Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Story of the Day-Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Full CBS Interview with Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (born October 28, 1956) is the sixth and current President of the Islamic Republic of Iran. He became president on 6 August 2005 after winning the 2005 presidential election by popular vote. Before becoming president, he was the Mayor of Tehran. He is the highest directly elected official in the country, but, according to Article 113 of Constitution of Iran, he has less total power than the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces of Iran and has the final word in all aspects of foreign and domestic policies.
Ahmadinejad is an outspoken critic of the George W. Bush Administration and supports strengthened relations between Iran and Russia (see Iran-Russia relations), Cuba, Venezuela (see Iran-Venezuela relations), Syria (see Iran-Syria relations) and the Persian Gulf states. He has supported Iran's nuclear program declaring it is for peaceful purposes in spite of contrary demands by the United Nations Security Council to suspend it. He was condemned internationally for reportedly calling for Israel to be "wiped off the map," and described the Holocaust as a myth, leading to accusations of antisemitism. In response to these criticisms, Ahmadinejad said “No, I am not anti-Jew, I respect them very much.” He also has stated his opinions that there is freedom of speech in Iran, that it does not hold politicial prisioners, that women are well-treated, and that there are no homosexuals in Iran, not one.
During his presidency, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad launched a gas rationing plan to reduce the country's fuel consumption, dissolved the Management and Planning Organisation of Iran and cut the interest rate for private and public banking facilities.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Political Figure / President of Iran
Born: 28 October 1956
Birthplace: Garmsar, Iran
Best Known As: President of Iran, 2005-present
In August of 2005 Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was sworn in as the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Trained as an engineer, Ahmadinejad entered the political arena after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. He joined the Revolutionary Guard and, according to some reports, worked covert operations in the 1980s during Iran's war with Iraq. After four years as a provincial governor (1993-97), Ahmadinejad became a lecturer at Tehran's University of Science and Technology. He kept his hand in politics and was elected mayor of Tehran in 2003. He was not well known internationally until June of 2005, when he won Iran's presidential election. It is widely held that Ahmadinejad's support comes in part from those who oppose U.S. foreign policy, and early on President Ahmadinejad's rhetoric matched his promises to defy the U.S., most notably on the issue of Iran's plans for nuclear technology. In October of 2005 he made headlines and earned a United Nations rebuke when he publicly opined that Israel should be "wiped off the map." In December of 2005 he described the Holocaust as a "myth" in statements subsequently condemned by the United States and its allies.
Soon after he took office, questions were raised about Ahmadinejad's role with the radical student organization that seized the U.S. embassy and held its 53 occupants hostage from 4 November 1979 until 20 January 1981; some former hostages claimed he was one of their captors, a claim denied by Ahmadinejad... In December of 2005 it was reported that Ahmadinejad had ordered a ban on "western" music, a move reminiscent of Ayatollah Khomeini's 1979 ban on music.
Profile: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Timeline
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a President unlike any other Iran has known: belligerent, naive, at once a fundamentalist and nationalist, and a dark genius at mobilizing Iranian public opinion. In the first year of his presidency, he has risen out of obscurity to become one of the most troublesome and noteworthy leaders in the world. His uncompromising stand on his country's right to enrich uranium has increased the threat of further turmoil in the Middle East and edged the U.S. and Iran closer to a military confrontation than ever before in recent times.
Iranians elected Ahmadinejad, 49, with the clear mandate of improving their economic lives. His campaign slogan, "We can do it," implied fighting corruption, not building the Bomb. Often the President's rhetoric—like his suggestion that Israel be moved to Alaska or maybe Europe—seems outrageous to Iranians, who are more interested in engaging the world than in eliciting its condemnation. But the former mayor of Tehran and Revolutionary Guards commander has formulated a message that the majority of Iranians agree with: it's time for Iran to be strong again, and no time is better than now. He has made nuclear power an issue of national pride, and so far, his position that the U.S. "can't do a thing" is proving true. It's a dangerous gamble, though, because it may force America to flex its military muscle to prove him wrong.
People Who Matter: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
For a man of such outsize ambition, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tries hard to seem normal. He drives a 20-year-old Peugeot and spends a few nights a week at a modest house in a residential neighborhood of Tehran. When he visited New York City in September, his wife brought dates from Iran to save money on food. And then there is the Jacket the bland beige windbreaker he wears even for affairs of state, projecting the image he prefers for himself as champion of the dispossessed, a global Everyman.
Little else is ordinary about Ahmadinejad, 50. In his 18 months as Iran's President, the former engineering professor turned Tehran mayor has become the most voluble, polarizing leader in the Middle East. It isn't simply his country's support of militant Shi�ite groups in Lebanon and Iraq, or Iran's suspected pursuit of a nuclear bomb. In 2006 Ahmadinejad also appealed to audiences beyond Iran who resent U.S. power and feel emboldened to challenge it. His denials of the Holocaust and his threat to destroy Israel cause shudders in the West but have made him an icon throughout the Muslim world.
Ahmadinejad's bombast has stiffened the Bush Administration's resistance to talking with Tehran. And discontent with him is growing at home. Last week a few dozen students shouted "Death to the dictator!" as Ahmadinejad delivered a speech. Two days later, he met TIME's Scott MacLeod at Ahmadinejad's private office in Tehran for a 75-minute interview, his second with TIME in three months. Here is the transcript:
TIME: What was it like for you growing up in Iran?
AHMADINEJAD: In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. I would like to extend my greetings to your readers, and wish everyone, from the Almighty God, good health and success in their efforts and in the path toward good deeds. I was an individual like the other Iranians — like other Iranian youngsters. Iranian people are enthusiastic, interested in science and progress. They are very kind and emotional, and they wish peace and progress and good health for the other nations of the world. Young Iranians when they are studying are also playing sports. They think of the issues and affairs of their country. They prepare themselves for the advancement of their own country. I, too, went to school, high school and have been a college student and still my main career is in the university.
TIME: You are still teaching a course at the university? You must love teaching.
AHMADINEJAD: It is my main career.
TIME: Did you have a happy childhood?
AHMADINEJAD: Yes. We were a very sincere and loving family. We were very interdependent in our family, and respect [for elders] — as in a traditional Iranian family — was totally in effect. Mind you, my father's job had its hardship, making iron doors and windows and metal structures. The family was a very close and solid. Like other Iranian families.
TIME: You were a good football player?,
AHMADINEJAD: In the past I used to play, but now I am very busy giving interviews and don't have a chance to play (laughs).
TIME: What experiences formed your political views?
AHMADINEJAD: I've never been a military man. Only during the defense period — the war imposed by Saddam with the support of the western powers — I, like the other Basijis [members of a paramilitary group], I participated for a while as a volunteer in the front, like other young people. Politics is part of life. Everybody should be sensitive toward the destiny of themselves and the country. I came to politics from the time of the West-supported ex-dictator in Iran, when I was a college student, and I've continued that up to now. Everyone should be sensitive and responsible toward the affairs of society.
TIME: How did you become a student activist?
AHMADINEJAD: We were witnessing that others would make decisions about our affairs. The interests of our country were under the domination of the foreigners.
TIME: You mean the United States?
AHMADINEJAD: Like the United States. We liked freedom, and we were interested to determine our destiny ourselves. We were seeking for justice to be restored in our country and to be completely independent and decide for ourselves.
TIME:Some of the former hostages said they remembered you at the American embassy. What's the truth of that?
AHMADINEJAD: When the embassy was occupied by the students, I didn't have a beard. The photo [an apparent reference to an alleged picture cited by a former hostage] had a very long beard. That man was 15 years older than I was.
TIME:You were not involved at the embassy?
AHMADINEJAD: I was not there at that day.
TIME:The takeover was the focus of a lot of attention in Iran. Were you opposed to it or in favor of it even if you were not involved?
AHMADINEJAD: That was a natural reaction by our nation. Before the victory of the Islamic revolution, we had a regime in power in our country that was totally dependent on the West, and which was very cruel in confronting the people. The jails were full of prisoners and torture. A majority of the people were living under poverty. Our interests, resources and mines were streaming out of the country. Our nation made a revolution. It was a popular and peaceful revolution. The people took to the streets and raised their demands. Now that's the bare minimum of humanitarian rights. But the people were faced with machine guns and tanks. And unfortunately were confronted with a regime that was supported by the U.S. and European countries. It [the regime] would kill the people and the U.S. and European states were supporting it .
