The Iranian government announced Thursday that Iran’s president, an international lightning rod par excellence, was seeking a US visa to attend a United Nations conference next week on nuclear nonproliferation. Within hours, at least one US senator was demanding he be turned away, and a New York organization was imploring the city’s hotels to deny him a bed.
The bearded, perpetually smiling Mr. Ahmadinejad is widely known – and at least in many Western circles reviled – for denying the Holocaust, denying the existence of homosexuals in Iran, and for touting a nuclear program many in the West believe is aimed at delivering a nuclear weapon. Oh, and in recent months for brutally shutting down Iran’s pro-democracy movement.
UN rogue's gallery
Still, as host nation of the UN headquarters in New York, the US traditionally grants visas to even the most controversial leaders wishing to attend UN events. (Think Fidel Castro, Muammar Qadafi, and in past years Ahmadinejad himself.) But that doesn’t sit well with everybody.
In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Sen. John Cornyn (R) of Texas calls on the State Department to bar Ahmadinejad’s entry and thus to scuttle his plans to address the nuclear conference.
“Allowing it to happen,” Senator Cornyn says in his letter, “will make a mockery of the effort to stop the spread of nuclear weapons to rogue states and terrorist groups.”
Short of an outright ban, Cornyn says the State Department should limit the Iranian leader to the UN neighborhood in New York.
Others want to deny Ahmadinejad a good night’s sleep.
United Against a Nuclear Iran, a New York group supporting Iran’s isolation over its nuclear program, is calling on New York hotels to refuse rooms to Ahmadinejad and his entourage. The same organization succeeded last September, on the occasion of the UN General Assembly, in pressuring one hotel to cancel Ahmadinejad’s reservation (ostensibly over security concerns) and limiting him to one venue.
Beyond what one may think of the Iranian leader and his policies, even some of his detractors say his last-minute decision to attend the opening of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference reflects a certain craftiness.
The NPT review conference, a twice-a-decade affair, is traditionally attended by country delegations led by foreign ministers or UN ambassadors. Secretary Clinton will lead the US delegation and is scheduled to speak Monday afternoon. But under UN protocol, a head of state trumps other government representatives, so Ahmadinejad will be honored with a speaking slot near the top of the list for Monday’s opening and ahead of other country delegations.
Economic sanctions an issue
The New York visit is also providing Ahmadinejad with the opportunity to declare his openness to dialogue with the West – and to paint US-led efforts to pass new UN sanctions against Iran as the world’s powerful once again pillorying the weak.
The US is doing its best to avoid Ahmadinejad’s trap, with Clinton saying Friday that Iran knows exactly what actions it must take – and not simply what words it must speak – to avoid further isolation by the international community.
Reiterating Clinton’s words at a Washington press conference Friday, US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said that instead of “grandstanding” Ahmadinejad would do well to respond to the “serious offers” for resolving the nuclear impasse offered by the US, the other permanent members of the UN Security Council, and Germany, the so-called P5+1 group.
“Iran knows what our address is, it’s been the P5+1,” she said. “If Iran has something new to say, it knows where to find us.”