Despite the clock ticking down to military action against his country, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad largely ignored current events in his United Nations speech Wednesday and chose instead to call for a “new world order” free of the domination of the ruling big powers.
In what was the controversial leader’s eighth and last UN speech as Iranian president, Mr. Ahmadinejad laid the world’s misery at the feet of the “arrogant” few powers who rule from the UN Security Council, and offered the Non-Aligned Movement, which groups more than 120 developing countries, as a better model for governing the world.
Iran holds elections in June, and Ahmadinejad is barred by the Constitution from seeking a third term.
Ahmadinejad did refer once to Israel and to the international crisis over Iran’s advancing nuclear program, saying the unfair and militaristic global system is what led to “the uncivilized Zionists threatening military action against our great country.”
In years past, the Iranian leader’s provocative pronouncements – denying Israel’s right to exist, doubting that Islamist terrorists carried out the 9/11 attacks – have prompted walkouts by delegations as he spoke. This year Ahmadinejad stood before a hall about three-quarters full, with the Canadian delegation one of the few to walk out.
The US announced beforehand that it would not attend the speech in protest of comments Ahmadinejad made earlier in New York rejecting Israel’s legitimacy, and because the speech fell on a Jewish holiday.
Saying Ahmadinejad had been “spouting … repulsive slurs against Israel,” the US Mission to the UN said in a statement that “it's particularly unfortunate that Mr. Ahmadinejad will have the platform of the UN General Assembly on Yom Kippur, which is why the United States has decided not to attend.”
The theme of a “new world order” is not a new one for Ahmadinejad, but it was the first time he dedicated his UN speech to it. He said “Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus” and other religions and cultures could live in harmony and peace if it weren’t for the “arrogance and hegemony of the ruling minority [and its] oppressive international order.”
Those words did nothing to sway international human rights activists, who have used the occasion of Ahmadinejad's New York visit to register alarm over human rights in Iran.
“President Ahmadinejad's mix of attacks against 'Zionists' and 'hegemonic' powers for their rights abuses fails to distract from Iran’s own appalling rights record," says Philippe Bolopion, UN director for Human Rights Watch in New York. Singling out recent setbacks for women in Iran, Mr. Bolopion calls Ahmadinejad's "celebration" of the “spring of all the justice-seekers” in Arab countries particularly "perplexing ... in light of his government's support for the Syrian government’s bloody crackdown.”
Ahmadinejad did not address Iran’s nuclear program, nor international concerns – expressed by the UN’s nuclear watchdog agency, as well as the Security Council and Western powers – that the program has Iran on a path to building a nuclear weapon. Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes only.
In interviews on the margins of his UN visit, Ahmadinejad has said Iran remains open to dialogue, but he has dismissed both the threat of military action to stop the program and the impact of international sanctions designed to compel Iran to negotiate with world powers.
That dismissiveness appears to ignore a more somber mood just below the surface at the UN. Syria’s civil war, the trajectory of the Arab Spring countries, and instability in Africa’s Sahel region may top the list of priority concerns, but worries that a military confrontation of unforeseeable consequences may be on the global horizon are not far behind.
President Obama put the General Assembly on notice Tuesday that a nuclear-armed Iran is not acceptable. Other leaders have seized on that statement to warn that the current trajectory – Iran's continued progress in a fuel-enrichment program as dialogue remains stalled – means a more devastating confrontation could become inevitable.
“Everyone knows that an Iranian [nuclear] weapon will not be accepted – so to do nothing and allow the program to advance is to risk war,” French President François Hollande said at a press conference Tuesday. The only way to turn the world from its current course, he said, is tougher sanctions on Iran and a return to dialogue.
But Ahmadinejad ignored the gathering clouds, at least in his speech. He did, however, manage to find a place to reiterate his conception of womanhood and how a materialistic world has soiled it.
“Woman’s sublime role as heavenly being has been abused,” he said, by the “moneyed powers” that now rule the world, but that would be overcome under his new world order.