After the success of the revolution, the least of our nation's expectation was that, if it [the revolution] does not get any support by those powers, they should make no troubles for it, either. The late, great Imam Khomeini announced that we would forget all that happened in the past. The Imam said that we would like to have friendly relationships with all the world countries, except for the apartheid regime in South Africa at that time and the Zionist regime. But unfortunately, the government of the United States and some European countries, instead of using this historic opportunity to make friends with the Iranian nation, chose to stand up against it. Everyday people were confronted with a new conspiracy shaped against their demands, the revolution and their popular leader. When our nation, looked into these, it saw that many of these are rooted in the U.S. Embassy. [We were a] lonely nation, a nation which had no mass media in its possession [because] all the mass media were connected with the U.S. and the Zionists were against this nation. And these media would present a peace-loving nation as a despotic one, only because it was guilty of seeking freedom.
Well, what should our people have done? They had to somehow make their voice heard. Definitely this has nothing to do with the Americans as a nation, because we believe that the American people didn't have any role to play in the crimes committed by the former regime of the Shah and the support it received from the U.S. government. This was just a natural reaction.
TIME:Do you regret that this continues to stand in the way of better American Iranian relations?
AHMADINEJAD: We have now 25 years behind us. We should think of future, not about the past.
TIME:Why did you write your recent letter to the American people?
AHMADINEJAD: Did you read it? My letter had different aims and goals. Many American citizens, in the messages and letters they sent, requested that I bring up my points of view directly with the American people. Many of them said that the government of America doesn't let them receive my points of view in its entirety and without distortions. In various languages, they've said there's a kind of censorship in work. So I talked to them directly.
The behavior of the American government has severely damaged the position of the United States in the world. No country in the world looks upon America as a friend. When the U.S. name is mentioned, usually people are reminded of war, aggression and bloodshed, and that's not a good thing. In other words the American people are paying for something they don't believe in. I'm sure if the American people learn what their tax money is converted to, in Iraq and in Palestine, they will never consent. Another purpose is to have a dialogue among nations. All these targets are in line with peace, brotherhood and friendship. We are very upset with the situation in the world, and don't see the current trend as positive, though we believe nations are awakening, but we're not satisfied with the status quo. We despise these kinds of conflicts. We think with logic and through reasoning problems can be solved.
TIME:Was this a public relations exercise to improve your image, or do you really want a dialogue with the United States and start talking with the American government about these issues.
AHMADINEJAD: We separate the account of the American people and the America government. With the government of the United States, the issue is different. I sent a letter to Mr. Bush. I really wanted him to revise his behavior. But apparently it didn't have any effect.
TIME:The Baker-Hamilton commission made its report about Iraq, and recommended the U.S. initiate a dialogue with you. If the Bush Administration reached out to Iran, are you ready to talk to President Bush now?
AHMADINEJAD: We believe that the decision makers in America should change their outlook towards the region. What they are thinking is only their own interests. They do not consider any value for the people of the region. They should believe that the Iraqi people are also human beings. They too have the right of self determination, and the right of using their own resources in a good way. They have a brilliant civilized and cultural past. They have many scientists, scholars and literary people. And today they have a constitution, a parliament and a government. They can run their own affairs by themselves. They have no need for a guardian. If the outlook of the American management [of Iraq] is changed, then ways will be found for solving the problem. If we become certain that the outlooks have changed, well, then of course we care for the Iraqi people
TIME:So you want to talk to the U.S. or not?
AHMADINEJAD: If you study my reply, you will find out the answer to your question. We want to resolve the problem. We do not want to waste time. We do not want a political game. What we want is for the rights of the Iraqi people to be returned to them.
TIME: Are you ready to discuss this directly with the Bush Administration, and other issues, like the nuclear program and the Palestinian issue?
AHMADINEJAD: I do believe that if the government of the United States changes its behavior, the conditions will be changed. Then a dialogue could take place.
TIME: Are you hoping for that?
AHMADINEJAD: That's why I wrote to Mr. Bush
TIME: Would better relations with the U.S. help Iran?
AHMADINEJAD: It depends on the behavior of the U.S. government. We even asked for direct flights so people could commute more easily between our two countries. But the response was negative. The government of America sees itself as the owner of the whole world. It is mistaken. They should think about their own people. They too can be useful for their own people. Without harming the other nations. And without stepping on other's rights. I think they should learn how. The letter I sent was to show this very way.
TIME: In your letter to Americans, you said America is becoming weaker. Is Iran's influence rising in the world?
AHMADINEJAD: Our outlook toward the world affairs is not balance of power, but a humanitarian one. We are not seeking influence or domination. We respect all peoples and all nations. We think we can live in an atmosphere of friendship and brotherhood with all. There is no need for domination or influence. Of course, from the cultural point of view, we defend certain values and principles. Human values, dignity of the people, the fundamental and basic rights of the people, and peace and brotherhood.
TIME: You've just held a conference on the Holocaust for which you are being criticized. Why not hold a peace conference instead of a Holocaust conference. You could invite the Israelis and Palestinians to talk about peace, instead of what happened 60 years ago.
AHMADINEJAD: As a matter of fact this conference was in line with peace. Because for the past 60 years, the Palestinian people have been suppressed using Holocaust as the pretext. We believe if we do not look into the causes and roots of the problems, the problems won't be solved. What is the root of the problem in Palestine? Sixty years ago a regime was imp osed by the excuse of the Holocaust. If the issue of the Holocaust became clear, the issue would be solved.
AHMADINEJAD: I raised two questions. I said if the Holocaust is a real case, why don't they allow research about it. And the second question was, let's assume that this event actually took place in the past, where did it happen? What is it's connection with the Palestinian people? These are essential questions. Of course we know the Zionists are severely against these types of questions. They become angry. Because for the past 60 years they are killing, and threatening the people of the region. They are continuing their aggression. They established a state for themselves.
TIME: That accuses Israel and makes a judgment, but how would answering your questions bring peace? Israel has nuclear weapons.
AHMADINEJAD: When it is understood that the issue does not have any relationship with the Palestinian people, then we will have two proposals for the western and European countries.
The first solution is that just in the same way as you mounted this regime in the past, you can remove it yourself. You know well that the Holocaust has nothing to do with the Palestinian people. That was just a pretext to create this regime. And it was not a good excuse. Just cease to support it. Don't use your people's money to assist this violent regime. This is the best solution. If they do not accept the first solution, then they should allow the nation of Palestine to make their decision about its own fate. Anyone who is a Palestinian citizen, whether they are Christian, Jewish or Muslim, should decide together in a very free referendum. There is no need for war. There is no need for threats or an the atom bomb either. All that is needed is logic and reason and the humanitarian basis adopted by the United Nations. And we should consider the right to self determination for the Palestinians too, and then the issue will be solved.
TIME: Israel isn't going to accept any of this.
AHMADINEJAD: If the American and British government do not support and help them, and they stop using their power and influence they will accept.
TIME: Without a war?
AHMADINEJAD: Yes. Why not? Everyone knows that the Zionist regime is a tool in the hands of the United States and British governments.
TIME: There was a peace process that the elected leadership of the Palestinians was negotiating with the leadership of Israel. But Iran opposed it and Iran supported groups like Hamas and Hizballah and the process failed. Wouldn't it have been better to support the peace process?
AHMADINEJAD: Do you remember what Mr. Arafat said before he died? He expressed his regret about that trend. He said we were wrong, and that path will not secure the Palestinian people's rights. [Besides] isn't Hamas elected by the Palestinian people?
TIME:So was Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who wants to continue the peace process.
AHMADINEJAD: People change their mind, we should respect people's decisions. While we should solve problems at the root level. Otherwise the problem will persist forever. Even if a single person comes to have a compromise, the nations will not accept it. We saw that with the Palestinian people. All nations are like that.
TIME:Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert seemed to acknowledge this week that Israel has nuclear weapons. Does that change Iran's determination to have nuclear weapons?
AHMADINEJAD: The era for bombs and atoms and weapons has come to an end. People should be talked to with reason. Where are the ones who used nuclear bombs in Hiroshima? Their era is over. This literature belonged to 60 years ago. Now it's the time for dialogue, logic as well as law and justice. Our people and our nation have a very clear logic and sense. We're a law-abiding people. We do not need [nuclear weapons]. And it's useless for them [the Israelis] too. They are dealing with people, not an army or a political party. A nation is like a river, always flowing. A river can't be killed.
TIME: Will you make concessions to avoid sanctions on Iran over your nuclear program, and if sanctions are imposed, how will you retaliate?
