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    Middle East
     Sep 23, 2010
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 arms."

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," Ahmadinejad said.

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 years".

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.

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) . For his Wikipedia entry, click here. He is author of Reading In Iran Foreign Policy After September 11 (BookSurge Publishing , October 23, 2008) and his latest book, Looking for rights at Harvard, is now available.

(Copyright 2010 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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