UN Security Council meeting on Iran reveals divided opinions on council's role in protests

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley calls a meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss a possible international response to the protests in Iran, which have killed at least 21 people and which Tehran claims have been stirred up by Washington.

U.S. stands 'unapologetically' behind protesters, while Russia says Washington is interfering

Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations Gholamali Khoshroo, front, speaks during a UN Security Council meeting on the situation in Iran, Friday, at United Nations headquarters. (Mary Altaffer/Associated Press)

A UN Security Council emergency meeting on the protests roiling Iran is putting Tehran on notice that "the world will be watching" what it does, the U.S. ambassador said Friday.

Nikki Haley also said the international community can't let Iran silence protesters' messages, particularly by blocking some social media platforms.

The U.S. called Friday's meeting after giving moral support to the anti-government protesters in a week of demonstrations and counter-demonstrations. Russia said Washington was overstepping into Iran's domestic affairs.

At least 21 people have been killed amid the anti-government protests and unrest over the country's economic woes — demonstrations Iran has accused the U.S. of stirring up. 

Amid the unrest and anti-government rallies that began last week, Iran has also seen three days of pro-government demonstrations, with crowds in the tens of thousands. A similar rally followed Friday prayers in Tehran.

U.S. President Donald Trump and members of his administration have praised the anti-government protesters as people standing up to a repressive and corrupt regime.

Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya, left, speaks to American Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley before the security council meeting. (Mary Altaffer/Associated Press)

Iran is 'on notice'

Haley said Friday that "the world should applaud their courage," and the U.S. "stands unapologetically with those in Iran who seek freedom for themselves."

"The Iranian regime is finally on notice: The world will be watching what you do," she said.

But Iran's Ambassador to the UN Gholamali Khoshroo criticized the council for taking up a matter his country considers "purely domestic," and called it bullying by the United States.

Russia, a close ally of Iran's, agreed.

"The United States is abusing the platform of the security council," said Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, whose country has close ties to Iran. "Let Iran deal with its own problems."

Envoys from several other countries, from China to newcomer Equatorial Guinea, expressed reservations about whether the council was the right forum for the issue. 

Still, the UN charter empowers the council to "investigate any dispute, or any situation which might lead to international friction," and the U.S. wasn't alone in thinking the Iranian protests qualified. 

"It is right and proper — indeed, our responsibility ... to assess whether a situation like this could become a threat to international peace and security," British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said before the meeting. 

University students attend an anti-government protest inside Tehran University as nationwide demonstrations shake Iran. The country has increasingly has blamed its foreign foes for fomenting the unrest. (Associated Press)

France's ambassador to the United Nations told the meeting that recent protests in Iran do not threaten international peace and security.

"However worrying the events of the last few days in Iran may be, they do not constitute per se a threat to international 
peace and security," Ambassador Francois Delattre said. "We must be wary of any attempts to exploit this crisis for personal ends, which would have the diametrically opposed outcome to that which is wished."

U.S. has 'lost authority'

"It's another attempt [at bullying] by the U.S., which has lost authority and credibility in the eyes of the whole world," said Khoshroo. He pointed out that Trump has a history of making "belligerent" comments about Iran.

Khoshroo said Iran has "hard evidence" that violence is being directed from abroad, and went on to describe recent instances in which foreign citizens have incited violence in Iran.

"One U.S. resident took to social media to order the killing of our security forces … as well as their families, in their homes."

Trump's administration has denied having any hand in the demonstrations, saying they arose completely spontaneously. The CIA declined to comment.

The president's tweets have not called for violence or disruptive acts, but he has commended them. Trump expressed "such respect for the people of Iran as they try to take back their corrupt government" and pledged "great support from the United States." He also has described Iran as "failing at every level" and declared it is "TIME FOR CHANGE!"

The emergency meeting, requested by Haley on Tuesday, was a misstep for the Trump administration, said Iran's foreign minister on Twitter following the meeting. 

"The UNSC rebuffed the US' naked attempt to hijack its mandate ... Another FP (foreign policy) blunder for the Trump 
administration," Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted. 

Iran's interior minister said up to 42,000 people took part during the week of protests. The days of pro-government rallies drew crowds in the tens of thousands.

With files from CBC News