x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Ahmadinejad to share his ideas for global peace

Iran's president will outline his ideas for peace and unity when he addresses the UN General Assembly.

The Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivers a speech in a military parade ceremony just outside Tehran, Iran on Sept 21 2008.
The Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivers a speech in a military parade ceremony just outside Tehran, Iran on Sept 21 2008.

Iran's president will outline the "peaceful" nature of his country's nuclear activities and project his ideas for global peace, justice and unity when he addresses the UN General Assembly tomorrow, according to Iranian media. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad relishes the international spotlight as much as he courts controversy and can expect plenty of both in New York where US Jewish groups have planned a week of protests. They want to keep the issue of Iran's nuclear programme high on the UN's agenda, concerned that world leaders recently have been more preoccupied with the global financial crisis and the debacle between the United States and Russia over Georgia. As Mr Ahmadinejad left for New York yesterday, he was also criticised harshly at home. His reformist predecessor, Mohammad Khatami, described the president's verbal attacks on Israel as "the best gift Israel could receive".

Mr Ahmadinejad's domestic critics, who include prominent conservatives, say his anti-Israeli rhetoric has unnecessarily deepened international suspicions about Tehran's cherished nuclear programme. Mr Khatami said: "Is it active diplomacy to adopt harsh and uncalculated stances which cost Iran dearly, prevent it from reaching its goals and put the nation in a situation which makes life harder?" Iran's opponents abroad are unlikely to be mollified by recent signs that Mr Ahmadinejad has been rowing back on some of his most vitriolic rhetoric about the Jewish state.

Last week he publicly stood by one of his closest aides who provoked a furore among conservative politicians by claiming that Iranians are "friends with all people in the world - even Israelis". Mr Ahmadinejad also denied that an infamous remark he made about Israel in 2005 was intended as a threat of Iranian military action against the Jewish state. "So you did not threaten to wipe Israel off the map as an Iranian leader? That we will wipe Israel off the map?" Iran's English-language Press TV asked him in an interview. "No," the president replied.

Mr Ahmadinejad argued that Israel is an unviable state that will collapse on its own rather than be destroyed by an outside power. When Palestinians were given their "rights", Israel would disappear like the Soviet Union had done, he said. This argument, more often advanced by his aides, is that the future of the Holy Land should be settled democratically in a referendum where Muslims, Jews and Christians would vote, including millions of Palestinians in diaspora. With Palestinians outnumbering Jewish voters in this case, Israel would be replaced by a larger Palestinian state.

Jewish citizens could remain, although Mr Ahmadinejad previously has suggested if Israel's Jews want their own state it should be located in European countries where they had roots before the Holocaust, or even in Alaska. "If there is a free referendum, Palestinians would destroy Israel," Mr Ahmadinejad said during a visit to Turkey last month. He told Press TV: "The Zionist regime is an artificial regime ? You brought people from different parts of the world and you have built this state. No, that cannot last, it is not sustainable."

He said: "Where is the Soviet Union? The Soviet Union has been wiped off the map ? When the people of the Soviet Union, the Russian people, were allowed to decide to take charge of their destiny, the Soviet Union disappeared." The headline on Press TV's transcription of his interview on their website read: "Myth of Iran wiping Israel off the map dispelled." Controversy has raged over the translation from Farsi of Mr Ahmadinejad's original call for Israel to be "wiped off the map" - the wording that is most commonly used by the world's media.

The translation is viewed as important because the phrase is invariably invoked whenever Iran's nuclear programme or support for militant Muslim groups is mentioned. But some Farsi language experts insist that the remark would be rendered more accurately as "the regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time". If so, the Iranian president was predicting - as his aides insist he meant - the demise of the Jewish state at some point in the future, and not threatening military action against it.

Some argue that by ignoring this translation the United States, with Israel's support, is building a case for military action against Iran on a faulty premise, as it did with Iraq. The New York Times in a recent study of the controversy put the phrase to bilingual Iranian analysts to tussle over and concluded: "It is true that he [Mr Ahmadinejad] has never specifically threatened war against Israel."

But the newspaper said it "certainly seems" that he had called for Israel to be "wiped off the map", adding: "Did that amount to a call for war? That remains to be seen." Mr Ahmadinejad in his interview with Press TV apparently did not challenge the translation of his 2005 remark, only what he meant by it. To many, the translation dispute is an esoteric matter that has been overtaken by the damage inflicted on Iran by Mr Ahmadinejad's anti-Israeli rhetoric since 2005.

In April 2006, he described Israel as a "rotten and dried-up tree that will be destroyed by one storm". When Israel celebrated its 60th birthday in May, he called it a "stinking" corpse and a "dead rat": a regime that was on "its way to annihilation". Both comments, however lurid, were predictions of Israel's demise, not threats of Iranian military action, but they left Mr Ahmadinejad open to accusations by Israel of incitement to violence, even of genocide.

The Iranian president also courted international condemnation in Dec 2006 when he hosted a conference of infamous Holo- caust deniers from around the world. Yesterday, at a military parade to commemorate the start of Iran's eight-year war with Iraq, Mr Ahmadinejad warned Israel and the United States, without naming them, that Iran's armed forces would "break the hand before he pulls the trigger" of any aggressor that targeted his country's nuclear facilities.

On proud display were long-range missiles that can reach Israel and a military truck with a banner that proclaimed, in both English and Farsi: "Israel should be eliminated from the universe". mtheodoulou@thenational.ae