At UN General Assembly, Iran and US historically at odds

AP | TAMER FAKAHANY: Iran has often commanded center stage at the annual U.N. gathering of world leaders, turning the organization’s headquarters into an arena for arguments over the Persian Gulf’s daily complexities and hostilities.

As Tehran’s leadership prepares to address the U.N. General Assembly this week, there are fears that a wider conflict, dragging in Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States, could erupt after a summer of heightened volatility in the region.

After the United States withdrew from the nuclear deal — and Washington hit Tehran with escalating sanctions —Iran has begun to break some of the limits that were set in return for sanctions relief.

Since the Islamic Revolution 40 years ago overthrew Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the diplomatic setting has been a primary stage for the airing of Iranian grievances against the West. In turn, the U.S. and Israel have condemned Tehran.

Here’s a look back through the decades at Iran’s presence at the high-profile event.


It wasn’t always the case of venturing into “enemy” territory for Iranian leaders when they visited the U.N. in New York. Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was a key U.S. ally for decades.

In 1949, an elegantly attired shah addressed the General Assembly, receiving a standing ovation. “Speaking on behalf of one of the smaller countries, I make this appeal: Do not fail us. Give us the future, give us the inner assurance of peace.”

Four years later, a CIA-backed coup toppled Iran’s elected prime minister and secured the shah’s absolute monarchical and authoritarian power until his fall in 1979. The coup, which fueled decades of mistrust of the U.S., was a turning point in relations between the two countries.



In 1987, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, then Iran’s president, spoke at the General Assembly on behalf of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the role Khamenei now holds. His speech was markedly different from the shah’s three decades earlier in terms of his appearance and the religious thrust. Said Khamenei:

“I come from Iran, the birthplace of the most famous — and yet the least known — revolution of contemporary history, a revolution based on God’s religion and in line with the path of prophets and great divine reformers, a path that is as long as the entire human history.”

Iran was in the midst of a 1980-1988 war with then U.S.-backed Saddam Hussein’s Iraq that killed more than 1 million people on both sides, and saw Saddam use chemical weapons on his neighbor. Khamenei told the leaders: “The superpowers hypocritically call this war meaningless — a war that has been imposed on us. This is while they have always provided military, political and economic support for the invader that started the war.”