Boris Volkhonsky, senior research fellow, Russian Institute for Strategic Studies
Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech at the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday, as usual, sparked a mass walkout. 30 delegations including those of the U.S. and all European Union members left the audience in a demonstration of protest. This has not been the first incident of the kind – last year the U.S. delegation also left the General Assembly during Ahmadinejad’s speech. And taking into account that his presidential term ends in two years this is likely not to be the last occasion of the kind.
What angered the Western diplomats?
In his speech, Ahmadinejad called the West, primarily the U.S., arrogant powers, questioned their ability to “run or govern the world”, also questioned whether Islamist terrorists were behind the 9/11 attacks, called for scrapping the “prevailing world order” – including the U.N. Security Council as currently structured – in favor of a more evenly balanced system, and condemned military crackdowns on all those who do not succumb to the West’s pressure.
“Can the flower of democracy blossom from NATO’s missiles, bombs and guns?” asked Iranian President addressing an almost half-empty audience hall.
Later, in an interview to Associated Press, Mr. Ahmadinejad further elaborated on some theses of his speech. He accused the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, of being in the pocket of the U.S. and actually being guilty of the murder of three Iranian nuclear scientists allegedly killed by Israel-trained agents.
He also expressed doubts that two planes alone could bring down the WTC twin towers on September 11, 2001, and lashed at the U.S. policies across the Middle East – from Libya to Afghanistan.
At the same time, the Iranian President said that it was not too late for the U.S. president Barack Obama to fulfill his pre-election promises and improve ties with Iran.
Western powers were quick to react.
The spokesman for the US mission at the United Nations Mark Kornblau condemned Ahmadinejad's remarks. “Mr Ahmadinejad had a chance to address his own people's aspirations for freedom and dignity, but instead he again turned to abhorrent anti-Semitic slurs and despicable conspiracy theories,” he said.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, addressing the U.N. General Assembly just minutes after Ahmadinejad’s speech and the Western walkout, derided Mr. Ahmadinejad probably as fiercely as the latter had criticized the West.
“He (Ahmadinejad – B.V.) didn't remind us that he runs a country where they may have elections of a sort but they also repress freedom of speech, do everything they can to avoid the accountability of a free media, violently prevent demonstrations and detain and torture those who argue for a better future,” said British Premier.
Further on, he called on the U.N. to be more prepared to take action against oppressive regimes.
In fact, the whole dispute has not demonstrated anything in any way new. The war of words between the West and Iran has been going on for years. Lately, the West resorted to the language of sanctions, but stopped short of a direct intervention in order to protect “those who argue for a better future.” Everyone understands that however strong the West’s desire for a regime change in Iran might be, such intervention would be disastrous and ruinous for both the attacker and the attacked country. Hence, both sides keep on balancing on the brink of a direct confrontation, never crossing the “red line”.
But certain things need commenting.
First, until now, there has not been a conclusive and comprehensive explanation of how the twin towers actually collapsed 10 years ago and who exactly, apart from the half-mythical Al Qaeda operated and orchestrated the attacks. What angers the West, is the simple fact that somebody raises such questions contradicting the counter-myth created by the Western special services and media. And if this someone is the leader of a state only recently labeled as “rogue”, this only adds to the anger.
Second. When Mr. Cameron mentioned “violent prevention of demonstrations” and “detention and torture of those who argue for a better future,” he should not he have put a mirror in front of himself. After Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo prisons any mention of tortures by a Western leader sounds at least dubious.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech WAS blunt, which was, at the same time, its weakest and strongest point. But isn’t it the blunt truth that is really getting on the Western leaders’ nerves?