhile met with President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, where he vowed Iran's support for the beleaguered Syrian leader.
The Syrian rebels confirmed that the three Iranians had been killed and threatened to kill the others unless Syrian authorities halted their air assault. "They were killed when the aircraft attacked. One of the houses they were in collapsed over their heads," rebel spokesman Moutassam al-Ahmad told Reuters. "We will kill the rest if the army does not stop its assault. They have one hour."
The Free Syrian Army maintains that the Iranians are members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps who had been collecting intelligence on Syria's rebel movement. The Iranians have insisted that they were Shiite pilgrims traveling to Sayida Zeinab, a Muslim shrine outside of Damascus. They were abducted on their way to the airport in Damascus on Saturday, according to Salehi.
In a letter to Ban, Salehi said that seven members of the Iranian Red Crescent Society had also been abducted in Benghazi on July 31. He said they were in Libya at the invitation of the Libyan Red Cross when they were kidnapped.
But he expressed particular concern over the fate of the Syrian nationals in Damascus, saying "the hostage takers have threatened to kill the remaining captives in the coming hours."
"The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran calls for the immediate release of its abducted nationals and is of the view that using the hostages as human shields violates the international law and human rights of these innocent civilians," Salehi said. "I would like to seek the cooperation and the good offices of your excellency for securing the release of these hostages."
A spokesman for Ban said the U.N. was studying the letter and had not yet responded. But Farhan Haq, a spokesman for Ban, said that the U.N. Supervisory Mission in Syria is playing no role in the negotiations for the Iranian's release.
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Russia and other key powers have signaled support U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's plan for a political transition leading to the establishment of a national unity government, according to U.N. based diplomats. But Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, cautioned this morning that no final agreement has been concluded.
Annan will host a meeting in Geneva this Saturday of key foreign ministers, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Lavrov, to seek and endorsement for his latest plan to end a bloody 16-month uprising that has left more than 10,000 dead and raised fear of a widening sectarian conflict engulfing the region.
Annan hopes to use the meeting to galvanize support among key global and regional powers, particularly the United States and Russia, for his transitional plan, and increase pressure on the Syrian government and the opposition to accept it.
Annan's plan -- which is detailed in a three page non-paper that has not been made public -- would call on the key players in Syria and their foreign supporters to end the violence and create an "environment of calm and peace that will allow a transition," according to a U.N.-based diplomat briefed on the plan.
If those conditions are met, Annan would lead a mediation effort aimed at forging a national unity government comprised members of the Syrian government and individuals drawn from the disparate opposition. But the new government would "exclude those who are detrimental to stability and reconciliation and the transition," according to the diplomat. Russia, the official said, has "signaled to Annan that they can accept the plan."
The plan for a national unity government, which was first reported last night by Bloomberg and Reuters, makes no mention of the what role President Bashar al-Assad might play in a new government, according to a diplomat familiar with the plan, but diplomats who favor his departure say that it is impossible to see the Syrian president as anything but an obstacle to a stable transition.
Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, told the Security Council earlier this month that Moscow was not "wedded" to President Assad and would agree to his departure as long as it resulted from an agreement by the Syrian government and the opposition. It remains unlikely, however, that Russia will force Assad's hand.
Lavrov voiced irritation that elements of the
Annan plan had been leaked to the press ahead of the Geneva meeting. "There
are no agreed drafts. Work on a possible final document continues," Lavrov
said. The fate of Assad "must be decided within the framework of a Syrian
dialogue by the Syrian people themselves," Lavrov told a news conference
with the Tunisian foreign minister, according to a report by the French news agency, AFP.
"Foreign players should not be dictating their solutions to the Syrians.
We do not and cannot support any intervention or solutions dictated from
Clinton and Lavrov are scheduled to meet on Friday in St. Petersburg, where they will see if they can narrow their differences over Syria. But diplomats said the United States and Russia still differ sharply over the best course for halting the violence there, where the pace of killings, which dipped in the days following the April 12 ceasefire agreement, has since returned to pre-ceasefire levels, according to top U.N. officials.
The Annan paper also calls on the Syrian parties to stop the violence, end all human rights abuses, and guarantee the protection of minorities and accountability for perpetrators of the worst abuses.
In anticipation of the new approach, the U.N. peacekeeping department is preparing plans to change the mandate of the U.N. Supervising Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) from monitoring a non-existent ceasefire agreement and patrolling Syria's conflict ridden towns to mediating an end to the conflict. The final configuration of the new U.N. mission will have to be approved by the Security Council.
Annan's plan for a political transition had stalled earlier this week over Russia's reluctance to endorse it and over the composition of the negotiating bloc -- or "action group" -- that would be invited to participate in this weekend's meeting.
The action group includes the foreign ministers of the five permanent Security Council members -- the United States, Russia, Britain, France, and China -- plus Turkey, the secretaries general of the United Nations and Arab League, and the foreign ministers of Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar, all of whom chair Arab League committees concerned with Syria.
Annan wanted Iran, one of Syria's closest allies, and Saudi Arabia, a military supporter of Syria's armed opposition, to participate in the meeting. But Clinton had made it clear to Annan that she would not participate if Iran attended the meeting. In a compromise, Annan decided not to invite either Tehran or Riyadh, but to brief the two governments on the outcome of the meeting.
In New York, Iran's U.N. ambassador, Mohammad Khazaee, told reporters on Wednesday that "a very important fact that cannot be ignored by anybody is the influence and constructive role that the Islamic Republic of Iran has in the region. So if some powers do not want to benefit from this influence and constructive role that's their problem." But, he added: "from the beginning we have supported Mr. Kofi Annan's plan and we believe that's the best way to resolve the issues in Syria. Any kind of consultation by [Annan] with the Islamic Republic of Iran is welcomed any time."
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A proposal by U.N. and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan to convene a high-level meeting of key international and regional powers in Geneva on Saturday, June 30, to promote a political transition in Syria appeared to be stalled today over differences between the United States and Russia, according to council diplomats.
The United States objects to Annan's plan to invite Iran, a close supporter of the Syrian regime, while Russia has been unwilling to endorse Annan's plan for a political transition as a condition for participating in such a meeting. Annan's deputy, Nasser Al Kidwa, told the Security Council behind closed doors that Annan is nearing a decision on whether or not to host the meeting of key foreign ministers, according to a confidential account of the meeting.
"We are awaiting clarity today on whether there is sufficient substantive agreement as well as consensus on the scope of participation before the envoy decides whether the meeting should proceed on the 30th as planned," Al Kidwa told the 15-nation council, according to a copy of his statement.
Earlier this month, Annan, the joint special envoy to Syria for the United Nations and the Arab League, proposed creating a "contact group" of key global and regional powers who could ratchet up pressure on the Syrian government and opposition to halt the violence there and begin talks on the country's political future. Annan is now referring to the proposed negotiating group as an "action group."
But the negotiations have bogged down over the question of Iran's attendance and over the degree to which the plan would lock President Bashar al-Assad into a process that would lead to his exit from power. Annan has tentatively penciled in a June 30 date for the meeting, but has yet to secure agreement from Russia and the United States to participate under his terms.
