Sunday, September 14, 2008
By Philip Sherwell in New York
Last Updated: 10:21PM BST 14 Sep 2008
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is certain to court his usual controversy on his annual visit to New York Photo: Reuters
As the UN General Assembly opens in New York, Iran is lobbying for support from other Islamic states and its anti-American allies in the Non-Aligned Movement in a contest with Japan for a seat that becomes vacant in January.
The slot, one among the council's 10 non-permanent members, is currently occupied by Indonesia and is reserved for an Asian nation.
Mohamed Khaza'e, Tehran's top envoy at the UN, was dismissive of Japan's pitch for what would be its 10th two-year stint on the council. Last week he told state-run Iranian radio that Tokyo "does not play a significant role in international and political affairs" and should step aside.
He noted that some 140 nations have either never sat on the Security Council, or have been a member just once - as Iran was under the Shah in 1955-56, more than two decades before the country's Islamic revolution.
In the increasingly bitter battle before the whole UN General Assembly votes in mid-October on the replacement for Indonesia, Iranian diplomats have been quietly briefing that Japan is merely a stooge of the US.
Iran's appeal to the Islamic world will be a powerful card. Many Muslim nations already feel under-represented on the Security Council, even before Indonesia, the world's most populous Islamic state, ends its two-year stint.
The council has five permanent nations with veto powers - the US, Britain, France, Russia and China - and 10 rotating members who do not have the right to veto. To secure a seat, a country must win the backing of two-thirds (or 128 votes) of the 192 members of the General Assembly.
Japan will support its latest candidacy by citing its status as the second-largest contributor to the UN budget, its experience on the council and its commitment to the UN's principles - a claim that Iran will struggle to make after its repeated condemnation in New York.
The US and its Western allies are expected to limit their pro-Japanese lobbying to low-profile background diplomacy in an attempt to avoid a backlash in favour of Iran.
In a similar clash between pro- and anti-US candidates in 2006 for the Latin American seat, Venezuela and Guatemala went head-to-head. Heavy American lobbying for Guatemala against its strident foe Hugo Chavez of Venezuela only deepened the divide and neither country managed to win two-thirds support in a remarkable 47 rounds of voting. Panama eventually emerged as a compromise candidate for the regional bloc on the 48th round.
As it has in recent years, Iran is certain to feature prominently in the General Assembly's calendar, even without its bid for Security Council membership.
The EU negotiating troika of Britain, France and Germany plus the other three permanent Security Council members of the US, Russia and China will meet for the latest bout of talks on Iran's nuclear programme.
And President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is certain to court his usual controversy on his annual visit to New York focussed around his address to the general assembly on Sept 23 - the same day that his bitter foe, President George W Bush, and Security General Ban Ki-moon will speak.
On Friday, the Anti-Defamation League, a predominantly Jewish group, angrily condemned five pacifist religious organisations for arranging a dinner with the Iranian leader, who has denied the Holocaust and called for Israel to be wiped off the map.
Abraham Foxman, ADL national director, said: "Their breaking bread with President Ahmadinejad is a perversion of the search for peace and an appalling betrayal of religious values."
The Mennonite Central Committee, the Quakers, the World Council of Churches, Religions for Peace and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) have invited Mr Ahmadinejad to break the Ramadan fast with dinner during his visit to New York.
"This is a private event, part of an ongoing series of discussions with Iran because we believe that keeping dialogue open is the best way to diffuse conflict rather than resorting to belligerent rhetoric and threats," an AFSC spokesman told The Sunday Telegraph.
Mr Ahmadinejad prompted further outrage on Friday when he vowed to keep supporting the Palestinian militant group Hamas until the "collapse" of Israel.
He told Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh that Iran views the support of the Palestinian people as part of its religious and national duty and that Iran will stand behind the Palestinian nation "until the big victory feast which is the collapse of the Zionist regime".