Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, speaking Wednesday to the U.N. General Assembly, sought to position his country at the center of what he called a growing international movement against unilateral powers, such as the United States, that “equate militarism with security.”
“America has pursued their interests at the expense of other countries,” Raisi said, and “cannot accept the fact that certain countries have the right to stand on their own two feet.” He hailed what he said was the arrival of “a new world order” to replace U.S. “hegemony.”
Appearing before the international body for the first time in person since his election in June 2021, Raisi struck many familiar notes, calling Israel “an occupying, savage power” that should be replaced through a free referendum among all “Palestinians, Muslims, Christians and Jews” in “all of the Palestinian territory from the mountainous region to the sea.”
His appearance came as anti-government demonstrations continued in several Iranian cities after a woman arrested for improperly covering her hair died in police custody last week. Human rights groups said at least seven people have been killed in the protests, in which some women have burned their obligatory head coverings.
Without mentioning the protests, Raisi said Iran “rejects the double standards” of some governments on human rights. In particular, he mentioned Canada’s discovery of the graves of Native children who died in government-mandated schools after being removed from their families, and children who were “locked up in cages” by the United States after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
Raisi repeated Tehran’s demands that the United States produce “guarantees” that it will not again withdraw from a nuclear deal, as President Donald Trump did from the 2015 agreement that lifted U.S. sanctions in return for restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program and international verification of its compliance.
That demand has become a principal sticking point in the failure of Iran and world powers to negotiate a new agreement after nearly a year and a half of talks. The Biden administration, which came to office pledging to renew the accord, has said it has no power to bind the actions of a successor president.
Although Iran lived up to its commitments under the earlier deal – which also included Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China – it still “paid the price” for U.S. withdrawal when Trump reimposed harsh sanctions against it, he said. Since then, Iran has expanded its nuclear program in violation of many of the agreement’s restrictions, leaving it within weeks of the ability to assemble enough fissile material to build a nuclear weapon, according to U.S. officials.
“Iran is not seeking to obtain and build nuclear weapons,” Raisi said. He called U.S. sanctions a “weapon of mass destruction.”
“The issue of guarantees is not just for something that may happen,” Raisi said, but is “based on lived experience. … Can we truly trust, without guarantees and assurances, that they will this time live up to their commitment?”
In any case, he said, Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy failed, because Iran has “found our path independent of any agreement and we will continue on that path.”
Raisi’s hard-line government has worked to strengthen ties to regional governments and to Russia and China, solidifying expanding trade and diplomatic relationships and gaining full membership this month in the Russian-dominated Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Iran has sought to circumvent U.S. sanctions by exporting much of its oil to China and selling weapons to Russia – including what Ukraine and the United States have said are weaponized drones being used by Russian forces in Ukraine.
“Good, neighborly relations, progress in economic and trade relations have been brought to the forefront of Iran’s foreign policy,” he said. While he made no direct reference to the war in Ukraine, he said that “war is not the solution to crises; dialogue, negotiation and conversation are the true solution.”
Holding up a picture of Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Raisi called his killing in a January 2020 U.S. drone strike a “savage, illegal, immoral crime” for which “the proper pursuit of justice … will not be abandoned.” The Biden administration last month indicted an Iranian national with alleged IRGC ties for allegedly funding a plot to assassinate former Trump national security adviser John Bolton in retaliation for the killing.
Iran, Raisi said, will pursue “through a fair tribunal … to bring to justice those who martyred our beloved general, Qasem Soleimani.”
(c) 2022, The Washington Post · Karen DeYoung