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Ahmadinejad gives soft tone for tough times

by SANAZ MESHKINPOUR in New York

25 Sep 2009 08:346 Comments
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[ dispatches ] Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad toned down his customary vitriol in his speech at the United Nations Wednesday night, outlining a vision of cooperation and a world free of nuclear weapons.

"Our nation is prepared to warmly shake all those hands which are honestly extended to us," he said in his address to the UN General Assembly. "We welcome real and humane changes and stand ready to actively engage in fundamental global reforms."

But Ahmadinejad's conciliatory remarks came after his trademark attacks on Israel and the United States. He called last winter's Gaza war a "barbarous attack," prompting a walk-out by representatives of Western countries. He did avoid statements denying the Holocaust.

The Iranian president's address was perhaps the most anticipated speech of this year's General Assembly, if not by delegates, then by thousands of demonstrators protesting outside the U.N.

This was Ahmadinejad's first visit to the United States since Iran's widely contested June 12 election. Ahmadinejad maintains the elections were legitimate, while opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi insist the vote was rigged. The June election was followed by weeks of demonstrations that shook the country and exposed deep rifts within Iran's political elite. Ahmadinejad departed for New York amidst the latest round of protests in Tehran and other Iranian cities.

His government also faces growing concern over Iran's nuclear program. For months, Obama offered Iran talks or tougher sanctions. On Monday it was announced talks would begin October 1, between Iran, the U.S. and world powers.

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said Wednesday that Russia was ready to consider sanctions against Iran. The combination of circumstances could explain Ahmadinejad's approach to the U.N. address.

During his speech, the president called for an end to the arms race and the "elimination of all nuclear, chemical and biological weapons."

Although at times he trailed off to cover topics from the end of capitalism, to the environment, to the virtues of monotheism, he dedicated large sections toward Israel and the United States. Referring to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said the U.S. helps Israel in creating "a new form of slavery."

The statement spurred American, British, and French representatives to leave the room. Several leaders had opted to boycott the address entirely, in protest over Iran's brutal crackdown on the country's opposition. But Ahmadinejad later called on the U.N. to organize a referendum "in Palestine in order to prepare grounds for all Palestinian populations, including Muslims, Christians and Jews to live together in peace and harmony."

Ahmadinejad then chastised U.S. military bases in Latin America, drone bomb attacks on Pakistan, and interference in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The president briefly referenced Iran's June election. "Our nation has successfully gone through a glorious and fully democratic election," he said. "They [the voters] entrusted me once more with a large majority."

GreensUN.jpgAs he spoke, protests raged outside the U.N. plaza. Authorities estimate that Ahmadinejad's speech drew crowds of several thousand people. Iranians from the Diaspora traveled from as far as Vancouver, Stockholm, Vienna and Berlin to attend Wednesday's demonstrations.

"We want to be a voice for what's going on in Iran," said Tara Alagheband, a student volunteer with Where Is My Vote, a loose international network responsible for organizing rallies across the world in support of the opposition movement in Iran. "We want the people of Iran to know that they're not alone. We're here, we're with them."

Protesters at the demonstration spanned the political spectrum, from fringe groups such as the Mojahedin Khalgh (MKO) and monarchists loyal to the heir of the deposed Shah, to the majority supporters of the "Green Movement" -- named after the signature color of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi. Although the groups disagree on ideology, many said they came to oppose Ahmadinejad in solidarity with the Iranian people, whom they feel were mistreated during Iran's election fall-out.

"Part of democracy is standing with groups that may have differing opinions," said Arash, a doctor from Dallas who visits Iran often, and preferred not to disclose his last name. "I think today is a microcosm of the future political society of Iran."

There is little doubt, however, that the MKO and monarchists appeal to an older generation, with political roots that predate Iran's 1979 Revolution. The level of energy at the demonstration palpably changed when a wave of green-clad protesters arrived. Young men and women screaming "Ya Hossein, Mir-Hossein" echoed their counterparts in Iran and delivered a commanding presence.

The crowd reached a fever pitch before Ahmadinejad's address. But inside the General Assembly chambers, most seats were empty. After Ahmadinejad reaffirmed his position as president, he ended with something of a debut.

"We announce our commitment to participate in the process of building a durable peace and security worldwide," he said.

