Friday, September 08, 2006

Big Protest Rally Taking Shape To Greet Ahmadinejad at U.N.

Eli Lake, The New York Sun:
When Iran's president addresses the U.N. General Assembly later this month, he will not be treated to a one-on-one debate with President Bush, as he has requested, but will be met by a crowd of thousands of protesters at Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza. The hastily arranged protests are part of a growing opposition to President Ahmadinejad's visit to America.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is organizing a rally outside the United Nations to protest Mr. Ahmadinejad's presence on American soil and show solidarity with Israel and the war on terrorism. The organization's executive vice chairman, Malcolm Hoenlein said, "We'll be ready for him," when asked for a reaction to reports from Tehran yesterday that the Iranian president has announced his intention to address the U.N. General Assembly. READ MORE

"I hope the government will restrict his movements and make sure to take his fingerprints," Mr. Hoenlein said. "We hope the United Nations and many other leaders might reconsider being in the room when he speaks."

The Iranian leader's visit presents a new challenge to the United Nations and its long-standing policy of recognizing the sovereign equality of world leaders. In the past year, Mr. Ahmadinejad has called for the destruction of a U.N. member state and expressed anti-Semitic views and doubts about the Holocaust. He also praised the terror militia his regime helped create in the 1980s in southern Lebanon, Hezbollah, after it abducted two Israel soldiers and killed eight more on July 12, sparking Israel's latest war with Lebanon.

In his address to the U.N. General Assembly last year, Mr. Ahmadinejad asserted his country's right to nuclear power. Despite agreements Iran signed promising not to enrich uranium, it formally broke the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in February.

Yesterday, Iran's official news agencies quoted a press release from Mr. Ahmadinejad's office saying he would like to challenge Mr. Bush to a debate at the U.N. General Assembly on September 19. The White House press secretary, Tony Snow, dismissed the idea out of hand yesterday, and the State Department hinted strongly that it had little option but to allow the Iranian president to visit the United Nations in New York, as it is required to do under the diplomatic agreement America signed as host of the world body's headquarters.

"When he says he wants to come to the General Assembly, I have no reason to doubt that he wants to come to the General Assembly and address it," a State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, said. "Iran is a member state of the United Nations, and there are certain obligations as the host country that we have with respect to the United Nations and visitors to the General Assembly and to the United Nations."

Mr. McCormack also said that if Mr. Ahmadinejad receives a visa, the State Department will provide diplomatic security, just as it is for a former Iranian president, Mohammed Khatemi.

Last week, the State Department approved a visa for Mr. Khatemi to tour America in what many members of Iran's secular and liberal opposition consider a propaganda tour and a betrayal of Mr. Bush's promises to stand in solidarity with the Iranian people.

Mr. Khatemi addressed a packed house at the National Cathedral in Washington yesterday but was also met by protests from Iranian dissidents, some of whom suffered torture and detention during his eight-year tenure.

One such dissident, Amir Abbas Fakhravar, told The New York Sun: "I don't feel betrayed, but he should not be allowed to come to America. This visit, however, emphasized America's freedom. His visit has also had the effect of drawing the whole Iranian opposition closer together."

Indeed, at an event at the National Press Club yesterday, a son of the late shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi, stood alongside eight Iranian dissidents affiliated with opposition movements that are not associated with the old monarchists. When one monarchist in the audience asked Mr. Pahlavi to assert himself as "the leader of the opposition," he responded that he sees his role only as pushing for free elections and the rule of law.

At the press club, Senator Brownback, a Republican of Kansas who for the past five years has pressed for more direct American support for Iran's liberal opposition, said he will introduce new legislation to create a human rights envoy for Iran. The bill also will seek to expedite the visa process for professors who have recently been purged from Iranian universities for promoting secular, liberal ideas.

Mr. Brownback was joined at the event yesterday by Rep. Brad Sherman, a Democrat of California, who described the Bush administration's Iran policy as one of "bow and surrender."