Israel To Boycott Iran’s U.N. Speech, U.S. Will Attend


President Obama (L) and President-Elect Hassan Rouhani

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani

CREDIT: AP Photo/Ebrahim Norooz

UNITED NATIONS — While many Western nations have been encouraged by Iranian overtures to the West in recent weeks, Israel is still choosing to boycott a Tuesday afternoon speech from the Iranian president.

Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Ron Proser won’t be attending Hassan Rouhani’s inaugural speech, according to Israeli newspaper Ynet. Nor will his Minister of Strategic and Intelligence Affairs responsible for international relations Yuval Steinitz — the highest ranking Israeli official in New York for the General Assembly. They are both under instruction to not be present while Rouhani speaks.

The United States won’t be joining in the boycott, however, as it did during the days of former president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. “For now I can just tell you members of the US delegation will attend,” USUN Communications Director Erin Pelton said when ThinkProgress asked which American diplomats would remain in the room. This leaves the door open for both U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power’s and Secretary of State John Kerry to attend Rouhani’s speech. A member of the Iranian delegation confirmed that Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was present in the audience during President Barack Obama’s speech earlier today, so reciprocation from Kerry could be seen as a positive sign that negotiations between the two sides might proceed apace.

The U.S. decision not to join Israel’s boycott highlights that the country seems to be alone in their hesitance to test the new Iranian administration for signs that the overtures they’ve made are legitimate. “We are encouraged that President Rouhani received a mandate from [Iran’s] people to pursue a more moderate course,” President Obama said during his speech.

That has gone as far as offering to have President Obama meet with Rouhani on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, an opportunity Iran declined to take the U.S. up on. “What we indicated is, again, what we’ve been saying publicly, which is we’re open to the two leaders having an encounter here at UNGA, not a formal meeting,” a senior administration official said during a press gaggle. “We had discussions at a working level with them and ultimately it became clear that that was too complicated for them at this time.”

French president Francois Hollande is set to have a bilateral meeting with Rouhani later on Tuesday. “Dialogue with Rouhani is [happening] because he himself took a stance of opening and made a number of statements that could be a positive development in region,” Hollande said during a press conference after his own General Assembly speech. Both France and the United States will be taking part in a meeting with their fellow members of the P5+1 — the United Kingdom, Russia, China, and Germany — and Zarif to hear from the new administration directly about their nuclear program.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, by contrast, has been vocal about his skepticism of Rouhani’s outreach towards Western governments in recent weeks. “Israel would welcome a genuine diplomatic solution that truly dismantles Iran’s capacity to develop nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said in a videotaped statement released on Tuesday. “But we will not be fooled by half-measures that merely provide a smokescreen for Iran’s continual pursuit of nuclear weapons. And the world should not be fooled either.” Israel leaked an internal assessment that they believe that Rouhani is not to be trusted to buttress its Prime Minister’s position.

Netanyhau has been known, however, to jump the gun when it comes to Rouhani. In August, before Rouhani had taken office, a semi-official Iranian news agency reported that Rouhani had referred to Israel as a “wound that should be removed.” Netanyahu’s office quickly tweeted a condemnation of the statement — which it turns out was never said. Rouhani had been mistranslated; a corrected version soon made its way into the public. The tweets were deleted but the Prime Minister’s office stood by its condemnation.

Some members of Congress, avowedly pining for Ahmedinejad’s outspoken hostility, share Netanyahu’s assesment. “He knows how to do the charm offensive on the U.S. and is charming the snakes coming out of the basket with his sweet tune of reconciliation and love of the Jews,” former House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen told The Hill recently. “And it’s working. I miss [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad; he was so ‘what you see is what you get.’ ”