Over the weekend, Annan presented the permanent five members of the Security Council, including the United States and Russia, with a confidential "non-paper" that outlined the agenda for such a meeting, including the "guiding principles for a political transition" in Syria, according to U.N. officials and Security Council diplomats.
Al Kidwa outlined the basic elements of the plan to the full council in a closed-door meeting today. He said it would include agreement on "guidelines and principles for a political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people," read a copy of his confidential statement.
It would also "identify steps and measures" -- including an immediate cessation of violence -- "to secure full implementation" of Annan's six-point peace plan, Al Kidwa said. Finally, he said the plan calls for agreement on a series of "actions" to support Annan's mediation efforts in Syria.
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told the U.N. Security Council that Washington supports Annan's political roadmap. But Washington has continued to oppose a separate proposal by Annan to invite Iran, one of Syria's strongest backers, to participate in the meeting.
Russia favors Iran's participation but has also not agreed to the terms outlined in Annan's non-paper. Moscow's U.N. envoy, Vitaly Churkin, said that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has agreed to travel to Geneva for such a meeting.
Annan "is of course using his best efforts to facilitate a common position on the proposed outcomes of the action group," Al Kidwa said. "But he has also been steadfast in his resolve that an action group must be just that, and not a talking shop. The Joint Special envoy has made it clear that it is only worth holding this meeting on 30 June if the outcome is meaningful."
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Kofi Annan, casting around for fresh ideas to stem the violence in Syria, last week proposed inviting Iran to join the United States, Russia, and other world and regional powers seeking to craft a plan for the country's political transition.
The initiative was quickly embraced by Moscow, which proposed hosting this "contact group" for an international conference, and was just as quickly dismissed by the Obama administration, which claimed that Tehran is part of the problem in Syria, not a reliable peace partner.
But why did Annan want Iran inside the peace tent while it is purportedly supporting the Syrian government crackdown, and what impact might Tehran's involvement have on the outcome of the Syrian crisis?
Annan's negotiating team has argued that it would be best to have Iran on its side, rather than seeking to undermine it. "Iran is a key player in this crisis and if you're going to have a group that talks about what can be done to pressure the parties in Syria then you can't neglect the fact that Iran has influence on the Syrian government," Annan's spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, told Turtle Bay.
The decision to try to include Iran was driven by an old-fashioned diplomatic dictum: you need to make peace with your enemy, not your friend. For Annan, that means inviting anyone with the power and influence to spoil the negotiating process into the peace camp, according to U.N. officials.
The United States -- under both Democratic and Republican administrations -- has accepted the need to sit down at the table with the Iranians to address regional conflicts in Afghanistan and, to a lesser degree, Iraq. And U.S. policy makers have entertained talks with the Taliban to pave the way for withdrawal from Afghanistan.
But the prospects for talks in the lead up to the U.S. presidential election may prove awkward, particularly at a time when high-stakes negotiations over Iran's nuclear program appear stalled again. On Monday, the United States expressed its frustration by announcing yet another round of sanctions against Tehran. While the administration has not ruled out the possibility of an Iranian role in the Syrian peace process it has reacted coolly too it.
"There is no question that [Iran] is actively engaged in supporting the government in perpetrating the violence on the ground," Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations told reporters at U.N. headquarters on Thursday. "So we think Iran has not demonstrated to date a readiness to contribute constructively to a peaceful political solution."
The United States and other critics say that Iran's interests run contrary to the U.N.'s goals and that Iran will not support a peace effort that threatens to jeopardize its own interests. "No country in the world stands to lose more from an Assad collapse than Iran. They would lose their only regional ally and their key thoroughfare to Hezbollah," said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "Iran's position on Syria is to publicly call for reform and conciliation, while privately financing and arming the Assads to the teeth."
"This is an exercise that is designed to avoid confrontation on everybody's part," Brett Schaefer, who tracks the U.N. for the Heritage Foundation, told Turtle Bay. "I think the Russians, the Chinese, and Iran are going to use every opportunity they can to extend this process out, and that a number of Western countries, including the United States, are willing to go along with this because they are unwilling to step outside the U.N.-centric approach."
For China and Russia, the fate of Syria is inextricably linked to that of Iran, according to Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. They fear that the collapse of President Bashar al-Assad will embolden the West to step up pressure to topple the mullahs in Tehran.
"This is about the strategic position of China and Russia writ large," said Landis. "Syria is the canary in the mineshaft. If Syria is taken down, all eyes will turn to Iran."
By bringing Iran to the peace table, however, Russia would be reassuring Iran that its interests will be taken on board in any peace process. Richard Gowan, a scholar at New York University Center for International Cooperation, said that Annan is right to keep channels open to the Iranians, but that Annan has been too deferential to Syria's foreign backers.
"Annan had already made it known that he was talking to Iran on Syria: emphasizing Tehran's importance at this stage was a tactical public relations error,' he said. "It reinforced the impression that Annan is too reliant on Assad's friends in Moscow and Tehran," he told Turtle Bay. "Annan has arguably not been bold enough in challenging the regime's remaining friends."
For months, U.S. and European officials have accused Iran and Russia of supplying Damascus with weapons. Meanwhile, U.S. allies such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey have reportedly funneled arms to opposition fighters.
An April 12 ceasefire negotiated by Annan, and backed up by a team of about 300 U.N. monitors, is now in tatters. Syrian government forces continue to shell residential neighborhoods, while government-backed militia are suspected of carrying out mass killings in opposition towns. The Free Syrian Army, emboldened by fresh supplies of weapons, has vowed to fight on, saying the U.N.-brokered cease fire has been routinely violated by the government.
"Part of the problem with Syria is that both the Saudis and the Iranians see this as a proxy war for their relative regional ambitions and you can't have one in [the peace process] and the other out without creating a party motivated to subvert the concerted international action," said Jeffrey Laurenti, a U.N. expert at the Century Foundation.
For the United States, sitting down with the Iranians on an election year "is politically awkward, but a wider war around Syria is also a problem. It's not very palatable to Washington but sometimes you swallow hard in order to get a job done."
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Israeli officials have long expressed deep skepticism about the impact of international sanctions alone in compelling Iran's leadership to abandon what it sees as its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Israel's U.N. ambassador, Ron Prosor, told a group of reporters on Friday at the Israeli mission to the United Nations, that he believes Tehran is as committed as ever to a nuclear weapon.
But he also credited international sanctions, particularly a set of financial measures imposed by the United States and the European Union, with exacting a steep enough price that it may force Tehran to change its behavior. Prosor cited a recent decision by the Belgium-based Society of World Wide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, or Swift, blocking dozens of Iranian firms from doing business as the latest evidence the sanctions are having an impact.
"I think the international community at this stage has really moved forward and have made at least clear to Tehran that there is a certain price tag for continuing" its pursuit of nuclear weapons, he said. "The decision on SWIFT, the issue of the sanctions by the EU, are important and have an effect on Iran...I do see really a movement on the international stage, especially on the economic side...It's much more effective than people think and it might change, hopefully it might change behavior patterns if we continue with it."
