Arab Spring Changes Ahmadinejad's Position At U.N.

Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed the United Nations General Assembly. On previous visits to New York, Ahmadinejad enjoyed considerable attention from the media and visible displays of support from some U.N. member states. But the Arab Spring has changed that.

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At the U.N. General Assembly today, Iran's president took the stage. On previous visits to New York, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad enjoyed considerable attention from the media and visible displays of support from some U.N. member states.

But NPR's Michele Kelemen reports that the Arab Spring has changed that.


The scene has become familiar - protesters converge on the hotel where Ahmadinejad is staying and where he hosts academics and students for private discussions. Then comes the speech full of Israel bashing, questioning the Holocaust and 9/11, and complaints about American hegemony.

U.S. and many European delegates walked out in droves not long after the Iranian leader, through an interpreter, blamed the world's ills on the, quote, "former slave masters and colonial powers."

P: (Through Translator) Do these arrogant powers really have the competence and ability to run or govern the world? Or is it acceptable that they call themselves as the sole defender of freedom, democracy and human rights, while they militarily attack and occupy other countries?

KELEMEN: In the past, such talk has won him support in the U.N. General Assembly among developing countries. But this year is different, says Gary Sick, an Iran expert at Columbia University.

GARY SICK: He's got a little bit of a tricky problem because the Arab Spring, or the revolts, or the revolutions, or whatever one wants to call them, have really changed the context of the Middle East entirely.

KELEMEN: Initially, Iranian leaders claimed that the uprisings in the Arab world would benefit them. The Arab leaders being toppled were no friends of Iran, Sick says.

SICK: The rule was if a government has been supporting the West - the United States or others - it's vulnerable. Those are the people that are being attacked. And that was true up until the point when the revolt really broke out in Syria, and all of a sudden Iran had nothing to say.

KELEMEN: Arab leaders have been speaking out more forcefully on Syria, as has Turkey's president, who has seen his power and influence rise in the region. And Gary Sick says Iran, an ally of Syria, looks isolated in this new international landscape.

SICK: Iran really has gone from a point of saying, you know, we're the winner in all of this and we're going to come out as the number one country in the Middle East, to suddenly finding themselves without much of an audience.

KELEMEN: The Columbia professor says that Ahmadinejad also came to the U.N. in a weaker domestic position than he's ever been. Sick says the Iranian president has been unable to reshape the cabinet and the foreign ministry to his liking. And one of his supporters is tied up in an embezzlement scheme.

An Iranian judge almost upset Ahmadinejad's humanitarian gesture for this year's U.N. General Assembly. The judge waited until the very last minute to free two American hikers who had been convicted of espionage. They were released just yesterday.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the United Nations.

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