Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism
NEW YORK -- Iran's hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad broke away from events at the U.N. General Assembly to hold an informal question-and-answer session with high-powered members of America's most prestigious foreign policy think tank _ despite objections from some Jewish groups and the Bush administration.
The Council on Foreign Relations said afterward that Ahmadinejad had engaged in a "protracted punch and counter-punch" with 19 members for about 90 minutes in the conference room of a New York City hotel late Wednesday.
But it said the controversial Iranian leader had offered no new policies or opinions other than those he has aired widely on issues raging from his country's disputed nuclear program to the Holocaust.
"I'm not sure we learned anything new," CFR president Richard Haass said in a statement after the meeting. But Haass added that the Iranian leader may have learned about American attitudes from those who he sparred with _ some of them Jewish panelists who had visited former concentration camps in Poland.
Ahmadinejad has engaged in a media blitz during his trip to New York to attend the General Assembly _ giving interviews to Time magazine and CNN, among others.
But the trip to the think tank was controversial, provoking protests from Jewish groups and the Bush administration.
The New York Times, which had a reporter who is a CFR member at the private meeting, said Ahmadinejad spoke "with a tone that oozed polite hostility." He entered with "a jaunty smile, a wave and an air of supreme confidence" and ended the evening by asking Council members "whether they were simply shills for the Bush administration," the newspaper reported. It said there were no introductory handshakes before the talk began.
The newspaper also reported that the group's invitation to Ahmadinejad to talk had stirred objections from Bush administration figures and prominent Jewish leaders. It did not specify if the Bush administration had actively sought to stop the meeting.
Some Jewish leaders responded to invitations to the event by asking whether the council would have invited Hitler in the 1930s, and considered resigning from the group en masse, the Times reported. They decided not to resign after the event was changed from a dinner to a meeting, it said.
"It is more offensive to break bread with the guy," Abraham H. Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, told the Times. "I thought dinner was crossing the line."
Ahmadinejad has frequently called the Holocaust a "myth" and has demanded more research to determine whether six million Jews really perished in World War II.
CFR chairman Peter G. Peterson told him Wednesday that the majority of Americans - Jews and non-Jews alike – were "horrified" by his assertions, CFR said in a statement.
Ahmadinejad replied that he doubted that was the case for all Americans, it said.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told the General Assembly session that the international community must stand up against Iran, which she claimed is pursuing nuclear weapons to destroy Israel.
"There is no greater challenge to our values than that posed by the leaders of Iran," Livni said Wednesday. "They deny and mock the Holocaust. They speak proudly and openly of their desire to wipe Israel off the map. And now, by their actions, they pursue the weapons to achieve this objective, to imperil the region and to threaten the world."
The United States is embroiled in a confrontation with Iran over its nuclear ambitions. Tehran claims its goal is to generate electricity, but the U.S. says Iran aims to produce nuclear weapons.
The U.S. was required to grant Ahmadinejad a visa to travel to the General Assembly in New York this week, under an agreement with the United Nations.
The foreign policy group is filled with the country's government elite: Haass worked at the State Department under President Bush's first term while member Brent Scowcroft served as national security adviser under Bush's father, and Robert D. Blackwill directed Iraq policy at the White House. All attended the event, the Times said.
© 2006 The Associated Press
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