Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s annual visit to the United Nations General Assembly has brought the usual round of troubling stories about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and his anti-Israel views.
But a glance at the world’s press offers some less-expected — and sometimes less credible — angles.
Hong Kong’s Asia Times newspaper gives a new image for the country, that of Iran the diplomatic power.
According to contributor Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, Iran has recently helped to reduce tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan and in post-war Georgia and Russia.
This is not entirely selfless, however.
According to the Asia Times article, Iran is trying to head off an alliance between Turkey, the United States, Russia, Georgia and Azerbaijan.
First proposed by Turkey, the alliance has been stalled by tensions with Russia, at least for the time being.
“For now it looks like a football match with the U.S. and Turkey on one side and Iran and Russia on the other, and that is why Moscow needs Iran more than ever before and cannot risk taking any action that would alienate [it],” an unnamed Iranian official said, according to Afrasiabi.
And speaking of alienation, Iran may be softening up its anti-Israel rhetoric — or is it?
According to the BBC, the chief tourism minister of Iran was quoted this summer as saying that his country is “friends with the American and Israeli people.”
This kind of statement by a tourism minister might be completely innocuous coming from any other nation — but in Iran, it set off a scramble among its leaders.
The BBC notes that at a recent news conference, Ahmadinejad supported drawing a distinction between the ordinary people of Israel and the “Zionists” who lead them.
This did not please Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, who told a Friday prayer service that “a Muslim nation cannot remain indifferent to such people who are stooges at the service of the arch-enemies of the Muslim world.”
Journalist Ali Pahlavan told the BBC that the comments may have been Ahmadinejad’s way of testing the waters for a rapprochement with Israel and the United States.
[Iran’s government-funded Press TV, meanwhile, is hoping to find a PR lever in an unusual group of anti-Zionist Jews called Neturei Karta, which protested in favor of Ahmadinejad’s visit.
[The group’s Web site says that Jews are “a people in exile due to divine decree,” and that it is opposed to the “very existence” of the state of Israel. Neturei Karta is considered to be extremist by the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish advocacy organization.]
“Iran plays the mediator”
Asia Times, September 20, 2008
“Iranian row on Zionism breaks out”
BBC, September 22, 2008
“Rabbis hail Ahmadinejad’s NY visit”
Press TV (Iran), September 22, 2008
“Neturei Karta — What is it?”
Anti-Defamation League, December 14, 2006