As it has several times in the past, Iran publicly called for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons worldwide. The Iranian Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Mohammad Khazaee, called the weapons “inhuman.” He told the General Assembly’s disarmament committee that only once nuclear weapons are totally eliminated would the world have a guarantee against their use.
According to the Washington Post, the committee has adopted a Japan-sponsored resolution on "united action towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons.” The disarmament committee approved the resolution 161-1. 14 states abstained, among them Iran, Israel, Syria, Russia, China, Brazil, and India. North Korea was the sole dissenter.
Khazaee’s comments are not out of line with Iranian policy. Iran has never officially claimed any intent to pursue a nuclear weapons program, and has claimed that its development of nuclear technology is for peaceful purposes only. Iran has also in the past asserted that its Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei – the assumed source of any strategic decisions regarding its nuclear weapons program – has issued a fatwa against the “the production, stockpiling and use of” nuclear weapons. Some independent scholars and experts on Iranian politics, however, contend that no such fatwa actually exists.
The Islamic Republic is set to enter a new round of negotiations with the so-called P5+1 group this week after an encouraging initial round last month under Iran’s new moderate President, Hassan Rouhani. After nearly a decade of stagnation and backsliding under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, negotiations with Iran have shown promise, according to Western diplomats involved in the negotiation process.
The momentum in this latest round of negotiations appears to be fragile, however. Lead-American negotiator, Wendy Sherman, raised eyebrows in Iran when she remarked that “deception is part of [Iranian] DNA.” The U.S. Congress continues to wrangle with a new bill that could see the United States place its harshest sanctions on Iran yet, undermining the Obama administration’s current policy of engaging Iran with sanctions-relief as a possible incentive. The initiative is a bipartisan effort and is supported by prominent senators, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). American approaches to Iran have often been undermined by a particularly hawkish Congressional opposition to engagement with Iran.
If the United States imposes another round of sanctions on Iran, the overtures Rouhani has sustained despite strong conservative backlash back home in Iran is likely to end. Indeed, skepticism of the United States remains alive and well in Iran as evidenced by the fanfare in Tehran on the 34th anniversary of the 1979 U.S. embassy takeover that has spurred over three-decades of estrangement and hostility between Iran and the United States. Notable participants in the anti-American rallies in Tehran include former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, chief of the Basij Mohammad Reza Naqdi, and Iran’s vice president for executive affairs Mohammad Shariatmadari.
The diplomatic process between the P5+1 and Iran will continue this week against a tense backdrop in both the United States and Iran. Iranian Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, has indicated that Iran will pursue an agreement within a year. This will only be possible if diplomats on both sides succeed in maintaining the reassuring momentum of the earlier round of meetings in October.
Ankit Panda is Associate Editor of The Diplomat. Follow him on Twitter at @nktpnd.