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    Middle East
     Sep 20, 2008
Ahmadinejad sets pulses racing
By Omid Memarian

BERKELEY, California - Iranian academics are hoping President Mahmud Ahmadinejad will avoid the type of virulent rhetoric which has damaged Iran's international image in the past when he addresses the UN General Assembly next week.

Controversial previous remarks at assemblies suggesting that Israel "be wiped of the map" have regularly led the international community to condemn Ahmadinejad. Pro-Israel and human-rights organizations plan to rally in front of the UN building as he makes his speech.

Asked what Iranians expect their president to say during this, his third UN address, Sadegh Zibakalam, a political science professor at the University of Tehran, told Inter Press Service in a telephone


interview they hoped Ahmadinejad would not discuss the Arab-Israeli conflict, and especially the Holocaust.

"He mustn't discuss the Holocaust issue. He must refrain from discussing Israel's annihilation and its leaders' demise," Zibakalam said. "He should not discuss Iran's eventual victory over the United States and its attempts to teach humanity a lesson - he must seriously stay away from this type of rhetoric."

Ahmadinejad must use language which demonstrates the Iranian people's respect for Americans and their elected leaders, said Zibakalam. "This will demonstrate [Iran's] willingness to seriously negotiate regional and nuclear issues with the next president."

Ahmadinejad has repeatedly said he was willing to talk to the United States and other nations, but Iran's dismissal of a series of UN Security Council resolutions against its nuclear program, coupled with Washington's repeated accusations of meddling in Iraq, have sent a somewhat different message.

"He has announced on numerous occasions his desire to reach a resolution through negotiations," said Ali Mazroui, a former member of Iran's parliament. "However, his rhetoric and actions have fallen short of providing assurances [to these countries] .... I have no hope for any kind of change regarding new avenues for Iran during this trip," added Mazroui.

Elaheh Koulaee, also a former parliamentarian and now a professor at the University of Tehran, said plans by Jewish and human-rights groups to rally outside the UN building are off no great importance. "Street protests and civil society have not been terribly influential in Iran-US relations," she said.

"If Iran and the US use the opportunities available to them to discuss their needs ... I doubt these types of protests will affect those dialogues."

Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, Iran's vice president, last month said Iran is "friends of all people in the world - even Israelis", but the remarks were widely denounced by Iran's hardliners and Mashaie later claimed his comments were misrepresented. Yet surprisingly, the president has resisted intense pressure from the parliament and some of the hardliner ayatollahs to comment on the controversy.

The Islamic republic has never recognized the state of Israel, and it remains unclear whether Mashaie's remarks and Ahmadinejad's silence denote a policy shift, or simply a gaffe.

"[Ahmadinejad] has said things in international circles which have led those countries to assume a negative position with regard to Iran, as opposed to improving our relations with them," said Mazroui. "For example, what he said about Israel and Holocaust caused tensions on international and regional political levels; none of these discussions can help Iran."

Hooshang Amirahmadi, president of the American-Iranian Council and a professor at Rutgers University, said the Iranian people are wary of war and have been badly hurt by years of sanctions.

"They want nothing more than peace and are yearning for prosperity. US-Iran relations have been their key concern for years and at present over 90% of Iranians, including those in the government, want relations normalized and quickly."

Amirahmadi, who will meet the Iranian delegation during their visit, has traveled to Iran several times during the past six months and has met with Ahmadinejad. He believes that the majority of the Iranian people want their president to use the opportunity of his presence on US soil to build bridges with the US people and government.

"This means that they do not want Ahmadinejad to use words and terminologies that will be annoying to his host," said Amirahmadi. "More importantly, they want the president to speak of the Americans very highly and with utmost respect.

"I think Mr Ahmadinejad should also use the opportunity to mend relations with a key player in US-Iran relations, namely Israel," he added. "Here is an opportunity for him to reinforce the view expressed by one of his vice presidents that Iran is a friend of the Israeli people ... though there are those in the [Jewish] community who are inimical toward the Islamic Republic."

However, this appears unlikely, as at a press conference in Tehran this week Ahmadinejad repeated his assertion that the Holocaust was "fake" and that Israel would not survive in any form.

(Inter Press Service)

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