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A Chance Of Diplomacy For Rouhani Or A Restricted Visit To New York?


People dressed as Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iranian President Hassan Rohani protest on the street against Iran in New York, New York, September 24, 2018

President Hassan Rouhani's trip to New York to take part in the United Nations General Assembly will be his 7th UNGA appearance.

He said before leaving Tehran for New York on September 23 that he will table a regional security plan which leaves no room for the United States in the Persian Gulf.

It is more or less obvious that while most Persian Gulf littoral states are U.S. allies, Rouhani's plan has very little if any chance to be embraced.

Oddly enough, no other Iranian president appears to have used UNGA as an opportunity to end Tehran's international isolation and facilitate its assimilation into the international community.

One president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani never went to a UNGA meeting and was always represented by his Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati. On the other hand, ultraconservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the incumbent President Hassan Rouhani did not miss the UNGA even once during their tenure. However, none has so far been able to accomplish what they were meant to get out of a UN General Assembly meeting.

The first Iranian president who ever went to New York for an UNGA meeting was the fanatic fundamentalist Mohammad Ali Rajai. His UNGA appearance in 1980 is remembered with a scene in which he took off his socks to show his feet to delegates in order to prove that he was tortured by the previous regime.

However valid, this was untimely out of place and obviously did not serve any purpose for the Iranian people or government.

French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas (R) speaks with his counterpart Ali Akbar Velayati (L) during the 44th session at the United Nations General Assembly, on September 28, 1989, in New York.
French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas (R) speaks with his counterpart Ali Akbar Velayati (L) during the 44th session at the United Nations General Assembly, on September 28, 1989, in New York.


During the next seven years, Foreign Minister Velayati represented Iran at UNGA where he failed to grab any attention. In 1987 then President Ali Khamenei took part in the meeting while one day before his UNGA speech the United States navy in the Persian Gulf had put an end to the Islamic Republic's naval force during a lightning strike.

Khamenei in his speech questioned the very existence of the United Nations organization and its Security Council. Khamenei said at the time: "The foundations of the security supported by such a Security Council is nothing but a nice-looking house of cards. … The system of world domination makes decisions for the whole world."

The next President, Rafsanjani, never went to the UNGA probably for security concerns. In 1998, in his second year in office, Reformist President Mohammad Khatami said during an UNGA appearance, “I would like to propose, in the name of the Islamic Republic of Iran, that the United Nations, as a first step, designate the year 2001 as the 'Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations,' with the earnest hope that through such a dialogue, the realization of universal justice and liberty may be initiated."

Nevertheless, he evaded dialogue with U.S. President Bill Clinton and rushed instead to the restroom in order to not shake hands with him in the corridors of the United Nations organization.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at the 64th United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York September 23, 2009 .
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at the 64th United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York September 23, 2009 .


The next Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who always went to New York with a massive entourage of low key officials and relatives, became famous for his UNGA appearances for all the wrong reasons. He wanted to share "the world's management" with America, insisted that Israel should be moved to Europe or Africa, claimed there were no homosexuals in Iran and that he was covered in green aura of light that protected him and kept everyone else mesmerized while he was making his outlandish comments.

But most of all, it was Ahmadinejad's denials of the Holocaust during his New York visits that overshadowed any media appearance he had.

After 2013, Rouhani and his Foreign Minister Javad Zarif took the center stage for Iran and were more or less successful in their charm offensive while in New York. However, in the same way that their popularity faded as their nuclear deal with the West did not solve the country's economic problems, the audience at the United Nations also lost interest in them.


During their 2018 UNGA presence in particular, they were harshly criticized by foreign-based Iranian opposition for lying about the situation of human rights, while at home they came under pressure by their hardliner rivals for gaining nothing and supposedly making too many compromises.

In 2019, up to a few days before their departure to New York, Rouhani and Zarif did not even know if the United States was going to issue visas for them. While the duo got their visas, several members of their entourage did not and stayed behind.

The only significant aspect of their visit to the UN this year is the possibility of a meeting between Rouhani and his U.S. counterpart; while the decision on the Iranian side will be made by Supreme Leader Khamenei rather than Rouhani or Zarif.

Nevertheless, this is perhaps one of the last chances for diplomacy on the part of Rouhani and Zarif, otherwise the limitations imposed on their movements by the U.S. will make their visit to New York even less enjoyable than in years past.

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    Behrouz Turani

    Behrouz Turani is a British-Iranian writer and journalist as well as a consultant on Iran's political dynamics and the Iranian media landscape.

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