AHMADINEJAD: We announced that this will be yet another mistake by the government of the United States.This will not improve the situation for political parties and the statesmen. On the contrary, it will worsen the situation for them. After 27 years, they still have not learned how to talk to the Iranian people. Here's a great nation. A nation which has culture beliefs and message to the world. Dialogue with threatening language will not resolve the problem. They made a mistake in standing against our peaceful nuclear activities. And to escape from the consequences of that mistake they keep making new ones. New mistakes cannot make up for old mistakes. The best way is that they should respect the law and the rights of the people. I advised them: friendship with the Iranian people is better than confronting us. Experience has shown that we have the capability to defend ourselves and take advantage of any circumstance. If somebody makes that mistake, the consequence will come back to himself. I advised Mr. Bush to study our history. The Iranian people are an extremely intelligent people. They know how make the best opportunities from the harshest of threats. And make ill wishers regret themselves.
TIME: So what will Iran do?
AHMADINEJAD: Don't be in a hurry. We believe that the American government cannot do anything against us, because they are facing a nation, our people, and they cannot do anything against us. Here, they are not confronting with one party, or person. They are confronting the nation. And each nation is like an ocean. Nobody can bombard the ocean.
TIME: Tell us about your speech at Amirkabir University, where students demonstrated against you this week.
AHMADINEJAD: In our country, freedom is practiced in reality. The students say what they want, and I say my piece. They are our own children. They have complete freedom. I cannot impose my views on them. This is amongst the prides and honors of our system and our revolution. We have struggled and spent our youth to reach to this freedom.
TIME: But some people have been sent to prison for demonstrating in Iran. One of our colleagues [Iranian-Canadian photographer] Zahra Kazemi was killed in prison after being arrested.
AHMADINEJAD: Well you see, first of all our judiciary power is a totally independent apparatus. They are not under the influence or pressure of the political groups or parties. Not even under influence of the president. We have a judicial process and a civil law like everyone else. If anyone claims they have been treated in contrast to these regulations, and if it's announced there could be an investigation. How many convicted people have you seen who are satisfied with their judge? They protest, and they don't accept it. Of course, any place in the world mistakes can take place, as in the United States it is happening every day.
TIME: They have even closed newspapers, including one supporting you.
AHMADINEJAD: Of course, there are not many. Compared to those open and operating, their number is small. That's the law after all! If the rule of law doesn't prevail, freedom has no meaning. The law is the guarantee of freedom. As a matter of fact it was a state-owned newspaper that was closed. That goes to show that the government can't use its influence in the judiciary, and that is the most progressive sort of judiciary apparatus.
TIME: Some Iranians say you have a divine presidency.
AHMADINEJAD: Do you not believe in God? What do you think the Almighty God is doing?
TIME:What does that have to do with your presidency?
AHMADINEJAD: I want to see what kind of God you believe in. We do believe that God has the upper hand in the whole world. And we can talk with God and pray to God. And he changes destinies.
New York: Iran's leader can't visit ground zero
City officials in New York have denied Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's request to visit the site of the destroyed World Trade Center next week, a police spokesman said Wednesday.
The controversial, outspoken president wanted to "pay his respects" and lay a wreath at the site of the 2001 al Qaeda attacks during his visit to the U.N. General Assembly, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said, citing Iranian officials.
But workers are rebuilding the foundations of the site, "and it would not be possible for him to go where other people don't go," Kelly told CNN.
Iranian officials have not put in any additional requests to visit the public platforms at ground zero, police spokesman Paul Browne told CNN. But, he said, "If there were a further request, we'd reject it" because of security fears. Watch why New York said no to Iranian leader »
The Iranian mission to the U.N. said it had not been told of the decision, but in a statement issued Wednesday evening, it called the rejection "unfortunate."
Iran is ruled by a Shiite Muslim government hostile to the fundamentalist Sunni al Qaeda.
Ahmadinejad's predecessor at the time of the September 11 attacks, Mohammed Khatami, condemned them, and Tehran cooperated with the U.S.-led campaign to topple al Qaeda's Taliban allies in Afghanistan that followed.
The United States and Iran have not had formal diplomatic relations since 1980 after Iranian militants stormed the United States Embassy in Tehran and held Americans hostage for 444 days.
The United States considers Iran a state sponsor of terrorism and has accused the country of meddling in Iraq and in Afghanistan where U.S. troops are battling Taliban and al Qaeda remnants more than six years after the September 11, 2001, attacks.
More than 2,700 people died in the attack on the World Trade Center, when al Qaeda terrorists flew hijacked passenger jets into the twin towers. A third jet hit the Pentagon, and a fourth crashed in a Pennsylvania field after passengers resisted their hijackers.
"It is appalling that President Ahmadinejad, one of the world's leading sponsors of terror, would find it appropriate to visit this hallowed ground," State Department spokesman Tom Casey said.
Several presidential candidates also condemned the requested visit. Hillary Clinton, the New York senator and Democratic front-runner, called the request "unacceptable." Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a leading Republican, called it "shockingly audacious."
And former Mayor Rudy Giuliani -- whose leadership after the attacks is the cornerstone of his GOP presidential bid -- said that "under no circumstances" should Ahmadinejad be allowed to visit the World Trade Center site.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the site should not be "used as a photo op."
Numerous critics have attacked Ahmadinejad's hard-line anti-Israel stance and his insistence that Iran will defy U.N. demands that it halt its production of enriched uranium. Iran insists it is producing nuclear fuel for civilian power plants, but Washington accuses Tehran of trying to produce a nuclear bomb.
Iran's president says move Israel
Iran's conservative president has said that Israel should be moved to Europe.
"If European countries claim that they have killed Jews in World War II... why don't they provide the Zionist regime with a piece of Europe," Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Iranian television.
"Germany and Austria can provide the... regime with two or three provinces for this regime to establish itself, and the issue will be resolved."
The president's remarks were quickly condemned by Israel and the US.
"This is not the first time, unfortunately, that the Iranian president has expressed the most outrageous ideas concerning Jews and Israel," Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev said.
"He is not just Israel's problem. He is a worry for the entire international community," he added.
Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, quoted by AFP agency, described the remarks as "an outrageous gaffe, which I want to repudiate in the sharpest manner".
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the Iranian leader's comments "further underscore our concerns about the regime".
"And it's all the more reason why it's so important that the regime not have the ability to develop nuclear weapons," he said.
UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said: "I condemn [the comments] unreservedly. They have no place in civilised political debate."
Mr Ahmadinejad's stance was also condemned by French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who were meeting in Berlin.
In October, Mr Ahmadinejad caused an outcry by calling for Israel to "be wiped off the map".
His latest comments come as Iran is mired in controversy over its nuclear programme, which it says is solely for the provision of fuel, but which the US says is aimed at producing nuclear weapons.
An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report in September said questions about Iran's nuclear programme remained unanswered despite an intensive investigation.
Ahmadinejad's letter to Americans
In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
O, Almighty God, bestow upon humanity the perfect human being promised to all by You, and make us among his followers.
Were we not faced with the activities of the US administration in this part of the world and the negative ramifications of those activities on the daily lives of our peoples, coupled with the many wars and calamities caused by the US administration as well as the tragic consequences of US interference in other countries;
Were the American people not God-fearing, truth-loving, and justice-seeking, while the US administration actively conceals the truth and impedes any objective portrayal of current realities;
And if we did not share a common responsibility to promote and protect freedom and human dignity and integrity;
Then, there would have been little urgency to have a dialogue with you.
While Divine providence has placed Iran and the United States geographically far apart, we should be cognizant that human values and our common human spirit, which proclaim the dignity and exalted worth of all human beings, have brought our two great nations of Iran and the United States closer together.
Both our nations are God-fearing, truth-loving and justice-seeking, and both seek dignity, respect and perfection.
Both greatly value and readily embrace the promotion of human ideals such as compassion, empathy, respect for the rights of human beings, securing justice and equity, and defending the innocent and the weak against oppressors and bullies.
We are all inclined towards the good, and towards extending a helping hand to one another, particularly to those in need.
We all deplore injustice, the trampling of peoples' rights and the intimidation and humiliation of human beings.
We all detest darkness, deceit, lies and distortion, and seek and admire salvation, enlightenment, sincerity and honesty.
The pure human essence of the two great nations of Iran and the United States testify to the veracity of these statements.
Our nation has always extended its hand of friendship to all other nations of the world.
Hundreds of thousands of my Iranian compatriots are living amongst you in friendship and peace, and are contributing positively to your society. Our people have been in contact with you over the past many years and have maintained these contacts despite the unnecessary restrictions of US authorities.
As mentioned, we have common concerns, face similar challenges, and are pained by the sufferings and afflictions in the world.
