Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has addressed the General Assembly in a short speech that primarily covered Iran’s foreign policy outlook, its specific goals for peace and an unambiguous warning against anyone who seeks to undermine the 2013 JCPOA (aka the Iran nuclear deal).
President Rouhani used the word ‘moderation’ throughout the speech. He characterised Iran’s history, contemporary outlook and policy positions as quintessentially moderate.
After paying tribute to Iranian voters who recently re-elected him as President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, he then set out to define Iran’s definition of moderation in the following way.
“Moderation is the inclination as well as the chosen path of the great Iranian people. Moderation seeks neither isolation nor hegemony. It implies neither indifference nor intransigence. The path of moderation is the path of peace, but a just a inclusive peace; not peace for one nation and war and turmoil for others. Moderation is freedom and democracy, but in an inclusive and comprehensive manner, not purporting to promote freedom in one place while supporting dictators elsewhere. Moderation is the synergy of ideas and not the dance of swords. Finally, the path of moderation nurtures beauty. Deadly weapons exports are not beautiful, rather peace is beautiful.
We in Iran strive to promote peace…. we never condone tyranny and always defend the voiceless. We never threaten anyone but we do not tolerate threats from anyone. Our discourse is one of dignity and respect. We are unmoved by threats and intimidation. We believe in dialogue and negotiation based on equal footing and mutual respect”.
Rouhani then briefly turned to the issue of Palestine. He stated that a “rogue and racist state” (Israel) cannot trample on the rights of Palestinians in the 21st century. He continued, citing Iran’s historic record of helping minorities and the oppressed.
“Iran is a bastion of tolerance… we are the same people who rescued Jews from Babylonian servitude… open our arms to receive Armenian Christians in our midst”.
He explained further, that just as Iran fought for Jews in the past, today Iran fights for the rights of oppressed Palestinians. He stated, “We support justice and seek tranquillity”.
Rouhani then described Iran’s fight against Takriri/Salafist terrorism as a fight based on ethics and humanity rather than one of conquest. The Iranian President said that Iran does not seek to restore its empire nor export revolution through the force of arms. He contrasted this with the ‘boots on the ground’ approach of “neo-colonialists”.
Turning once again to the theme of moderation, Rouhani said that Iran does not merely preach moderation but practices it. He said that the JCPOA is a primary example of moderate geo-political behaviour.
Rouhani then said that the JCPOA which has been applauded by the wider international community, both in the east and west, can become a new model of interaction between nations. The clear inference here was to North Korea. Even German leader Angela Merkel who supports the JCPOA along with her EU colleagues are suggesting using it as a model for bringing about de-escalation on the Korean peninsula.
Hassan Rouhani then stated that Iran never sought nuclear weapons and does not now. He remarked that it is “ridiculous” for a country, Israel, which has nuclear weapons and has signed not a single international protocol for nuclear safety has the “audacity” to preach to peaceful nations.
He then stated,
“Iran will not be the first country to violate the JCPOA but will respond resolutely to its violation by any party”.
While he did not name Donald Trump or the United States, Rouhani said that yesterday, words were spoken in the General Assembly that were “hateful” and “unfit to be heard in the UN which was established to promote peace…”.
He went on to say that Iran’s missiles are for defensive purposes and to prevent against the “adventurous tendencies” of others, before stating
“The US should explain why after spending the assets of its own people, why instead of contribution to peace, it has only brought war, misery poverty and the rise of terrorism and extremism to the region”.
Rouhani concluded by praising Iran’s economic reforms and subtly alluded to Iran’s increased participation in joint economic ventures, the clear reference being to China’s One Belt–One Road initiative.
The Iranian President concluded by inviting all those who seek peace to visit Iran which has been historically hospitable to such individuals.
Rouhani’s speech did exactly what it should have done given the circumstances. It was a calm and clear articulation of Iran’s position in the region and the wider world. By citing the wide international support for the JCPOA, including among NATO members and other US allies, Rouhani has made it clear that the US and Israel are isolated in their anger towards the deal.
Rouhani also highlighted US hypocrisy in supporting Israel’s technically non-disclosed nuclear arsenal while accusing Iran of wanting nuclear weapons without evidence and contrary to the clear statements from Iran.
Rather than reacting aggressively to Donald Trump’s provocative speech, Rouhani’s calm and at times poetic approach to the issues, put the ball squarely in the US court. As it stands, the US is currently sending mixed signals in respect of whether Trump seeks to formally pull out of the JCPOA.