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Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: A man who favors cheap windbreakers, sensible shoes, and 9/11 conspiracy theories

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who spoke at the UN today, has been called a 'ranting loon.' But the real Ahmadinejad is far more complex.

By Staff writer / September 23, 2010

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at a summit on the Millennium Development Goals at United Nations headquarters in New York, on Sept. 21.

Aaron Jackson/AP

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a study in contradictions, and when he took the podium at the United Nations General Assembly today, US and other leaders were eagerly watching to see which Ahmadinejad showed up.

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In the American mind, he's often viewed as a crazed dictator (the New York Post called him a "ranting loon" during his 2008 UN visit), and he may have added to that image with his comments this afternoon.

In a speech that appealed to common values between Christianity and Islam and that spoke positively of the prophets Jesus and Moses as well as Muhammad, Mr. Ahmadinejad quickly veered into the sort of territory that has infuriated his opponents and at times even left supporters at home scratching their heads in frustration.

AHMADINEJAD: His Top 5 quotes at the UN

This time it wasn't Holocaust denial so much as Ahmadinejad apparently lending credence to theories that the 9/11 attacks on the United States were abetted by the US government. A speech that some had hoped would signal a greater willingness to cooperate with the international community over his country's nuclear program and lead to greater US-Iran dialogue saw the US delegation walk out in protest soon after he started speaking.

Ahmadinejad said it was possible that the US had arranged the 9/11 attacks as part of a propaganda effort to help domestic business interests and the state of Israel, and called for the UN to investigate the attacks on New York and Washington 9 years after they were organized and carried out by Al Qaeda.

His comments won't do much to improve the caricatured view of the Iranian president in the US. But Ahmadinejad, who favors cheap windbreakers and sensible shoes, is not a grandiose leader à la Muammar Qaddafi of Libya (whose style choices range from "African king" to "Generalissimo from central casting"). He's not even the most powerful man in Iran's theocratic system, which centers instead on the "supreme leader" post held by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Why Ahmadinejad may tone it down

Ahmadinejad has certainly established a penchant for making statements that sound outrageous to Westerners, be they ones that question the reality of the Holocaust or a comment a few years ago that was interpreted by many as a call for Israel to be wiped off the map.

But Ahmadinejad's tone has been somewhat more measured of late, today's comments notwithstanding, reflecting international sanctions over Iran's nuclear program that are biting Iran's economy, pressure from Iran's ruling elite not to increase the country's isolation, and perhaps Ahmadinejad's own desire to negotiate a nuclear deal with Western powers to bolster his domestic standing.

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