We, like you, are aggrieved by the ever-worsening pain and misery of the Palestinian people. Persistent aggressions by the Zionists are making life more and more difficult for the rightful owners of the land of Palestine. In broad day-light, in front of cameras and before the eyes of the world, they are bombarding innocent defenseless civilians, bulldozing houses, firing machine guns at students in the streets and alleys, and subjecting their families to endless grief.
No day goes by without a new crime.
Palestinian mothers, just like Iranian and American mothers, love their children, and are painfully bereaved by the imprisonment, wounding and murder of their children. What mother wouldn't?
For 60 years, the Zionist regime has driven millions of the inhabitants of Palestine out of their homes. Many of these refugees have died in the Diaspora and in refugee camps. Their children have spent their youth in these camps and are aging while still in the hope of returning to homeland.
You know well that the US administration has persistently provided blind and blanket support to the Zionist regime, has emboldened it to continue its crimes, and has prevented the UN Security Council from condemning it.
Who can deny such broken promises and grave injustices towards humanity by the US administration?
Governments are there to serve their own people. No people wants to side with or support any oppressors. But regrettably, the US administration disregards even its own public opinion and remains in the forefront of supporting the trampling of the rights of the Palestinian people.
Let's take a look at Iraq. Since the commencement of the US military presence in Iraq, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed, maimed or displaced. Terrorism in Iraq has grown exponentially. With the presence of the US military in Iraq, nothing has been done to rebuild the ruins, to restore the infrastructure or to alleviate poverty. The US Government used the pretext of the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but later it became clear that that was just a lie and a deception.
Although Saddam was overthrown and people are happy about his departure, the pain and suffering of the Iraqi people has persisted and has even been aggravated.
In Iraq, about one hundred and fifty thousand American soldiers, separated from their families and loved ones, are operating under the command of the current US administration. A substantial number of them have been killed or wounded and their presence in Iraq has tarnished the image of the American people and government.
Their mothers and relatives have, on numerous occasions, displayed their discontent with the presence of their sons and daughters in a land thousands of miles away from US shores. American soldiers often wonder why they have been sent to Iraq.
I consider it extremely unlikely that you, the American people, consent to the billions of dollars of annual expenditure from your treasury for this military misadventure.
You have heard that the US administration is kidnapping its presumed opponents from across the globe and arbitrarily holding them without trial or any international supervision in horrendous prisons that it has established in various parts of the world. God knows who these detainees actually are, and what terrible fate awaits them.
You have certainly heard the sad stories of the Guantanamo and Abu-Ghraib prisons. The US administration attempts to justify them through its proclaimed "war on terror." But every one knows that such behavior, in fact, offends global public opinion, exacerbates resentment and thereby spreads terrorism, and tarnishes the US image and its credibility among nations.
The US administration's illegal and immoral behavior is not even confined to outside its borders. You are witnessing daily that under the pretext of "the war on terror," civil liberties in the United States are being increasingly curtailed. Even the privacy of individuals is fast losing its meaning. Judicial due process and fundamental rights are trampled upon. Private phones are tapped, suspects are arbitrarily arrested, sometimes beaten in the streets, or even shot to death.
I have no doubt that the American people do not approve of this behavior and indeed deplore it.
The US administration does not accept accountability before any organization, institution or council. The US administration has undermined the credibility of international organizations, particularly the United Nations and its Security Council. But, I do not intend to address all the challenges and calamities in this message.
The legitimacy, power and influence of a government do not emanate from its arsenals of tanks, fighter aircrafts, missiles or nuclear weapons. Legitimacy and influence reside in sound logic, quest for justice and compassion and empathy for all humanity. The global position of the United States is in all probability weakened because the administration has continued to resort to force, to conceal the truth, and to mislead the American people about its policies and practices.
Undoubtedly, the American people are not satisfied with this behavior and they showed their discontent in the recent elections. I hope that in the wake of the mid-term elections, the administration of President Bush will have heard and will heed the message of the American people.
My questions are the following:
Is there not a better approach to governance?
Is it not possible to put wealth and power in the service of peace, stability, prosperity and the happiness of all peoples through a commitment to justice and respect for the rights of all nations, instead of aggression and war?
We all condemn terrorism, because its victims are the innocent.
But, can terrorism be contained and eradicated through war, destruction and the killing of hundreds of thousands of innocents?
If that were possible, then why has the problem not been resolved?
The sad experience of invading Iraq is before us all.
What has blind support for the Zionists by the US administration brought for the American people? It is regrettable that for the US administration, the interests of these occupiers supersedes the interests of the American people and of the other nations of the world.
What have the Zionists done for the American people that the US administration considers itself obliged to blindly support these infamous aggressors? Is it not because they have imposed themselves on a substantial portion of the banking, financial, cultural and media sectors?
I recommend that in a demonstration of respect for the American people and for humanity, the right of Palestinians to live in their own homeland should be recognized so that millions of Palestinian refugees can return to their homes and the future of all of Palestine and its form of government be determined in a referendum. This will benefit everyone.
Now that Iraq has a Constitution and an independent Assembly and Government, would it not be more beneficial to bring the US officers and soldiers home, and to spend the astronomical US military expenditures in Iraq for the welfare and prosperity of the American people? As you know very well, many victims of Katrina continue to suffer, and countless Americans continue to live in poverty and homelessness.
I'd also like to say a word to the winners of the recent elections in the US:
The United States has had many administrations; some who have left a positive legacy, and others that are neither remembered fondly by the American people nor by other nations.
Now that you control an important branch of the US Government, you will also be held to account by the people and by history.
If the US Government meets the current domestic and external challenges with an approach based on truth and Justice, it can remedy some of the past afflictions and alleviate some of the global resentment and hatred of America. But if the approach remains the same, it would not be unexpected that the American people would similarly reject the new electoral winners, although the recent elections, rather than reflecting a victory, in reality point to the failure of the current administration's policies. These issues had been extensively dealt with in my letter to President Bush earlier this year.
To sum up:
It is possible to govern based on an approach that is distinctly different from one of coercion, force and injustice.
It is possible to sincerely serve and promote common human values, and honesty and compassion.
It is possible to provide welfare and prosperity without tension, threats, imposition or war.
It is possible to lead the world towards the aspired perfection by adhering to unity, monotheism, morality and spirituality and drawing upon the teachings of the Divine Prophets.
Then, the American people, who are God-fearing and followers of Divine religions, will overcome every difficulty.
What I stated represents some of my anxieties and concerns.
I am confident that you, the American people, will play an instrumental role in the establishment of justice and spirituality throughout the world. The promises of the Almighty and His prophets will certainly be realized, Justice and Truth will prevail and all nations will live a true life in a climate replete with love, compassion and fraternity.
The US governing establishment, the authorities and the powerful should not choose irreversible paths. As all prophets have taught us, injustice and transgression will eventually bring about decline and demise. Today, the path of return to faith and spirituality is open and unimpeded.
We should all heed the Divine Word of the Holy Qur'an:
"But those who repent, have faith and do good may receive Salvation. Your Lord, alone, creates and chooses as He will, and others have no part in His choice; Glorified is God and Exalted above any partners they ascribe to Him." (28:67-68)
I pray to the Almighty to bless the Iranian and American nations and indeed all nations of the world with dignity and success.
Ahmadinejad CNN Interview on Nuclear Issue
Ahmadinejad says Iran ready for 'final nuclear step'
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said that Iran is ready to take the "final step" in its nuclear programme as world powers remained deadlocked over imposing UN sanctions against Tehran.
"The enemies of the Iranian people must know that the Iranian people have taken their decision and will resist until the end," the semi-official Mehr agency quoted him as saying in a speech in Baneh in Kurdestan province.
"In the nuclear case we are ready to take the final step and I hope that by the end of the year (Iranian year to March 2007) we will be able to hold the great celebration of Iran's nuclear right," he said.
Ahmadinejad, who has made a string of similar comments in recent days, did not specify where the step would take Iran's nuclear programme.
However Iranian officials have repeatedly said that the short-term goal of Iran's nuclear programme is to install some 3,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium at its plant in Natanz by March 2007.
This would in itself represent a massive step from the two cascades of 164 centrifuges apiece it currently has at its Natanz plant to enrich uranium on a research scale.
Ahmadinejad said earlier this week that Iran wanted ultimately to have 60,000 centrifuges working in Natanz, easily enough to enrich uranium to make nuclear fuel on an industrial scale.
"Today we are victorious in nuclear and thanks to God we will accomplish the final step to completely master nuclear energy," he added in a later speech in the town of Saghez.
