Ahmadinejad Departs

9/27/2007

Ahmadinejad leaves after contentious visit

By: Barbara Slavin

USA TODAY

September 27, 2007

 

NEW YORK
— With an enigmatic smile on his face, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sat
patiently and listened as a group of Quaker, Mennonite and other
religious leaders begged him to choose his words more carefully.

 

"We
hear rumors of war," Ron Flaming, a Mennonite leader, told the Iranian
president at a gathering Wednesday morning in a small chapel across the
street from the United Nations.

 

"Many people have interpreted your public rhetoric as a threat to destroy Israel,
but that doesn't mesh with your private comments," Flaming said. "For
the sake of understanding and peace, we urge you to publicly and
clearly say so."

 

Ahmadinejad, still smiling, said his statements had been misunderstood. "Iran has not attacked any country," he replied. "Iran and its leadership seek peace and brotherhood."

 

Whether
those words were true was perhaps the biggest question facing
Ahmadinejad — and the rest of the world — as the Iranian president
departed New York City
Wednesday. Throughout three days of often contentious appearances,
Ahmadinejad heard tough criticism on issues such as human rights —
criticism to which he is less accustomed back home.

 

At the end of Ahmadinejad's visit, it was unclear whether Iran was any further from confrontation with the United States and the rest of the West than when the week started.

 

Ahmadinejad repeatedly defended Iran's
right to pursue a nuclear program, despite the West's fears he is
pursuing nuclear weapons — an accusation he denies. He also denied that
Iran provides arms used to kill U.S. troops in Iraq.

 

At a dinner Tuesday night with 60 journalists and Iran
scholars, Ahmadinejad listened in silence for more than an hour, taking
notes as attendees commented and asked questions. He then responded to
each statement, addressing his questioner by name.

 

Told
that many Americans liken him to Hitler, Ahmadinejad said he viewed
"Hitler's role as extremely negative. The war he planned claimed over
60 million lives and Hitler's image to us is despicable. I don't look
like him, and my culture has nothing to do with him."

 

Jon Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, made the Hitler remark and said he was a bit surprised by the response.

 

"He
showed a depth of thinking about World War II that he hasn't before,"
Alterman said. "The conventional thinking is that he's on another
planet on these issues."

 

Earlier
in the week, Ahmadinejad also backed off earlier comments questioning
the magnitude of the Holocaust, calling it "a reality of our time, a
history that occurred." However, he still said the Nazi murder of 6
million Jews required more research.

 

On
other issues, he was more evasive. Asked about reports that Iran is
building missiles that can reach Israel, Ahmadinejad said his country
had much more to fear from Israel and the United States than either had
to fear from Iran.

 

Secretary
of State Condoleezza Rice and other critics pressed Ahmadinejad this
week to ease a climate of fear caused by his government's recent arrest
of Iranian-Americans, including two scholars, a reporter for the Voice
of America and a Los Angeles businessman and peace activist.

 

Asked Wednesday in a brief interview whether he could promise Iranian-Americans that they would not be arrested if they visit Iran, Ahmadinejad said no. "Thousands are coming to Iran, and it might happen to some of them," he said.

 

Gary Sick, an Iran expert at Columbia University,
said Ahmadinejad's visit was probably a success from his point of view.
"He wants maximum exposure," Sick said. "He basks in it."

 

Sick
was skeptical that three days of intense criticism might convince
Ahmadinejad to move away from confrontation with the United States.

 

"I think he's a very shallow man with little introspection," Sick said. "While he got an earful, it just rolls right off him."

 

[more]

 

Ahmadinejad Meets Clerics, and Decibels Drop a Notch

By: Laurie Goodstein

NY Times

September 27, 2007

 

After two days of prickly confrontations with critics at Columbia University and the United Nations, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran held a friendly, even warm, exchange yesterday with Christian leaders from the United States and Canada convinced that dialogue is the only way to prevent war.

 

The
session, held under tight security at a chapel across the street from
the United Nations, was a reminder that Mr. Ahmadinejad is a religious
president of a religious nation who relishes speaking on a religious
plane. He spent his 20 allotted minutes at the start of the two-hour
meeting recounting the chain of prophets central to Judaism,
Christianity and Islam, and the commonality of their messages.

