US bid to denounce Iran at UN backfires

US ambassador Nikki Haley before the start of a UN Security Council she had convened on Friday concerning the situation in Iran.
US ambassador Nikki Haley before the start of a UN Security Council she had convened on Friday concerning the situation in Iran.PHOTO; AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Security Council members chide envoy for improper use of body

UNITED NATIONS • Efforts by the Trump administration to marshal a muscular international response to Iran's crackdown on anti-government protesters appeared to have backfired, as members of the UN Security Council lectured the US ambassador on the proper purpose of the body and to reaffirm support for the Iran nuclear agreement.

It was high diplomatic theatre on Friday at the special session called by the United States. It began with a passionate denunciation of Iran's "oppressive government" by the US ambassador Nikki Haley.

Protests erupted on Dec 28 in Iran after the government announced plans to raise fuel prices and cut monthly cash handouts to lower-income Iranians. The unrest spread to over 80 cities and towns and has resulted in 22 deaths and more than 1,000 arrests, according to Iranian officials.

But on Friday, there was evidence of a mini-revolt at the Security Council, not only among traditional US adversaries such as Russia and China, but also among its close allies like France and Sweden.

Many seemed to fear the loud criticism by the Americans was simply a pretext to undermine the Iran nuclear deal, which President Donald Trump has long desired to scrap.

It is not precisely clear what Ms Haley hoped to achieve by convening the session, which was not previously scheduled. Until the meeting began, it was not even certain if she would be able to secure the votes needed to call the session to order.

Before the session, France's ambassador Francois Delattre warned against "instrumentalisation" of the protests "from the outside".

"We must be wary of any attempt to exploit this crisis for personal ends, which would have a diametrically opposed outcome to that which is wished," Mr Delattre said.

Bolivian ambassador Sacha Sergio Llorenty said: "It needs to be crystal clear to the international community that the situation in Iran does not belong on the agenda of the Security Council."

Russian envoy Vasily Nebenzya was more blunt, asking rhetorically why the Security Council had not taken up the issue of Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson, Missouri, which had at times also met with a violent police response.

"The real reason for convening (the) meeting is not an attempt to protect human rights or promote the interests of the Iranian people, but rather a veiled attempt to use the... moment to continue to undermine" the Iranian deal, he said.

Mr Trump has repeatedly excoriated the deal, which was a diplomatic achievement of his predecessor Barack Obama. In October, he refused to recertify the deal, leaving it to Congress to legislate changes to it. This month, he will again have to choose whether to continue to waive sanctions, as the deal requires, or chart a more confrontational approach that would further antagonise European allies.

Such reticence to support the US position is the latest evidence of growing global resistance to the Trump administration's foreign policy priorities, particularly at the UN. Last month, a large majority of UN members voted for a resolution denouncing the US' decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital and move the US embassy there.

Ms Haley had to use her veto to block a similar resolution in the Security Council that was supported by every other member.

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif yesterday ridiculed Mr Trump over the "blunder" of trying to raise Iran's recent protests at the Security Council.

Thousands of government supporters, meanwhile, staged rallies in Iran for a fourth day yesterday in a show of support. State television showed rallies in cities including Amol, Semnan and Shadegan waving Iranian flags and chanting "Death to America", "Death to Israel" and "Death to Britain".

NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 07, 2018, with the headline 'US bid to denounce Iran at UN backfires'. Print Edition | Subscribe