Enrichment is carried out in lines of centrifuges called cascades and is used to make the fuel for civilian nuclear reactors. But in highly enriched form, the uranium can be used to make a nuclear bomb.
Iran insists its nuclear programme is peaceful and that it has every right to the full nuclear fuel cycle, rejecting US accusations that its civilian energy drive masks a programme to make an atomic weapon.
The United States is leading a drive to impose UN sanctions against Iran over its failure to suspend uranium enrichment,
But the moves have hit stalemate amid opposition from China and Russia to a European-proposed draft resolution urging nuclear industry and ballistic missile-related sanctions against Iran.
US national security advisor Stephen Hadley however dismissed the differences between the world powers as mere "sausage making" and said they were discussing what aspects should be saved for a further resolution.
"These are largely tactical considerations, but the strategy, I think, there is agreement on," he told reporters aboard Air Force One.
"It's a little bit like sausage making: it's not pretty, and a lot of it spills out into the public," he said. "But I think the international community has held together on this issue and I think we will again."
US President George W. Bush, on his way to a summit in Asia, discussed the Iran nuclear crisis with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a brief stopover in Moscow.
Meanwhile, UN ambassadors from the world powers discussed the European-proposed draft for the sixth time on Wednesday but US ambassador John Bolton admitted afterwards that "we did not make any progress."
"We'll meet again in the near future," said Bolton, without saying exactly when.
Israel, which Iran does not recognise, has been looking for an even tougher line from Washington against Iran's nuclear ambitions and on Thursday Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres slammed Ahmadinejad as a "Persian version of Hitler".
Israeli officials have not ruled out a preemptive military strike against Iran and Iranian Defence Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najar reaffirmed Tehran's warning of a "destructive" response to such a move.
"In the case of any unwise move by the fake regime of Israel, Iran's response will be so destructive and quick that this regime will regret its move for ever," he said according to the Fars news agency.
Israel is widely believed to be the only country in the Middle East to have a nuclear arsenal, estimated at 200 warheads, although it has never formally confirmed or denied it holds such weapons.
Ahmadinejad compares Iranian nuclear program to runaway train
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Sunday his country's disputed nuclear program was like a train without brakes or a reverse gear, prompting Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to respond that Iran needs "a stop button."
The comments came as senior officials of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — Britain, the U.S., France, China and Russia — and Germany prepared for an emergency summit in London on Monday to discuss increased international pressure on Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program.
The International Atomic Energy Agency last week reported that Iran had ignored a U.N. Security Council ultimatum to freeze its uranium enrichment program and instead had expanded the program by setting up hundreds of centrifuges. Iran has repeatedly refused to halt enrichment as a precondition to negotiations about its program.
"The train of the Iranian nation is without brakes and a rear gear," state radio quoted Ahmadinejad as telling a gathering of Islamic clerics. "We dismantled the rear gear and brakes of the train and threw them away sometime ago."
He also repeated his call for further negotiations, saying the time for "bullying" had expired.
Rice responded by saying "they don't need a reverse gear. They need a stop button." She also told Fox News Sunday that Tehran needs "to stop enriching and reprocessing, and then we can sit down and talk about whatever is on Iran's mind."
"I've said that I am prepared to meet my counterpart or an Iranian representative at any time if Iran will suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities. That should be a clear signal," she added.
Enriched to a low level, uranium is used to produce nuclear fuel but further enrichment makes it suitable for use in building an atomic bomb. The U.S. and its allies fear Iran is using its nuclear program to produce atomic weapons — charges Iran denies, saying its aim is to generate electricity.
In December, the Security Council imposed limited sanctions on Iran over its refusal to suspend enrichment and gave it a 60-day grace period to halt enrichment. The deadline expired Wednesday.
In London, a senior British diplomat said officials would use Monday's talks to examine options for further sanctions — including on arms exports and lucrative export credits Iran receives from Europe in support of trade.
"The question of government support for business with Iran is bound to be examined more closely now," said the diplomat, who estimated European agencies provide $20 billion worth of export credits to support trade with Iran. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government rules.
He acknowledged negotiations on new sanctions would likely be delicate, with the U.S., Britain, Germany and France thought to favor tougher measures than Russia and China will accept.
Meanwhile, in Pakistan, seven Muslim nations warned of a "dangerous escalation of tension" over Iran's nuclear program and urged the standoff be resolved diplomatically without resorting to force.
The statement of concern came after ministers from Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Pakistan met to seek ways to resolve Middle East conflicts, as well as Iran.
The U.S. has said it has no plans to strike Iran militarily — but has also refused to rule out any options.
Ahmadinejad said Western countries feel threatened by Iran's nuclear program because they believe their own powers are diminishing.
"The Westerners are not concerned about the existence and activity of ... centrifuges in Iran; they are concerned about the collapse of their hegemony and hollow power," the radio quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.
Also on Sunday, Iran announced it had launched a rocket into space for educational and research purposes. The rocket, which Iranian officials said normally returns to earth by parachute, may be related to Iran's efforts to launch commercial satellites into orbit.
In 2005, Iran launched its first such satellite in a joint project with Russia.
Iran has no need for N-weapons
The President of Islamic Republic of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has reiterated that the Iranian nation has no need for nuclear weapons.
In an interview with US TV host Charlie Rose, Monday evening, Ahmadinejad said that nuclear weapons presently have no use.
"If nuclear weapons had efficiency, they would have prevented the collapse of the Soviet Union or would help the US get out of Iraq. Other countries which possess nuclear weapons could not settle their problems either," he said. "Iran's nuclear activities are completely transparent and are carried out under supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Our enemies are against the fuel cycle in Iran and make allegations concerning production of nuclear weapons."
"Iran's policy attaches importance to ties based on mutual respect and amity. As we have repeatedly announced, we are interested in amicable relations with all nations," the President emphasized. "Iran has friendly ties with almost all countries except one, which we do not officially recognize. Iran presently has good ties with the American people but certain US statesmen do not accept these relations," he added.
He noted that US statesmen are not interested in the establishment of bilateral ties based on mutual respect.
Iran's role in ME
Ahmadinejad said that Iran believes the Middle East region should be a center of peace and tranquility. "Iran has held several rounds of talks with the US on Iraq and Afghanistan. We believe that we could play a role in establishing peace and stability in these two countries," he stressed. "In other cases, the sides can hold talks if fair conditions exist. If the US thinks it can suppress the people of the region, it is mistaken."
The President dismissed allegations made against Iran concerning the dispatch of weapons to Iraq, saying, "These are unfounded remarks. We have a transparent stance on Iraq and believe that the great Iraqi people should decide their own fate."
"The US did not make an appropriate use of the talks in Iraq and the opportunity which was present following Iran's proposals," he stated, urging the occupiers to leave Iraq, respect decisions made by the Iraqi nation and avoid intervention in the country's internal affairs.
Ahmadinejad stated that the US distributes weapons among different Iraqi tribes which is dangerous for the future of the country.
Iran's stance on Palestine
"We believe the Palestinian people should decide their own fate in a democratic election," Ahmadinejad said, adding that Iran has good relations with all Palestinian groups including the Hamas and Fatah movements and encourages them to expand their cooperation.
"Iran supports any effort which will lead to the establishment of sustainable peace and tranquility in Palestine and respects the Palestinians' decisions," the President stressed.
Iran's support for Lebanese Hezbollah"Hezbollah is a recognized group in Lebanon whose representatives are present in Lebanese government and parliament," he said.
Ahmadinejad stated that remarks by the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the establishment of 'a new Middle East' are an insult to regional nations.
Iran's Ahmadinejad on Holocaust
Iranian leader: Holocaust a 'myth'
TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has described the Holocaust as "a myth" and suggested that Israel be moved to Europe, the United States, Canada or Alaska.
The United States, Israel and the European Commission -- along with individual European countries -- have condemned the remark.
Ahmadinejad sparked widespread international condemnation in October when he called for Israel to be "wiped off the map."
Last week, he also expressed doubt about the killing by the Nazis of six million Jews during World War II, but Wednesday was the first occasion when he said in public that the Holocaust was a myth.
"They have invented a myth that Jews were massacred and place this above God, religions and the prophets," Ahmadinejad said in a speech to thousands of people in the Iranian city of Zahedan, according to a report on Wednesday from Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting.
"The West has given more significance to the myth of the genocide of the Jews, even more significant than God, religion, and the prophets," he said. "(It) deals very severely with those who deny this myth but does not do anything to those who deny God, religion, and the prophet."
"If you have burned the Jews, why don't you give a piece of Europe, the United States, Canada or Alaska to Israel," Ahmadinejad said.