Prosor made the remarks at a press breakfast with more than a dozen international reporters at the Israeli mission, providing a hint that Israel may be stepping away from its campaign to rally support for military strikes against Iran. He also used the meeting to underscore anti-Israeli bias at the United Nations Human Rights Council, and highlight the need for humanitarian assistance in Syria.
Asked to comment on a recent report in Foreign Policy that Israel had reached an agreement with Azerbaijan, which borders Iran, to use its airbases in the event of a possible air strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. "I'm happy to say I don't know. That happens to me once in while but the answer is I just don't know. I just don't know,"
Prosor said that his government's chief priority in neighboring Syria, where a government crackdown on protesters entered its second year, "is to focus on anything that could be done in order to relieve and help on the humanitarian side these people in Syria who are being slaughtered." But Prosor declined to respond to a question on what kind of government Israel would prefer to see in Syria.
"Israeli politicians don't say anything on Syria and it is nor coincidental that they don't speak," he said. "Anything we would say on this will be used and abused against the people that I think we want to help. Having said that...I want to formally say clearly here that Bashar Assad does not have the moral authority to lead his people."
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UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras
Iran denounced the United States at the United Nations on Thursday night for engaging in a pattern of "provocative and covert operations," including the use of an RQ-170 unmanned spy drone that was captured by Iranian authorities, and warned that Tehran "reserves its legitimate rights to take all necessary measures to protect its national sovereignty."
Iran's U.N. ambassador Mohammad Khazaee wrote in a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that the United States has stepped up covert operations against Iran in recent months, perhaps referring to the assassination of three Iranian nuclear scientists. He called on the United Nations to condemn what he described as "acts of aggression" and to take "clear and effective measures" to "put an end to these dangerous and unlawful acts."
The diplomatic protest comes as the Iranian government has itself come under intensive criticism at the United Nations over its nuclear program, its human rights conduct, and its alleged role in an assassination plot against Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United Nations.
Earlier this month, the International Atomic Energy Agency issued a report expressing serious "concern" that Iran has been seeking to master the technology to develop nuclear weapons capability. The U.N. General Assembly's Human Rights Council, meanwhile, adopted a resolution deploring the alleged assassination attempt.
A copy of the latest Iranian letter, which will also be presented to the presidents of the U.N. Security Council and General Assembly, was emailed to Turtle Bay by the Iranian government.
It says the American drone "violated Iran's air space" by flying "250 Kilometers deep into Iranian territory up to the northern region of the city of Tabas, where it faced prompt and forceful action by the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran."
"This is not the only act of aggression and covert operation by the United States against the Islamic Republic of Iran," Khazee wrote. "My Government emphasizes that this blatant and unprovoked air violation by the United States Government is tantamount to an act of hostility against the Islamic Republic of Iran in clear contravention of international law, in particular, the basic tenets of the United Nations Charter."
(Full text below.)
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* * *
In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
No. 1396 8 December 2011
Upon instructions from my Government, I have the honor to draw your kind attention to the provocative and covert operations against the Islamic Republic of Iran by the United States Government, which have increased and intensified in recent months.
In the continuation of such trend, recently, an American RQ-170 unmanned spy plane, bearing a specific serial number, violated Iran 's air space. This plane flied 250 Kilometers deep into Iranian territory up to the northern region of the city of Tabas , where it faced prompt and forceful action by the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
In the past, the Iranian Government lodged its strong protests against similar acts by submitting several Notes including Notes No. 164440 dated 29 October 2008 and No. 268483 dated 11 February 2009 to the Government of the United States.
My Government emphasizes that this blatant and unprovoked air violation by the United States Government is tantamount to an act of hostility against the Islamic Republic of Iran in clear contravention of international law, in particular, the basic tenets of the United Nations Charter. The Iranian Government expresses its strong protest over these violations and acts of aggression and warns against the destructive consequences of the recurrence of such acts. The Islamic Republic of Iran reserves its legitimate rights to take all necessary measures to protect its national sovereignty.
My Government, hereby, calls for the condemnation of such acts of aggression and requests for clear and effective measures to be taken to put an end to these dangerous and unlawful acts in line with the United Nations' responsibilities to maintain international and regional peace and security, in accordance with the letter and spirit of the United Nations Charter.
I am sending identical letters to the President of the General Assembly and the President of the Security Council. It would be appreciated if this letter could be circulated as a document of the General Assembly under the agenda item 83 and of the Security Council.
Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.
H.E. Mr. Ban Ki-moon
Secretary-General of the United Nations
cc: H.E. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin
President of Security Council
United Nations, New York
cc: H.E. Mr. Nasser A. Al-Nasser
President of General Assembly
United Nations, New York
Saudi Arabia took its regional rivalry with Iran to the United Nations this week, tabling a new General Assembly resolution deploring Tehran for its alleged role in an assassination attempt against the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir.
The Saudi initiative comes as the Gulf kingdom, which has supported the violent crackdown of demonstrators in Bahrain, and Iran, which has repressed anti-government protesters at home, are both seeking to portray themselves here at Turtle Bay as champions of the Arab Spring.
Saudi diplomats have played a pivotal role in ratcheting up diplomatic pressure in the Arab League and at the United Nations on Syria, another regional rival, Tehran, meanwhile, has denounced Washington and Riyadh for introducing the use of military force to affect change in Libya and Bahrain.
"We were the first ones to welcome the uprisings of the peoples," Dr. Javad Larijani, the secretary general of Iran's High Council for Human Rights, told reporters at a breakfast on Tuesday. "We are going to support this movement to help them reach the goal they want."
But Iran has playing defense this week at the United Nations, challenging Saudi claims that it sought to kill one of its top diplomats. In a letter to the U.N. General Assembly president, Nassir Abdulaziz Nasser, Iran's U.N. ambassador Mohammad Khazee, denounced the Saudi's U.S.-backed initiative to condemn Iran for an "unsubstantiated allegation" that it orchestrated the assassination plot.
"It is evident that placing hypothetical, circumstantial and unsubstantiated matters on the agenda of this august body would be a gross disservice" to the United Nations, Khazee wrote. A vote on the resolution "would run the risk of turning [the General Assembly] into a venue for settling political scores."
The resolution, which was obtained by Turtle Bay, expresses alarm at the "new and recurring acts of violence against diplomatic and consular representatives" around the world. It calls on Iran to cooperate with foreign governments seeking to hold the masterminds of the alleged plot accountable for their crime.
It enjoys strong backing from the United States. "We believe it would represent a broad and strong international condemnation of the Iranian plot," said Mark Kornblau, the spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations.
The Saudis are planning to brief the U.N. membership later this afternoon on the alleged plot. The resolution "deplores the plot to assassinate the ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the United States" and "strongly condemns acts of violence against diplomatic and consular missions" in general.
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The International Atomic Energy Agency's report on Iran's program constitutes the U.N. nuclear watchdog's strongest case ever that Iran is likely developing a nuclear weapon. But will it be enough to persuade Iran's most stalwart defenders, China and Russia, that its time to ratchet up pressure on Iran with a new round of biting U.N. sanctions?
In recent weeks, China and Russia mounted a pressure campaign of their own, sending top diplomats to meet with the IAEA's general director, Yukiya Amano, to convince him not to release his findings, which they view as too circumstantial and speculative.
