Rolling out the red carpet for Ahmadinejad

Mark Wallace President, United Against Nuclear Iran
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Once again, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has come and gone. In what has become an annual ritual, Ahmadinejad recently flew to New York City, stayed at a luxurious Manhattan hotel, dined with U.S. professors and students, questioned both 9/11 and the Holocaust in a vile anti-American rant to the U.N., and conducted several “interviews” with American journalists in which he never strayed from his usual script.

Now that the dust has settled, it’s worth asking whether things really have to be this way each year, with America’s most notable city rolling out the red carpet for the leader of a regime notorious for threatening the U.S. and its allies, funding terrorists, killing our troops, and pursuing nuclear weapons.

United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) did our best last month to let Ahmadinejad know that he is not welcome in New York. We led a boycott of the Warwick Hotel, which irresponsibly decided to host him, held protests there throughout the week, and placed billboards in Times Square and in Midtown’s streets highlighting Iran’s partnership with al Qaida, the very group that caused 9/11 ten years ago. The support we received was tremendous: pedestrians, drivers, policemen, and many others told us they couldn’t agree with our cause more and couldn’t believe that the Warwick chose to accommodate such a repugnant figure.

Unfortunately, a few city leaders responded to New Yorkers’ anger by explaining that because Manhattan houses the United Nations, which is good for the city and its economy, we simply have to “grin and bear it” when it comes to hosting Ahmadinejad and other dictators. This is a sentiment UANI strongly opposes, and we hope it will not be repeated or accepted next year when Ahmadinejad attends his last UNGA.

The truth is that while Ahmadinejad is entitled to travel to the U.N., attend events, and speak, the rest of the city is under absolutely no obligation to provide him the same treatment an international dignitary should receive. This starts with Manhattan’s hotels, which are private businesses and should surely have some standard for who they accommodate and whose money they accept (Ku Klux Klan leaders, al Qaida terrorists?). Ahmadinejad can easily stay at his country’s mission to the U.N., like many other world leaders do. There’s no reason why a luxurious hotel should be hosting him, and in turn burdening the New York Police Department and the U.S. Secret Service (which are funded by taxpayers) for a week, like the Warwick did.

American journalists are also under no obligation to attend his “press conferences” and “roundtables,” where he like clockwork spouts the same lines he does every year in an effort to glorify the terroristic regime he leads. How embarrassing it was this year to see serious members of the U.S. press addressing Ahmadinejad as “Mr. President,” prefacing questions by acknowledging the U.S.’s “terrible mistakes” towards Iran, and reporting that he is “personable and friendly” and maintains a regular exercise routine. Some journalists did do their jobs and asked hard-nosed questions, however others did little more than give Ahmadinejad a platform and legitimacy he in no way deserves.

Finally, U.S. professors and students need to stop attending dinners and other events with Ahmadinejad and his entourage. While the official dinner with Columbia University’s CIRCA group was cancelled under pressure, other students and professors ended up privately attending in their place, accepting “gift bags” from the regime and exchanging pleasantries with Ahmadinejad.

In absolutely no way are these events a forum or free exchanges of ideas — they are controlled attempts for the regime to manipulate its image. It is beyond us why any “academics” would want to aggrandize a dictator notorious for oppressing women, killing homosexuals, persecuting religious minorities, and pursing nuclear weapons, and we hope this does not happen the next time Ahmadinejad comes to town.

We need to send Ahmadinejad and Iran’s regime an even stronger message next year. Having a person here who hates our country and denies 9/11 — at the same time he works with al Qaida and other terrorists — is hurtful and offensive. When Ahmadinejad comes back to New York, we should all work together to show him that we don’t want him or his money. The U.N. is indeed valuable to New York City, but so are our values.

Mark D. Wallace is the president of United Against Nuclear Iran. He served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, representative for U.N. Management and Reform, from 2006-2008.