My Two Hours With Ahmadinejad

September 26, 2008

For nearly three years, Peace Action has been a leader in preventing the Bush Administration from conducting a war on Iran. In 2006, we coordinated a meeting of key nonprofit leaders and founded the Iran Policy Working Group – a group of over 100 leaders that share information and strategy. For years Peace Action led meetings with nonprofits and our congressional allies to form inside-outside strategies. Additionally, three Peace Action staff, including myself, traveled with delegations to Iran to practice citizen to citizen diplomacy.

Because of this work, the Fellowship of Reconciliation invited Peace Action to join over 100 leaders to meet with the President of Iran today, September 24, 2008. Here are some thoughts about the exchange.

When I went to Iran I got to meet with one of the eleven Vice Presidents. It was then I learned that Iranian politicians like to talk in religious platitudes. President Ahmadinejad is no different. He spent the first half of his response to twelve questions posed by the group discussing the promotion of ethics, morality and religion.

Once he started answering questions, he reiterated many things I’ve hear before. On the question of nuclear weapons he said, “we think that the time for the atomic bomb has come to an end.” It is under reported that Iran has a religious fatwa against nuclear weapons. In other words, it is against Islamic law to possess nuclear weapons.

On the issue of war, he stated, “Iran will not seek war with anyone.” This is not surprising as Iran has not attacked another country in hundreds years. The President also duplicated our call to bring on the troops home from Iraq.

Ahmadinejad promised to push for more talks and exchanges between our two countries as well as making it easier for Americans to get visas in hopes that the U.S. will make it easier for Iranians.

The President’s words were not all rosy. He pushed his very pro nuclear power stance. And while Ahmadinejad boasted of 70% of university students being women and that women enjoyed more rights than many other Arab countries, Iranian women still face discrimination and harsh behavioral and dress codes. Also, the Iranian government continues to quash dissent by closing newspapers, banning and censoring books and websites and beating and arresting peaceful protesters. When I was in Iran, I was unable to meet with any peace groups.

If you ask our Student Peace Action Network coordinator, Jonathan Williams, how the police mistreated him at the Republican National Convention, one could level many of the above criticisms on the U.S. government.

Overall, the meeting felt productive and I commend Ahmadinejad for spending two hours with us. I doubt President Bush would do the same. We have until January of next year to thwart the Bush administration from military intervention in Iran. We must keep vigilant for peace.


60 Minutes Interview UNCOVERED

September 22, 2008

This is from PhillipWeiss.com

Since Kevin and Paul are leaving this week to go listen to Ah,adinejad I thought it would be appropiate to post this here.

Report: ’60 Minutes’ Cut Ahmadinejad’s Statement, ‘Solution Is Democracy’ in Israel/Palestine

The interview that Mike Wallace did of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad 2 years ago was aired on C-Span recently, and a diligent blogger has reported on what “60 Minutes” cut out of the interview when it aired. When Wallace confronted Ahmadinejad with the “wipe Israel off the map” threats, Ahmadinejad said that “the solution is democracy” in Israel and Palestine, a suggestion that he favors a one-state solution. I agree with blogger Tom Murphy that “60″‘s edits misrepresent Ahmadinejad’s thrust, making him out to be far more confrontational than he is, especially after Wallace promised Ahmadinejad that he would listen to his complete answers to questions. And yes, that this amounts to “suppression of basic facts concerning Israel and the Palestinians.”

Here’s Murphy’s data:

The text in red was edited out of the 60 Minutes broadcast:

MR. WALLACE: You are very good at filibustering. You still have not answered the question. You still have not answered the question. Israel must be wiped off the map. Why?

PRESIDENT AHMADINEJAD: Well, don’t be hasty, sir. I’m going to get to that.

MR. WALLACE: I’m not hasty.

PRESIDENT AHMADINEJAD: I think that the Israeli government is a fabricated government and I have talked about the solution. The solution is democracy. We have said allow Palestinian people to participate in a free and fair referendum to express their views. What we are saying only serves the cause of durable peace. We want durable peace in that part of the world. A durable peace will only come about with once the views of the people are met.

So we said that allow the people of Palestine to participate in a referendum to choose their desired government, and of course, for the war to come an end as well. Why are they refusing to allow this to go ahead? Even the Palestinian administration and government which has been elected by the people is being attacked on a daily basis, and its high-ranking officials are assassinated and arrested. Yesterday, the speaker of the Palestinian parliament was arrested, elected by the people, mind you. So how long can this go on?

