In a rare show of accord, both major candidates for mayor on Monday called for continued U.S. pressure on Iran to abandon its quest for nuclear weapons, as the country’s new president heads to Manhattan for the United Nations General Assembly.
President Hassan Rouhani’s overtures to the West, as he tries to strike a more conciliatory tone than his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have won him open ears in the State Department.
But Republican Joseph Lhota and Democrat Bill de Blasio joined a chorus of public figures outside UN headquarters calling for vigilance.
“Words are not as important as actions,” Lhota, a former deputy mayor and ex-MTA chairman said. “It’s very important that we continue pressure on Iran … very important that we stand unified as one people for the state of Israel …”
De Blasio, who arrived after Lhota left, said, “We have to continue every form of pressure on the Iran regime until it changes its policies. We simply won’t be fooled again after all these years of seeing the same malevolence.”
(Full remarks in video, below.)
De Blasio’s remarks came on the same day that he accepted the endorsement of President Barack Obama.
At the rally neither candidate directly addressed the president’s recent exchange of letters with Rouhani or ongoing diplomacy by his administration that is making Israel nervous.
At a later press conference in Queens, de Blasio, responding to a question, said “The Obama administration deserves tremendous credit for putting sustained and growing pressure on the Iranian regime, and the reason you’re seeing this sudden change of tone, is because these sanctions are working.” He also mentioned his work as public advocate pressing companies that do business in the United States to end their operations in Iran.
While there was no daylight between the contenders’ stated view on U.S. policy toward Iran, Lhota, speaking to reporters after his remarks, took a swipe at de Blasio when asked how his worldview differed from his opponent’s.
“We do have very, very different political philosophies … in light of what my views are of how our economy works, and that probably transfers over into foreign policy, but that’s not one that we have had a debate on,” Lhota said.
Referring to a New York Times report Sunday that de Blasio, as a postgraduate activist in 1988, went to Nicaragua in support of the embattled leftist government there, distributing supplies, and later honeymooning in Cuba, violating a U.S. travel ban, Lhota said, “Actions taken with the Sandinistas, who were fighting Americans as well as capitalism, [were] absolutely not the right thing to do during the Cold War. Going to Cuba illegally is never a good thing in this country. His point of view in the world and my point of view in the world are contrasting and different.”
Despite having no direct impact on foreign policy, New York mayors have a long history of staking out positions on international affairs, particularly regarding the Middle East.
“We are the capital of the world, the headquarters of the United Nations,” Lhota said. “The mayor of New York has always been asked about issues around the world.”
When a TV reporter asked if Lhota favored keeping Iran’s leader out of New York, noting the antipathy of Lhota’s former boss, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, toward Palestinian Authority President Yasir Arafat, the candidate said, “There is a world of difference between heads of state and Yasir Arafat, who was a murderer … He was a murderer, end of sentence.”
In his remarks at the podium, de Blasio noted that the city “is the No. 1 target of terrorism, and we know we have to be vigilant and use every possible tool to protect ourselves,” adding that “the Iranian government has been the No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism for years.”
But he declined to answer questions from a large scrum of reporters who followed him down West 43rd Street when he left.
The press conference, which has become an annual event sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council at the start of the General Assembly, brought together numerous local elected officials as well as two members of Congress, Rep. Nita Lowey and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, both Democrats. Members of the clergy who formed Iran 180, which implores Iran to give up its nuclear-weapons program, also spoke.
“[Rouhani] has changed the tone and tenor of Iran’s message to the world,” said JCRC executive Vice President Michael Miller. “But as Americans and as New Yorkers, as political and faith leaders we have to say clearly and unequivocally that we will not be taken in by his soothing rhetoric and newfound charm offensive without seeing tangible and meaningful actions.”
Falling in the middle of the citywide election campaign, the event drew heavy media coverage and a range of candidates, including Scott Stringer, the Democratic nominee for city comptroller and his Republican challenger, John Burnett; Gale Brewer and Melinda Katz, the Democratic nominees for Manhattan and Queens borough president (respectively) and Adolfo Carrion, who is running for mayor as an independent.
State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was also among the protestors, calling Rouhani’s overtures “nice words,” but adding “until Iran stops sponsoring terrorism those words must fall on deaf ears,” while diplomacy must be backed up by a credible threat of military action.