Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi traveled to New York for the first time in his term of office to attend the UN General Assembly. Raisi left with his delegation on Monday, the Iranian news agency Isna reported. Raisi wants to use the trip to put Iran's image in the right light in the world and to draw attention to the effects of the US sanctions, according to a statement from the President's Office. A meeting with President Joe Biden or other US politicians is not planned.
The trip is likely to be overshadowed by the death of 22-year-old Iranian Mahsa Amini. The young woman fell into a coma in police custody and died on Friday. Since then, the Iranian government has been in need of explanations - there has also been a lot of dismay and protest internationally.
The arch-conservative politician Raisi is also on a sanctions list in the USA of people whose assets could be frozen and whose participation in international banking could be made more difficult. According to the Ministry of Finance, Raisi was accused of human rights abuses during his time as Attorney General in Tehran. He is also said to be one of the main perpetrators of the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988.
In recent years there have been repeated tensions with the West over Iran's nuclear program. Efforts to revive the 2015 Vienna nuclear deal - designed to prevent the country from building nuclear bombs - are back on hold after some hopeful signs this summer. The USA under Donald Trump left the deal in 2018 and imposed severe sanctions. Since then, Tehran has been increasingly trying to find allies in Asia.
Criticism of Raisi statements on the Holocaust
An interview by Raisi with the US television station CBS triggered sharp criticism in Israel on Monday. When asked if he believed in the authenticity of the Holocaust, Raisi said, "An event has been claimed in history and there are also signs that it happened." "Scientists must be allowed to research these issues," Raisi said, according to a transcript released by Iran's presidential office. "Regardless of what historians say on the subject, history cannot be denied on this matter," Raisi said.
"Some signs," Prime Minister Jair Lapid wrote on Twitter, adding historical footage of Holocaust victims. According to the army, Israeli Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, who visited the Auschwitz death camp on Monday, said: "You don't have to be a historian or scientist to understand the horrors of the Holocaust. You have to be a human being."
Iranian politicians have already provoked sharp reactions in the past with their statements on the Holocaust. Ex-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in particular had repeatedly expressed doubts about the Holocaust. Since the Islamic revolution in 1979, Israel and Iran have viewed each other as arch-enemies.