Published: September 20 2006
Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, Iran’s president, on Tuesday night took his diplomatic battle with the US right to the heart of the United Nations, challenging the legitimacy of the Security Council where some of its veto-wielding members – namely the US and UK – “commit aggression, occupation and violation of international law”.
In a speech to the annual UN General Assembly, the Iranian president accused the West of exploiting the Council for its own ends, including the recent conflict in Lebanon and the invasion of Iraq.
He called on the General Assembly to “rescue” the Security Council, proposing that the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and Africa each appoint a veto-wielding member to the 15-nation group.
Addressing the chamber, that included the empty seats of the US and Israeli delegations, Mr Ahmadi-Nejad questioned the right of the UN to impose sanctions on Iran over its “transparent, peaceful” nuclear programme when the nuclear powers “proudly announce their production of second and third generation weapons”.
“The abuse of the Security Council, as an instrument of threat and coercion, is indeed a source of grave concern,” he said. However, he made no reference to the ongoing attempts to restart nuclear talks with the European powers and reiterated Iran’s commitment to the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty, an indication that Iran is not about to follow the example of North Korea and abandon international co-operation.
Earlier, George W. Bush agreed in talks with France’s Jacques Chirac to put on hold a push for UN sanctions against Iran in order to give the Europeans more time to persuade Iran to suspend uranium enrichment and resume negotiations over its nuclear programme.
Mr Bush set out a series of events that could lead to the US joining high level negotiations with Iran for the first time since the 1979 Islamic revolution. He said the EU3 of France, Germany and the UK would continue to talk to the Iranians so they would verifiably suspend their uranium enrichment programme and then the US “will come to the table”.
The US had come to the General Assembly with the intention of pressing ahead with a sanctions resolution. Iran was to have been punished for defying a UN resolution demanding that it halt its controversial uranium enrichment programme by August 31.
Diplomats said the US made the limited concession out of recognition that there was a possibility Iran would agree to suspend its work while negotiations over its whole nuclear programme took place. China and Russia were also resisting US efforts to isolate Iran.
Mr Bush indicated he was not prepared to let Iran “stall” for much longer before the US went ahead with its proposals for graduated sanctions. “Time is of the essence,” Mr Bush said.
In Washington, a senior US official indicated Iran had another week. Diplomats suggested the process might take longer.