September 30, 2013 | Forbes
Iran, the U.N.’s New Authority On Nuclear Disarmament
With Iran pushing toward nuclear breakout ability at home, while peddling what some have dubbed “charm” abroad, there were plenty of odd moments as Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani swept through the United Nations in New York last week. But for raw cynicism onstage, it’s hard to top his starring appearance Sept. 26th at the U.N.’s first ever High Level Meeting of the General Assembly on Nuclear Disarmament.
This meeting showcased Rouhani not as the face of a terror-sponsoring U.N.-sanctioned nuclear-proliferating regime, but as an authority on ridding the world of nuclear weapons. And not just any old authority, but — in a venue where protocol matters — someone high in the UN pecking order. Among the eight plenary speakers addressing the assembled global eminences, Rouhani got the number three slot in the lineup. He was preceded only by the president of the U.N. General Assembly, and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon— who went out of his way to thank the Non-Aligned Movement “that initiated this meeting.” The Non-Aligned Movement, which includes the Palestinian Authority plus 119 of the UN’s 193 member states, is currently chaired by Iran.
In other words, this U.N. nuclear conclave, presenting Iran not as a proliferator but as a patron of nuclear disarmament, was choreographed into existence by Iran itself. “Historic,” is what Rouhani called this event. He’s got that right. Even at the U.N., it’s something new for a country’s president to be headlining a nuclear disarmament summit in the General Assembly’s main chamber while that same country is under four U.N. Security Council sanctions resolutions for its own rogue nuclear ventures.
But that’s a pretty good sample of how Iran’s regime has learned to exploit large sections of the U.N. maze, maneuvering within the multilateral system to avail itself of the U.N.’s special mix of moral blindness, anti-American mob sentiment, Byzantine procedure and billions of tax dollars from the developed democracies of the world — especially the U.S. It was by diplomatic design, not dumb luck, that while Rouhani was at the U.N. last week, he seemed to glide from one rosy spotlight to the next. Not only did he land a speaking slot on day one of the seven-day General debate, and kick off the nuclear disarmament meeting; he also appeared, cheek-by-jowl with the Secretary-General, chairing a Non-Aligned ministerial meeting on Cooperation for the Rule of Law at the International Level (an intriguing choice of topic for the president of a country notorious for its dazzling array of front companies, shipping dodges and other schemes to evade international sanctions). For years, in some cases bizarrely unchecked by the U.S., Iran has been quietly building itself a large support structure within the UN.
For instance, right now Iran is running for the post of rapporteur for — what else? –the General Assembly’s main committee on Disarmament and International Security. Better known at the U.N. as the First Committee, this is the General Assembly’s prime workshop for drafting resolutions and initiatives dealing with global security, especially efforts to regulate and reduce armaments. The First Committee includes all 193 U.N. member states, and for each annual session of the U.N. General Assembly, the Committee elects a new rapporteur. At least as far back as 1998, as listed on the First Committee’s web site, that rapporteur’s seat has been won by such moderate and non-predatory countries as Norway, Georgia and Mexico.
But, courtesy of Iran, this year’s election, scheduled for Tuesday, is shaping up as yet another historic U.N. event. Thanks to U.N. backroom politics, in which geographic blocs and related deals tend to trump merit and greatly narrow the field, Iran looks sure to win. That’s because, according to a U.N. General Assembly spokesperson, Iran is the only candidate.
For a closer look at Iran’s approach in managing such feats, last week’s nuclear disarmament meeting offers a handy example. Like many of Iran’s current diplomatic maneuvers, this one began with the Non-Aligned Movement, or NAM — which is essentially a large caucus operating within the U.N. General Assembly. Founded during the Cold War as a self-declared alternative to the major powers (though in practice it was largely aligned with the Soviet Union), the NAM after the 1991 Soviet collapse carried on, but seemed destined to fade into irrelevance. Tehran, however, evidently realized it was a potentially useful vehicle, and at a NAM summit in Egypt, in 2009, went after and won the three-year rotating presidency of the NAM for 2012-2015.
For Iran’s diplomats, the NAM currently provides a second hat, allowing them to speak not only for U.N.-sanctioned Tehran, but for the entire (non-sanctioned) Non-Aligned Movement. There is huge diversity within the NAM, whose 120 members range from Singapore and Indonesia to Syria and Sudan. But it is the presiding country that generally takes the lead.
So it was that last November the NAM, led by Iran, drafted a resolution for the U.N. General Assembly’s First Committee (the same disarmament committee on which Iran is now poised to become rapporteur). This resolution proposed that in September, 2013, the General Assembly should convene, for the first time, a high-level meeting on nuclear disarmament. The resolution was introduced, on behalf of the NAM, by Indonesia, a NAM member then chairing the bureau of the First Committee.
The Committee approved the resolution by a vote of 165 in favor, none against. Five countries abstained: the U.K., U.S., France, Israel and Ukraine. Among those abstaining, the U.K., U.S. and France gave their reasons. According to the U.N. record, Britain’s delegate professed himself “puzzled” at how such a meeting might advance nonproliferation activities already in motion, and questioned the need for such a meeting “when venues for such discussions already existed.” France’s delegate was similarly “bewildered,” and said that the proposed meeting “would not address disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation in a balanced manner.” The U.S. representative worried about the cost of the proposed conference, “indicating that adoption of the resolution would create an additional financial requirement of $77,000.”
None of those concerns appear to have made any difference. On Dec. 3, 2012, the General Assembly adopted the resolution, declaring that on Sept. 26, 2013, the high-level meeting would take place. That was the meeting at which, last Thursday, Ban thanked the NAM for its initiative, and on behalf of the NAM, Iran’s Rouhani stepped forward as the next speaker, calling for all nuclear nations to disarm, but singling out, for criticism, by name, Israel.
Rouhani also proposed a “roadmap,” to include negotiations toward a new “comprehensive convention on nuclear weapons.” And he would like to enshrine his NAM-engendered nuclear conference as an historic event, with “the designation of 26 September every year as an international day to renew our resolve to completely eliminate nuclear weapons.” Rouhani said that the NAM will present the General Assembly with “a resolution regarding this roadmap.”
Presumably, the soon-to-be “elected” Iranian rapporteur for the U.N.’s First Committee on disarmament will soon be busy preparing this next Iran-drafted resolution for approval by the General Assembly. As a bid to rid the world of nuclear weapons, this is utter farce. But as a long-planned, neatly executed Iranian gambit exploiting the U.N. to provide diplomatic cover for Iran’s rogue nuclear program, it’s a smart move. That’s how it works at the U.N. The U.S. and its allies pay the bills, Iran plays the system. And the clock ticks toward the Iranian bomb.
Claudia Rosett is journalist-in-residence with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and heads its Investigative Reporting Project.