At its first formal meeting of the year, the UN Security Council met at the request of the United States to assess the situation in Iran after a near week-long protests in 80 cities.

The meeting itself drew criticism from many members who accused the United States of using human rights as an excuse to meddle in Iran’s internal affairs.

The meeting also comes at a crucial time when leaders are trying to reach a political settlement to end the Syrian civil war. It also comes ahead of a Jan. 13 deadline for the U.S. President Donald Trump to decide whether or not to remove nuclear-related sanctions against Iran based on a 2015 international agreement. Under U.S. law, he must decide every 90 days whether or not to certify the deal, and therefore ease up on nuclear-related sanctions. Trump has also warned he might withdraw from the deal.

Iran Ends Protests

The mass protests that started in Iran on Dec. 28. in the city of Mashhad spread to 80 cities. At least 1,000 people were arrested. By some accounts that number reached 3,700, most of whom have reportedly been released.

A UN political affairs delegate briefed the council on the demonstrations in Iran, saying that protests centered on economic hardships as well as “the slow or limited change in social constraints and political freedoms,” the “privileged position” of the clergy and some security forces and Iran’s “costly involvement in the region.”

Some street demonstrations turned violent, and 21 people, including two security officers, died. The UN political delegate, Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, noted that the United Nations has a “very limited presence on the ground” in Iran and could “neither confirm nor deny the extent of the violence.”

Iran blames terrorist groups, the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia for stoking the protests. Its Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, meanwhile, said leaders must distinguish between the “demands of the people” and “conspiracies” by Iran’s enemies, the state-news agency ICANA reported on Jan. 9.

The near week-long protests appear to have ended. Nevertheless, the political fallout continues.


U.S. Cites Human Rights, Free Speech

Speaking first among the Security Council members at the Jan. 5 meeting, U.S.  Amb. Nikki Haley said the Iranian people are rising up, and the United States would not stand passively by like it did during the demonstrations taking place in 2009.

Haley criticized the Iranian government’s recent restrictions on the internet and social media and called for them to restore access. “Every UN Member State is sovereign, but Member States cannot use sovereignty as a shield when they categorically deny their people human rights and fundamental freedoms,” she said.

Haley’s emphasis on human rights represents a shift in the Trump administration’s foreign policy. Up until now, President Trump has put U.S. economic interests above human rights concerns in his international dealings and in foreign policy speeches.

‘Interference and Exploitation’

The attention to human rights drew sharp criticism among council members who accused the United States of using the protest situation as a guise to achieve its own goals.

“We must be aware of any attempts to exploit this crisis for personal ends,” said France’s representative François Delattre. He said change could only come from the Iranian people. Meanwhile, he said signatories to the nuclear deal must uphold their promises. He called it a “cornerstone of stability for the region” and warned there would be heavy consequences “to lose this hard-won ground.”

Bolivia’s representative said the meeting was an “undisguised and clumsy attempt” to put Iran’s internal affairs on the agenda. He called it an exploitation of the Security Council.

Several other representatives on the 15-member panel echoed that sentiment, saying that the mandate of the Security Council in the United Nations Charter is to maintain international peace and security.

“The Security Council should not discuss the internal affairs of any country nor is it the venue for discussing the human rights issue of any country,” said China’s representative. He called on the council to devote its attention to bridging a political solution to the Syrian conflict and to the issue of Palestine. He said China hopes Iran will “achieve development” and “remain stable.”

“We don’t want to be involved in destabilizing Iran or any other country,” said Russia’s representative. He emphasized that the council needed to focus on crisis situations in Afghanistan, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Iraq and Yeman.

Regional Instability

Kuwait’s representative noted that protests in other countries turned violent and led to “disastrous results.” He called for the demonstrators to show restraint and for council members to respect countries’ sovereignty.

The Swedish and Netherlands representatives voiced support for freedom of expression and human rights.

The United Kingdom, meanwhile, gave a detailed statement on its concerns about Iran’s regional involvement in Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, saying that “too often Iran’s security interests are pursued in a way that destabilizes – and at times directly threatens – others, supports terrorism and distorts the Iranian economy.”

In particular, he said, Iran transfers ballistic missile parts and related technology to the Houthis in Yemen in violation of resolutions (#2231 and 2216).

U.S. Amb. Haley also condemned Iran for spreading “conflict and instability far and wide” by giving financial and military support across the region, including:

  • $6 billion a year to the Syrian government;
  • millions of dollars on militias in Iraq;
  • millions of dollars and ballistic missiles to Houthi rebels in Yemen;
  • low-interest loans to “elite and well-connected” Iranians; and
  • construction contracts to firms affiliated with the Revolutionary Guard.

‘Domestic Issue’

Despite the U.S. and U.K. discussion on Iran’s influence and military support in the region, the U.S. emphasis on protests and human rights undermined those concerns.

Though not a member of the Security Council, Iran was allowed to address the meeting. Iran’s UN Amb. Gholamali Khoshroo said activists had used social media to incite violence, including attacks on Iranian police, their families and mosques.

Amb. Khoshroo called on the council to consider the risk social media poses.

“One U.S. resident took to social media to order the killing of 120 members of our security forces, threatening that ‘those who will be included among the killed are their families, [too] in their homes.'”

“This same U.S. resident publicly stated to U.S. media, with complete sense of impunity that ‘they should burn down government mosques and police stations.'”

The Jan. 5 meeting ended without consideration of any resolution or proposed action.

Taking over as president of the Security Council, Kazakhstan’s Amb. Kairat Umarov called the protests a “domestic issue” that does not threaten international peace and security. He said the council already has “too many issues to address” in the Middle East.


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About Author

Patti Mohr is an independent journalist living in North Carolina. She has a Master's Degree in International Commerce and Policy from George Mason University and a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science and a certificate in journalism from the University of Cincinnati. After spending 12 years working in Washington, D.C., Patti moved to North Carolina where she consulted clients with their resumes and began working in property management. She continued to work on research and writing on an independent basis and conceptualized the structure for a media organization that would support independent journalism. Patti's lifelong dream is to pursue a career in writing about international relations. She has a strong belief in the fundamentals of journalism, namely the pursuit of truth, the maintenance of independence from sources, and in the verification of information. She is a reliable researcher with strong analytical and problem-solving skills.