President of Iran Ebrahim Raisi has not attended the 76th United Nations General Assembly in person, instead giving his first address to the UN in a pre-recorded video.

Raisi’s speech, played on Tuesday at the opening of the week-long summit in New York, was marked largely by antipathy toward the US and Israel. It was heavily edited, with several discernible cuts in the footage, suggesting he had had to stop and re-record many parts again.

Ebrahim Raisi is not known to be a good public speaker, even when reading from the teleprompter. Earlier this week Iranian social media user going by Sari Pishik compiled an extensive list of Raisi's previous on-camera gaffes.

In his address to the UN, President of Iran devoted a significant part of his speech to attacking US foreign policy and international sanctions, claiming “America’s domination system” had been discredited. “Today,” he said, “the United States does not leave Iraq and Afghanistan; it is expelled.”

Raisi also adopted a bellicose tone with regard to sanctions on Iran. “The United States mistakenly thought we’d be desperate,” he said, “but our resistance has worked, and will always work. The intelligent and dynamic resistance of the Islamic Republic stems from strategic rationality. We do not trust the US government's promises. The Islamic Republic of Iran considers dialogue useful when its result is the lifting of oppressive sanctions."

The President of Iran said again that nuclear weapons had no place in the Islamic Republic’s defense or deterrence doctrine. The “maximum pressure” approach adopted by US President Donald Trump, he claimed, had “completely failed”, but a policy of “maximum oppression” continued.

Raisi also took the opportunity to castigate Israel, calling it “the largest organiser of state terrorism”. The “Deal of the Century” – the peace plan put forward by the Trump administration to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict – had, he said, “failed, like other previous imposed plans”.

Why Wasn’t Raisi at the Summit?

The official reason Ebrahim Raisi gave in the video for his not having travelled to New York was the coronavirus pandemic. But other Iranian officials, namely Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh, did attend the summit.

Raisi was sanctioned by the host nation in November 2019 due to widespread human rights violations both during his tenure as head of the Iranian judiciary and on the Tehran death panel that oversaw part of Iran’s 1988 prison massacre.

The President of Iran is still legally subject to an asset freeze and US visa restrictions, while US citizens and entities are barred from doing business with him.

In the run-up to the UN General Assembly, a number of Iranian-born dissidents held protests and drove vans denouncing Raisi in front of the UN headquarters in New York, calling on the international community to address human rights abuses in Iran and Raisi’s role specifically. Protests were also held in London, Paris and Berlin.

Opposition groups have also called for Raisi to be arrested and prosecuted for his part in the 1988 killings under international jurisdiction – as former Gohardasht prison official Hamid Nouri has been in Sweden – if he attends engagements abroad.

Reaction to Raisi’s First UN Address

The Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Tuesday in the aftermath of Raisi’s remarks, saying the government of the Islamic Republic was "an obvious and immediate threat to peace in the Middle East."

Referring to Raisi as the “Butcher of Tehran”, spokesman Lior Halat said the new administration represented “the extremist face of a regime that has brought harm to Iranian citizens for over 40 years… Raisi continues to fool the international community in a speech filled with lies and cynicism.”

Meanwhile in his own address to the UN General Assembly, US President Joe Biden stressed that the US was still committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

He added that his team was working with China, France, Russia, Britain and Germany – known collectively as the P5 + 1 – to pursue a revival of the JCPOA.

Representatives of these countries are not scheduled to meet on the sidelines of the 76th General Assembly to discuss the JCPOA. But, Biden said, the next round of talks would be held in Vienna in the next few weeks.

But Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Katibzadeh said he expected the issue to be raised during meetings between Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, and the P5 + 1 foreign ministers while in New York.

He added that before resuming talks in Vienna, it would be necessary for “the [Iranian] government’s foreign policy team to give its final summary of the previous talks."

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