I Love Everyone, Says Smiling Ahmadinejad
Ed Pilkington, The Guardian:
It is unconventional for New York press conferences to begin with a recital of the Qur'an, but then the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran is anything but conventional. "I thank God the Almighty for giving me an opportunity to meet with my friends once again," he said at the start of yesterday's address, having recited several verses.
In an hour of questioning from the media, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad talked about Iran's nuclear programme, his attitude to Israel and his views on America. Smiling broadly, he invoked the prophet Moses, said he loved everyone around including Jews and apologised to New York for the traffic problems caused by this week's UN general assembly.
As the annual assembly approaches the end of its first week, Mr Ahmadinejad appears to be stealing the show. He has appeared on CBS and CNN television, had a bilateral meeting with Romano Prodi, Italy's prime minister, and addressed the august thinktank, the Council on Foreign Relations. If the White House was hoping he would come to New York, deliver his 15-minute speech to the assembly on Tuesday and then quietly go, they hoped wrong. READ MORE
Iran's president began the substantial part of the press conference by adopting George Bush's technique. On Tuesday Mr Bush spoke to the people of Iran, ignoring the delegation from Tehran in the assembly chamber. Mr Ahmadinejad spoke to the people of America, saying he regretted that he had not had the chance to meet and talk to them directly.
He was quick to point out the failings of the US administration towards its own people. "My country offered help to the victims of Katrina," he said, "when we saw bodies floating in the water and the homeless." Asked about political prisoners in Iran, he replied: "There are 219 million people in the US and 68 million people in Iran. There are 3 million prisoners in the US and 130,000 in Iran. The percentage is much higher."
At the Council on Foreign Relations on Wednesday night, Mr Ahmadinejad proved to be a formidable interlocutor for some of America's most experienced minds on international affairs. He ended the session by asking whether the thinktank's members were speaking for the Bush administration. The decision to invite him to speak to the institution caused some of its members to refuse to attend.
With Iran's nuclear programme dominating the backstage diplomacy at the UN this week, Mr Ahmadinejad consistently denied that Tehran was involved in developing the bomb. "The bottom line is we don't need the bomb. Some people think you can deal with problems through the bomb, and they are wrong," he said.
He accused America of being hostile towards his country for 27 years and said Washington's stance was hypocritical, "coming from the country which has an immense stockpile of nuclear bombs and even today is developing a new, more frightening, generation of bombs".
Only once did he raise his voice a little. "We will stand up when we are oppressed and when people try and impose their will on us. We will never permit that, never permit that," he said.
He spoke of his belief in "love and peace" and dismissed the portrayal of him in the west, even slipping into the third person. "Even if Ahmadinejad, even if I were a person who would keep my silence, do you think injustice would go unnoticed?" he asked. He offered conciliatory words for Israel. "We love everybody around the world: Jews, Christians, Muslims ..." Minutes later he qualified his words: "Zionists are not Jews. Zionists are Zionists," he said.