Monday, September 18, 2006

Team Bush Aims to Dodge Iran Firebrand at UN Meet

Kenneth R. Bazinet, New York Daily News:
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claims he'll dog President Bush this week at the UN to force the U.S. leader into a face to face debate over Iran's nuclear program, but the White House is taking extreme measures to keep that from happening.

For starters, Ahmadinejad won't be attending a welcoming reception for world leaders that Bush is hosting tomorrow night at the UN. Asked if Ahmadinejad had even been invited, a senior administration official told the Daily News, "Definitely not." READ MORE

The Iranian press quoted Ahmadinejad saying last week that Bush officials "did not accept this debate, but I hope that they agree and this debate takes place."

The White House also isn't pleased that Bush and Ahmadinejad are both scheduled to address the UN General Assembly tomorrow. U.S. officials were quietly working to see if the Iranian's talk could be moved to later in the week, hoping to avoid a confrontation between the two leaders in the halls and ensuring that the always colorful Ahmadinejad doesn't steal the day's headlines.

But Bush and his handlers will have to keep a close lookout for Ahmadinejad at a lunch tomorrow hosted by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

It was at this event in 2000 that Cuban President Fidel Castro walked up to then-President Bill Clinton and the two shook hands. The handshake was so unsettling to Clinton officials that the President's spokesman initially denied it happened.

"We don't want anything like that" with Ahmadinejad, the senior Bush official conceded.

Ahmadinejad attended a Bush-bashing summit over the weekend in Cuba and then traveled to Venezuela to meet with anti-American President Hugo Chavez.

Secretary of State Rice will attend a meeting with her counterparts from Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany tomorrow night to discuss the standoff with Iran over its ongoing nuclear program.

In an interview this week with Time magazine, Ahmadinejad repeated that Iran's nuclear program only will be used to provide energy and not to develop an atomic bomb. "The U.S. government should not interfere in our affairs. They should live their own lives," he said.

But the same man who said he'd like to wipe Israel off the map apparently doesn't feel that way about the average American.

"My general impression is that the people of the United States are good people. ... The people of the United States are also seeking peace, love, friendship and justice," Ahmadinejad said.