Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad makes ironic appearance at UN meeting

Sept. 24, 2012
The Toronto Star
Olivia Ward

“Controversy? Bring it on,” could be Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s motto during his eight years in office.

Before his annual appearance on the United Nationspodium — the last year he’ll speak before leaving office — the flamboyant, spotlight-loving leader had already declared that Israel was rootless in the Middle East and would be “eliminated.”

In a meeting with media in New York on Monday, he shrugged off threats of Israeli military action againstIranian nuclear sites, and in a softer tone, repeated that his country’s program to enrich uranium was purely for peaceful purposes, and that there was still time to resolve differences with Washington through dialogue.

Ahmadinejad gave an uncharacteristically brisk opening speech Monday at the UN — but those who have come to expect rhetorical hyperbole should wait for Wednesday, when he is to give a more wide-ranging talk to the General Assembly.

At a special session on Rule of Law on Monday, the diminutive 55-year-old called for an end to veto powers in the Security Council, for the return of the Palestinian territories to their “rightful owners,” and for a prohibition on the UN’s use of force.

It was mild by the standards of a leader who has denied the Holocaust and said that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were a plot to boost the American economy. But for those who study Iran’s human rights record, it was bitterly ironic coming from a country with a steadily rising toll of executions and a lengthening list of rights violations.

“Law enforcement authorities must be trustworthy, dedicated, fair . . . impartial and defenders of the rights of the public,” Ahmadinejad told delegates. “The law should be enforced correctly and fairly, based on knowledge and prudence.”

“Iran’s president lecturing on the rule of law is like a pyromaniac expounding on fire safety,” said Hillel Neuer, director of the Geneva-based monitoring group UN Watch, and a fierce critic of Iran. “Ahmadinejad is a fraudulently elected leader whose regime bars women from university education, rapes dissidents, persecutes the Bahai and other minorities, and hangs gays . . .
“The whole thing’s absurd — but it’s not the least bit funny if you’re being tortured in a Tehran prison.”

Canadian Hamid Ghassemi-Shall and Canadian resident Saeed Malekpour are currently on death row in Iran.

While Ahmadinejad’s annual appearances at the UN are usually greeted by empty seats in Western delegations, his foes — many of them Iranian dissidents and pro-Israel advocates — line up at the gates to protest. Each year hotels believed to be hosting him are besieged by requests to shut their doors. Hundreds of Iranian expatriates are expected to stage a mass protest outside the UN Wednesday.

The New York Post, a tabloid that regularly lampoons Ahmadinejad, reportedly tried but failed to deliver a “welcome basket” to his delegation, including traditional Jewish foods like Manischewitz gefilte fish and a ticket to the off-Broadway comedy Old Jews Telling Jokes.

But inside the UN, the mood was more serious for both Ahmadinejad and his Western critics. High-level meetings on the nuclear issue during the UN session are not expected to yield substantial results.

For months, threats have been exchanged between Iran and Israel over Tehran’s nuclear program, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has increased pressure on the U.S. to back a military strike he believes would set back the production of a nuclear bomb. That has put a reluctant U.S. President Barack Obama on the firing line with prominent Israel supporters, and made him vulnerable to attack from hard-line Republicans in a closeelection race.

But Ahmadinejad himself has been under fire from Iran’s fragmented leadership structure. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has reportedly withdrawn his support, and Ahmadinejad’s links with clerics who seek to undermine Khamenei’s rule have made the final term of his presidency precarious. His unpopularity with many Iranians, especially the young, led to massive protests in 2009 and hundreds of arrests.

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