NEW YORK — Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi called Israel a “savage power” and insisted his country’s nuclear program is peaceful in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday.
Raisi further said the US had trampled the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers. He also vowed to obtain justice for the US assassination of Qassem Soleimani, a top Iranian general killed by a drone strike in 2020.
“The region has not seen an occupying savage power such as the Zionist regime in its midst in the past,” Raisi said. “The killing of children and women are present in the dark report card of the Zionist regime. It has managed to form the biggest prison in the world in Gaza and the expansion of settlements and housing illegally on Palestinian territories.”
“The killing of Palestinian women and children shows everyone that seven decades of Israeli occupation and savagery is still with us and not ending,” the Iranian president added. “The occupying Zionist power that has occupied Jerusalem and other lands in the region cannot be a partner for security and stability.”
He proposed a vote by all Palestinians — “Muslims, Christians and Jews” — to establish a single state. The suggestion comes in contrast to the two-state solution favored by Western nations and their allied Middle Eastern countries led by Saudi Arabia.
Israel’s envoy to the UN Gilad Erdan walked out of the assembly hall as Raisi spoke, but left in his place a photograph of his own grandmothers, who survived the Holocaust, the Israeli mission said in a statement. Raisi earlier this week cast doubt on the Holocaust.
Raisi addressed the UN General Assembly as talks to revive the Iranian nuclear deal approached a take-it-or-leave-it moment.
Nuclear deal talks
“Our wish is only one thing: observance of commitments,” Raisi said, noting that it was the US that pulled out of the agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
He asked whether Iran can “truly trust without guarantees and assurances” that the US will live up to its commitments this time if Washington returns to the JCPOA.
European Union officials have warned the window for securing a deal is about to close, as months of European-sponsored talks have failed to produce an agreement on Iran resubmitting to JCPOA terms and the US joining the pact.
“America trampled upon the nuclear accord,” said Raisi, who was sworn in as president only a year ago. His speech marks the first time he has taken the podium at the UN in his role as president. Last year, he delivered remarks to the assembly virtually due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“We are very serious about negotiations,” he said, while the West “keeps repeating the same old stories of the past which puts doubt on their commitment.
He also insisted that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful.
“We all know that it’s only for human and peaceful endeavors,” Raisi said of his country’s nuclear program. He claimed that sanctions have been ineffective but deplored them as a “punishment on the people of Iran.”
“Iran has neutralized in many ways the sanctions,” he said. “The maximum sanctions policy has suffered an embarrassing defeat.”
Western sanctions have eaten away at Iran’s reserves and exacerbated inflation in the country, which hit 40% last year. Over the summer, Iran’s currency hit its lowest level ever against the US dollar.
He also blasted what he said was lopsided scrutiny of Iran’s nuclear activities while other nations’ nuclear programs remain secret, a likely reference to Israel.
Regarding the death of Soleimani, Raisi blamed the US and vowed to seek justice.
“We seek a fair tribunal. We will pursue through a fair tribunal those who martyred our beloved General Qasseem Soleimani,” he said.
Raisi described Soleimani — who headed the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a US-designated terror group — as “a freedom-seeking man who became a martyr.”
Days after Soleimani’s death, Iran launched a ballistic missile attack targeting US soldiers in Iraq in response to the fatal drone strike.
Wearing a traditional black turban identified with Shiite clerics, Raisi told the gathered leaders that Iran wants to have “extensive relations with all our neighbors” — an apparent reference to foe Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries in the region.
Israeli envoy walks out
As Raisi took to the podium, Israel’s envoy to the UN Gilad Erdan walked out.
He left in his place a photograph of his Holocaust-survivor grandmothers, and carried another such photograph as he left.
A murderer like #Raisi who denies the Holocaust, (amongst many human rights violations) has 0 place on the world stage. He asked for proof.. here are my Auschwitz surviving grandmothers. To the ambassadors in the GA: leave his speech. A dictator deserves no voice. pic.twitter.com/a1MV5PbqC6
— Ambassador Gilad Erdan גלעד ארדן (@giladerdan1) September 21, 2022
“Ambassador Erdan placed a picture of his grandmothers, survivors of the Auschwitz concentration camp who both lost family members during the Holocaust, next to Israel’s sign on his table in the General Assembly Hall,” the statement said.
Earlier this week, Raisi cast doubt on the Holocaust during an interview, saying the matter needed research.
“I showed Iran’s president a picture of my late grandmothers so he could see ‘a few more signs’ that the Holocaust happened and told him that we will never allow the horrors that happened to us to happen again,” Erdan said in the statement.
He called on other envoys to also boycott Raisi’s address.
“This is a new moral low for the UN. A mass murderer who denies the Holocaust is allowed to spread his despicable hate on the UN platform,” Erdan said. “Any ambassador who stays in the hall to listen to him should be ashamed.”
Hundreds of Iranian dissidents protested against Raisi outside the United Nations during his speech, as they have throughout the week, including by gathering outside his New York hotel.
The anti-regime protesters, many from the MEK dissident group, said Raisi should be prosecuted for his role in the executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988, and Iran’s ongoing human rights violations, including against protesters this week.
“He should not come to the UN. It’s so shameful he’s here because if he gets to the US he will be legitimized,” said activist Batool Zamani.
“Raisi does not deserve a seat at the UN,” said Raha Heshmatikhah. “Raisi should be prosecuted.”
Iranian women’s rights activists at the UN rally in support of protests in Iran as Raisi gives a speech to the General Assembly pic.twitter.com/6FDee138gg
— Luke Tress (@luketress) September 21, 2022
Raisi’s UN speech came amid widespread protests in Iran against the regime, after a woman was arrested by the morality police for not properly covering her hair, then died in custody.
The protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini have spread across Iran in the past five days. Rights groups say Iranian security forces have killed at least six demonstrators.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.