 

He
took questions from a panel that included a Quaker, a Catholic, an
Anglican, a Baptist and a representative of the interfaith World
Council of Churches, some of whom separately said they had been
criticized by other religious leaders for sitting down with the Iranian
president. Given the furor over Mr. Ahmadinejad’s earlier appearances,
there was no advance publicity.

 

The
gathering, which included an audience of about 140 other religious
leaders, was organized by the Mennonites and Quakers, churches known
for their commitment to pacifism.

 

The
organizers said that they had pressed hard to find a Jewish leader to
join the panel of questioners, but that those invited declined because
they could not win support from Jewish organizations.

 

“My
heart was broken that there was so little support from other religions
to be here,” said Mary Ellen McNish, general secretary of the American
Friends Service Committee, a Quaker group that helped sponsor the
event. “If we don’t walk down this path of dialogue, we’re going to end
up in conflagration.”

 

Mr.
Ahmadinejad’s smile at times turned to a grimace as the panelists
prodded him, politely, about his record on the Holocaust, human rights
abuses, Israel
and nuclear weapons development. Also politely, he conceded nothing,
and often deflected the inquiries by turning the spotlight on the
policies of the United States and Israel.

 

“Who are the ones that are filling their arsenals with nuclear weapons?” he said. “In the United States
they have tested the fifth generation of atomic bunker bombs, missiles
that go as far as 12,000 kilometers. Who is the real danger here?”

 

Though
Mr. Ahmadinejad’s answers differed little, the tone of the session was
a marked contrast to the verbal pummeling he received at Columbia
University on Monday, when the university’s president, Lee C.
Bollinger, called the Iranian president either “brazenly provocative or
astonishingly uneducated” for his stance on the Holocaust.

 

At the
clerics’ meeting, Albert Lobe, executive director of the Mennonite
Central Committee, said pointedly, “We mean to extend to you the
hospitality which a head of state deserves.”

 

The session was part of a concerted push by these religious leaders to increase political support in the United States for talks with Iran. Some of these religious leaders also met with Mr. Ahmadinejad last year in New York and in February on a trip to Iran.

 

One critic said that these religious leaders were well intentioned, but naïve.

 

Malcolm
I. Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of
Major American Jewish Organizations, said in a telephone interview:
“They’re not going to convince him. Their very presence there gives him
respectability.”

 

Ms.
McNish, of the American Friends Service Committee, said the reverse was
true: “The more we isolate him, the more support he gets at home.”

 

But even the Bahais, a minority religious group that has suffered persecution in Iran,
said they supported these efforts at dialogue with the Iranian
government. They had been invited to the prior meetings, but the
Iranian side refused to come if Bahais were there, said Kit Bigelow,
director of external affairs, National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahais
of the United States.

 

The
panelists on Wednesday included the Rev. Drew Christiansen, a Roman
Catholic who is editor in chief of America, a Jesuit weekly; Karen A.
Hamilton, a Canadian Anglican who is general secretary of the Canadian
Council of Churches; the Rev. Chris Ferguson, also a Canadian, who
represents the World Council of Churches at the United Nations; and
Glen Stassen, a professor of Christian ethics at Fuller Theological
Seminary, an evangelical institution.

 

Mr.
Stassen, who has helped to prod American evangelicals to take on issues
including global warming and torture, said he and other evangelicals
would soon circulate a document intended to broaden support for
dialogue with Iran, based on the model of dialogue with North Korea.

 

Mr. Stassen asked President Ahmadinejad, if the United States could guarantee no aggression against Iran, “could there be an Iranian guarantee of no violence against Israel?”

 

Mr. Ahmadinejad responded by asking for a three-minute break “for the interpreter.” After the break, he said that it was the United States and “the Zionist regime” that had nuclear weapons, while Iran was seeking to enrich uranium only for “fuel purposes.”

 

The impetus for these talks came not from the Americans, but from the Iranians, said Ed Martin, Iran consultant for the Mennonite Central Committee, a group that has done aid work in Iran.