Ahmadinejad in New York


President Ahmadinejad spoke to the UN General Assembly on 25 September 2007.  While he was in New York, he also spoke and answered questions at the National Press Club in Washington (via a video link) and at Columbia University in New York, where the University President, Lee Bollinger, heaped abuse on his head before he spoke.  English translations of his remarks are available on the Washington Post website at [1], [2] and [3] respectively.


The extracts from his remarks below are on three themes (1) the UN system (2) Iran’s nuclear programme and (3) the Holocaust and Palestine


(1)  The UN system

The main theme of President Ahmadinejad’s speech to the UN General Assembly in September 2006 was the inequity of the UN system, whereby the victors of the Second World War granted themselves veto-wielding permanent membership of the Security Council in 1945 and, by so doing, rendered themselves immune from sanction by the Council for ever.  Yes, built into the UN Charter from the outset has been the immutable principle that 5 out of its now 192 members cannot be convicted of any infringement of the Charter, which is why the US/UK invaded Iraq without the slightest fear of sanction by the Council.  (See my article Ahmadinejad points the finger at the UN system [4])


This theme was repeated in this year’s speech.  Here is part of what he said, according to the translation at [1]:


“A scientific and careful analysis shows that the root of the present situation lies in two fundamental factors. Without doubt, the first factor lies in the relations arising from the consequences of the Second World War. The victors of the war drew the road map for global domination and formulated their policies not on the basis of justice, but for ensuring the interests of the victors over the vanquished nations. …


“Mr President, among all the ineffective bodies, unfortunately the UN Security Council ranks first. They have created circumstances in which some powers with exclusive and special right to veto in the Security Council act as prosecutor, judge and executioner, regardless of being a defendant or respondent. …


“Let’s look at Iraq. They [the US/UK] first occupied the country and then received authorization from the Security Council, the same Council in which the same occupiers have the right to veto.  Who should the people of Iraq complain about [to?]? And where should they take their complaints with hopes of securing their rights?


“We saw in Lebanon that some powers for a long 33 days prevented the Security Council from taking any action against the Zionist regime with the hope of giving them time to achieve victory. However, when they became disappointed in seeing their hopes unfulfilled, they decided to cease the hostility by adopting a resolution. But the duty of the Security Council is to prevent the expansion of conflicts, to put in place cease-fires, and to promote peace and safety. To whom and what organization should the people of Lebanon complain?


“Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, the presence of some monopolistic powers has prevented the Security Council from performing its main duty which is the maintenance of international peace and security based on justice. …


“The General Assembly, as the representative of the international community, should be considered the most important pillar of the UN, in order to, free from any pressure and threats by the powers, take required measures for the reforming of the UN structures, and especially change the present status of the Security Council and defined new structures, based on justice and democracy with the purpose of becoming responsive to the present requirements and to be able to settle existing challenges, heading to the establishment of an enduring stability and security.”


This is a fine ambition, but it requires fundamental amendments to the UN Charter to make the General Assembly, rather than the Security Council, “the most important pillar of the UN” – and, unfortunately, any one of the 5 veto-wielding members of the Security Council can, and will, block such amendments. 


What needs to happen is that the Security Council be brought into disrepute as a body capable of dispensing justice in this world, by pointing continuously to the inherent injustice of a system in which the 5 most powerful states in the world are immune from sanction by the Council, while at the same time these states largely determine the decisions of the Council about the other 187 states.  Theoretically, the 10 non-permanent members of the Council have enough votes to block the permanent members, but this never happens in practice.  In reality, the 10 non-permanent members of the Council are mere window dressing, which give the appearance to the world that the Council is a representative body when it isn’t.


The best thing that could happen to the Council is that states refuse to act as window dressing, that they refuse to serve as non-permanent members, so that the world would see the reality that the Security Council is the 5 permanent members - and no other state matters.


Of course, there are proposals in the air for more “permanent members” of the Security Council.  The UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, proposed two different models for this to the UN World Summit in September 2005 [5] (see Section IV), but no decision was taken at the Summit on the matter. 


