When Iran’s president spoke from the podium at the United Nations this week, the scene it sparked was something of a repeat from his address at the U.N. Durban Review Conference a year ago in Geneva, Switzerland.
Then as now, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s remarks prompted delegates from several Western countries to walk out of the plenum—this time when he accused the West of double standards on nuclear technology.
It was political theater that has become a standard part of the drama surrounding Iran’s nuclear standoff with the West.
While the United States, European countries and Israel press for Iranian nuclear transparency, Tehran does what it can to avoid tougher sanctions and divert attention from its suspected nuclear weapons program.
Ahmadinejad’s appearance Monday at the review conference of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, when he tried to draw attention to U.S. and Israeli nuclear weapons, was of a piece with that effort.
“Regrettably, the United States has not only used nuclear weapons, but also continues to threaten to use such weapons against other countries, including my country,” said Ahmadinejad, the only head of state to attend the conference.
Turning to Israel, he said, “Although the Zionist regime stockpiles hundreds of nuclear warheads, wages numerous wars in the Middle East region, and continues to threaten the people and nations of the region with acts of terror and threats of invasion, it enjoys the unconditional support of the Unites States government and its allies and receives the necessary assistance to develop a nuclear weapons program.”
Heeding a call issued by Jewish groups in the days leading up to the conference, delegates from the United States, Britain, France, Hungary, New Zealand and the Netherlands walked out as Ahmadinejad spoke. Israel, one of three U.N. member nations that are not members of the nonproliferation treaty along with India and Pakistan, was not present at the conference.
“Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability poses a threat to the region and the entire Western world,” the president and executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Alan Solow and Malcolm Hoenlein, said in a statement before the conference urging delegates to walk out when Ahmadinejad spoke. “To have President Ahmadinejad address this review conference makes a mockery of the efforts of many countries to prevent nuclear weapons and nuclear terrorism from becoming the gravest global threats of this century.”
While Ahmadinejad tried to focus the conference attention on Israel’s non-participation in the international nuclear treaty, Western leaders sought to spotlight Iran’s noncompliance with nuclear inspectors.
“Iran’s president offered the same tired, false and sometimes wild accusations against the United States and other parties at this conference, but that’s not surprising,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at the conference. “Iran will do whatever it can to divert attention away from its own record and to attempt to evade accountability. Ultimately, however, we will all be judged not for our word but for our action.”
Borrowing a page from the Jewish response to the Durban Review Conference last year in Gevena, Jewish groups also organized protests and a news conference outside the United Nations.
At one event, several members of the U.S. Congress and Jewish organizational officials massed across the street from the U.N. building, calling the proceedings on the opposite side a sham. The protesters called for tougher sanctions against Iran and demanded that corporations stop doing business with the Islamic Republic.
“Today we renew our call to the companies and say when they do business with Iran, they fund its nuclear development,” U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said.
In their remarks at the demonstration, U.S. Reps. Anthony Weiner, Carolyn Maloney and Jerrold Nadler, all New York Democrats, echoed the message.
An investigation by The New York Times published in March identified 74 companies that had dealings with both the U.S. government and Iran, in contravention of U.S. law.
Gillibrand later told reporters that she was confident Congress would move ahead in the coming weeks on its own Iran sanctions bill.
The effort to issue a fourth round of U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran remains stalled. Of the council’s five veto-wielding members, Britain, France and the United States favor strong sanctions, Russia has indicated it will consider sanctions and China is interested only in watered-down sanctions, if any.
For his part, the U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, lay the blame for the standoff between the West and Iran on the Islamic Republic.
“Let us be clear,” Ban said. “The onus is on Iran to clarify the doubts and concerns about its program.”
(JTA intern Ari Bildner contributed to this report.)