Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad provoked an international outcry last week when he called for Israel to be “wiped off the map." He made the inflammatory remarks to a group of about 4,000 students at a Tehran program called The World without Zionism, in preparation for an annual anti-Israel demonstration.
Nathan Guttman, Washington bureau chief of the Jerusalem Post, says President Ahmadinejad’s words were deeply troubling to Israelis because Iran represents the Number One threat in the Middle East.
Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Mr. Guttman noted that Iran is the only state in the region that is actively pursuing a nuclear project and that has stated its intention of striking Israel whenever it has the capacity to do so. But he also said that Mr. Ahmadinejad’s intemperate remarks actually helped Israel demonstrate to the world just how extreme the new Iranian President is. And it called into question whether Tehran is a partner for negotiations as some European nations hope. Nathan Guttman noted that last Friday the UN Security Council condemned President Ahmadinejad’s language, and Iran had subsequently made it clear it has no intention of attacking Israel.
Iranian journalist Ali-Reza Nourizadeh said many Iranians do not believe that President Ahmadinejad represents their country and think his election last June was rigged by the conservative clerics, some of whom today are distressed by Mr. Ahmadinejad’s political immaturity and offensive remarks, which are reminiscent of the period of the Islamic Revolution. Mr. Nourizadeh described him as a “revolutionary who doesn’t realize that he is president of 70 million Iranian people, not head of a bunch of revolutionary guards.”
Palestinian journalist Nadia Bilbassy, senior correspondent for al-Arabiya television, said that most Arabs were also troubled by President Ahmadinejad’s extremism. She explained that most people in the Arab world are seeking some kind of political settlement with Israel, so any talk of wiping it “off the map” does not serve the peace process.
After the strong negative reaction to his remarks from both within and outside his government, President Ahmadenijad appeared to backtrack. He said that the only solution to the Middle East conflict was democracy for Palestinians and that the best step would be political, not military.
Nonetheless, in recent days, the Iranian government announced the recall of 40 ambassadors and heads of diplomatic missions, including Iran’s envoys to London, Berlin, and Paris, who have been involved in months of delicate negotiations with the European Union over Iran’s nuclear program. The journalists say the move signals Tehran’s tough new approach to foreign policy.
To listen to all of the comments, click on the audio link above.