DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Iran’s new president has criticized US sanctions imposed on his country as a mechanism of war, using his first UN speech since taking the oath to forcefully denounce Washington’s policies in the region and the growing political schism within America.
President Ebrahim Raisi on Tuesday presented a much more critical and brutal approach to US foreign policy than his moderate predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, had done in previous speeches to the United Nations General Assembly. Raisi, who was sworn in last month after an election, is a conservative cleric and former head of the judiciary believed to be close to Iran’s Supreme Leader., Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
His speech espoused Iran’s Islamic political identity and one where the Shia-ruled nation sees its place in the world, despite crushing US sanctions that have hurt its economy and ordinary Iranians.
âSanctions are America’s new means of war with the nations of the world,â Raisi said, adding that such economic punishment during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic amounted to âcrimes against humanity. “.
US sanctions, while allowing humanitarian aid, have made international procurement of drugs and equipment much more difficult. Iran has suffered multiple waves of coronavirus, with nearly 118,000 recorded deaths – the highest in the region.
In targeting the United States, Raisi also referred to the shocking January 6 insurgency. on Capitol Hill by supporters of then-President Donald Trump and the gruesome scenes at Kabul airport last month as desperate Afghans plunged to death after clinging to an American plane evacuating people.
âFrom Capitol Hill to Kabul, a clear message has been sent to the world: the hegemonic system of the United States has no credibility, either inside or outside the country,â said Raisi.
The Iranian president declared that “the project to impose a Westernized identity” had failed, and added wrongly that “today the United States is not leaving Iraq and Afghanistan but is expelled”.
The US military withdrew from Afghanistan amid a hasty and chaotic airlift of more than 100,000 Afghans and foreigners, and withdrew largely from Iraq. Iran shares long borders with Afghanistan to the east and Iraq to the west, where Shiite militias are powerful.
The perseverance of nations, he said, is stronger than the might of the superpowers. In a dig into the political slogans used by Trump and his successor President Joe Biden, Raisi said, âToday the world doesn’t care about ‘America First’ or ‘America is Back’.
Speaking from a distance via video from Tehran, Raisi wore a black turban on his head which identifies him in Shia lore as a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. He hailed the Iranian Islamic revolution of 1979 as the achievement of “religious democracy” and linked the growth of “indigenous terrorism in the West” to a decline in spirituality.
Despite criticism of Washington, Raisi does not appear to rule out a return to the negotiating table for the nuclear deal, saying Iran considers the talks useful if their end result is the lifting of all sanctions. Yet he said: âWe do not trust the promises made by the US government. “
A senior US State Department official said Washington took note of Raisi’s speech but looked to Iran for action, rather than rhetoric.
In this context, the official said the United States also took note of a statement by the Iranian Foreign Ministry earlier Tuesday that Iran was prepared to resume indirect nuclear talks in Vienna within weeks. future.
“We continue to believe that we must re-engage in the Vienna context as soon as possible,” said the official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity.
Tensions peaked last year between the United States and Iran after the Trump administration’s assassination of the powerful field commander, Qassim Soleimani, and a top Iraqi Shiite militia leader in a strike by American drones in Iraq. Raisi mentioned the men in his speech, claiming that they had helped fight Sunni extremists from the Islamic State group from “becoming neighbors of Europe.”
Biden has made it clear that he wants to save the nuclear deal with Iran that Trump pulled the United States out of, but indirect talks between Washington and Tehran in Vienna have stalled as tensions in the Persian Gulf persist. The Biden administration and its allies like Israel and the Arab Gulf States also want Iranian missile development and support for regional militias to be considered.
âThe United States remains committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,â Biden said in his own speech to the UN., 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 US negotiators believe the best path is to follow is to continue talks, but she had no update on when the parties might revisit.
Raisi insisted that atomic weapons have no place in Iran’s defense doctrine and deterrence policy.
Associated Press editors Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran; Darlene Superville in Washington and Matthew Lee in New York contributed to this report.
Dubai-based Associated Press reporter Aya Batrawy covers the Gulf and the wider Middle East. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ayaelb