In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement casting doubts about the wisdom of the IAEA's decision to release raw findings before the public, saying they would doom prospects for a resumption of talks between Iran and a group of six major powers -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany -- over the fate of Iran's nuclear program.
"We have serious doubts about the justification for steps to reveal contents of the report to a broad public, primarily because it is precisely now that certain chances for the renewal of dialogue between the sextet of international mediators and Tehran have begun to appear," according to the statement, which was reported by Reuters.
Amano's report dispenses with the IAEA's traditional caution in assessing evidence suggesting Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. "There are indications," he said plainly, "that some activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device continued after 2003, and that some may still be ongoing."
"The agency has serious concerns regarding the possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program," he added. "The information indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device."
Iran, which has long denied it is developing nuclear weapons, dismissed the report as a politically motivated attack, and derided the IAEA chief as a U.S. lackey. In a statement in the official Islamic Republic News Agency, the Iranian government derided the report as "a series of false information added to the Amano report under U.S. pressure."
Senior Western diplomats say they see no signs that Iran is any more willing to engage in meaningful discussions over its nuclear intentions than it has been during more than seven years of on-and-off-again talks with the Iranians.
"Frankly, we have tried everything. They have never shown any openness ... to a substantial negotiation," France's U.N. envoy, Gerard Araud, acknowledged in a public discussion in September that I moderated at the French Consulate in New York.
Araud said that four rounds of U.N. sanctions are moving closer to harming the "crucial, vital interests" of Iran's trading partners, mostly notably Russia and China, the latter of which is becoming increasingly dependent on Iranian oil to meet the energy needs of a rapidly growing economy. "Is it possible to still tighten sanctions? Is it possible to go further, to move further?" he asked. "I doubt it. I really doubt it. Maybe in six months."
Another Western diplomat told Turtle Bay that the latest IAEA report may strengthen the West's hands in securing support for some modest measures, like expanding the number of individuals targeted by a U.N. travel ban and asset freeze, something that has been impossible to achieve since the Security Council last imposed sanctions on Iran in 2010.
But the diplomat said that more biting sanctions, like a ban on Iranian oil or gas trade, would likely trigger a Chinese or Russian veto. It's also unclear whether the United States, Britain, and France, would be keen on running the risk of disrupting an important source of the global oil supply during a period of economic crisis.
In any event, the official said, the Security Council is unlikely to even discuss the Iranian nuclear issue until next month, after the IAEA membership board meets to consider it.
But there is another reason why the Russians may be unwilling to play ball. The latest IAEA report, according to a Bloomberg news item, includes evidence put forward by an unnamed Russian scientist who helped the Iranians try to develop a strategy for boosting the yield on the force of an atomic bomb.
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The Iranian government tonight turned to the United Nations for help in defending itself against "fabricated and baseless" allegations that it plotted to assassinate Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States in Washington, D.C.
In a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Iran's U.N. ambassador Mohammad Khazaee voiced his government's "outrage regarding the allegations leveled" against Tehran. "Iran has always condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations."
"The Islamic Republic of Iran underlines its determination to maintain its friendly relations with all regional countries, particularly with its Muslim neighbors," he wrote. "As the Secretary General of the United Nations you have an important responsibility in enlightening the international public opinion about the dangerous consequences of warmongering policies of the United States Government on international peace and security."
The Iranian envoy said his government would share the letter with the presidents of the U.N. General Assembly and the Security Council.
The appeal to the United Nations came just hours after the Obama administration alleged that some elements within the Iranian government had orchestrated the assassination plot. The U.S. Justice Department charges against two Iranians -- one of them a U.S. citizen -- accused them of planning a scheme to assassinate Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi ambassador to Washington as he dined at a Washington restaurant, the Washington Post reported. The Iranians planned to employ Mexican drug traffickers to kill Jubeir with a bomb.
Senior federal officials told the Washington Post that it remained unclear whether Iran's leadership were involved in the scheme. They said that they thwarted the attack because the Iranian American, Manssor Arbabsiar, was unknowingly hired a paid informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, and later implicated officials in Iran's paramilitary al-Quds Force in masterminding the plot.
Khazaee said the "Islamic Republic of Iran strongly and categorically rejects these fabricated and baseless allegations, based on the suspicious claims by an individual. Any country could accuse other countries through fabrication of such stories. However, this would set dangerous precedents in the relations among states."
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Full text of the Iranian letter follows:
In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
No. 1110 11 October 2011
I am writing to you to express our outrage regarding the allegations leveled by the United States officials against the Islamic Republic of Iran on the involvement of my country in an assassination plot targeting a foreign diplomat in Washington .
The Islamic Republic of Iran strongly and categorically rejects these fabricated and baseless allegations, based on the suspicious claims by an individual. Any country could accuse other countries through fabrication of such stories. However, this would set dangerous precedents in the relations among States.
Iran has always condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. Iran has been a victim of terrorism, a clear recent example of which is the assassination of a number of Iranian nuclear scientists in the past two years carried out by the Zionist regime and supported by the United States .
The Iranian nation seeks a world free from terrorism and considers the current US warmongering and propaganda machine against Iran as a threat not just against itself but to the peace and stability in the Persian Gulf region. The Islamic Republic of Iran warns against the implications of this horrible scenario and submits that the continuation of such divide-and-rule policies could have detrimental effects on peace and security.
The US allegation is, obviously, a politically-motivated move and a showcase of its long-standing animosity towards the Iranian nation. The Islamic Republic of Iran categorically and in the strongest terms condemns this shameful allegation by the United States authorities and deplores it as a well-thought evil plot in line with their anti-Iranian policy to divert attention from the current economic and social problems at home and the popular revolutions and protests against United States long supported dictatorial regimes abroad.
The Islamic Republic of Iran underlines its determination to maintain its friendly relations with all regional countries, particularly with its Muslim neighbors, and invites all to be vigilant against the vicious campaigns targeting stability and peace and friendly relations among States in our region.
As the Secretary-General of the United Nations you have an important responsibility in enlightening the international public opinion about the dangerous consequences of warmongering policies of the United States Government on international peace and security.
I am sending identical letters to the President of the Security Council and the President of the General Assembly. It would be appreciated if this letter could be circulated as a document of the General Assembly under the agenda item 83 and of the Security Council.
Please accept, Excellency, the assurance of my highest consideration.
H.E. Mr. Ban Ki-moon
United Nations, New York
cc: H.E. Mrs Ogawu
President of the Security Council
cc: H.E. Mr. Nasser
President of the General Assembly
United Nations, New York
It's not only that Iran refuses to recognize Israel.
The Islamic Republic's official representatives are generally barred from speaking with Israeli diplomats or even uttering the word Israel, preferring to describe their regional enemy as "that Zionist entity."
But sometimes you just really need a place to sit.
Iran's permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Dr. Ali Asghar Soltanieh, is pictured here at an IAEA meeting last month, seated at the Israeli delegation's desk while conducting his official business.
