Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Iranian president Ahmadinejad offends U.S., Israel, Syrian rebels, gays in one day

UNITED NATIONS — President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran stoked the anger of Israel, the United States, Syrian rebels and gay-rights advocates on Monday.

He used the first full day of his final United Nations visit as Iran's president to assert that he has no fear of an Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities, regards the Israelis as fleeting in Middle East history, is neutral in the Syria conflict, and considers homosexuality an ugly crime.

In a series of public appearances that included a breakfast meeting with selected members of the news media, a speech on the rule of law at a U.N. conference and a CNN interview broadcast Monday evening, Ahmadinejad sought to portray Iran as a principled and upstanding member of the global community.

But the Iranian leader, known for his inflammatory language, ignored a warning by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon against making provocative statements. Instead, he offended a wide range of targets and prompted the Israeli delegation to walk out in protest.

Ahmadinejad, 55, is in the final nine months of his last term as president, and his annual visits to the United Nations for its General Assembly meetings have become a media event. Iran attached particular importance to his appearance this year because Iran is the rotating president of the Non-Aligned Movement, the largest bloc of members in the 193-nation General Assembly. Ahmadinejad will deliver a General Assembly address Wednesday.

In what may have been his most incendiary remarks Monday, Ahmadinejad belittled the history of Israel, compared with the long history of Iran. He told reporters and editors at the breakfast meeting that Israelis had been around the region for only 60 or 70 years, in contrast to Iranians whose civilization has existed for thousands of years.

"They have no roots there in history," Ahmadinejad. "They do not even enter the equation for Iran."

He also rejected any suggestion that Iran fears an Israeli military assault on its uranium enrichment facilities, which the Israeli government has called part of a clandestine effort to develop nuclear weapons.

"We are fully ready to defend ourselves. We do not take these threats seriously," he said.

Israel's ambassador, Ron Prosor, left the conference, saying in a statement that "Ahmadinejad showed again that he not only threatens the future of the Jewish people, he seeks to erase our past. Three thousand years of Jewish history illustrate the clear danger of ignoring fanatics like Iran's president, especially as he inches closer to acquiring nuclear weapons."

In Israel, Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor said recent inflammatory assertions from Iran, may be a sign that economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure on Iran are having an effect.

"Maybe we need to continue the pressure," he told reporters at a briefing.

Tommy Vietor, a White House spokesman, called his comments "characteristically disgusting, offensive and outrageous."

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