Will Iran steer clear of the US at the UNGA?

Iran’s President Hassan Rowhani is set to attend the UNGA on Sept. 22

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard
Camelia Entekhabi-Fard
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The 71st United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) will see significant opportunities for many countries to discuss their national interests in New York.

Some leaders attend for publicity and propaganda and use the UN as a podium for their preaching. Meanwhile, others come to settle disputes.

Hearing the US president’s speech on the opening day is always interesting and important but other nations are important too. Among the other nations which are considered controversial, Iran should be watched carefully at this year’s General Assembly.

Since the death of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini, most of the publically elected presidents have tried to normalize relations with the US. The annual meeting of the UNGA in New York represents a key opportunity for a meeting between the US president and the Iranian president, one that could make history.

Iran’s President Hassan Rowhani is set to attend the UNGA on Sept. 22 and gave the opening session a miss as, according to some veteran diplomats, it is not considered politically respectable to attend on the first day. He is on his way back from a trip to Venezuela, via Cuba, where he attended a meeting of the Non Alliance Movement.

His visit comes despite earlier announcements that he would not attend. It was, however, too late for the UN to schedule in a speech by the Iranian president. In lieu, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is scheduled to appear on behalf of the president.

Rowhani may be tempted, in his last year of office, to significantly improve relations with the US, prompting him to attend the UNGA. One factor could also be the less-than effective implementation of the nuclear deal signed in 2015.

A meeting with US President Obama would do a lot to raise Rowhani’s public standing

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

A meeting with US President Obama would do a lot to raise Rowhani’s public standing if he desires to run for re-election. He tested the waters three years ago with a much-publicized phone call to Obama – a brave move on Rowhani’s part.

After that phone call, he was criticized and attacked by the hardliners but managed to sustain the support of the supreme leader. Then came Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s unplanned (or was it?) corridor handshake with Obama.

This year, the supreme leader’s website published a guide for all Iranian officials attending the UNGA. In the letter, Ayatollah Khamenei noted that he had previously visited the UN headquarters in New York to talk with world leaders, adding that it did not have anything to do with the US. He went on to add that his actions and behavior should act as a model for all Iranian representatives this year and insinuated that Rowhani and Zarif should steer clear of the US administration.


Camelia Entekhabi-Fard is a journalist, news commentator and writer who grew up during the Iranian Revolution and wrote for leading reformist newspapers. She is also the author of Camelia: Save Yourself by Telling the Truth - A Memoir of Iran. She lives in New York City and Dubai. She can be found on Twitter: @CameliaFard



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