Soltanieh is engaged in a discussion with a member of the delegation of Ireland, which presides over the IAEA's nuclear safeguards committee, and a Cuban diplomat. He is accompanied by two other Iranian officials, according to a source who furnished Turtle Bay with this photograph.
It's hard to imagine how the top Iranian diplomat, after serving more than six years as Tehran's envoy to the atomic agency, wound up in the Israeli seat without an alarm bell going off in his head. You'd think there was a protocol office within the Iranian foreign mission responsible for avoiding such a diplomatic faux pas.
If not, maybe there will be from now on.
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For European and American leaders, U.N. General Assembly debates would not be the complete without delivering a full-throated attack on Iran's nuclear program.
But this year, the council's major powers have been mute, particularly the three European powers, Britain, France and Germany, that have engaged in a long, fruitless effort to persuade the Iranian leadership to provide verifiable assurances that its nuclear program is peaceful in exchange for a basket of trade benefits and political rewards.
France's President Nicolas Sarkozy didn't make a single reference to Iran's nuclear program in his address last week to the General Assembly. British Prime Minister David Cameron blasted Iran's repressive policies at home, but said nothing about its atomic ambitions. Ditto for Germany's Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.
Minutes after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad blasted the United States, Britain, and Israel for military aggression in the Middle East and elsewhere, Cameron shot back: "He didn't remind us that he runs a country where they may have election of a sort but they also repress freedom of speech, do everything they can to avoid the accountability of a free media, violently repress demonstrations and detain and torture those who argue for a better future."
President Barack Obama did commit a couple of sentences to Tehran's nuclear program, but it was largely boilerplate, and lacked the sense of urgency and alarm that has marked previous public statements.
"The Iranian government cannot demonstrate that its program is peaceful, it has not met its obligations and it rejects offers that would provide it with peaceful nuclear power," Obama said in a U.N. speech that addressed the Arab Spring and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Iran, along with North Korea, "must be met with greater pressure and isolation," he said, if they "continue down a path that is outside international law."
If one missed the fire and brimstone diplomatic sermons on Iran's nuclear threat that used to be standard fare in Washington and Paris there was only Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Speaking a day after Ahmadinejad excoriated the West for a litany of historical sins, Netanyahu said "can you imagine that man who ranted yesterday -- can you imagine him armed with nuclear weapons? The international community must stop Iran before it's too late. If Iran is not stopped, we will all face the specter of nuclear terrorism, and the Arab Spring could soon become an Iranian Winter."
But apart from Netanyahu, it was notably quiet. "Most Council members remain concerned about the continuation and possible acceleration of Iran's nuclear program," according to an assessment by the Security Council Report, a non-profit, Columbia University-affiliated research group that tracks the Security Council's activities. "However, as has been the case for some months, even members willing to consider additional action against Iran do not view any new measures as likely in the near future. It appears most members are not eager to push for additional Council action at this time."
Certainly, Iran's nuclear program hasn't gone away or halted its advances. On Sept. 2, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued a mixed report on Iran's nuclear activities, citing continued cooperation with nuclear inspectors who visited many of Iran's declared nuclear facilities, but also confirmed efforts by Tehran to step up its uranium enrichment activities -- including the introduction of more advanced enrichment technology -- in flagrant violation of successive U.N. resolutions.
The report also cited "extensive and comprehensive" information related to a possible clandestine military program to develop a nuclear payload for a missile. The report's findings, coupled with Iranian officials' public pronouncements, has raised concerns among the U.S. and Europeans about Iran's plan to expand their stockpile of a more refined grade of uranium enriched to 19.75 percent -- higher than that needed for the generation of electricity and more than required to fuel its advanced medical reactor in Tehran.
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There was a time when a visit to New York by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the subject of extraordinary curiosity, leading to appearances on the nations' top news shows, including Charlie Rose, and providing fodder for Saturday Night Live skits.
Who can forget the image of the comedian Andy Samberg serenading the faux Iranian leader, dressed in a shoulder-less red dress, on a romantic stroll through Manhattan streets? "I know you say there are no gays in Iran, but you're in New York baby," crooned Samberg.
The controversial Iranian leader still attracts the media elite, with lunches for top editors, broadcast anchors, and TV appearances. And the timing of the release of the two imprisoned American hikers on the eve of his visit has given a boost to his newsworthiness.
But his appearances before the U.N. General Assembly are beginning to have a routine feel to them. The Iranian provocateur mounts an attack on American and European world domination, mixing some awkward truths with patent distortions.
He takes jabs at the Zionists, and then throws out a conspiracy theory for the world to chew on. As if on schedule, the United States and its Western allies, usually represented by junior diplomats, walk out in protest.
Today was hardly different. Ahmadinejad delivered a lengthy speech that revisited a litany of Western offenses, beginning with slavery and U.S. intervention in Korea and Vietnam, and culminating with recent Western-led wars in Afghanistan, Iran, and Libya. "Do these arrogant powers really have the competence and ability to run or govern the world?" he said. "Can the flower of democracy blossom from NATO's missiles, bombs, and guns?"
Ahmadinejad then played the Holocaust card, saying the West has used "their imperialistic media network" to "threaten anyone who questions the Holocaust and the Sept. 11 event with sanctions and military actions."
"If some European countries still use the Holocaust, after six decades, as the excuse to pay fine or ransom to the Zionists, should it not be an obligation upon slave masters or colonial powers to pay reparations to the affected nations?" he asked?
He also rehashed a previous conspiracy theory suggesting that the United States had engaged in a cover-up to shield the true perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks. "Who used the mysterious Sept. 11 incident as a pretext to attack Afghanistan and Iraq, killing, injuring, and displacing millions in two countries with the ultimate goal of bringing into its domination the Middle East and its oil resources."
The Iranian leader sharply criticized the U.S. assassination of Osama bin Laden, suggesting that it might be a cover-up. "Why should it not have been allowed to bring him to trial to help recognize those who launched terrorist groups and brought wars and other miseries into the region?" he asked. "Is there any classified information that must be kept secret?"
After the speech, the United States quickly issued a statement denouncing Ahmadinejad. "Mr. Ahmadinejad had a chance to address his own people's aspirations for freedom and dignity, but instead he again turned to abhorrent anti-Semitic slurs and despicable conspiracy theories," said Mark Kornblau, the spokesman for Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Human rights groups also weighed in. "While President Ahmadinejad is lecturing the world from the U.N. podium, dissent is still being crushed ruthlessly in Iran and basic rights demanded by millions in the Arab world are brutally denied to Iranians who are demanding the same," said Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. representative for Human Rights Watch. "The world assembly should take with a grain of salt the remarks of a leader who said nothing about the public hanging yesterday of a 17-year-old in his own country."
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First the good news: U.S. President Barack Obama is more than twice as popular in Egypt as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad.
Now, the bad news: the American president's standing has never been worse in Egypt, plummeting since 2008, when he received a 25 percent favorability rating, to 12 percent in 2011. Even Osama Bin Laden, the late al Qaeda leader, was more popular this year, with a 21 percent favorability ranking. The Iranian leader fared worse, dropping from 21 percent favorability rating in 2008 to a miserable 5 percent.
