At a reception Monday at a UN Plaza hotel in Manhattan for media officials to kick off the big week of the United Nations General Assembly, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi surprised those in attendance – and apparently his staff – telling reporters they could quote his comments, contradicting the terms of the event invitation.
Raïssi told reporters that he was “seeking to explain” and provide “answers to long-standing questions,” adding that he wanted his answers “to be distributed to your audience and your colleagues.”
Among the many topics he discussed, ranging from the recent prisoner swap with the United States to civil unrest in the Islamic Republic, was Tehran’s position on the ongoing war in Ukraine, where Iran is accused to supply Russia with stray munitions, also known as “suicide drones”, which have proven to be a devastating addition to Moscow’s arsenal.
Raisi acknowledged that Iran-Russia relations “encompass a multitude of angles, from economic and development cooperation to event cooperation, cultural exchange and research,” but he stressed that each of these dynamics “ predates the war in Ukraine. He argued that no documents have ever been produced to support allegations that Iran supplied such weapons to Russia since the conflict began more than a year and a half ago.
The Iranian leader also asserted that “we are against the war in Ukraine, period” and offered to help end the conflict.
“We have repeatedly announced our readiness to engage in mediation in order to achieve a cessation of hostilities between the Russian Federation and Ukraine,” Raisi said.
He argued that Washington, in contrast, was playing a destabilizing role by providing kyiv with significant military aid.
“And our question remains for the United States,” Raïssi said: “Why such a rush to supply military equipment and extract the dollar amount from these supplies and sales, rather than vigorously entering the arena in order to to promote the cessation of hostilities and to promote peace?'”
Iran is not the first to offer to facilitate dialogue between Moscow and kyiv. Turkey played an early role in bringing the two sides to the table and, although the conflict only intensified, Ankara managed to secure a UN-endorsed deal between the two sides allowing the export of grain via the Black Sea until Moscow suspended the initiative. in July.
China and a group of six African heads of state are among those who have made representations to both sides in a bid to end the conflict that has ravaged Ukraine.
Beijing nevertheless managed to broker a deal between two other bitter rivals, Iran and Saudi Arabia, who agreed to resume relations in March with the support of the People’s Republic. The agreement is part of a growing trend of reconciliation measures in the region, as Iran seeks to rebuild ties with Arab countries that have become critical of Tehran over its support for militias in Syria – where Russia also intervened to support Iran. government – and other regional states such as Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.
Responding to Information weekAsked about the future of Iran’s regional ties, Raisi was optimistic, but placed the blame on the United States.
“Our policy in the Islamic Republic of Iran has been to maintain good neighborly relations with all countries in the region, linked to force,” Raisi said.
“If there has been a weakness,” he added, “it is because of the interference of the United States and other countries. If the interference stops, this relationship will improve.” .
Even the dynamic with Washington, which severed diplomatic relations with Tehran after the Islamic revolution of 1979, has undergone recent developments. Officials on both sides announced a prisoner exchange that resulted in the release of five U.S. nationals and the early release of five Iranian citizens, as well as the return of $6 billion in frozen Iranian assets. held by the United States.
Asked if Iran would use the money only for humanitarian purposes, as would have been outlined in the terms of the deal, which have not been made public, Raisi said that “the funds have been unjustly confiscated from the Iranian people” and “will only be spent”. to meet the needs of the Iranian people.
Raïssi also recognized the role of other nations in making the prisoner exchange possible, expressing his “gratitude for the commitment, assistance and involvement of the countries that stepped foot in the arena to make this happen.” , while the agreement is being worked out. via Qatar.
Nevertheless, he argued that the exchange “could have been achieved much sooner if the other side had not miscalculated in thinking that instead of picking the table and suspending conversations, they would be better off betting on the dead horses of the rioters. and those who cause instability.
He also suggested the deal could “lead to further humanitarian actions” between the United States and Iran.
But friction between the United States and Iran has only worsened over the past year, particularly since the failure of an abortive effort to revive a 2015 nuclear deal abandoned by Washington in 2018 and the eruption of nationwide protests last year. The protests were sparked by the death of a woman detained by police for allegedly failing to comply with strict standards requiring female citizens to cover their hair in public.
President Joe Biden’s administration has repeatedly accused Raisi and his government of committing human rights violations in suppressing protests.
The Iranian president acknowledged the protests, emphasizing that such demonstrations take place in all countries, including in the West. But he said he and his administration “make a very strict distinction between rioters and protesters.”
“The United States and European countries are fanning the flames of the fires that I mentioned that they themselves started,” Raïssi said, “and we are largely disappointed by this plot that they have launched against the people Iranian, aimed at disrupting and (creating) instability.”
“And we see the victory over the riots in Iran and the chaos caused by these rioters last year. We considered this a victory for the Iranian people, because they emerged victorious from the war that was waged against them. ” he added. “It was also an economic war, waged in the media, it was a psychological warfare effort directed against them – it was defeated – just as the sanctions that were harshly imposed against the Iranian people were defeated.”
Raisi was confident that Iran would find “a way forward” in the face of current challenges, both internal and external, all of which it linked to the United States.
“Hijab, human rights, nuclear issues, these are all elements that are misplaced…in the hands of the United States of America against the Islamic Republic of Iran because it is a nation who sought to live peacefully and independently with strength… but not under anyone’s domination,” Raïssi said. “So that’s the plan laid out, and those are the various excuses, the different tools, if you will, in their toolbox.”