Monday, September 24, 2007

Ahmadinejad at Columbia

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad faced protestors at Columbia University where he spoke to students and faculty.

In his welcoming remarks, Columbia’s President Lee Bollinger told Ahmadinejad that he presents “all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator.” Bollinger offered a sharply-worded indictment against Ahmadinejad and the Islamic Republic.

Bollinger took Ahmadinejad to task over Iran's human-rights record and foreign policy, and Ahmadinejad's statements denying the Holocaust and calling for the disappearance of Israel. In response, Ahmadinejad protested against what he called “insults” by the University president.

During the speech, he reiterated his view that Palestinians were punished because of the Holocaust and had to give up their land to accommodate the state of Israel. Ahmadinejad called for a referendum by all Palestinians to determine the future of the area. He refused to directly answer repeated questions whether he was calling for the elimination of Israel.

Starting this morning, the university's Department of Public Safety, the New York Police Department and the US Secret Service had put into effect strict security measures at University's campus and surrounding streets.

Earlier in the day, Ahmadinejad told reporters at the National Press Club in Washington during a satellite interview that Iran would not launch any attack on Israel. He also reiterated his belief that the US is not preparing an attack on Iran. In the interview, Ahmadinejad struck a soothing tone. He said Iranian foreign policy was based on humanitarian concerns and seeking justice.

Ahmadinejad arrived in New York on Sunday. He will attend the UN General Assembly on Tuesday.

In an appearance at CBS program "60 Minutes" aired on Sunday evening, Ahmadinejad was asked whether Iran's goal was to obtain a nuclear bomb. Ahmadinejad said that the answer was a "firm no." He added that Iran doesn’t need the bomb, “What need do we have for a bomb?"

Ahmadinehad also assured the American audience that Iran was not heading for war with the United States. Asked whether he was denying that Iran supplied weapons to militants in Iraq, he avoided a clear answer. "It's very clear the situation. The insecurity in Iraq is detrimental to our interests," he said.

Ahmadinejad is to visit Latin American allies Bolivia and Venezuela after his trip to the United Nations.

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