Ahmadinejad's Performance Gets Mixed Reaction From Iranians
|Ahmadinejad speaking at
Columbia University in New York on September 24|
September 25, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Conservative politicians in Iran today
began to align themselves with President Mahmud Ahmadinejad following his
high-profile appearance at an academic conference in New York on September 24.
Other Iranian reaction to the outspoken leader's first day in the United States
has been slow to emerge, but early signs suggest Ahmadinejad is unlikely to have
bridged any divides.
television today broadcast nearly an hour of Ahmadinejad's appearance at
Columbia University's World Leaders Forum, although it was initially unclear
whether there were edits or omissions.
Ahmadinejad used the forum to
rebut claims that his country is pursuing nuclear weapons, saying, "I think the
politicians who are after atomic bombs, or testing them, making them,
politically they are backward, retarded."
He "granted" that the Holocaust
"happened," but said that it required "further research." He also urged greater
scrutiny of the "root causes" of the terrorist attacks on the United States on
September 11, 2001 -- including "why it happened, what caused it, what were the
conditions that led to it, [and] who truly was involved, who was really
Speaking with Radio Farda from Tehran following the broadcast,
former Tehran University Chancellor Mohammad Maleki responded to Ahmadinejad's
appearance by questioning his credentials in seeking to portray himself as a
spokesman for broadly held views.
"If he is right when he says he's
expressing people's views, then he should start from our Iran, since several
years ago a number of Iranian personalities called for a free referendum to be
held in Iran," Maleki said. "The question [would be]: Do people want this
establishment and the current constitution or not?"
President Against 'Zionists'
Unsurprisingly, early reactions from
conservative elements in Iran reflected support for Ahmadinejad and his Columbia
Hard-line lawmakers praised the president's
performance and decried what they dismissed as the "Zionist" influence that was
aligned against him.
Iran's international English-language broadcaster,
Press TV, quoted the head of the parliament's National Security and Foreign
Policy Committee, Alaeddin Borujerdi, as saying the event allowed Ahmadinejad to
"provide the public with accurate information." He said the audience was allowed
access to Iranian positions without interference from what he described as the
"Zionist"-controlled U.S. media.
Borujerdi said that "incoming reports"
suggested "there were more pro-Ahmadinejad people [at] the session than people
against him," although a report in "The New York Times" claimed the opposite was
Borujerdi also chided Columbia University President Lee Bollinger
for his blunt criticism of Ahmadinejad, saying he had "degraded himself" through
statements that were unsuitable for an academic and host.
his remarks to challenge Ahmadinejad's questioning of the Holocaust and his
incendiary remarks about Israel. The Columbia president called Ahmadinejad's
behavior reminiscent of "a petty and cruel dictator," and said his comments
signaled he was either "brazenly provocative or astonishingly
Another legislator, Kazem Jalali, echoed Ahmadinejad's
perception that the Iranian president had been "insulted" by the Columbia
president, blaming a "Zionist lobby" and U.S. neoconservative elements for
Some Iranians Skeptical Of Trip
reactions from outside official Iran suggested skepticism of Ahmadinejad's
motives to speak at Columbia.
Alireza Nurizadeh, a London-based
journalist who is currently in New York, told Radio Farda that he thinks the
September 24 appearances -- by video link with the National Press Club and in
person at Columbia -- marked high-profile failures for
Ahmadinejad "was able to speak in a free atmosphere,"
Nurizadeh said. "A White house spokesman has said that he hopes that Iranian
people will also one day be able to speak freely. Finally, we have to say that
Ahmadinejad in two confrontations -- one with the press, the other with students
-- failed badly and this failure will remain in his record."
user who identified himself as Kian from Kermanshah wrote to Radio Farda to say
that he thought the U.S. authorities "should have never given Ahmadinejad a visa
to enter the U.S.!" He added, "Ahmadinejad only wants to appear on cameras and
Another message to Farda, from Saeed in Sweden, accused
the Iranian president of simply trying to "use his trip for propaganda in Iran
to say that he's reached success with courage in the land of the
Copyright (c) 2007 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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