The findings are drawn from a public poll of Egyptian views in the aftermath of the public uprising that brought about the resignation of Egypt's fallen leader Hosni Mubarak. The poll was commissioned by the International Peace Institute, a New York-based think tank with close ties to the United Nations and Arab governments.
The poll seeks to capture the mood of the country in the lead up to the Egypt's first post-Mubarak election, and to handicap the presidential campaign. It shows that Egyptians currently fret over issues like the economy, stability, and government corruption more than they worry about the course of the country's democratic transition.
According to the poll, conducted by Charney Research and based on interviews with 800 Egyptians, Amr Moussa, the outgoing Arab League chief, has emerged as an early frontrunner. Thirty-two percent of respondents say they would vote for Moussa, who once served as Mubarak's foreign minister.
Essam Sharraf, an engineering professor who is serving as the country's interim prime minister, finished second with 16 percent of votes ( though his favorability ranking is higher than Moussa's). And Mohammed Tantawi, the army chief, finished third with 8 percent of those questioned saying they would vote for him. Mohammed El Baradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency who emerged from retirement to serve as Egypt's best known pro-democracy advocate, finished seventh, with only 2 percent of respondents pledging to vote for him.
The poll shows that the Egyptian army, which refused orders to fire on public demonstrators during the country's popular uprising, remains "extremely popular" with 90 percent of Egyptian respondents expressing a favorable view. Egypt's various secular parties also did well, garning 25 precent of respondents' votes, while Islamist parties gained 19 percent. The best-known political parties, the New Wafd Party and the Muslim Brotherhood, received respectively 40 percent and 31 percent favorability ratings. The Brotherhood's unfavorability rating, at 29 percent, was 10 points higher.
"The military right now is riding a wave of popularity because it is seen as playing two key roles [in Egypt's popular revolution]," Craig Charney, the pollster, told Turtle Bay. "It delivered the coup de grace to Mubarak and did it in a way that maintained a substantial degree of stability."
Charney said that the findings also demonstrated that fears of a religious take over by Islamists are overblown. "The much feared green-tide just isn't there, with the Muslim Brotherhood receiving 12 percent while the Salafists for all their sound and fury came away with only 4 percent," Charney said.
While an exiled Egyptian national, Ayman al Zawahiri, has been selected as the new leader of Al Qaeda, the poll suggested that the terror organization would have been better at influencing events in Egypt under the leadership of their late Saudi leader, Osama Bin laden, who was killed by elite U.S. commandos in Pakistan.
According to the poll, bin Laden's favorability ratings rose from 18 percent of those questioned in 2008 to 21 percent in 2011. In contrast, Zawahiri scored a favorability rating of only 11 percent this year.
Charney said that while other polls have found somewhat higher support for President Obama's response to the Egyptian uprising, he has suffered from a generally dim view of American policy throughout the region.
"Despite President Obama's words and measures in support of Egypt's revolution, he only narrowly edges out the leaders of al Qaeda and Iran in popular regard there," Charney said in a statement. "But our findings do clearly show that Egyptians have little regard for the likes of al-Zawahiri and Ahmadinejad."
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On the occasion of the Persian New Year - the traditional Iranian holiday that coincides with the beginning of spring -- the Iranian mission to the United Nations today helped organize a panel discussion to highlight the importance of nature. Entitled "Nowruz and the Earth: Harmony Between Culture and Nature," the panel discussion drew together U.N. officials, scholars and environmentalists. A delegation from Iran's government also attended the event, which was held at the Millennium U.N. Plaza Hotel. A separate observance of Nowruz was scheduled at the U.N. General Assembly Hall for Monday evening.
"Norwuz apparently is one of the oldest celebrations on the Earth," according to a press statement issued by Iran's, Afghanistan's and Tajikistan's U.N. envoys. "To commemorate Nowruz also means to promote life in harmony with nature, natural cycles and sources of life." The main task of the panel, according to the statement, is to "elaborate on the orphic interrelation between" (in other words, discuss the links between) Nowruz and "International Mother Earth Day," which is also officially recognized by the U.N.
But a group of leading environmentalists and scholars, including Steven Cohen, executive director of Columbia University's Earth Institute and Bill McKibben, the author, issued an appeal to Tehran to release two American hikers, Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, who were detained nearly 20 months ago while crossing the border from Iraqi Kurdistan into Iran. The group said the two men have devoted their lives to promoting environmental causes. Iranians authorities detained the two men in 2008, alleging they had hiked illegally into Iran, and accused them of espionage. Baeur's fiancé, Sarah Shroud, who was arrested with the two men, was released last year.
"Josh and Shane have done nothing wrong. They had no intention of approaching the unmarked border with Iran...while they were hiking beyond a beautiful waterfall in Iraqi Kurdistan," the letter stated. "This week a delegation of Iranian environmentalists is visiting the United Nations. We welcome this delegation to the United States as we believe the greatest challenge to our planet must be confronted as one world. At the same time, we do not understand why Iran is holding these two individuals, who have both made protecting the environment a priority in their lives."
Fattal, 28, a 2004 UC Berkeley graduate with a degree in Environmental Economics and Policy, taught courses on sustainable agriculture and other topics at the Aprovecho Sustainability Education Center in Oregon. He has led workshops in Guatemalan indigenous communities on how to build fuel-efficient, non-polluting wood-burning stoves. Tao Orion, a colleague of Fattal's at Aprovecho, said he was a standout teacher who later went on to lead environmental teaching programs abroad, including in India, China and South Africa. She said the government of the Iranian delegation promoting environmental causes at the United Nations "definitely has one person in prison who could speak very eloquently about those topics."
The families and friends of the two captives say that during their nearly 600 days of detention Bauer and Fattal have met only once with their mothers, and had two brief telephone calls with family members. They contend that the two men were not spies, that they have professed their innocence in an Iranian court, and they have meant no harm to the Iranian government.
"We understand that Nowruz is a time for families to come together, reflect on the year that has passed and look with hope to the future," Bauer's and Fattal's families wrote in a separate appeal to the Iranian government today. "We extend our best wishes to everyone in the Islamic Republic of Iran, in the United States and around the world who celebrates this important occasion and, from the depths of our despair, appeal to the political and religious leaders of Iran to show compassion and make this a time when we too can at last be together again as families...We beseech the Iranian authorities to show compassion and end our heartbreak."
Bauer, 28, a freelance journalist who grew up in rural Minnesota has published stories in The Nation, Mother Jones, and the San Francisco Chronicle on politics and the environment. He once chronicled the environmental impact of war in the Darfur region of Sudan in a piece entitled "The Ecology of Genocide" that ran in The Environmental Magazine. He rides a bike, rather than a car, has been a vegetarian for more than a decade, and "practices conservation" at all times.
"We voice our support for Josh and Shane, who have demonstrated nothing but respect for the earth and their fellow human beings, and appeal to Iran for their immediate release from near total isolation, with almost no access to their families or their lawyer," according to the environmentalists statement. "If Iran is sincere in its commitment to environmental stewardship, it should release Josh and Shane and allow them to rejoin our common cause."
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The scene looks predictable enough to anyone with passing interest in the United Nations.
Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, pays his annual visit to the U.N. General Assembly, takes a few swipes at the U.S. and Israel, American and European diplomats walk out in protest, and the media plays up the clash.
But who knew that the effort to stage a boycott of a U.N. General Assembly speech was so difficult to pull off. In a September 25, 2009, meeting with U.S. diplomats in Stockholm, a Swedish diplomat admited that his government had declined to participate in a walkout a day earlier by U.S. and other key European diplomats.
Ulf Samuelsson, the Swedish desk officer for Iran, told his American counterpart, that the "red lines" agreed on by the 27 members of the European Union--the denial of the Holocaust or the of the right of Israel to exist--had never been crossed during the speech, according to a U.S. cable of the meeting published by WikiLeaks. To the dismay of the Swedes, who held the EU presidency in 2009, Britain, France and Germany got up and left the U.N. general assembly hall after Ahmadinejad said something merely offensive.
The lack of European coordination was particularly "embarrasing" for Sweden's political director, Bjorn Lyrvall, the man responsible for giving the green light for the walk out, another Swedish diplomat, Andres Jato, told the Americans. "Lyrvall was listening "outside with headphones on," ready to give the "pre-arranged signal" for all EU reps to walk out," according to the U.S. cable. "He was "surprised" when he saw first the Germans and then other EU delegations stream past him without the agreed upon red lines having been crossed. "We look like we can't coordinate anything," Jato lamented."
Samuelsson, meanwhile, noted that Sweden never really thought much of the boycott. "Sweden is, in general, uncomfortable with using walk-outs as a punitive tool in UNGA. Samuelsson added that were Sweden to use the tool "equally" it would have walked out on a number of leaders' objectionable/heinous statements at UNGA. Sweden would rather respond in other ways to objectionable/heinous satatements at UNGA."
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East Timor decisively defeated Iran today in an election to serve on the executive board of a new U.N. woman's agency, racking up a victory that highlighted the world's growing unease over Tehran's record on women's rights.
The election followed a behind the scenes campaign by the Obama administration and other Western governments to prevent Iran from undermining the credibility of the newly established U.S. backed agency with its presence on the board.
The new agency, called U.N. Women, is headed by the former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet. It was established earlier this year to consolidate the activities of four U.N. agencies that promote women's health, education and rights, and will operate on a $500 million budget. Today, the 54-member U.N. Economic and Social Council elected 41 members states to serve as the agency's board of directors. East Timor gained 36 votes and Iran 19.
Iran appeared assured of winning a seat on the new board after the U.N.'s Asia group presented a slate of ten candidates, including Iran, for the ten seats reserved for Asia on the 41 member board. But the U.S., the European Union, Canada and Australia, encouraged other Asian states, including the Philippines and East Timor, to throw their name in. The Philippines initially decided to compete for the post, but then abruptly withdrew its name.
East Timor's leader, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Jose Ramos Horta, also decided to join the race in recent weeks. Ramos Horta had recently criticized Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for suggesting to the U.N. General Assembly that the 9/11 attacks may have been orchestrated by U.S. authorities. "What President Ahmadinejad said in this forum in regard to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center was an obscenity," Ramos Horta said.
Tom Malinowski, the head of Human Rights Watch's Washington, D.C. office, praised the outcome, saying it "it's yet another example of the benefits of U.S. re-engagement at the U.N. and of what the Obama administration can achieve when it puts up a serious fight for human rights."
The board still includes several candidates, including Saudi Arabia, with poor records on women's rights. But U.S. officials said they were confident that Bachelet would prevail in pursuing a progressive women's agenda.
"Now I am not going to deny that there were several countries that are going to join the board of U.N. Women that have less than stellar records on women's rights, indeed human rights," Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador said after the vote. "U.N. Women is a vitally important institution. We have every expectation that its establishment under the leadership of Michelle Bachelet will lead to a strengthening of capacity within the UN system to support women, enhance their rights, defend their security around their world."
Rice said the U.S. welcomed East Timor's victory over Iran, saying they "lost and they lost handily. We've made no secret of our concern that Iran joining the board U.N. women would have been an inauspicious start to that board."
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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad today delivered a highly provocative U.N. speech that challenged the U.S. assertion that Islamic terrorists carried out the 9/11 attacks, and suggested that elements within the U.S. government may have orchestrated the attacks to justify military aggression on behalf of Israel in the region.
The remarks triggered an immediate
walkout by the U.S. delegation and its allies, who accused the Iranian leader
of engaging in an anti-Semitic rant.
"Rather than representing the aspirations and goodwill of the Iranian people, Mr. Ahmadinejad has yet again chosen to spout vile conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic slurs that are as abhorrent and delusional as they are predictable," said Mark Kornblau, a spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations.
Read the rest of my article for the Washington Post here.
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In an interview with Turtle Bay, Turkey's foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that his government will continue to expand its economic relations with Iran, dismissing a major diplomatic effort by the United States and European governments to squeeze Tehran with banking and insurance sanctions.
"Nobody can ask us to stop our economic ties with Iran," Davutoglu told Turtle BayWednesday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly debate. "We will continue to have these ties because it is in our national interest."
Turkey's expanding economic relations with its southern neighbor, Iran, have weakened American and European efforts to isolate the Islamic Republic, and punish it for its intransigent nuclear program. Despite the West's campaign to constrain Iran's commercial activities, Iranian trade with Turkey surpassed $10 billion in 2008, and could triple over the next five years, according to a senior Iranian official.
Turkey has come under scrutiny this week for allowing Iranian banks suspected of financing Iran's nuclear program to operate on Turkish soil. Reuters news agency published an investigative report indicating Turkey's growing banking partnership with Iran is providing a gateway to the European financial system, bypassing U.S. and European sanctions.
Davutoglu defended Turkey's financial dealings with Iran, saying that Ankara has no legal obligation to honor U.S. or European sanctions against Iranian banks. "We are bound only by U.N. Security Council resolutions," he said. "Bilateral sanctions [do] not bind anyone except those who have declared it."
For years, the United States and its European allies have led U.N. efforts to impose a series of sanctions resolutions on Iran for refusing to suspend its enrichment of uranium and failing to provide full cooperation to U.N. inspectors responsible for monitoring nuclear activities. But those efforts have faced resistance from Turkey and Brazil: Both voted this year against the latest round of sanctions, saying that it would be more productive to pursue further diplomatic negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.
The move signaled a willingness of the emerging powers to play a more assertive role on the diplomatic stage. Today, Turkish President Abdullah Gul reinforced that message, telling the U.N. General Assembly that Turkey and other key powers need to be given a greater say on the day's most pressing security challenges. "We should keep in mind that global problems cannot be solved unilaterally, bilaterally or in small circles of like-minded nations."
Davutoglu told Turtle Bay that the new assertiveness of emerging powers like Turkey and Brazil "should not be seen as a new game" aimed at altering the balance of power at the United Nations. "But if you are member of the United Nations Security Council you have to be active for the objectives of the U.N. If you are just a passive member...then your presence in the Security Council is meaningless. Turkey can help with the solutions of the Security Council."