Kofi Annan’s proposals originated from the report of a High Level Panel of international figures, which he set up in 2003 [6].  Paragraphs 244 to 260 of this report deals with Security Council reform.  Both models proposed by the High Level Panel increase the membership of the Council from 15 to 24, but, crucially, neither changes the existing set of 5 veto-wielding powers.  In other words, the proposals are for the window dressing to be enhanced by the addition of a few states that are always on the Council.  On that basis, all 192 UN members could be made “permanent” members of the Council without significantly altering the decisions it makes.


I have another suggestion for bringing the Security Council into disrepute.  It is that the Organization of the Islamic Conference demand 6 veto-wielding permanent seats on the Security Council on behalf of the 1.5 billion Muslims in this world.  After all, the US/EU have 3, with about half the population.  If there are going to be veto-wielding members of the Security Council, they should be spread around.


(2) Iran’s nuclear programme

At Columbia University, President Ahmadinejad spoke about Iran’s nuclear programmes.    He began by reasserting Iran’s right to nuclear technology for peaceful means under IAEA supervision, a right which is supposed to be guaranteed under Article IV(1) of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).  He repeated that the IAEA has had


“hours and weeks and days of inspections in our country, and over and over again the agency’s reports indicate that Iran’s activities are peaceful, that they have not detected a deviation, and … they have received positive cooperation from Iran.” [3]


He continued:


“But regretfully, two or three monopolistic powers, selfish powers, want to force their word [will?] on the Iranian people and deny them their right. They tell us, don’t make it yourself, we’ll give it to you.”


However, past experience had made this option, to say the least of it, unattractive:


“Well, in the past, I tell you, we had contracts with the US government, with the British government, the French government, the German government, and the Canadian government on nuclear development for peaceful purposes. But unilaterally, each and every one of them canceled their contracts with us, as a result of which the Iranian people had to pay a heavy cost in billions of dollars. …


“You’ve not even given us spare aircraft parts that we need for civilian aircraft for 28 years … If you don’t give us spare parts for civilian aircraft, what is the expectation that you’d give us fuel for nuclear development for peaceful purposes?”


In his National Press Club interview, the President was asked a question in similar vein:


“Why will Iran not agree to a civilian nuclear partnership with other countries? Why must Iran enrich its own uranium, when doing so raises suspicions that it intends to develop nuclear weapons?” [2]


He replied that, first of all, it was Iran’s right and continued:


“Secondly, two years ago, I made the same proposal you just … referred to in the United Nations, but those selfish groups that didn’t want to listen to it did not embrace it.


“And why should a nation tie its future to another group, another nation?  Is the U.S. government willing to engage in partnership with us and advance its nuclear activities in partnership with us?”


He did indeed make such an offer in a speech to the UN General Assembly on 17 September 2005 [7] (see my article The US/EU fail on Iran at the IAEA [8] from October 2005).  Nicholas Burns, US Under Secretary of State, described this speech as “excessively harsh and uncompromising” and Iran’s extraordinary offer, which went far beyond its international obligations under the NPT, was ignored by the US/EU.


(3) The Holocaust and Palestine

It is widely believed that President Ahmadinejad has denied that the Holocaust ever took place, that he has denied that millions of Jews were systematically killed by the Nazis during World War II.  He may have made remarks to that effect.  All I can say is that I haven’t come across them.  Most of the remarks I have seen have been equivocal, not denying that the Holocaust happened but not stating that it did happen either. 


(Obviously, a major part of the problem in making a judgement about precisely this is that his remarks are always in Farsee and, unless you are a Farsee scholar, it is difficult to be sure that the English translations render his meaning accurately, even if these translations are published by reputable media outlets.)


