UNITED NATIONS, Sep 20 2006 (IPS) — “If the governments of the United States or the United Kingdom, who are permanent members of the Security Council, commit aggression, occupation and violation of international law, which of the organs of the United Nations can take them to account?”
The question came from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his speech to the world body’s General Assembly Tuesday. Instead of merely defending his nation’s nuclear programme, which the U.S. and its European allies suspect is aimed at building weapons, he questioned the very legitimacy of the 15-member Security Council itself.
“Can the Council in which they are privileged members address their violations? Has this ever happened?” he asked. “If they have differences with a nation or state, they drag it to the Security Council as claimants, arrogate to themselves simultaneously the roles of prosecutor, judge and executioners. Is this a just order?”
Though the Iranian leader’s questions about the nature of international decision-making mechanisms are not new, they certainly represent the views and aspirations of a vast majority of the 192-member U.N. General Assembly that does not enjoy the privilege of implementing its decisions as do the members of the Security Council.
Ahmadinejad, whose nation is currently under the scrutiny of the Council over its nuclear programme, said the governments that benefit from nuclear energy have themselves abused nuclear technology for non-peaceful ends, including the production of nuclear weapons.
“All our national activities are transparent, peaceful and under the watchful eyes of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA),” he said. “Why then are there objections to our legally recognised rights?”
All five permanent members of the Security Council – the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China – possess thousands of nuclear weapons, and unwilling to reduce or dismantle their arsenals.
Earlier, in his own speech to the General Assembly, U.S. President George W. Bush reiterated the charge that Iran was trying to build nuclear weapons and warned that it “must abandon its nuclear ambitions.”
However, in contrast to past statements, Bush assumed a somewhat softer tone, adding that he was willing to work on “a diplomatic solution” to the Iranian nuclear programme.
Bush did not say that he wanted a “regime change” in Tehran, but accused the Islamic Shia government of denying “liberty” to its citizens and using national resources to “fund terrorism, fuel extremism and pursue nuclear weapons.”
“We look to the day when you can live in freedom,” said the U.S. president, addressing the Iranian people directly. “America and Iran can be good friends (then) and close partners in the cause of peace.”
Last month, when Iran failed to abide by a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for suspension of uranium enrichment-related activities, Washington tried hard to gather support for possible sanctions against Tehran, but failed.
In the past, both Russia and China have expressed their reservations about sanctions, arguing that only diplomatic dialogue could resolve the controversy surrounding the Iranian nuclear programme.
On Monday, France, a permanent veto-wielding member of the Council, also signaled its opposition to sanctions when President Jacques Chirac said he did not believe that suspension of uranium enrichment should be a precondition for dialogue with Iran.
But he changed his mind a day after meeting with Bush, saying: “We cannot have negotiations if we do not have suspension of (uranium enrichment) beforehand.”
Recently, Bush, who considers Iran part of the “axis of evil,” described Iran’s failure to meet the Security Council deadline as an act of “defiance” and warned Tehran of “consequences”.
Chirac’s remarks before the General Assembly suggested that France was not fully in line with Washington regarding the administration’s desire to see a change of political leadership in Tehran.
“We do not call regimes into question,” he said. “We aim to ensure security in accordance with international law and with due regard for the sovereignty of all countries.”
France is part of the European Union troika, along with Germany and Britain, which tried to use a package of economic incentives in return for the suspension of Tehran’s uranium enrichment, but in vain.
Though critical of Iran’s refusal to stop uranium-related activities, the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has so far been unable to substantiate the U.S. and European suspicions about the military nature of Iran’s nuclear programme.
Unlike India, Pakistan and Israel, three unofficial nuclear-armed states, Iran has ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and thus is bound to abide by its rules. Iran justifies its nuclear programme because the treaty allows non-nuclear weapons states to pursue nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.
As expected, Bush’s speech before the General Assembly was laden with the themes of “terrorism,” “freedom” and “democracy”. He defended his administration’s policy on the Middle East and claimed that democracy was gaining ground in the region.
“From Beirut to Baghdad, people are making the choice for freedom,” he said. “The nations gathered in this chamber must make a choice, as well…We will stand with the moderates and reformers.”
Reacting to the speech, critics described Bush’s claims for success in the war on terror and advances in democracy as superficial and hollow.
“Fine words are cheap,” said Professor Noam Chomsky, a leading social critic and author of several books. “What the Bush administration has done, more characteristically, is to destroy hope, bring prosperity to a few and terror to the many.”
On Tuesday, as Bush was on his way to the world body’s headquarters, thousands of New Yorkers assembled a few blocks away shouting slogans demanding an end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
“Hey, hey, ho, ho, Bush regime has got to go,” shouted the crowds, with placards and banners demanding unconditional withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
“We want an immediate end to this war,” Susan Chenelle of the national anti-war coalition United for Peace and Justice, which organised the rally, told IPS. “This is a protest against Bush’s ‘freedom agenda’ because we believe that occupying other countries is not the path to freedom.”
While Bush spoke of freedom and democracy, leaders of some key developing nations emphasised that the issue of war and peace cannot be separated from efforts to address the inequalities between and within nations.
“The true path to peace is shared development,” said Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva. “If we do not want war to go global, justice must go global.”
Speaking on behalf of China and the G77 group, the largest bloc of developing nations at the U.N., South African President Thabo Mbeki lashed out at rich nations for failing to take responsibility to eradicate hunger, disease and poverty from the world.
“Although the rich and powerful know the miserable life circumstances of the poor,” said Mbeki, “their attitude and response resemble that of the Biblical Cain, who killed his brother, Abel. When the Lord asked him, ‘where is Abel, your brother?’ he replied: ‘I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?'”
Mbeki said a global partnership for development is “impossible” in the absence of a pact of mutual responsibility between the giver and the recipient. “It is impossible when the rich demand the right, unilaterally, to set the agenda and conditions for the implementation of commonly agreed programmes,” he said.