In rambling letter, Iran's leader questions and needles Bush

Posted in Iran | 10-May-06 | Author: Christine Hauser| Source: International Herald Tribune

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
NEW YORK In a letter to President George W. Bush that was made public Tuesday, Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, declared that Western- style democracy had failed and that the use of secret prisons in Europe and aspects of the war in Iraq could not be reconciled with Bush's Christian values. But the letter did not delve into the central issue that divides the two countries: Iran's nuclear ambitions.

In his wide-ranging letter, written in Farsi and sent with an English translation, Ahmadinejad directed question after question to Bush but offered no concrete proposals. Speaking in Iran on Tuesday, the Iranian president portrayed the letter as a blueprint of "suggestions for resolving the many problems facing humanity," the Iranian news agency IRNA reported.

State Department officials said the letter offered a window into the mentality and thinking of Iran, especially because it seemed to reflect an inclination to dwell on grievances of the past rather than on the immediate diplomatic problem, which is Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program.

American officials said they would use the letter to argue that Iran deserved to be isolated internationally because of its nuclear policies, but they seemed sobered by the letter's tone, which suggested how hard it would be to change attitudes in Tehran.

On Monday, the American secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, quickly dismissed the letter in an interview with The Associated Press in New York. "This letter is not the place that one would find an opening to engage on the nuclear issue or anything of the sort," she said. "It isn't addressing the issues that we're dealing with in a concrete way."

Speaking on Tuesday, Ahmadinejad said that "Islamic courtesy" prevented him from revealing the contents of the letter; similarly, the U.S. government did not release a copy. But an English translation made by the Iranian government was released by UN diplomats.

Some U.S. officials said the letter might have been intended to disrupt talks among top envoys of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. Those talks about Iran's nuclear ambitions have been held in New York this week. The United States, having concluded that Iran is developing its nuclear capacity for military ends, hopes to forward a resolution to the Security Council pressuring Tehran to stop its nuclear program.

The Iranian letter referred to the council, asking why resolutions condemning Israel are vetoed, while technological and scientific achievements in the Middle East are "portrayed as a threat to the Zionist regime."

Ahmadinejad, who once said that Israel should be wiped off the map, again questioned the Holocaust and the basis upon which Israel was created. He asked whether the U.S. government's support for such a "regime" was in line with Christian teachings.

"Again let us assume that these events are true," he wrote about the Holocaust. "Does that logically translate into the establishment of the state of Israel in the Middle East or support for such a state?"

"A regime has been established which does not show mercy even to kids, destroys houses while the occupants are still in them, announces beforehand its list and plans to assassinate Palestinian figures and keeps thousands of Palestinians in prison," the letter says.

Ahmadinejad also calls the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks a "horrendous incident" in which the killing of innocent people was "deplorable."

But he asks: "Why have the various aspects of the attacks been kept secret? Why are we not told who botched their responsibilities? And, why aren't those responsible and the guilty parties identified and put on trial?"

The letter provides at times a striking insight into the Iranian president's vision of double standards in U.S. foreign policy, criticizing what he portrays as a lack of support for elected Palestinian and Latin American governments.

He both concedes and needles. With his country having fought a war with Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Ahmadinejad at once applauds the overthrow of the regime while criticizing what he seems to imply as a double standard.

"Of course Saddam was a murderous dictator," he wrote. "But the war was not waged to topple him, the announced goal of the war was to find and destroy weapons of mass destruction."

He adds: "I point out that throughout the many years" of the war on Iran "Saddam was supported by the West."

The letter's tone appeared at times exceedingly polite, at least once referring to Bush as "Your Excellency," according to the translation. But the Iranian president's style was to dissect what he sees as U.S. logic, by posing question after question to make his point.

If billions of dollars spent on security, military campaigns and troop movement were instead spent on issues including health and aid to the poor, he wrote, "would there have been an ever increasing global hatred of the American governments?"

Frequently quoting passages from the Koran, Ahmadinejad calls for a return to a religious basis of government.

"Will you not accept this invitation?" Ahmadinejad asks Bush.

"Liberalism and Western style democracy have not been able to help realize the ideals of humanity," he wrote. "Today these two concepts have failed."

Steven R. Weisman contributed reporting from the United Nations for this article.