For the president of a state the United States has sought to isolate and sanction, it has been a fruitful week for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian president used his opening day address at the UN General Assembly to reassert his country’s right to develop “peaceful nuclear technology.” He sought to focus attention on the failings of the UN Security Council (PDF), which he said has been abused by the United States and Britain, among other powers. He pressed this and other points in a string of interviews with such U.S. media bastions as TIME magazine, CNN, and NBC, and in an exchange with senior members of the Council on Foreign Relations. Having been rebuffed by U.S. officials, the New York Times opined: “Mr. Ahmadinijad had a Plan B."
Washington has refused direct meetings with Iranian representatives until Tehran—with whom it has no diplomatic relations—has verifiably suspended uranium enrichment. President Bush on Tuesday repeated U.S. concerns that Iran is illicitly developing nuclear weapons, telling Iranian people from the UN podium their leaders were also using the country’s resources to “fund terrorism and fuel extremism.” A mid-summer UN Security Council resolution called on Iran to halt its uranium enrichment program or face the threat of sanctions.
But an August 31 UN deadline lapsed with no action. Key Security Council members have now agreed to create a new deadline for uranium enrichment suspension in early October, the fourth such deadline in four months (WashPost). China and Russia have made it clear they do not support sanctions, seen by Washington as a crucial point of leverage, and recently France has voiced doubts. U.S. officials have taken pains this week to assert they are seeking a diplomatic solution to the crisis over Iran’s nuclear program. Analyst Sanam Vakil writes that Iran’s relationships with China, Russia, and India have given it strategic partners “willing to accept its nefarious activities and willing to deal with it on a quid pro quo basis” (Washington Quarterly) (PDF). In effect, he says, Iran has cleverly played off East-West divisions in the Security Council.
Indeed, the start of the UN General Assembly has been marked by the feistiness of a number of U.S. bete noires as well as criticisms of Washington from more friendly nations. Most prominent has been that of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who in his Wednesday speech called Bush “the devil” and added to some of the calls for a reorganization of the UN Security Council. Venezuela is eager to join the Council next year, where it could be a disruptive presence and complicate any U.S. moves to press Iran on its nuclear program (LAT). In another speech, Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe accused the United States of preventing timely action to stop “the massacres and wanton destruction of civilian infrastructure in Lebanon” (PDF), a reference to the Israeli strikes against Hezbollah forces during the summer. During his address, Bolivia’s Evo Morales brandished a coca leaf and said the United States was using the war on drugs in South America as a pretext for “neocolonialism” (Reuters). Brazilian President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva, though far less blunt, also included some criticism of the United States in his speech, saying the hundreds of billions of dollars used to oust Saddam Hussein could have been far more effectively put to use to lift people out of poverty (PDF).