Walking out on Monday’s U.N. speech by Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may have been good domestic politics for the Obama Administration and its closest European allies, but it won’t necessarily help them prevail at the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference that began Monday. In fact the move by delegates from the U.S., Britain, France, Canada, Hungary, New Zealand and the Netherlands, among others, may have perversely played to Ahmadinejad’s advantage.
To be sure, the Iranian leader had been put on the spot by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who earlier from the same podium had criticized Tehran’s failure to comply with disclosure requirements of the treaty, and resulting U.N. Security Council resolutions. “The onus is on Iran to clarify the doubts” over its intentions, Ban had said. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, addressing the same event hours later, warned that Iran “will do whatever it can to divert attention from its own record and to attempt to evade accountability.” She pointed out that Iran was the “only country in this hall that has been found by the IAEA board of governors to be currently in noncompliance with its nuclear safeguards obligations,” and demanded that it be held accountable.
But Ahmadinejad had always intended to change the subject and emphasize division in the international community. His speech played to the majority of countries that position themselves somewhere between the U.S. camp and Iran’s, opposing Iran building nuclear weapons and insisting that it comply with its NPT obligations, but not necessarily convinced by Western accusations that weaponization is Tehran’s ultimate goal. Either way, they insist that dialogue, rather than further sanctions or coercive measures, is the way to resolve the issue.
The preference for dialogue is repeatedly sounded by key players in the dispute like China, as well as by Turkey and Brazil, both of which are currently serving on the Security Council, where the U.S. and its allies are trying to win support for new sanctions. In this respect, the distinction between those who walked out on Ahmadinejad’s address and those who stayed to hear him speak may not be insignificant.