Divided UN session to meet on Iran protests


GENEVA: The US successfully fought off a Russian-led attempt on Friday to block a UN security council discussion over the past week’s Iranian protests. But it immediately found itself at odds with its European partners, who used the subsequent debate to reject American efforts to make the protests an excuse for ditching the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

Russia had tried to stop the UN discussion on the grounds that it would represent an inappropriate interference in Iran’s internal affairs. But the US countered by finding the required votes on the 15-strong security council to press for a debate.

Russia claimed the US intended to use what it regarded as largely economic protests directed against austerity inside Iran as a means both to challenge the Iranian government’s authority and to undermine the Iranian nuclear deal signed in 2015.

In an often bitter discussion laying bare the deep ideological rifts over the future of the Middle East, Iran’s UN ambassador Gholamali Khoshroo added he had “hard evidence” that recent protests in Iran were “very clearly directed from abroad”.

Khoshroo joined Russia in saying the US had abused its power as a permanent member of the security council by calling for a meeting to discuss the protests.

“It is unfortunate that despite the resistance on the part of some of its members, this council has allowed itself to be abused by the current US administration in holding a meeting on an issue that falls outside the scope of its mandate,” Khoshroo said. He accused the US of “preposterous bullying” and searching for every possible straw to keep itself afloat.

Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif later tweeted that the episode was another US foreign policy blunder, saying the majority of the security council had “emphasised the need to fully implement the Iran nuclear deal signed in 2015 and to refrain from interfering in internal affairs of others”.

During the debate, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, warned the Iranian authorities that the world was watching as Tehran responded to anti-government protests. “The Iranian regime is now on notice: the world will be watching what you do,” she said.

“The Iranian people are rising up in over 79 locations throughout the country. It is a powerful exhibition of brave people who have become so fed up with their oppressive government that they are willing to risk their lives in protest.”

She said Iranians were telling their government to “stop the support for terrorism, stop giving billions of our money to killers and dictators, stop taking our wealth and spending it on foreign fighters and proxy wars”.

But the UN’s French representative distanced his country from the tone of the US strategy towards the protests. In an implicit rebuke to the US for calling the debate, François Delattre said: “However worrying the events of the last few days in Iran may be, they do not constitute per se a threat to international peace and security. We must be wary of any attempts to exploit this crisis for personal ends, which would have the diametrically opposed outcome to that which is wished.” The nuclear deal was a cornerstone for stability in the Middle East, he added.

The UK’s representative Matthew Rycroft said Britain remained fully committed to the JCPOA [the nuclear deal], describing it as one of the great diplomatic successes of recent memory. He added: “We encourage all member states to uphold all their commitments. A prosperous, stable Iran is beneficial to all.”

He urged Iran to allow peaceful protests and said too often the country’s legitimate security interests were pursued in ways that endangered others and undermined the Iranian economy.