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Live From New York, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Unreality Show

"Our people are the freest people in the world," Iran's president informed the National Press Club via video link. (By Andrew Councill -- Bloomberg News)

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By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"For hundreds of years, we've lived in friendship and brotherhood with the people of Iraq," Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the National Press Club yesterday.

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That's true -- as long as you don't count the little unpleasantness of the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, when a million people died, some by poison gas. And you'd also have to overlook 500 years of fighting during the Ottoman Empire.

But never mind that: Ahmadinejad was on a roll.

"Our people are the freest people in the world," said the man whose government executes dissidents, jails academics and stones people to death.

"The freest women in the world are women in Iran," he continued, neglecting to mention that Iranian law treats a woman as half of a man.

"In our country," judged the man who shuts down newspapers and imprisons journalists, "freedom is flowing at its highest level."

And if you believe that, he has a peaceful civilian nuclear program he wants to sell you.

Much of officialdom spent yesterday condemning Columbia University for hosting the Iranian leader while he visits the United Nations this week. There were similar protests outside the National Press Building in Washington, where reporters gathered to question Ahmadinejad in a videoconference. "Don't give him any press!" shouted one woman.

But that objection misses a crucial point: Without listening to Ahmadinejad, how can the world appreciate how truly nutty he is?

"In Iran, we don't have homosexuals like in your country," he informed the Columbia audience.

It takes time to come up with profound thoughts such as that, so Ahmadinejad was understandably in a hurry yesterday. His appearance at the press club was delayed 10 minutes when he didn't show up on time at the television studio in New York. Then his delegation informed the press club, mid-rant, that he would have to leave 15 minutes early so that he would have time to pray before his Columbia appearance. The prayer evidently missed the mark, for he was greeted at Columbia with a lengthy condemnation by President Lee Bollinger. He called Ahmadinejad a "petty and cruel dictator" and ended with the thought that "today I feel all the weight of the modern civilized world yearning to express the revulsion at what you stand for."

The reception was rather friendlier at the press club, where the sole questioner was moderator Jerry Zremski of the Buffalo News. He introduced Ahmadinejad as "one of the most newsworthy heads of state in the world" and chose written questions submitted by the audience such as "Do you plan on running for reelection in two years?"


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