In his opening remarks at Columbia, he said the following on this issue, according to the translation at [3]:


“My first question was if -- given that the Holocaust is a present reality of our time, a history that occurred, why is there not sufficient research that can approach the topic from different perspectives? …


“My question was simple: There are researchers who want to approach the topic from a different perspective. Why are they put into prison? Right now, there are a number of European academics who have been sent to prison because they attempted to write about the Holocaust or research it from a different perspective, questioning certain aspects of it.


“My question is: Why isn’t it open to all forms of research?


“I have been told that there’s been enough research on the topic. And I ask, well, when it comes to topics such as freedom, topics such as democracy, concepts and norms such as God, religion, physics even, or chemistry, there’s been a lot of research, but we still continue more research on those topics. We encourage it.


“But, then, why don’t we encourage more research on a historical event that has become the root, the cause of many heavy catastrophes in the region in this time and age? Why shouldn’t there be more research about the root causes? That was my first question.


“And my second question, well, given this historical event, if it is a reality, we need to still question whether the Palestinian people should be paying for it or not. After all, it happened in Europe. The Palestinian people had no role to play in it. So why is it that the Palestinian people are paying the price of an event they had nothing to do with?  The Palestinian people didn’t commit any crime. …


“But why is it that the Palestinians should pay a price, innocent Palestinians, for 5 million people to remain displaced or refugees abroad for 60 years. Is this not a crime? Is asking about these crimes a crime by itself?”


Clearly, Ahmadinejad’s objective in this is to draw attention to the fact that the awful acts perpetrated against European Jews during World War II were done in Europe by Europeans – and it is unjust that these awful acts have been used to justify the creation, and territorial expansion, of a Jewish state in Palestine, which could only be done by the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Arab people – who bore no responsibility whatsoever for the slaughter of European Jews.  Can anybody deny that an historic wrong has been done to the Arab people of Palestine?


The first question Ahmadinejad was asked at Columbia was:


“Do you or your government seek the destruction of the state of Israel as a Jewish state?”


He began his reply saying:


“We are friends with the Jewish people. There are many Jews in Iran, living peacefully, with security.”


and went on to point out that there is a seat reserved for them in the Iranian parliament:


“You must understand that in our constitution and our laws and in the parliamentary elections for every 150,000 people, we get one representative in the parliament. For the Jewish community, for one-fifth of this number, they still get one independent representative in the parliament.”


Answering the specific question, he said:


“So our proposal to the Palestinian plight is a humanitarian and democratic proposal. What we say is that to solve this 60-year problem, we must allow the Palestinian people to decide about its future for itself.

“This is compatible with the spirit of the Charter of the United Nations and the fundamental principles enshrined in it. We must allow Jewish Palestinians, Muslim Palestinians and Christian Palestinians to determine their own fate themselves through a free referendum.

“Whatever they choose as a nation, everybody should accept and respect. Nobody should interfere in the affairs of the Palestinian nation. Nobody should sow the seeds of discord. Nobody should spend tens of billions of dollars equipping and arming one group there.

“We say allow the Palestinian nation to decide its own future, to have the right to self-determination for itself. This is what we are saying as the Iranian nation.”

So, the answer to the specific question is Yes – Iran does “seek the destruction of the state of Israel as a Jewish state”, in the sense that, if there were a referendum in Palestine today, it is probable that a majority would favour a single state.  In that sense, Israel would be wiped off the map as a Jewish state.  But, there was nothing in the President’s remarks to justify the view that it is Iranian policy to wipe the state of Israel off the map by military means.



David Morrison

Labour & Trade Union Review

1 October  2007



[1]  www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/09/25/AR2007092501655.html

[2]  www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/09/24/AR2007092401084.html

[3]  www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/09/24/AR2007092401042.html

[4]  www.david-morrison.org.uk/iran/security-council-inequity.htm

[5]  www.un.org/largerfreedom/executivesummary.pdf

[6]  www.un.org/secureworld/report.pdf

[7]  www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/library/news/iran/2005/iran-050918-irna02.htm

[8]  www.david-morrison.org.uk/iran/iran-us-eu-fail.htm