US, Russia clash over Iran in UN Security Council meeting

US, Russia clash over Iran in UN Security Council meeting
Countries were divided in the UN Security meeting over Iran, as the US warned that the Iranian protests could escalate into a Syria scenario.
4 min read
06 January, 2018

UN - Division over Iran

The United States and Russia clashed over Iran at the UN Security Council on Friday as a third straight day of pro-regime rallies were held following a wave of deadly protests.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador, pushed for the meeting, arguing the unrest could escalate into full-blown conflict and drawing a comparison with Syria.

"The Iranian regime is now on notice: the world will be watching what you do," Haley warned.

Moscow, while not blocking the meeting, opposed the US push, arguing that the Iranian protests pose no threat to international peace and security. 

Protests began last Thursday in the north-eastern city of Mashhad, with anti-government rallies quickly spreading to other cities including Tehran, Khorramabad, Karaj and Sabzevar.

Thousands are thought to have taken part in the protests, making them the biggest show of public defiance since 2009, when Iranians - as part of the newly-formed Green Movement - took to the streets to denounce alleged rigged presidential elections by then-President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.

The protests this time were initially centred around rising living costs, but quickly became focused against the regime in general with chants of "Death to the dictator".

Pro-regime rallies were held around Tehran on Friday for the third day running with authorities seeking to put a lid on the violence. 

"We obviously regret the loss of life as the result of demonstrations that weren't so peaceful," Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the council.

"However, let Iran deal with its own problems," he said.

Iranian officials have blamed a plot by the CIA, Israel and Saudi Arabia for the unrest that convulsed much of the country for five days - part of the increasing tensions playing out between Iran and its neighbors since President Donald Trump came to power.

The United States has meanwhile piled pressure on Iran, with Trump pledging to help Iranians "take back" their government.

A threat to peace?

Washington has imposed unilateral sanctions on five Iranian companies linked to Tehran's ballistic missile program.

"The Iranian people are rising up in over 79 locations throughout the country," Haley told the council.

"It is a powerful exhibition of brave people who have become so fed up with their oppressive government that they are willing to risk their lives in protest."

Russia's envoy shot back that if the US view holds, the council should have also discussed the 2014 unrest in Ferguson, Missouri over the police shooting of a black teenager or the US crackdown on the Occupy Wall Street movement.

China also described the meeting as meddling in Iran's affairs, while Ethiopia, Kuwait and Sweden expressed reservations about the discussion.

Britain and France reiterated that Iran must respect the rights of protesters, but French ambassador Francois Delattre said the "events of the past days do not constitute a threat to peace and international security".

Iran's Ambassador Gholamali Khoshroo slammed the meeting as a "farce" and a "waste of time" and said the council should instead focus on addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the war in Yemen.

'CIA plot'

It remains difficult to gauge who was involved in the anti-government unrest.

President Hassan Rouhani's supporters have blamed conservative rivals for stoking anger over economic issues, which quickly spiralled out of control.

The conservatives deny the accusations and say Rouhani must do more to help the poor.

Chief prosecutor Mohammad Jafar Montazeri blamed the unrest on a plot dating back four years by the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia, while also claiming there were efforts to infiltrate the Islamic State group into the country.

Many officials have nonetheless recognised the genuine economic grievances of many Iranians, particularly a jobless rate at close to 30 percent for young people.

Iran's economic growth rebounded to more than 12 percent last year after sanctions were lifted under a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, but analysts say much of the windfall has come from renewed oil sales that generate few jobs.

Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said 42,000 people had taken part in the unrest nationwide.

It was higher than a previous figure of 15,000 given by the head of the Revolutionary Guards, but still far below the hundreds of thousands that took to the streets during the last major protest movement in 2009.

Nuclear waivers

Trump must decide next week whether to continue waiving nuclear-related sanctions suspended under the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

Under the deal, Trump must actively lift certain sanctions every few months and the next deadline falls on January 12.

Trump's repeated tweets backing protesters during Iran's unrest was rebuffed by marchers on Friday.

"Mr Trump passed laws against Iranians such as the immigration ban, and he called Iranians 'savages'... and suddenly he is sympathising and supporting Iranians and it is ridiculous," said Khalili, a government worker in Tehran.