News / Middle East

Iranian President Offers to Meet President Obama

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is saying he is ready to meet with U.S. President Barack Obama during a visit to the United Nations next month. 

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad picked a gathering of Iranian expatriates in Tehran to say he is ready to debate President Barack Obama next month at U.N. headquarters in New York.

He says he is going to attend the General Assembly and is ready to sit face-to-face with President Obama like a man, and to put global issues on the table, freely, in front of the world media, and see whose solutions are better.

It is not the first time the Iranian president has offered to meet Mr. Obama, nor the first time that he has challenged him to a debate.  Mr. Ahmadinejad recently criticized the U.S. President for missing what he called "historic opportunities" to repair damaged relations with Iran.

President Obama offered to "extend a hand in friendship" to Iran in January 2009, if Iran extended a hand in return.  Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has rebuffed President Obama repeatedly, and Mr. Ahmadinejad has frequently resorted to harsh criticism of the United States.

Mr. Ahamadinejad also criticized Western powers in his speech for new sanctions against Iran in response to its nuclear program.

He says tells the West it can keep approving new resolutions until that number reaches 4,000.  But he says each resolution you pass is a mark against you.

Iran denies Western charges it is seeking to build a nuclear weapon.  The United Nations has imposed four rounds of financial sanctions on Tehran for its refusal to halt uranium enrichment.  Iran says it has a right to conduct enrichment for what it says is its peaceful nuclear program.

Former Iranian diplomat and London-based analyst Mehrdad Khonsari says Mr. Ahmadinejad and other Iranian leaders are trying to make overtures to the West in order to slow the building momentum of sanctions.

"They are very concerned about the momentum that the punitive action (sanctions) against Iran is taking, and I think this kind of talk by Ahmadinejad and other people within the regime is aimed at slowing that momentum, if not halting it completely, because obviously, resumption of dialogue would mean postponement of further action against Iran," Khonsari said.

Iranian-born analyst Alex Vatanka of the Middle East Institute in Washington thinks Mr. Ahmadinejad may genuinely be seeking to improve ties with the United States, but approaching the matter in all the wrong ways.

"If you compare Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei versus Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, there is no doubt in my mind that Ahmadinejad is far more inclined to reach out to the United States than the supreme leader is.  But, it is the process," Vatanka explains. "Ahmadinejad makes it very difficult for the other side to actually want to be forthcoming.  He does not set the stage.  Actually, he does the opposite, he ruins it."

Vatanka thinks Mr. Ahmadinejad continues to try to "please all of his (domestic) supporters," with the usual "bellicose rhetoric against Israel and criticism of the United States," but may not understand that this approach does not work in diplomacy.

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