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Why Iran’s Raisi Didn't Go To New York

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi (Raeesi), who was declared the winner of the hollow and lowest-participated presidential election in the history of the Islamic Republic, opted to address the UN General Assembly via a video message this year. He seemed to have lost a golden opportunity to get to know the leaders of other countries and speak to them about matters of mutual interest, including the recent developments in Afghanistan that have captured everyone's attention.

Covid and full schedule  

As the state-run newspaper Arman (September 18) wrote: "The opportunity to be present at the United Nations by the President in the specific circumstances of the region was a great opportunity that was lost."

On September 17, Iran's envoy to the United Nations announced that Ebrahim Raisi would not attend the summit in person and would give his speech via video conference. The president's entourage also cited the reasons for not traveling to New York as coronavirus precautionary measures. In addition, Mohammad Jamshidi, the deputy director of political affairs at the president's office, blamed Raisi's absence due to his hectic workload in Iran. 

Why did Raisi travel to Tajikistan to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit days earlier and not New York? Was coronavirus or his workload not an issue then?

The fine points of the story suggest that the main reason Raisi did not travel to New York was something entirely different.

Raisi sanctioned and accused of murder

An Iranian protester shouting against the Islamic Republic outside the UN in New York. September 21, 2021

Raisi, being under US sanctions for human rights abuses, may have been fearful that an entry visa would not be issued for him by Washington. He may have also been cognizant of his role as a member of the death committee in the 1988 massacre of political prisoners and the bloody crackdown on protests in Iran during the November 2019 uprising.    

This is especially the case after the arrest of Hamid Nouri, another perpetrator of the massacre of political prisoners in 1988, who at that time was as an assistant prosecutor in Evin and Gohardasht prisons and was arrested during a trip to Sweden in 2019. Nouri is currently on trial in a Swedish court for crimes against humanity. The regime may have wanted to escape possible embarrassment on the world stage.

In this regard, a lawyer named Nemat Ahmadi in the state newspaper Jahan Sanat was quoted as saying: “The conditions are not suitable for this trip. Hamid Nouri is currently on trial in Stockholm, Sweden, where he has repeatedly named [the] president ... I think what has led the president and his advisers not to attend the UN General Assembly is to avoid potential tensions that Iranians living abroad may create”.

The same newspaper wrote, "Perhaps one of the concerns is that there will be reactions abroad in the form of demonstrations by Iranians living abroad," said a government lawyer named Molaei. Events like this can lead to a negative result, and of course, it is not worth the hassle. 

Of course, other Iranian presidents have not spoken at the opening of the UN General Assembly.

During Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's presidency, although he wanted to portray himself as a pragmatist, he never made the trip to New York.

Consider his role in the 1989 assassination of Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou, secretary-general of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), by Iranian intelligence agents that took place in a restaurant in Vienna with the Austrian criminal court issuing a warrant for his arrest. Raisi is cut from the same cloth.

Fearing protests and publicity

One day prior to the beginning of the UN summit, an Iranian opposition group, the Organization of Iranian American Communities (OIAC) in the United States held a major conference in Washington. Several senior US senators and politicians, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, delivered speeches at the conference. Pompeo emphasized in his speech that Raisi should be tried not tomorrow or next week or the next month “but today”. 

Also in New York, opponents of the Iranian regime staged a large-scale demonstration at the same time as Raisi's video speech at the United Nations, which attracted much attention. 

Although Raisi has tried to downplay his role in the killing of political prisoners in Iran in 1988, the scale of this crime is so immense that he cannot easily escape its consequences. In June 2021, Amnesty International Secretary-General Agnes Kalamar called for Ebrahim Raisi to be prosecuted for his role in "crimes against humanity." 

The opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily the views of Iran International

Cyrus Yaqubi, Iran and Middle east analyst.
is a Research Analyst and Iranian Foreign Affairs Commentator investigating the social issues and economy of the Middle East countries in general and Iran in particular.
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