Ahmadinejad optimistic on dialogue
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
NEW YORK - Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad stated on Tuesday that he was
optimistic about the renewal of dialogue between the United States and Iran.
"We are ready for dialogue. I think it is probable that the talks will begin in
the near future," Ahmadinejad told a small group of United States reporters at
a breakfast meeting.
Reiterating a message of conciliation and cooperation on regional and global
issues conveyed since arriving in New York on Sunday, Ahmadinejad said Iran
would abide by the decisions of the Palestinian people, but expressed pessimism
that the latest round of peace talks would yield tangible results. He cited the
failure of past efforts, which he attributed to Israel's "expansionism",
wondering aloud, "Where are the human rights
for the Palestinian people, many of whom are refugees and are denied access to
food and medicine?"
Ahmadinejad is in New York for this week's annual session of the United
Nations' General Assembly.
Responding to a question about the Barack Obama administration and its Iran
policy, Ahmadinejad urged Obama to take "concrete steps" toward improving
US-Iran relations and to "change its approach toward Iran" from one of
hostility to cooperation.
"As long as the US wants to dominate Iran and the region, the problems will
continue," Ahmadinejad said, adding that reports of US arms sales to Saudi
Arabia and other Arab states in the Persian Gulf simply reinforced his point
about the need for the US to promote peace and not an arms race in the region.
He said, "They could be selling factories and modern technology instead of
Still, Ahmadinejad defended his sense of optimism that the Obama administration
would come down on the side of dialogue with Iran, this in light of Iran's
regional importance and the troubles in Iraq and Afghanistan. "I think we are
moving in that direction," Ahmadinejad said.
Regarding a nuclear fuel swap deal for a Tehran medical reactor, Ahmadinejad
insisted that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was obligated to
assist Iran with the supply of nuclear fuel for the reactor, which "has a
humanitarian mission" by providing radioisotopes to thousands of patients". As
of this moment, Iran had received no assurance about the delivery of nuclear
fuel in terms of the agreement with Turkey and Brazil, he said.
"We did not insist on 20% enrichment, but we have to do what we can to provide
the necessary fuel," Ahmadinejad said. He denied a recent US report concerning
sabotage at the Natanz enrichment facility and once again reminded his US
audience that all of Iran's enrichment activities were closely monitored by the
IAEA, including by IAEA cameras that record everything.
He accused the IAEA of allowing the Iran issue "to become politicized", and
took issue with the latest IAEA report on Iran while blaming the atomic agency
for making "extra-legal demands" from Iran.
Ahmadinejad is not alone in this as the Non-Aligned Movement recently raised
similar criticisms of the IAEA's new director general, Yukiya Amano, for
departing from "standard verification language". (See
Non-Aligned Movement backs Iran Asia Times Online, September 17, 2010).
"The IAEA had six issues with Iran, which we answered, and Iran's file should
have been normalized after that but wasn't because of political pressure,"
As for the effect of sanctions imposed by the UN and the US over Iran's nuclear
program, despite a warning by former Iranian president Hashemi Rafsanjani that
they should not be taken lightly or dismissed as "a joke" as Ahmadinejad has
done, Ahmadinejad insisted that "Iran has been under sanctions for more than 30
He continued, "When [Iraqi president] Saddam Hussein invaded Iran, instead of
condemning that invasion, Iran was put under sanctions and Saddam Hussein was
removed from the terrorist list. Sanctions have had the opposite effect of
making Iran more self-reliant and productive."
When asked about the effects of sanctions on Iran's economy, Ahmadinejad cited
a recent jump in Iran's stockmarket, indicating a growth of investment
activities, as well as growth in housing, agriculture and industrial output.
Ahmadinejad at first dismissed the possibility of an Israeli air raid on Iran's
nuclear facilities via US-controlled Iraqi air space, - "just look at the map
and see where Iran is located. The Zionist regime is a tiny country and does
not figure prominently in our calculations. Even if it were our neighbor, it
would still be considered insignificant."
Still, he made the observation that if the US permitted Israel to cross Iraqi
air space and attack Iran, this would be tantamount to declaring war on Iran.
At the same time, Ahmadinejad defended Iran's treatment of its own Jews,
stating that more than 20,000 lived in Iran and they had a representative in
parliament (Majlis). Many are "government employees, businessmen, storeowners,
etcetera, all living their lives like other Iranians".
On the issue of the Holocaust, Ahmadinejad denied that he was anti-Semantic and
said he had simply sought clarification "on two questions" on which he had
never received a satisfactory response. That is, why is it taboo to discuss and
debate a historical issue and, second, where did the Holocaust happen and why
should the Palestinian people pay the price for it?
On the recent release of Sarah Shourd, one of three American hikers detained in
Iran for more than a year, Ahmadinejad said he had lobbied the judiciary for
"maximum clemency" and that her release was due to the twin efforts of the
"independent judiciary and us".
One question that seemed to irritate Ahmadinejad regarded recent criticism by
some hardline members of the Majlis (parliament) over Ahmadinejad's apparent
glorification of Iran's ancient, ie, pre-Islamic, history. He said, "Are we not
allowed to talk about our own history?" He then said his comments on Cyrus the
Great had come at a ceremony for "unveiling" Cyrus the Great's famous edict,
which "abolished slavery". He contrasted the relatively recent abolition of
slavery in the US in the 19th century with Iran's abolition of slavery some
2,530 years ago, once again reminding his listeners that Iran was a wiser
country than the US because it was older in history.
After several days of hectic public diplomacy, which to date has included
appearing on Larry King Live, Ahmadinejad on Wednesday will hear Obama
address the UN General Assembly; the Iranian president's own speech is
scheduled for Thursday.
In light of Ahmadinejad's multiple gestures of conciliation and compromise,
including his offer of helping the US on Afghanistan and Iraq, the ball is now
fully in the US's court. It can either reciprocate the Iranian president's
gestures of goodwill toward the US, or it can continue on the present course of
coercive action against Iran. In the event of the latter, it can be safely
assumed that yet another window of opportunity in US-Iran relations will have
been prematurely closed.