National Security Network

Security Experts Discuss The New Middle East, Iran And The United Nations [VIDEO LINK]

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Press Release Washington D.C. 14 September 2011

Diplomacy Diplomacy Arab Spring iran UNGA United Nations United Nations General Assembly

Yesterday, the sixty-sixth session of the United Nations General Assembly opened in New York, the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors convened for its second day, and reports out of Iran suggested modest yet significant progress on human rights and nuclear talks. Against this backdrop, the National Security Network and the Project on Middle East Democracy hosted a panel discussion of how the democracy movements sweeping the Arab world are interacting with regional dynamics to create new opportunities and challenges for the U.S. - and how this is playing out at the United Nations.

Watch the video here

The discussion featured Dr. James Zogby, founder of the Arab American Institute, who reviewed AAI's recent six-nation polls on Arab attitudes toward the U.S. and Iran; Geneive Abdo, fellow at The Century Foundation and the National Security Network, who discussed the challenges the Iranian regime faces at home and in the region; and Ted Piccone, senior fellow and deputy director for foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, who assessed the UN's role in the past and future of the Arab uprisings. Moderated by NSN Executive Director Heather Hurlburt, the panelists drew on their deep analytical expertise and field experience in the Arab world to explain how the international community can be most effective at supporting the Arab Spring and reshaping the global community for the better.

Read partial transcript from the event here

Selected highlights:

PICCONE: The UN has really been a great instrument, in many ways, for what US goals are, and I think this administration has very effectively used the UN to achieve what it set out to do.  It's really hard to line those things up.  And, of course, what you say is heard not just in Washington but all around the world, and lining those things up and finding the right messaging is a very tricky thing to do when it comes to public diplomacy.  In terms of the positive side of the equation for the US: If the Arab states, as they evolve, have more buy-in to the UN system and the international rules of the game, starting with some of the basic values of democracy and human rights, then I think that will be a big plus for the US.  That fits with our overall arching strategic view that a world made up of democracies at peace is good for the United States.


ABDO: We're here to talk about the UN-and he [Ahmadinejad] is one of the last, I guess, authoritarian figures still standing.  He will come to the UN. There had been a lot of discussion about whether he would come or not. [...] What I think is important to realize about whatever he says at the UN is that he himself, as a political leader, has been marginalized in Iran. The regime has completely isolated him and his political faction, and they're making preparations so that his faction is not allowed to win any seats or is even allowed to run in the upcoming on parliamentary elections, which will be in March.  So, I guess, in the context of the Middle East - of Middle East relationships - I think it's important to remember that Ahmadinejad has been marginalized and also it's important to remember that as president, he never had very much power.


ABDO: I think that we sitting here underestimate the power of even statements that come out of the administration. And the Iranians, for example, take very seriously any public statements made about their poor human rights record. And there has now been appointed a special rapporteur for Iran that will investigate Iran's human rights violations and there is now a lot of back and forth to whether he'll be allowed to go to Iran. But it seems the Iranians are going to permit this in the end and they're already sort of scripting what his trip will look like. We've been told that they're making Evin Prison, which is sort of a notorious prison look like a bed and breakfast now and they released political prisoners. So you see it does have some effect. The simple appointment of an investigator who is going to look into the human rights violations in Iran has already created a changed regime behavior in a very small way and a very scripted way, but it's made a difference.


ZOGBY: Iran's favorable ratings are very low and its favorable ratings are low because its behavior in the region is viewed as interference and counterproductive.


ZOGBY: One of the great ways of diminishing Iran and its role in the region and its attractiveness of the alienated and disenfranchised and the angry is to move that agenda [on Palestine] forward and solve it. That's what the Saudis know, that's what General Petraeus knew, that's what General Schwarzkopf knew, that's what Jim Baker knew, that's what we've historically always understood on a leadership level.


            Read more trasncripts from the event here

Related articles and reports:

Iran: Isolated And Under Pressure by National Security Network

Dealing With Iran by National Security Network

Ahmadinejad's Impotence by Geneive Abdo

How Iran Keeps Assad In Power by Geneive Abdo

Arab Analysis Toward Iran, 2011 by James Zogby

Arab Attitudes, 2011 by James Zogby and Zogby International