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U.S. Tells Iran At UN Security Council Emergency Session ‘World Will Be Watching’

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks at UN headquarters in New York, U.S., January 2, 2018.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations opened an emergency session of the Security Council with an impassioned plea for “brave” Iranian citizens protesting on the streets of their country, saying they are "risking their lives" to protect their human rights.

"The Iranian people are rising up in over 79 locations throughout the country," Nikki Haley told the council in a session called by the United States.

"It is a powerful exhibition of brave people who have become so fed up with their oppressive government that they are willing to risk their lives in protest."

"The Iranian regime is finally on notice: The world will be watching what you do," she added.

The session began at 3:15 p.m. (9:15 p.m. in Prague) on January 5, shortly after the council had gone into a closed-door consultation requested by Russia, which opposed the U.S. call for the emergency meeting.

During the emergency session, Russia's ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, said the United States was "abusing the platform of the Security Council" and that it was a "bogus" pretext to interfere in the domestic affairs of a member nation.

"We obviously regret the loss of life as the result of demonstrations that weren't so peaceful," he said. "However, let Iran deal with its own problems."

Iranian UN ambassador Gholamali Khoshroo said, "This council has allowed itself to be abused by the current U.S. administration in holding a meeting on an issue outside the scope of its mandate.”

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Other nations appeared to oppose the U.S. move to call the emergency session, with some saying it was not the right venue to address the domestic affairs of a member nation.

“However worrying the events of the last few days in Iran may be, they do not constitute per se a threat to international peace and security," said France's UN ambassador, Francois Delattre.

"We must be wary of any attempts to exploit this crisis for personal ends, which would have the diametrically opposed outcome to that which is wished," he said.

Diplomatic Battle

The diplomatic maneuvering comes following a week of antigovernment street protests in Iran that have led to the deaths of at least 22 people and an estimated 1,000 arrests. At the same time, pro-government demonstrators have rallied in several Iranian cities amid government claims that the unrest has been brought to an end.

Reports in Western media about antigovernment demonstrations in Iran have decreased since Tehran blocked key social media sites used by the protesters to spread video of the earlier unrest, which has been seen as the strongest challenge to the country's Islamic leadership in almost a decade.

The Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI), part of a global project collecting evidence of internet censorship, said on January 5 that its data confirm the government has blocked Telegram, Instagram, and Facebook Messenger during the protests.

RFE/RL has obtained credible reports on January 5 from sources in Iran about ongoing demonstrations against Iran's clerical rulers in Tehran, Shiraz, Dezful, Sanandaj, Tabriz, Ahvaz, Nowshahr, and Aligudarz.

Video footage from the city of Mashhad, where the protests began on December 28, showed hundreds of protesters chanting “Mullahs get lost” in response to claims on January 3 by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) that the demonstrations were over.

Iranian pro-government supporters hold posters of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during a rally in support of the regime in the city of Mashhad on January 4.
Iranian pro-government supporters hold posters of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during a rally in support of the regime in the city of Mashhad on January 4.

State media has reported that, despite the statement, the IRGC is continuing to deploy security forces in different parts of the country.

State TV showed footage of pro-government rallies on January 5 in cities, including Tabriz and Kerman, marking the third day of such demonstrations.

While leading Friday prayers in Tehran, hard-line cleric Ahmad Khatami said he backs the government's blocking of social media in a bid to disrupt the spread of information about the protests, claiming that when the government blocked social media, "the riots stopped."

"The nation does not support a social network whose key is in the hand of the United States," he said.

'Have No Mercy'

He added that the judiciary should have compassion for those who have been “tricked” into protesting, but those who continue to speak out “are Americans.”

“Have no mercy on Americans,” he said.

Haley called for the Security Council meeting earlier this week in what she said was a bid to "amplify" the message of the antigovernment protesters.

"The UN must speak out" in support of the protesters, Haley said. "This is a matter of fundamental human rights for the Iranian people, but it is also a matter of international peace and security."

The protests, which began over economic hardships suffered by Iran’s youth and working class, have evolved into an uprising against the powers and privileges of what some critics call a remote elite, especially Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli on January 4 downplayed the number of protesters who have participated in the marches over the past week.

"The relevant authorities have reported that there have been, at most, 42,000 people, and that is not a very high number," the minister was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency.

Iran's army chief asserted on January 4 that local police forces had mostly quelled the unrest, but he said army troops remain ready to intervene if needed.

Iranian Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi said the protests were continuing, however, despite such assertions, and she urged her countrymen to press on with their demonstrations in interviews published on January 4.

"People are still in the streets. Even if they go home, their anger would remain, and the protests would resurface months or years later," Ebadi, a human rights lawyer who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, said in an interview with Reuters.

The United States imposed sanctions on January 4 against five Iranian firms alleged to have been working on an illegal ballistic-missile program.

"These sanctions target key entities involved in Iran's ballistic missile program, which the Iranian regime prioritizes over the economic well-being of the Iranian people," U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

Meanwhile, rights group Amnesty International called on Iranian authorities to investigate reports that security forces have "unlawfully" used firearms against unarmed protesters and to protect hundreds of detainees from torture and other ill-treatment.

Even before the UN debate was scheduled, the protests had set off a diplomatic battle between the governments of Iran and the United States, with Tehran accusing Washington of stepping up “its acts of intervention in a grotesque way in Iran's internal affairs under the pretext of providing support for sporadic protests."

Trump Chimes In

U.S President Donald Trump has pledged to help Iranians "take back" their government and the White House weighed imposing sanctions on those involved in the crackdown against demonstrators.

Trump has issued Twitter statements several times in support of the protesters, including a tweet on January 3 that said he respected “the people of Iran as they try to take back their corrupt government.”

“You will see great support from the United States at the appropriate time!" Trump wrote in the post.

With reporting by Golnaz Esfandiari, Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa, and Press TV