Iranian Leader Defends Controversial Stands

By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 21, 2006

NEW YORK, Sept. 20 -- In a feisty session with leading foreign policy experts, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defiantly stuck to his hard-line positions on issues including Iran's nuclear program and a need for further study to confirm the Holocaust.

On the controversy over his earlier questioning of the Holocaust, Ahmadinejad said he was not rendering "final judgment" but asked why such prominence was given to one "small portion" of the 62 million people killed in World War II.

"Why not allow impartial groups to study" the matter, he said in a meeting with the Council on Foreign Relations. "We need evidence."

On the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Iranian leader said the solution is for Palestinian refugees to return and then to hold a referendum on the future of Israel and the Palestinian territories. He said the Palestinians had nothing to do with World War II and should not be forced to live outside their homeland. "In Palestine there are people who came around the world and established a state where other people lived," he said, asking the nationality of the father of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Ahmadinejad maintained that Iran's nuclear program is for peaceful purposes and called for the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction. But he repeatedly insisted that Iran has the right to enrich uranium for its energy program, which gained support from 118 countries at the Non-Aligned Movement conference last week in Havana. "The United States does not speak for the whole world," he said, adding that only Washington and two or three European nations are concerned.

He proposed that the United States shut down its nuclear fuel system and that Iran in five years would send its fuel at a 50 percent discount.

On Iraq, Ahmadinejad charged that the Bush administration has lost its way and is uncertain what to do next. He said Iran has greater freedoms than the United States, pointing to the number of candidates who ran against him last year. He called Iran "a unique democracy, a pure one," noting that the U.S. presidency is always held by one of two parties.

Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser in the administrations of Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, called Ahmadinejad a "master of counterpunch, deception and circumlocution."

Martin S. Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel, said denying the Holocaust and Israel's legitimacy appeared to be a part of a broader worldview that, if unchanged, would lead Iran and the Middle East to a "bad end."

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