Repudiate Bush, Iran leader tells Americans

Open letter targets emotions, wallets of U.S. citizens

November 30, 2006|By Maggie Farley | Maggie Farley,LOS ANGELES TIMES

UNITED NATIONS -- Iran's president appealed directly to the "God-fearing, peace-loving and justice-seeking" American people in an open letter released yesterday, saying that the U.S. should leave Iraq and spend the billions of dollars meant for war on the welfare of Americans instead.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wrote that the Iranian and American people share common values to protect freedom and human dignity and that "hundreds of thousands of my Iranian compatriots are living among you in friendship and peace."

He also urged support for the creation of a Palestinian homeland, portraying U.S. backing for Israel as the key issue that alienates the U.S. from much of the Middle East.

While he did not repeat earlier denials of the Holocaust or calls to wipe Israel "off the map," the Iranian president denounced the Bush administration's "blind support" for "Zionists," who he claimed "have imposed themselves on a substantial portion of the banking, financial cultural and media sectors."

The letter, with its appeal to American mothers, echoed President Bush's address to the U.N. General Assembly in September, in which Bush ignored the Iranian leadership and spoke directly to the Iranian people about their struggle for democracy.

Perhaps emboldened by Iran's rising influence in Iraq and the U.N. Security Council's lack of action against his nation's nuclear program, Ahmadinejad struck a confident, self-righteous tone that was slightly more moderate than the scolding 18-page epistle he sent Bush in May.

He said yesterday that since the U.S. military presence in Iraq began, terrorism there has grown exponentially and the pain and suffering of the Iraqi people are worse than under Saddam Hussein.

"I consider it extremely unlikely that you, the American people, consent to the billions of dollars of annual expenditure from your treasury for this military misadventure," he wrote.

The Bush administration dismissed the latest letter as a "public relations stunt."

Shibley Telhami, a professor at the University of Maryland and a senior fellow of the Brookings Institution in Washington, said the letter "shows that Ahmadinejad closely follows American politics, and may be anticipating recommendations by the Iraq Study Group to engage with Iran. But it also displays his naivete that the American public shares his world view.

"It is likely that much of his audience is outside the U.S., in the Arabic, Muslim world, and that it does increase and improve his standing by showing he can stand up to the United States," Telhami said.

Aside from the Quranic quotations and anti-Semitic sentiments, Ahmadinejad sounded more like a Democrat on the campaign trail than a leader of a regime the U.S. has in its sights. He criticized the Bush administration for arbitrary detentions of prisoners in the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo prisons and for curtailing Americans' civil liberties in the name of the war on terror.

Seizing on the Republican Party's recent defeat in congressional elections, he applauded Americans for repudiating the administration's policies and pushed incoming Democrats to restore the United States' legitimacy and influence.

"Undoubtedly, the American people are not satisfied with this behavior and they showed their discontent in the recent elections. I hope that in the wake of the midterm elections, the administration of President Bush will have heard and will heed the message of the American people."

Ahmadinejad did not address the conflict over Iran's nuclear program, perhaps in recognition that the prospect of Security Council sanctions is faltering.

Iran has ignored the Security Council's Aug. 31 deadline to halt the enrichment of uranium - a process that could be used in the production of fuel or of nuclear weapons - or face sanctions. But Tuesday, a new draft resolution circulated among council members that did not even mention penalties, due to objections by Russia and China.

Karim Sadjapour, an Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group, said he doubted that Ahmadinejad's letter would have much impact on Americans' view of Iran.

"He hasn't furthered Iran's cause. He may have undermined it," he said.

Maggie Farley writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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