Davutoglu urged Iran, the United States, and other key powers to re-start negotiations over the nuclear standoff. He pointed to recent U.S. and Iranian calls for a resumption of nuclear talks as a new opening. "If you implement sanctions and there is no diplomatic channel, we have the experience of Iraq in the past." That period, he said, was defined by a vicious cycle of "sanctions, tensions, conflicts and this is not a good example."
"There are opportunities to solve this issue but at the same time there are very serious risks for the escalation of the crisis," he added. If diplomacy "doesn't start in [the] coming weeks and months and [if only sanctions are used to pressure] Iran, that may lead to an escalation of tensions and nobody will win out of such an escalation."
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A year ago, Iran was on its way to becoming a pariah state. Dozens of governments accused Iranian leaders of stealing the presidential election and condemned the brutal crackdown on protesters that followed. The country faced sanctions and international scorn over its controversial nuclear program.
Now, despite the U.N. Security Council having imposed its fourth round of sanctions on Iran, Tehran is demonstrating remarkable resilience, insulating some of its most crucial industries from U.S.-backed financial restrictions and building a formidable diplomatic network that should help it withstand some of the pressure from the West. Iranian leaders are meeting politicians in world capitals from Tokyo to Brussels. They are also signing game-changing energy deals, increasing their economic self-sufficiency and even gaining seats on international bodies.
Iran's ability to navigate such a perilous diplomatic course, analysts say, reflects both Iranian savvy and U.S. shortcomings as up-and-coming global players attempt to challenge U.S. supremacy, and look to Iran as a useful instrument.
Read the entire story Thomas Erdbrink and I wrote in the Washington Post.
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With Congress having targeted Iran's vital fuel imports as part of its most far-reaching sanctions package yet, observers say the Tehran government has already done much to deflect the impact of the new U.S. measures.
Under the pressure of earlier Western sanctions, Iran has over the past four years reduced its dependence on foreign imports of refined oil products from about 40 percent of its domestic needs to just under 30 percent, according to analysts. The government is seeking to reduce that figure further by expanding its capacity to refine its own oil, experimenting with alternative fuels and cutting consumption by gradually eliminating subsidies on gasoline.
In the past six months, thanks to an elaborate rationing system, domestic gasoline consumption has dropped by nearly 20 percent, official statistics show. At the same time, Iran has boosted the supply available for everyday needs and built up its strategic reserves by buying refined oil products from countries such as India, Turkmenistan and the Netherlands. Government budgets show that it has spent more than $10 billion on such purchases since 2008.
Read the entire story Thomas Erdbrink and I wrote in the Washington Post.
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Iran responded to the West's targeted sanctions campaign against its military elites Monday with a targeted sanction of its own, barring two nuclear inspectors employed by the International Atomic Energy Agency from traveling to Iran to monitor the country's nuclear program.
The move -- announced today by Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization -- represents a calibrated escalation in Iran's nuclear standoff with the West: not provocative enough to trigger a fifth round of Security Council sanctions, but recalcitrant enough to send a clear signal of its mounting displeasure with the U.N.'s nuclear inspection regime.
"This is highly symbolic; it looks great back home," said an official based in Vienna, where the IAEA headquarters is located. But "Iran has limited leverage; it is already providing only minimal cooperation to the IAEA."
Iran's relationship with the U.N. nuclear agency has become increasingly strained in recent months. The IAEA's director general, Yukiya Amano, has pursued a far more aggressive approach to Iran's nuclear program than his predecessor, Mohamed El-Baradei of Egypt.
Since his appointment as IAEA chief in December, Amano has repeatedly criticized Tehran for its failure to cooperate. In May, at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty conference, which was attended by Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Amano used his speech to personally accuse Iran of failing to "provide the necessary cooperation" needed to verify its nuclear intentions. For its part, Iran has increasingly accused the IAEA of serving the interests of the West. Iran's parliament has also called for the adoption of a bill that would end entirely Tehran's cooperation with the Vienna-based nuclear agency.
Iran's action appears intended to serve as a reprisal against the United States and Europe for imposing sanctions on Iran, according to observers. The U.S. and its allies have been pressing Iran to increase cooperation with the IAEA inspectors. In practice, the decision to block the two inspectors will have little impact on the IAEA's effort to monitor Iran's program, underscoring Tehran's limited leverage in responding to the West's sanctions push.
"This is a pretty moderate response compared with that Iran said they were prepared to do," said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security. "They are trying to weaken the inspections without engaging in an open violation of the safeguards agreement. But this is pretty mild stuff."
Salehi accused the two inspectors -- whose identities remain unknown -- of producing "untruthful" reports on Iran's nuclear activities and leaking "false information" to the press. The "two inspectors of the IAEA presented false reports on Iran's nuclear activities," Salehi said. "We called for banning their arrival in Iran for inspections." Salehi said his government "has asked the IAEA to assign to new officials for further inspections."
The Iranian action is perfectly legal under Iran's inspection agreement, although the nuclear agency can raise the issue with its board of governors if it impedes its work. Four years ago, Iran barred the U.N. nuclear agency's top centrifuges experts from traveling to Iran to monitor its program. In 2007, Iran banned three inspectors from working in Iran. The IAEA simply replaced them with new inspectors, and it is likely to do so in this case.
The current dispute involves a pair of inspections at the Jaber Ibn Hayan Multipurpose Research Laboratory in Tehran. On January 9, two IAEA inspectors observed a system that Iranian scientists said was used to study "the electrochemical production of uranium metal." During a follow-up visit in April, the inspectors detected that a component known as an electrochemical cell had been removed. Electrochemical cells potentially have military, as well as civilian, applications.
Earlier this month, Iran wrote to the IAEA to complain that the two inspectors were wrong, and that no device had gone missing. They called for the removal of the two inspectors from the list of approved U.N. nuclear experts allowed into the country. The IAEA's Amano backed the two inspectors' findings in a May report to the IAEA board.
"The IAEA has full confidence in the professionalism and impartiality of the inspectors concerned," he wrote. He also said the May report challenged by Iran "is fully accurate."
The Obama administration on Friday lifted
sanctions against four Russian entities involved in illicit weapons trade with
Iran and Syria since 1999, and acknowledged exempting a Russian-Iranian missile
deal from a U.N. draft resolution banning most missile sales to Iran.
The move comes just three days after the United States, reached agreement with Russia and other key powers reached agreement on a draft sanctioning Iran for violating U.N. demands to halt its uranium enrichment program. The draft includes a loophole that would exempt a 2005 Russian deal, valued at hundreds of millions of dollars, to sell Tehran five S-300 surface-to-air missile systems.
The removal of the four entities, which was recorded in Friday's Federal Register, suggested that the United States engaged in some last-minute bargaining to ensure Moscow's support for sanctions. The companies include Russia's state arms exporter, Rosoboronexport, which was sanctioned for its dealing with Iran in 2006 and 2008, and Moscow Aviation Institute, one of three entities sanctioned in 1999 for aiding Iran's development of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.
The United States launched full-out negotiations Wednesday in the 15-nation security council on a draft resolution that would expand an arms embargo on Iran and tighten financial measures against Iranian elites.
Read the full story, coauthored with the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler, here.
Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.