'Not reversible': America's global leadership waning, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi says at U.N.

‘Not reversible’: America’s global leadership waning, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi says at U.N.

The U.S.-led international order is rapidly fading and Western-style capitalism is being “relegated to obsolescence,” a defiant Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said Tuesday, using a speech to the United Nations General Assembly to predict that the post-World War II global framework is in the midst of a historic shift.

In a fiery address at the U.N.’s annual meeting in New York, the hardline Iranian leader challenged President Biden to “choose a path” in its nuclear negotiations with Iran. His comments came just two days after Iran reportedly banned U.N. inspectors from key nuclear sites across the Islamic republic, underscoring the difficulties that U.S. and European governments say they routinely encounter when dealing with Iran’s suspect nuclear programs.

Mr. Raisi also blamed U.S. sanctions for the economic and human suffering in his country. But he said that the days of Washington using military and monetary might to impose its geopolitical will on the rest of the planet are ending.

“We find ourselves at a critical juncture in history. The global landscape is also undergoing a paradigm shift toward an emerging international order — a trajectory that is not reversible,” Mr. Raisi said, nodding to the military and economic rise of communist China as a challenger to the U.S. and an international leader. 

“The true nature of the liberal democracy project has become evident to the world, revealing it to be nothing more than a velvet glove hiding a cast iron hand,” Mr. Raisi said of the U.S. and its allies. 

Mr. Raisi’s bitter words aimed at the U.S. come at a delicate moment for the two countries. Despite years of intense diplomacy, the Biden administration so far has been unable to revive the Obama-era 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, which limited Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for economic sanctions relief. Former President Donald Trump in 2018 pulled the U.S. out of that deal and re-imposed harsh sanctions on Iran’s economy.

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But the U.S. and Iran have proven in recent days that significant diplomatic breakthroughs are possible. On Monday, five American citizens held in Iranian jails were allowed to return home. The Biden administration negotiated their release in exchange for freeing five Iranians and allowing the release of about $6 billion in Iranian money being held in frozen South Korean back accounts. 

The White House defended the deal as necessary to bring American citizens home. But critics said the money will fund Iran’s malign activities abroad, including support for terrorist groups and militias that target American troops in Iraq and Syria.

Mr. Raisi seemed to leave open the door to more diplomacy, including a resurrection of the nuclear deal, though he blamed its demise solely on the U.S. and offered little in the way of specifics on the pathway to a new agreement.

“America’s leaving the JCPOA showed an official trampling upon their commitments by their government,” Mr. Raisi said. “It was an inappropriate response to our fulfillment of commitments within that framework. By having broken the agreement … it has committed egregious and unilateral crimes in the international arena.”

“Choose a way, choose a path,” he said. “Either JCPOA or not.”

Mr. Raisi insisted that his country does not seek nuclear weapons and that such weapons “have no place in the defensive doctrine” of Tehran.

Some of Mr. Raisi’s other claims Tuesday seemed to strain credulity. He said that Iran does not support any type of war and seemed to deny that his nation is backing Russia in its war in Ukraine, despite evidence produced by the West that Russian forces are relying heavily on Iranian drones and other weapons that have been used to bomb Ukrainian civilians.

On Tuesday, the U.S. imposed new sanctions on seven people and four companies in China, Russia and Turkey who officials allege are connected with the development of Iran’s drone program. 

Still, Mr. Raisi stressed that his country opposes the war in Ukraine and blamed its escalation on Washington.

“We do not stand, nor support, any war, anywhere, not in Europe or anywhere else,” he said. “Any type of tension, of fanning the flames of violence in Ukraine has been done by the United States of America in order to weaken the European countries. And this is a long-term plan, unfortunately.”

Russia started the war with its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Ukraine has maintained it would end the fighting as long as all of its sovereign territory is returned and that costs are imposed on Moscow for the destruction it has caused.