Iran’s president slams US, Zionists in first speech to UN as leader

Raisi praised Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution as the fulfilment of “religious democracy” and linked the growth of “indigenous terrorism in the West” to a decline in spirituality.

By Associated Press

Iran’s new president slammed U.S. sanctions imposed on his nation as a mechanism of war, using his first U.N address since his swearing-in to forcefully call out Washington’s policies in the region and the growing political schism within America.

President Ebrahim Raisi on Tuesday delivered a far more critical and blunt take on American foreign policy than his predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, had done in previous speeches to the UN General Assembly.

His speech espoused Iran’s Islamic political identity and where the Shiite-led nation sees its place in the world, despite crushing U.S. sanctions that have hurt its economy.

“Sanctions are the U.S.’ new way of war with the nations of the world,” Raisi said, adding that such economic punishment during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic amounts to “crimes against humanity.”

In taking aim at the United States, Raisi also referenced the shocking Jan. 6th insurrection on Capitol Hill and the horrific scenes at Kabul airport last month as desperate Afghans plunged to their deaths after clinging to a U.S. aircraft evacuating people.

“From the Capitol to Kabul, one clear message was sent to the world: the U.S.’ hegemonic system has no credibility, whether inside or outside the country,” Raisi said.

The Iranian president said that “the project of imposing Westernized identity” had failed, and added that “today, the U.S. does not get to exit Iraq and Afghanistan but is expelled.”

The perseverance of nations, he said, is stronger than the power of superpowers. In a dig at the political slogans used by former president Donald Trump and his successor Joe Biden, Raisi said: “Today, the world doesn’t care about “America First” or “America is Back.”

Speaking remotely via video from Tehran, Raisi wore a black turban on his head that identifies him in the Shiite tradition as a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. He praised Iran’s Islamic Revolution of 1979 as the fulfilment of “religious democracy” and linked the growth of “indigenous terrorism in the West” to a decline in spirituality.

Despite the criticism aimed at Washington, Raisi appeared not to rule out a return to the negotiating table for the nuclear accord, saying Iran considers talks useful if their ultimate outcome is the lifting of all sanctions. Still, he stated: “We don’t trust the promises made by the U.S. government.”

A senior U.S. State Department official said Washington had taken note of Raisi’s speech but was looking to Iran for actions, rather than rhetoric.

In that context, the official said the U.S. also noted an Iranian foreign ministry statement earlier Tuesday that said Iran is willing to return to the indirect nuclear talks in Vienna in the coming weeks.

“We continue to believe that we need to re-engage in the Vienna context as soon as possible,” said the official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the matter and spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity.

Tensions peaked last year between the U.S. and Iran after the Trump administration’s assassination of powerful field commander, Qassim Soleimani, and a top Iraqi Shiite militia leader by a U.S. drone strike in Iraq. Raisi mentioned the men in his speech, saying they helped fight Sunni extremists of the Islamic State Group from “becoming neighbors of Europe.”

Biden has made clear he wants to salvage the nuclear deal with Iran that Trump withdrew the U.S. from, but indirect talks between Washington and Tehran in Vienna have stalled as tensions in the Persian Gulf persist. The Biden administration and allies like Israel and Gulf Arab states also want to see Iran’s missile development and support for regional militias addressed.

“The United States remains committed to preventing Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon,” Biden said in his own U.N. speech, delivered in person earlier Tuesday.

When asked about Iran, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters aboard Air Force One that “the door remains open to diplomacy” and that U.S. negotiators believe the best path forward is to pursue talks, but she had no update on when the parties might meet again.

Raisi insisted that atomic weapons have no place in Iran’s defense doctrine and deterrence policy.

Raisi also took aim at Israel. “The occupier Zionist regime is the organizer of the biggest state terrorism, whose agenda is to slaughter women and children in Gaza and the West Bank [Judea and Samaria],” he declared, calling for a referendum that would include “all Palestinians of all religions and ethnicities including Muslims, Christians and Jews” to determine the fate of the Jewish state.