The global provocateur may be winding up his second and final term as president in dispute with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and held in low esteem by the Iranian public as Iran’s economy falters under tough international sanctions.
But if his first comments after landing in New York for this week’s UN General Assembly are any indication, Mr. Ahmadinejad can be expected to outrage again when he speaks Wednesday from the UN podium.
Speaking to reporters Monday, Ahmadinejad dismissed Israel as having “no roots in [Middle Eastern] history” and ridiculed Israel’s threats to launch airstrikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities. “We do not take seriously the threats of the Zionists,” he said. “We have all the defensive means at our disposal, and we are ready to defend ourselves.”
Prospects for surprise Israeli military action against Iran have roiled US-Israel relations in recent weeks, with President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu openly disputing whether it’s time for military action. Some foreign-policy experts predict Israel will reluctantly wait until after US elections for clearer support from the US. In the meantime, they say, Ahmadinejad is using the threat of attack to trot out his trademark bravado while trying to boost his standing at home.
On the international stage, Ahmadinejad continues to present himself as the defender of a new world order that would give emerging powers – and in particular Muslim countries – their due. Earlier this month, he hosted a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran.
On Monday, the Iranian president addressed a high-level UN meeting on the rule of law – an appearance that drew howls of protest from human rights advocates. Human rights in Iran have deteriorated further since the regime violently put down the country’s “green revolution” in 2009, rights promoters say. They also cite the plight of religious minorities, homosexuals, and dissidents in Iran.
Ahmadinejad used his time at the UN meeting to sound a moderate note, insisting that Iran’s nuclear program is for peaceful, civilian purposes. He also said that time has not run out on diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis – leaving him sounding a bit like Mr. Obama, who insists that the diplomatic window, while narrowing, has not yet closed.
As usual, Ahmadinejad's visit to the US is causing a stir. The US group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) every year tries to “shame" New York hotels into slamming their doors in the Iranian leader’s face – and is as busy as ever mounting anti-Ahmadinejad protests this year, too.
In a bit of a if-you-can’t-beat-'em-join-‘em move, UANI has set up its command post in the Warwick Hotel – after failing to convince the West 54th Street establishment to deny the Iranian a room. It planned to hold an anti-Ahmadinejad rally outside the hotel Monday afternoon, joining a list of organizations that plan to hold similar events – including outside the UN on Wednesday, when Ahmadinejad speaks.