Controversy on Iran as UN Assembly opens

UNITED NATIONS — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and President Bush both arrived in New York last week to speak at the opening of the UN’s 62nd General Assembly, bringing with them a storm of controversy.

While Bush was largely silent about plans for Iran in his speech to the Assembly, his administration has continued its saber-rattling. Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser, compared Bush’s rumblings around Iran’s nuclear power program and his allegations that Iran is aiding Iraq’s insurgents to statements that Bush and Vice President Cheney made during their run-up to the Iraq war.

A recent report by AFP, the French news agency, said Cheney had considered pushing Israel to bomb Iran, thus provoking a war and allowing the U.S. to intervene in the conflict.

Regarding the nuclear issue, Ahmadinejad said, “All our nuclear activities have been completely peaceful and transparent.” He added that, contrary to Bush administration claims, “Iran has fulfilled all of its obligations” under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and noted that the treaty enshrines the right of all nations to the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

A few days after the speeches by Bush and Ahmadinejad, the Tudeh (Communist) Party of Iran issued a statement expressing “grave concern with the heightening tensions in the Persian Gulf region emanating from the U.S.’s militaristic and hegemonic stance in its conflict with Iran.”

The statement, signed by dozens of communist and workers parties from around the world, said the U.S.-led campaign “against Iran on the question of Iran’s expressed wish to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes is only a cover for U.S. attempts to secure its control over an area of the Middle East that is best situated to control the production and export of energy resources from this part of the world.”

At the same time, the parties, including the Communist Party USA, stressed that they did not see Ahmadinejad as an agent of progress.

“We also express our concern over the provocative and unacceptable statements from the Iranian president,” which “have provided the U.S. and its allies, in particular the Israeli government, with the excuse to continue their provocations against Iran,” the parties said.

The parties said they would “support all genuine efforts directed at the resolution of the current differences between the U.S. and the Islamic Republic of Iran through peaceful and diplomatic means.”

The day before he spoke at the UN, Ahmadinejad addressed a highly controversial forum at Columbia University. There was some vocal criticism of Columbia for extending an invitation to Ahmadinejad to speak, but it was widely seen as a freedom of speech issue.

While the media reported that thousands protested outside, most came to protest Ahmadinejad himself, not the university’s decision to allow him to speak. Many also made it clear that though they opposed the Iranian president, they did not support Bush’s hostile attitude toward Iran.

One protester held a sign saying that he refused to be caught between U.S. imperialism and the Iranian dictatorship.

Ahmadinejad’s speech drew both derision and applause from the students, sometimes the very same students. When he spoke of the plight of the Palestinian people and Bush’s hostility toward Iran for its efforts to develop nuclear energy, the audience cheered.

However, he outraged many by insisting that more research is necessary to determine what happened during the Holocaust, and he drew ridicule when he told the audience, “We have no homosexuals in Iran like in your country.”

The Tudeh Party and other communist and workers parties made clear that the absolute rejection of imperialist intervention in Iran on its nuclear program or any other grounds does not mean that Communists and other democratic-minded people hold back on expressing “our full solidarity with the people and progressive forces of Iran, with trade unions, women, youth and student movements that are campaigning for peace, democracy and social progress. We call for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners, particularly the trade unionist leaders, student movement activists and women’s right campaigners who have been arrested and tortured in recent months.”

dmargolis @pww.org