We believe that this problem has to be dealt with fundamentally. I believe that the American government is blindly supporting this government of occupation. It should lift its support, allow the people to participate in free and fair elections. Whatever happens let it be. We will accept and go along. The result will be as you said earlier, sir.

MR. WALLACE: Look, I mean no disrespect. Let’s make a deal. I will listen to your complete answers if you’ll stay for all of my questions. My concern is that we might run out of time.

PRESIDENT AHMADINEJAD: Well, you’re free to ask me any questions you please, and I am hoping that I’m free to be able to say whatever is on my mind. You are free to put any question you want to me, and of course, please give me the right to respond fully to your questions to say what is on my mind.

Do you perhaps want me to say what you want me to say? Am I to understand –

MR. WALLACE: No.

PRESIDENT AHMADINEJAD: So if that is the case, then I ask you to please be patient.

MR. WALLACE: I said I’ll be very patient.

PRESIDENT AHMADINEJAD: Maybe these are words that you don’t like to hear, Mr. Wallace.

MR. WALLACE: Why? What words do I not like to hear? [the words highlighted in red and edited out of the interview]

PRESIDENT AHMADINEJAD: Because I think that you’re getting angry.

MR. WALLACE: No, I couldn’t be happier for the privilege of sitting down with the president of Iran.


Iran Seeks “Common Ground” With West: Ahmadinejad

July 28, 2008
Below is an article from Reuters that can be found at reuters.com.
Mon Jul 28, 2008 2:36pm EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Monday that Iran will seek “common ground” with the United States and five other world powers that have proposed incentives for Tehran to freeze its nuclear enrichment program.

NBC News, which interviewed Ahmadinejad in Iran, also said the leader of the world’s fourth-largest crude oil producer believes the oil market is overvalued in part because of manipulation.

Speaking less than a week before a deadline for Iran’s reply to the incentives package, Ahmadinejad told the U.S. television network that progress toward agreement with the West would depend on the sincerity of a shift in the U.S. approach to Tehran.

Western officials said after a meeting with Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator in Geneva on July 19 that Tehran had two weeks to reply to an offer of a halt to new steps toward more U.N. sanctions if Iran froze the expansion of its nuclear program. That would give Iran until Saturday to reply.

“They submitted a package and we responded by submitting our own package,” Ahmadinejad said through an interpreter in an excerpt of the NBC interview aired on Monday.

“It’s very natural. In the first steps, we are going to negotiate over the common ground as they exist inside the two packages. If the two parties succeed in agreeing over the common ground, that will help us to work on our differences as well, to reach an agreement.”

U.S. State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos called Ahmedinejad’s comments “rhetoric and more rhetoric” and saying the State Department wanted a definitive response from Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, to EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, the West’s designated negotiator.

“We are waiting for a definitive statement, Gallegos said. “We have stated clearly that it should come through the normal channel, which is Jalili to Solana, and the clock on the two weeks is ticking.”

NBC also said Ahmadinejad denied Iran was working to produce a bomb, paraphrasing him as saying nuclear weapons are outdated.

Iran has so far ruled out a freeze to start preliminary talks or suspension of enrichment to start formal negotiations on the incentives package proposed by the six powers — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.

In a policy shift, a U.S. diplomat attended the Geneva talks, which Iran has characterized as a success for Iran.

On Monday, Ahmadinejad told NBC: “The main question here is whether this approach is a continuation of the old approach or is it a totally new approach.

“If this is the continuation of the old process, the Iranian people need to defend their right, its interests as well,” he said. “But if the approach changes, we will be facing a new situation and the response by the Iranian people will be a positive one.”

The United States has warned Iran that it will face more sanctions if it fails to meet the deadline. Washington has not ruled out military action if diplomacy fails.

Asked if Iran would agree to suspend uranium enrichment in order to gain international acceptance, Ahmadinejad said Iran already enjoys “very good economic and cultural relations with countries around the world.”

“For the continuation of our lives and for progress, we do not need the services, if I can use the word, of a few countries,” he said.

Ahmadinejad announced during the weekend that Iran had more than 5,000 active centrifuges for enriching uranium, which suggested a rapid expansion of the nuclear work that the West suspects is aimed at making bombs.

Earlier this month, Iran rattled international markets by test-firing a series of missiles.

(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed)

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Bill Trott)


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