"Our question is, if you have committed this huge crime, why should the innocent nation of Palestine pay for this crime?"
Mark Regev, spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry, said: "The combination of a regime with a radical agenda, together with a distorted sense of reality that is clearly indicated by the statements we heard today, put together with nuclear weapons -- I think that's a dangerous combination that no one in the international community can accept."
"What the Iranian president has shown us today is that he is clearly outside the international consensus, he is clearly outside international norms and international legitimacy, and in so doing he has shown the Iranian government for what it is -- a rogue regime opposed to peace and stability and a threat to all its neighboring countries," Regev said.
In addition, Ahmadinejad spoke in Zahedan about Iran's nuclear program, maintaining it will insist on its right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
"Those who themselves produce nuclear arms should not raise hue and cry against those who only want to gain access to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes," he said, according to a report from the Islamic Republic News Agency.
"Countries which have arsenals of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons which can be used against other countries at their whim and those who supplied the Baathist regime with (chemical) weapons that killed thousands of innocent Iranians ... now go to all lengths to block Iran from gaining access to peaceful nuclear technology," he said.
"We are sure they have criminal intentions, and there was never any doubt that they were piling weapons of mass destruction to be used against less powerful nations," Ahmadinejad said, according to the IRNA report.
In Berlin, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said his government had summoned the Iranian charge d'affaires to make "unmistakably clear" its displeasure, The Associated Press said.
"I cannot hide the fact that this weighs on bilateral relations and on the chances for the negotiation process, the so-called nuclear dossier," Steinmeier said, referring to European talks with Iran on its nuclear program. (Full story)
The White House said the comments underlined the need for the international community to work together to "keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons."
"All responsible leaders in the international community recognize how outrageous such comments are," spokesman Scott McClellan said, Reuters reported.
In Brussels, European Commission spokeswoman Emma Udwin said such "completely unacceptable" comments would do nothing to restore confidence in Iran.
"We feel very strongly that Iran is damaging its own interests with these kind of remarks," she added.
The Spanish government said it "emphatically condemns" the remarks by the Iranian president.
"These statements from the highest levels of Iran, added to previous statements, do not contribute in any way to the peace process between Arabs and Israelis, nor to the stability of the Middle East region," the Spanish Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Ahmadinejad's views contrast with those of his moderate predecessor Mohammad Khatami, who urged a dialogue among civilizations.
Some conservative allies in Iran have criticized the current president's remarks, AP reported, because they fear he is damaging the country's image.
Moderates have urged the ruling Islamic establishment to rein in the president. But Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei supports Ahmadinejad's calls for Israel's elimination, the news agency added.
Tehran-based political analyst Mahmoud Alinejad said the president could feel his speeches strengthen Iran diplomatically.
"There is a perception, based on past experience that only when Iran threatens and pushes does the West back off," he told Reuters.
Ahmadinejad questions 9/11, Holocaust
NEW YORK - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is addressing the U.N. General Assembly Tuesday after defending Holocaust revisionists and raising questions about who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks in a tense showdown at Columbia University.
Thousands of people protested Ahmadinejad's visit Monday and more were expected to rally in the streets Tuesday when the Iranian leader attends the meeting for the third time in three years.
In his speech Tuesday afternoon, Ahmadinejad is expected to take the same conciliatory approach he did in an interview with The Associated Press and in other appearances on Monday. He presented his country as a reasonable seeker of peace and justice and denied that it holds any violent intentions against the United States, Israel or any of its immediate neighbors.
He also denied all the chief accusations against Iran: that it is providing weapons to kill U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, supporting terrorism or breaking international law by developing nuclear weapons.
Asked about his country's nuclear intentions during the appearance at Columbia on Monday, Ahmadinejad insisted the program is peaceful, legal and entirely within Iran's rights, despite attempts by "monopolistic," "selfish" powers to derail it. "How come is it that you have that right, and we can't have it?" he added.
Ahmadinejad portrayed himself as an intellectual and argued that his administration respected reason and science. But the former engineering professor, appearing shaken and irate over he called "insults" from his host, soon found himself drawn into the type of rhetoric that has alienated American audiences in the past.
Columbia's president, Lee Bollinger, set the combative tone in his introduction of Ahmadinejad: "Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator."
Iranian state-run TV channels on Tuesday showed news reports of the Columbia event and called the introduction "impolite." The English version of the IRNA news agency said that despite "entire U.S. media objections, negative propagation" Ahmadinejad still had his lecture and answered questions.
Ahmadinejad drew audience applause at times, such as when he bemoaned the plight of the Palestinians. But he often declined to offer the simple answers the audience sought, responding instead with his own questions or long statements about history and justice.
Ahmadinejad has in the past called for Israel's elimination. But his exact remarks have been disputed. Some translators say he called for Israel to be "wiped off the map," but others say that would be better translated as "vanish from the pages of time" — implying Israel would disappear on its own rather than be destroyed.
Asked by an audience member if Iran sought the destruction of Israel, Ahmadinejad did not answer directly.
"We are friends of all the nations," he said. "We are friends with the Jewish people. There are many Jews in Iran living peacefully with security."
Ahmadinejad's past statements about the Holocaust also have raised hackles in the West, and were soundly attacked by Bollinger.
"In a December 2005 state television broadcast, you described the Holocaust as the fabricated legend," Bollinger told Ahmadinejad said in his opening remarks. "One year later, you held a two-day conference of Holocaust deniers."
Bollinger said that might fool the illiterate and ignorant.
"When you come to a place like this, it makes you simply ridiculous. The truth is that the Holocaust is the most documented event in human history," he said.
Ahmadinejad said he wasn't passing judgment on whether the Holocaust occurred, but that, "assuming this happened, what does it have to do with the Palestinian people?"
He went on to say that he was defending the rights of European academics imprisoned for "questioning certain aspects" of the Holocaust, an apparent reference to a small number who have been prosecuted under national laws for denying or minimizing the genocide.
"There's nothing known as absolute," Ahmadinejad said. He said the Holocaust has been abused as a justification for Israeli mistreatment of the Palestinians.
"Why is it that the Palestinian people are paying the price for an event they had nothing to do with?" he asked.
Asked why he had asked to visit the World Trade Center site — a request denied by New York authorities — Ahmadinejad said he wanted to express sympathy for the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Then he appeared to question whether al-Qaida was responsible, saying more research was needed.
"If the root causes of 9/11 are examined properly — why it happened, what caused it, what were the conditions that led to it, who truly was involved, who was really involved — and put it all together to understand how to prevent the crisis in Iraq, fix the problem in Afghanistan and Iraq combined," Ahmadinejad said.
President Bush said Ahmadinejad's appearance at Columbia "speaks volumes about, really, the greatness of America."
He told Fox News Channel that if Bollinger considered Ahmadinejad's visit an educational experience for Columbia students, "I guess it's OK with me."
But conservatives on Capitol Hill were critical. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, said he thought the invitation to Ahmadinejad was a mistake "because he comes literally with blood on his hands."
Ahmadinejad says Americans want to hear him
Last year, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to the United Nations as an outspoken antagonist of the United States but was upstaged by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's declaration to the General Assembly that George W. Bush was "the devil."
This week, the Iranian president has the stage to himself, and the reviews are in.
" 'TEHRAN'TING LUNATIC … bloody handed villain … bearded blowhard" —New York Post.
"Iranian thug … madman" — New York Daily News.
"Maniac" — Republican Rep. Vito Fossella of Staten Island.
"Can't get a decent haircut" —Post columnist Andrea Peyser.
Nonetheless, before he left Tehran for New York on Sunday, Ahmadinejad told Iran's state-run media that he believes Americans want to hear him out.
"The American people in the past years have been denied correct and clear information about global developments and are eager to hear different opinions," he said.
Ahmadinejad also said the General Assembly was an "important podium" for him to express Iran's views.
He'll air those views today in a forum at Columbia University and Tuesday at the General Assembly. His visits to both places are likely to draw large protests.
Ahmadinejad, who has called the Holocaust "a myth" and says Israel should be "wiped off the map," was scheduled to arrive in New York Sunday night.
No trip to Ground Zero
He stirred New Yorkers up even before leaving home when the city made public his desire to lay a wreath at the site where terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center in 2001.
That request was nixed by the police on security grounds. Critics such as presidential candidates Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and Hillary Rodham Clinton said it would have been an inappropriate gesture for someone who leads a nation the U.S. government says sponsors terrorism.
