Iran's Ahmadinejad questions Holocaust, calls for friendliness

Ahead of his speech at the UN Wednesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad said President Obama should consider the benefits of befriending Iran.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he expected to have a “free and open” discussion of nuclear issues when he meets with United Nations Security Council members next week, but he said he will not negotiate on Iran’s nuclear program and denied his country was building nuclear weapons.

In an interview with the Associated Press on the eve of his speech at the United Nations General Assembly meeting Wednesday, the controversial leader also encouraged the US to consider the benefits of befriending Iran.

Meanwhile, people in New York and around the world prepared to protest Mr. Ahmadinejad. Israel urged heads of state to boycott the president’s speech at the UN for his periodic claims that the Holocaust didn’t happen.

Ahmadinejad told the AP that Mr. Obama should consider the “opportunities” that come with befriending Iran.

(Read more quotes from Ahmadinejad’s interview here.)

He also said he would ask for leniency for three American hikers detained in Iran after crossing the border from Iraq. He said the United States’ decision to shelve a missile defense shield in Europe, aimed at defending long-range Iranian missiles, was "a respectful way of buying out" Russian objections.

Diplomats, scholars, and Iranian expatriates are already making plans to boycott and protest Ahmadinejad’s appearances in New York. According to NPR, some academics who normally attend an annual gathering with the Iranian president decided to stay away this year after the harsh government crackdown on protesters following Iran’s disputed election. The opposition says at least 72 people were killed, and hundreds more have been detained.

Agence France-Presse reports that Israel has asked heads of state and their delegations at the General Assembly not to attend Ahmadinejad’s address Wednesday evening. In the AP interview, Ahmadinejad once again questioned the Holocaust, though did not repeat the outright denial that has become his trademark.

Meanwhile, thousands of Iranians are heading to New York to protest Ahmadinejad and his government’s response to post-election demonstrations, reports the Wall Street Journal. It is expected to be the largest demonstration of Iranians in exile since the Islamic Revolution, according to the newspaper.

The US will join Britain, Germany, France, Russia, and China in meeting with Iran’s top nuclear negotiator next week.

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