Having failed to produce a deal after six months of bargaining in Vienna, the Iran nuclear talks now appear headed for a venue even less auspicious for the U.S. and its allies: the United Nations General Assembly, whose next session opens this September in New York. According to a senior U.S. administration official, speaking at a background press briefing as the latest round of nuclear talks wrapped up, July 18, in Vienna: “There is no question that the U.N. General Assembly will become a focal point or a fulcrum for these negotiations.”
There has been no explanation so far of the format in which the Iran nuclear talks might mesh with the General Assembly. But with the talks now extended by four months, through November 24, the same U.S. official added that the opening of the General Assembly will provide a handy nexus “because we have a lot of players there and an easy way to really get some business done.”
Easy for whom? The record suggests that Iran is both adept and aggressive in exploiting the U.N., where, for a country under sanctions, it enjoys remarkable room to maneuver. At last September’s General Assembly opening, Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, became the star of the show, courted by the Obama administration while he denounced the U.S. for “violence and extreme actions.”
The U.N., for its part, has been much better at accommodating Iran than at containing it. Iran’s misogynistic, repressive, terror-sponsoring regime holds a slew of elected U.N. posts, including seats on the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women and the governing boards of UNICEF and the U.N.’s flagship agency, the U.N. Development Program.
Meanwhile, the entire U.N. Security Council, replete with all the players and amenities of the U.N.’s New York headquarters, has failed to stop Iran’s rogue nuclear program. Four rounds of binding Security Council sanctions resolutions, passed in 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2010, have not done the job. There has not been another sanctions resolution on Iran since 2010.
Failure at the U.N. is why six world powers ended up cutting an interim nuclear deal directly with Iran last November in Geneva, in which all parties agreed to seek a “long-term comprehensive solution.” That led to the past half-year of haggling directly with Iran in Vienna. This negotiating group, led by the European Union and known as the P5+1, includes all five permanent members of the Security Council (the U.S., the U.K., France, Russia, and China), plus Germany.
In Vienna, the six members of the P5+1 succeeded chiefly in undercutting the U.N. sanctions that five of them had previously approved at the U.N. Security Council. While the U.N. sanctions call for Iran to constrain its ballistic-missile development and halt all uranium enrichment, the P5+1 negotiators, to judge by the public statements of U.S. officials and their cohorts, have made no progress on missile constraints, and have conceded to Iran the “right” to enrich. One of the sticking points now appears to be just how many thousands of centrifuges Iran will officially operate. So much for the record of the U.N. Security Council, where at least the U.S. wields veto power.
The General Assembly is even worse. Especially in matters involving the Middle East, the Assembly operates as an anti-American free-for-all. While U.S. taxpayers pick up at least 22 percent of the multibillion-dollar tab, U.N. membership confers diplomatic immunities and equal voting privileges on all the U.N.’s 193 member states, whether they are dictatorships or democracies, under sanctions or not. Over the years, Iran’s regime has exploited this setup for everything from outsized diplomatic leverage to a convenient cover for money-laundering in Manhattan.
Currently, Iran holds the three-year rotating chair of one of the largest voting blocs in the General Assembly, the Non-Aligned Movement, or NAM. The NAM includes well over half the members of the General Assembly: 119 countries, plus the Palestinian Authority, on which the General Assembly in 2012, over U.S. protests, conferred the status of non-member Observer State.