In an interview with CBS' 60 Minutes, Ahmadinejad expressed disbelief that Americans would have been offended by his visit to the World Trade Center site. "Why should it be insulting?" he said. "We obviously are very much against any terrorist action and any killing. And also we are very much against any plots to sow the seeds of discord among nations. Usually you go to these sites to pay your respects. And also to perhaps air your views about the root causes of such incidents."
Ahmadinejad, 50, has come to New York twice before, kicking up controversies with remarks to the General Assembly assailing Western policies toward Iran. Last year, he accused the U.N. Security Council of being "an instrument of threat and coercion" for considering sanctions against Iran for a nuclear program Iran says is meant only for peaceful purposes.
When asked in the CBS interview about nuclear weapons, he said Iran does not "need a nuclear bomb" and does not anticipate war with the United States. "It's wrong to think that Iran and the U.S. are walking towards war. Who says so? Why should we go to war? There is no war in the offing."
Since Ahmadinejad backed away from the Ground Zero visit, opponents have focused on his invitation to speak to professors and students at Columbia today.
Jewish leaders condemned it — "they're providing him a platform which grants him automatic legitimacy," said Michael Miller, head of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York — but Muslims were hopeful.
"This could serve as a vehicle for dialogue between the U.S. and Iran," said Faiza Ali, speaking for the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Foreign leaders tweak U.S.
Many Columbia students — even those who planned to rally against him — said they supported Ahmadinejad's appearance. "It's going to make it more real for people," said Lydia Depillis, 20, a junior from Seattle. "I think more people are mad about the man himself and his existence … than they are about the fact that he is coming."
Ahmadinejad is the latest foreign leader to scandalize, titillate and amuse New Yorkers during U.N. visits.
•Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat once wore a pistol into the General Assembly. When world leaders gathered for the United Nations' 50th anniversary in 1995, then-Mayor Giuliani ordered the Palestinian leader thrown out of a commemorative concert at Lincoln Center. Arafat sat though the first two movements of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony before departing.
•Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev repeatedly disrupted the General Assembly in 1960 by pounding his fists, shouting in Russian and, on one occasion, taking off his right shoe and banging it on a desk.
•Cuba's Fidel Castro, also in 1960, called Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kennedy, a Harvard graduate, "illiterate and ignorant" and said Kennedy and Republican nominee Richard Nixon lacked "political brains."
Ahmadinejad enjoys attention — friendly and otherwise, said Hillary Mann, a former U.S. diplomat and Iran specialist. She said his plan to visit Ground Zero could have been a publicity stunt — knowing the request would be turned down — or an act of hubris.
"He thinks he and Iran are bigger players in the world than six years ago," she said, "and he's right."
"He clearly relishes being in the spotlight. It solidifies his place in the regime," said Stanley Renshon, a political psychologist at the City University of New York.
Jewish organizations worked frantically to organize a big protest outside the United Nations today. "The U.S. is obligated to let him in" to address the United Nations, said Malcolm Hoenlein, vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, "but we're also obligated to let him know how the American people feel about his message."
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is keeping his cool. On a radio program, he said Columbia officials "have the right to invite who they want."
The mayor took a phone call from a Connecticut man who said he planned to attend a protest at the United Nations. Ever the businessman, Bloomberg told him, "While you're here, I'd love to have you patronize some of our stores and restaurants."
DEAN OF COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY ON AHMADINEJAD INVITE
Iran President Ahmadinejad to Speak at Columbia University
Columbia U. to Let Iran President Speak
NEW YORK -- Columbia University planned Friday to go forward with a speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, while the city mobilized security to protect him from protests during his New York visit.
Ahmadinejad, who is to arrive in New York on Sunday to address the United Nations General Assembly, is scheduled to speak at a Columbia question-and-answer forum on Monday. His request to lay a wreath at the World Trade Center site was denied and condemned by Sept. 11 family members and politicians.
Several Columbia students _ even some who planned to rally against him _ said they supported his appearance.
"He's a leader of a large nation and what he says is important, even if it's wrong," said Dmitry Zakharov, 25, a Columbia University graduate student.
Ahmadinejad has called the Holocaust "a myth" and called for Israel to be "wiped off the map." The White House has said Iran sponsors terrorism and is trying to develop nuclear weapons. Columbia canceled a planned visit by the Iranian president last year, citing security and logistical reasons.
Rallies are planned outside the university building where he was to speak and at the United Nations, prompting city and state officials to prepare a security detail for him. The city police and the U.S. Secret Service are charged with protecting the Iranian leader along with dozens of heads of state arriving for the assembly.
No threats have been called in, police Detective Joseph Cavitolo said Friday.
The Iranian mission has not disclosed Ahmadinejad's specific itinerary. Ahmadinejad told CBS' "60 Minutes" that he would not stop at the World Trade Center site after his request to lay a wreath at the base of the twin towers was denied.
Leaders voiced mixed opinions about his Columbia appearance.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he wouldn't go listen to him. "I think he's said enough that I find disgusting and despicable," he said.
Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, said in a statement that "anyone who supports terror, pledges to destroy a sovereign nation (Israel), punishes by death anyone who 'insults' religion ... denies the Holocaust and thumbs his nose at the international community, has no legitimate role to play at a university."
The governor took a different approach.
"His comments defy logic, history and reason," Gov. Eliot Spitzer said. "He is someone whose views we scorn. But that said, he is here in the state and will be protected by the NYPD and state police and everyone else."
Ahmadinejad at Columbia University
Rough reception for Ahmadinejad at Columbia
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's controversial appearance at Columbia University Monday began with harsh, combative words from protestors, politicians and even the university president -- who introduced the hard-line leader to a packed auditorium as "a petty and cruel dictator" with "a fanatical mindset."
"Today, I feel all the weight of the modern civilized world yearning to express the revulsion at what you stand for," Columbia University president Lee Bollinger said in a stinging rebuke of Ahmadinejad that also defended the university's decision to invite him to speak. "We do not honor the dishonorable when we open our forums to their voices."
Combative and engaging, Ahmadinejad was quick to respond, contending that Bollinger's introduction contained "many insults and claims that were incorrect" and that the audience should be allowed to draw its own conclusions after hearing him speak.
"I think he was affected by the press and the media and the political pressure," the Iranian president said of Bollinger's remarks.
The appearance by Ahmadinejad, along with his request to visit Ground Zero, drew hundreds of protesters to Columbia and to the United Nations, where he is scheduled to speak to the General Assembly Tuesday. Police denied Ahmadinejad's Ground Zero request, citing security concerns.
Critics say that the university's invitation legitimizes Ahmadinejad's views, which include questioning the Holocaust and calling for the destruction of Israel.
"Columbia is giving the impression that there's actually something to negotiate here," said Dana Sasouness, 20, a junior English literature major at Yeshiva University. "He's just a crazy man."
Thousands of people jammed two blocks of 47th Street across from the UN to protest, as did several hundred people outside Columbia's main gate at 116th Street and Broadway. Inside the campus gate, students denounced the Iranian leader, but rallied for free speech.
"It was for things like this that I came to Columbia," said freshman Anna Malkan, 18, who plans to major in Middle Eastern studies. She watched a simulcast of the speech on the campus' South Field. "Free speech is important, because it's the only way we can change injustice in the world."
In his speech, Ahmadinejad described himself as an academic who continues to teach graduate and doctoral students at least once a week. He said that further study of the Holocaust was necessary as an academic pursuit, and suggested that he had never denied its existence.
"I'm not saying it [the Holocaust] didn't happen at all," he said. "I said, 'The Holocaust, granted this happened, what does it have to do with the Palestinian people?'"
He also cast doubt on the official version of the Sept. 11 attacks, explaining that in his attempt to visit Ground Zero, he wanted to pay his respects to the victims and also encourage research into "who truly was involved."
Often, he skirted questions. Asked whether he supported the destruction of Israel, he said: "We love all nations. We are friends with the Jewish people. There are many Jews in Iran living peacefully with security."
He said that those who questioned Iran's right to pursue peaceful nuclear technology and to execute criminals, sometimes in public, were hypocritical.
"Don't you have capital punishment in the U.S.?" he countered when asked about the brutality of his regime. "In Iran, too, there is capital punishment. We have laws; people who violate these laws ... are sentenced to execution and some of these punishments, very few, are carried out in the public eye."
Later, when asked about his government's treatment of women and gays, he said women are revered in Iran. When pressed on accusations that the country treats gays brutally, Ahmadinejad said it was not an issue. "In Iran, we don't have homosexuals, like in your country. ... We don't have that phenomenon."