The meetings slated for October 1 will be the first formal negotiations between the United States and Iran in thirty years. The talks may last several months, and are expected to dictate the future course of U.S.-Iran relations.

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6 Comments

This is excellent. Thank you for this.

Michael Martin / September 26, 2009 7:42 AM

truely and excelent report.Broght a complete expectrom of openions of all parties on ahmadinejad speech.

Robert M / September 26, 2009 10:03 AM

Great piece, however, please refrain from calling him "president" as the mass of Iranian population has clearly shown that he is not their president, that he has been selected by the regime.
Thank you.

Babak Movahedi / September 28, 2009 3:17 AM

I am afraid I, unlike the others who have commented on your piece should be objective. First of all your picture does not portray the real scene. All news agencies which I have seen their report from last Wednesday reported a picture which showed a diverse rally against Ahamadinejad. First, even though you tried very hard to hide your siding with the so called “Green movement” but it is more than obvious to any reader of your piece that you are a strong sympathizer of them. Second, the short name for the “Mojahedin e Khalgh” is either MEK or PMOI, the MKO which you used is the terminology the Iranian intelligence ministry uses for MEK. Third, MEK gathering was the largest and most organized and reported like that by all Iranian news agencies based in US and Europe. Forth, MEK is the most popular among the youth and younger generation inside and outside Iran and they have been for the last 30 years how did you come to your assessment? Facts please? Last and fifth, if the green movement, according to your reporting supports Mir Hossein Mousavi, then you failed to report that all groups protesting in NY on Wednesday chanted for regime change except the green movement.

Tim Ghaemi / September 28, 2009 10:36 AM

The suppression of citizens rights by the Ahmedinejad supporters and administration is certainly wrong. However this should not distract us from the fact that the Israeli attack on the population of Gaza was barbaric. What strategic value did the destruction of schools and mosques serve or that of children and women?? Ahmedinedjad is the only world leader who speaks openly against these Israeli crimes and which is why there is suspicion that some of the protests against his govt have been orchestrated by Israel and its friends. The Green movement must be careful to keep its independence otherwise it will be subsumed by others who have other intentions for Iran.

rezvan / September 30, 2009 3:19 AM

@rezvan

There is no "..however.."

http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/

Have you ever read the real charter of Human Rights ?
Do you see the date ?

Funny how people, especially muslims always whine about Israel when their country is accused of violating human rights. Quite frankly I don't see the relation, not more than any country who violates them, they should all be accused, including western countries, and they are.

This is not to deny that Israel has violated them, and I support the UN recent report (that accuses both sides) But that has nothing to do with Iran, except their support for Hamas and Hezbollah, that Israel obviously sees as a threat.

But why should Iran gvt be so outspoken about Israel ? Why does Ahmadinejad keep insulting them with holocaust etc ? What business is it of his ? Why does he do it ? I think it's because of several things, possibly things related to nuclear weapons and petrol.. the religious aim of spreading Islam to the world, keeping people ignorant and occupying them with notions of 'outside ennemies' to keep them united and forget their social, economic and political weaknesses, the usual talk of dictators.

Funny that Israel never expresses any desire to spread it's doctrine to the world, they have no ambitions, except live in peace and security with it's neighbours. But that's not the case with Islamic doctrine. They must take over the world and spread unrest with terror tactics using the most filthy ways - indoctrination of martyrdom, (meaning that after death is more important than life itself), and using poor delusional kids to die for them, and poor delusional mothers to put photos of their sacrificed children on their walls as an 'honour'.

Poor people, poor victims of religious propaganda, of people like "Supreme Leaders", great clerics, apparently the highest form of religious 'intellectuals' who agree to this, who fund it and continue every day, even during world events like the UN Summit, to allow their country's representative to utter such rubbish, and by doing it, make Iran the scorn of the world !
How can that help the 'Palestinien cause" ? I ask you. How can someone who is called a 'thug', a 'monster' even by his own citizens ever be credible as a defender of the rights of Palestinien citizens ?

According to the TFT polls, the iranian people don't consider Israel as the most important problem. They think it's a threat but no wonder, with such propaganda thrown at them everyday, and with such shows and lies that their president expresses in front of the world's medias.

pessimist / October 1, 2009 4:34 PM