Ahmadinejad heads for New York

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad travels to New York this week for the UN General Assembly, his disputed re-election still sparking violent protests at home and provocative remarks about the Holocaust drawing condemnation abroad.

The defiant leader will be speaking just days before a high-profile international discussion on Tehran’s controversial nuclear programme.

Several world powers, led by Washington, suspect Iran is using its nuclear energy programme as cover to build an atomic bomb, a charge vociferously denied on Sunday by Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Earlier this month Iran submitted a new set of proposals to six major world powers seeking to force Tehran to halt enriching uranium, a process that can produce fuel for power plants but also
serve as the raw material for a bomb.

On Friday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Iran must “now decide” whether it really wants to engage in serious nuclear talks.

President Barack Obama had given Tehran until the end of September to do so or face a possible fourth set of UN Security Council sanctions.

But Ahmadinejad is sticking to a long-standing position, telling US television network NBC on Thursday that Iran is always willing to negotiate over its nuclear programme but will never cease to
enrich uranium.

A day later, he sparked fresh international outrage by firing new salvos at arch-foe Israel at an annual pro-Palestinian rally.

“The very existence of this regime is an insult to the dignity of the people,” Ahmadinejad said of Israel, adding that Western powers had “launched the myth of the Holocaust”.

In Berlin, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said his remarks shamed Iran. “With his intolerable tirades, he shames his country,” and his “anti-Semitism … must be collectively condemned,” he said.

White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs said “denying the Holocaust is baseless, ignorant and hateful,” while the European Union presidency said such statements “encourage anti-Semitism and
hatred”.

Friday’s Tehran rally was marred by new and violent protests by supporters of Ahmadinejad’s rivals, who claim his June 12 re-election was fraudulent.

More than three months since the election, protesters still demonstrate at the slightest opportunity despite a sustained crackdown.

Opposition websites claim that several groups of expatriate Iranians plan to gather in New York during Ahmadinejad’s visit to protest.

His trip has already made news, with New York’s posh Helmsley Hotel having cancelled a banquet booking after saying it had learned Ahmadinejad would be guest of honour.

Khamenei, who has ultimate authority over Ahmadinejad, on Sunday denounced the US-led allegations that Iran has a covert atomic bombs programme.

“They falsely accuse the Islamic republic of producing nuclear weapons. We fundamentally reject nuclear weapons and prohibit the production and the use of nuclear weapons,” he said in a speech on state television.

“They know themselves that it’s not true … but it is part of Iran-phobia policy that controls the behaviour of these arrogant governments today.”

Ahmadinejad’s previous visits to the UN were also marked by controversy.

In 2008, he said the “American empire” is nearing collapse and must end its military engagement in other countries.

In 2007, he appeared at New York’s prestigious Columbia university and made the controversial claim that Iran had no homosexuals, cast doubt on the Holocaust and was chastised by the university head as a “petty dictator”.

His supporters back home touted the speech as an “epic”.

In 2006, Ahmadinejad challenged the UN Security Council head on, saying the council will “neither be legitimate nor effective” if it is unable to act on behalf of the entire international community.

He also attacked Israel, saying its regime “has been a constant source of threat and insecurity in the Middle East region, waging war and spilling blood and impeding the progress of regional countries.”

This week, he is expected to strongly defend Tehran’s nuclear programme, but also advocate global nuclear disarmament.

Iranian officials have said that their October 1 talks with the six world powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — will focus on disarmament, a key element of Tehran’s new proposals. – AFP

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Jay Deshmukh
Jay Deshmukh
Sudan Bureau Chief for Agence France Presse (AFP) based in Khartoum.

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