Ahmadinejad says Iran, U.S. not headed for war
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a U.S. television interview on Sunday that Iran did not need nuclear weapons and his country was not heading for war with the United States.
Ahmadinejad was speaking before traveling to New York for the U.N. General Assembly. Plans for him to speak at New York's Columbia University have drawn protests from some who say the university should not give a platform to a Holocaust denier accused by Washington of supporting terrorism.
Asked whether Iran's goal was to obtain a nuclear bomb, Ahmadinejad told the CBS program "60 Minutes" that the answer was a "firm no."
"You have to appreciate we don't need a nuclear bomb. We don't need that. What need do we have for a bomb?" he said in the interview, recorded on Thursday in Tehran.
The United States accuses Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons under the cover of its civil nuclear program. Iran denies both allegations.
Asked whether Iran and the United States were heading toward conflict over Tehran's nuclear ambitions, he said: "It's wrong to think that Iran and the U.S. are walking toward war. Who says so? Why should we go to war? There is no war in the offing."
In an interview with Al Jazeera television the head of U.S. Central Command, Adm. William Fallon, also seemed keen to tone down the rhetoric. Asked if a war was on the cards, Fallon said: "No. I certainly hope not ... This constant drumbeat of conflict strikes me as not helpful and not useful."
Fallon's remarks to Al Jazeera were dubbed into Arabic.
Officials of the five permanent U.N. Security Council members and Germany met on Friday for what they called "serious and constructive" talks about new Security Council sanctions aimed at trying to force Iran to halt its uranium enrichment activities.
Ahmadinejad, who arrived in New York on Sunday for the U.N. General Assembly, reiterated Iran's position that its nuclear program is purely peaceful.
"Our plan and program is very transparent. In political relations right now, the nuclear bomb is of no use. If it was useful, it would have prevented the downfall of the Soviet Union. If it was useful, it would have resolved the problem the Americans have in Iraq.
"The time of the bomb is passed," he told "60 Minutes."
Ahmadinejad also took issue with U.S. charges that Iran supports militants in Iraq, providing weapons and training, saying: "We don't need to do that."
Asked whether he was denying that Iran supplied weapons to militants in Iraq, he avoided a clear answer. "It's very clear the situation. The insecurity in Iraq is detrimental to our interests," he said.
Ahmadinejad, who has called for Israel to be wiped off the map, was denied a request to visit the World Trade Center site of the September 11 attacks.
He said in the CBS interview he would try to visit Ground Zero "if we have the time and the conditions are conducive." But he said he would not insist if conditions were not right.
In 2002, Bush labeled Iran as part of an "axis of evil" that also included Iraq and North Korea and has accused it of backing international terrorist groups.
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U.S.-Iran tensions could trigger war
Citing Iranian involvement with Iraqi militias and Tehran's nuclear ambitions, the Bush administration has shifted to offense in its confrontation with Iran — building up the U.S. military in the Persian Gulf and promising more aggressive moves against Iranian operatives in Iraq and Lebanon.
The behind-the-scenes struggle between the two nations could explode into open warfare over a single misstep, analysts and U.S. military officials warn.
Iraq has become a proxy battleground between Washington and Tehran, which is challenging — at least rhetorically — America's dominance of the Gulf. That has worried even Iraq's U.S.-backed Shiite prime minister, who — in a reflection of Iraq's complexity — also has close ties to Iran.
Iran and the United States are already sparring on the ground.
On Jan. 20, militants kidnapped and killed four American soldiers in a raid in Karbala, and a fifth was killed in the firefight. A U.S. defense official said one possibility under study is that Iranian agents either executed or masterminded the attack, a suspicion based on the sophisticated and unusual methods used in the attack, including weapons and uniforms that may have been American.
He spoke on condition of anonymity because the probe is ongoing.
There has been speculation that the Karbala assault may have been in retaliation for the arrest of five Iranians by U.S. troops in northern Iraq.
Those five Iranians, who were arrested in the northern city of Irbil, included two members of an Iranian Revolutionary Guard force that provides weapons, training and other support to Shiite militants in the Middle East, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said last week. Iraqi and Iranian officials maintain the five were diplomats.
Since the Karbala raid, U.S. saber-rattling has intensified. President Bush said this week that U.S. forces in Iraq would take action against Iranian operatives in the country, while insisting he had no intention of attacking Iran.
"If Iran escalates its military action in Iraq to the detriment of our troops and/or innocent Iraqi people, we will respond firmly," Bush told National Public Radio.
Although little evidence has been made public, U.S. officials have long insisted that Iran was supplying weapons and training to Shiite militias in Iraq, including some that have killed American troops.
The No. 2 U.S. general in Iraq told USA Today in an interview published Tuesday that Iran was supplying Iraqi Shiite militias with a variety of powerful weapons, including Katyusha rockets and armor-piercing rocket-propelled grenades.
"We have weapons that we know through serial numbers ... trace back to Iran," Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno said.
The Air Force is considering more forceful patrols on the Iraqi side of the border with Iran to counter the smuggling of weapons and bomb supplies, the Los Angeles Times reported, citing senior Pentagon officials.
The U.S. is also building up its military presence in the Gulf in what it says is a show of strength directed at Iran. A second aircraft carrier is heading for the region, and Patriot missile batteries are being deployed.
Since Bush announced his new Iraq strategy in early January, Iranian officials have raised the alarm repeatedly that the U.S. intends to attack. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran is "ready for anything" in its confrontation with the United States.
A newspaper close to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei last week threatened retaliation for any U.S. military action — including stopping oil traffic through the Gulf's strategic Hormuz Straits and attacks on U.S. interests. The top editor of the Kayhan daily warned that Iran will turn the Middle East into "hell" for the United States and Israel if America attacks.
Iran expert Ray Takeyh said the risks are all the greater because Tehran has an "unhealthy" disregard for American power, which "enhances the prospect of a miscalculation."
Prof. Gary Sick, a leading authority on Iran, believes the U.S. is seeking to divert world attention from the crisis in Iraq and organize a coalition of Israel and conservative Sunni Arab states to confront Iran.
"I see this as a very dangerous long-term policy because it promotes the idea that Sunnis and Shiites should be distrustful of each other, and I think that could come back and bite us later on," he said.
Iran and the U.S. also are in dispute over Tehran's nuclear program. The United States accuses Iran of secretly developing atomic weapons — an allegation Tehran denies. Iran's defiant refusal to suspend uranium enrichment prompted the U.N. Security Council to impose limited economic sanctions.
The U.S. has also beefed up support for Lebanon's government in its power struggle with Hezbollah, the Shiite militia that Washington accuses of acting in Iran's interests.
But Lee Feinstein of the Council on Foreign Relations said the U.S. was finding it hard "to calibrate its message" to distinguish "between a stern message and a warning of attack."
The war of words has raised fears among both Democrats and Republicans in Congress that the United States and Iran are drifting toward armed conflict at a time when America is struggling against determined foes in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It has also unnerved the Iraqi government, many of whose members have close ties to Iran.
"We have told the Iranians and the Americans, 'We know that you have a problem with each other but we're asking you, please, solve your problems outside of Iraq,'" Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, told CNN on Wednesday. "We do not want the American forces to take Iraq as a base to attack Iran ... we will not accept Iran using Iraq to attack American forces. But does this exist? It exists and I assure you it exists."
As the rhetoric grows more strident, a U.S. military official in the Gulf likened the U.S.-Iran standoff to the buildup in hostility in Europe before World War I, when the assassination of the heir to the Austrian throne triggered a tragic war that engulfed a continent.
"A mistake could be made and you could end up in something that neither side ever really wanted, and suddenly it's August 1914 all over again," the U.S. officer said on condition of anonymity, because of the sensitivity of the issue. "I really believe neither side wants a fight."
Iranian coast guard vessels recently veered into territorial waters on the Arab side of the Gulf, an event that could have been viewed as either a mistake or a provocation, the officer said. Both sides are on tenterhooks. "A boat crosses a line ... but what does it mean? You've got to be very careful about overreacting," the officer said.
Even if Iran pulled back from Iraq's conflict, it might not end the country's violence, said Kenneth M. Pollack, research director at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy.
"The truth is that Iraq is a mess. It is in a state of low-level civil war. And all of these groups are largely self-motivated," he said on the Council on Foreign Relations website. "But its much easier to blame it on the Iranians."
In Tehran, political analyst Hermidas Bavand said U.S. force increases were leading many Iranians to believe Washington is looking to pick a fight.
"It's an extremely dangerous situation," Bavand said. "I don't think Tehran wants war under any circumstances. But there might be an accidental event that could escalate into a large confrontation."
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