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Bluster at UN Human Rights Council, as US and Iran trade barbs

This week at the UN Human Rights Council, the US seeks to draw attention to Iran’s repression of domestic opposition. Iran, meanwhile, launched a fiery attack on the West.

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Iran, in a show of the importance it places on its bid for a council seat in the May elections, sent its foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, to the opening session. There, he quickly launched an attack on Western handling of Muslims’ rights. “Muslim communities in Western countries in particular have been the target not only of massive propaganda campaigns, but outright social castigation and open violence, all under the pretext of freedom of expression,” he said.

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In addition, Mr. Mottaki, who frequently serves as Iran’s spokesman to the world on the Iranian nuclear program, cited the January assassination of a Hamas leader in Dubai – widely believed to have been the work of Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency. He demanded clarification from the US and European countries on their knowledge of the killing. Did Western countries assist Israel’s “terror brigades?” he asked.

According to a New York Times report Tuesday, suspects were able to use British and Irish passports to enter the US after the assassination. The British government has said that forged UK passports were used by perpetrators of the killing.

(For more on the assassination, click here.)

Mottaki’s dual focus in his council testimony on Muslims in Western countries and the Hamas assassination appeared designed to deflect attention from Iran’s political opposition. It also aimed to curry favor with the Islamic and developing countries that will be voting in the elections for seats on the council, regional and UN experts say.

Iran, which must be elected from the Asia regional bloc, is hoping to improve on its poor results in 2006 elections to the council. Then, 18 countries from Asia were vying for 13 regional seats. Iran lost out after coming in ahead of only one country – Iraq.

This year, four Asia seats are open. But with only five contenders – Qatar, Malaysia, the Maldives, Thailand, and Iran – Iran has to come out ahead of only one of them.

Groves of the Heritage Foundation says that he doubts anyone in the Obama administration ever seriously believed that reform of the council would occur as a result of US election to the council last May.

“In their heart of hearts, the Obama people never thought having a seat on the council was a way to reform it,” he says. “Instead, it was a presidential decision as part of a perceived need for the US to reengage with the international community.”