Ahmadinejad: Israel like plane without an engine
Iranian leader tells LA Times ahead of UN General Assembly address that Tehran promotes shift in power in Israel by means of elections in which Palestinian residents, returning refugees would vastly outnumber Jews. Adds: Why should Palestinian people pay for Holocaust?
Israel is doomed like "an airplane that has lost its engine" and Western intelligence documents questioning the peaceful purpose of Iran's nuclear program are crude forgeries, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times on Monday.
Ahmadinejad was interviewed in a midtown Manhattan hotel suite heavily guarded by agents of the Department of Homeland. Several blocks away, across from the UN headquarters, thousands of demonstrators gathered to protest his threats toward Israel and Iran's human rights record.
The rally, organized by several North American Jewish organizations, was attended by Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, Natan Sharnasky, and Elie Wiesel, among others.
Ahmadinejad, who is expected to address the UN General Assembly's annual session on Tuesday, told the LA Times that Iran promotes a shift in power in Israel by means of elections in which Palestinian residents and returning refugees would vastly outnumber Jews and vote into power a single government over what is now Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Ahmadinejad told the LA Times he would present the proposal to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, with whom he met later Monday.
The Iranian leader also touched on his well-publicized refusal to accept the Holocaust as historical fact.
"Who are these people? Where did they come from?" he asked in reference to Jews who founded the State of Israel in the wake of the Nazi slaughter in Europe during World War II.
"If we agree and accept that certain events had occurred during World War II, well, where did they indeed happen? In Germany, in Poland…Now what does this exactly have to do with Palestine? Why is it that the Palestinian people should pay for it?"
'IAEA must act independently'
Ahmadinejad said during the interview that he was not concerned about Israel's effort, by means of indirect negotiations through Turkish mediators, to woo Syria away from its alliance with Iran and sign a peace agreement with Damascus is exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since 1967
"We believe that the freedom of the Golan Heights is exactly what the Zionist regime does not want," the Iranian leader was quoted by the LA Times as saying. "We think it is very unlikely it will happen as a result of the negotiations."
Meanwhile, the UN atomic watchdog began its traditional September board meeting in Vienna on Monday to discuss the current stalemate in its long-running investigation into Iran's controversial atomic drive.
IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei has accused Tehran of stalling the investigation, refusing to provide access to documentation, individuals or sites which could reveal the true nature of its activities.
In the interview, Ahmadinejad said the agency was pressing its inquiry under pressure from the US. "All the documentation was forged," he told the LA Times. "In fact, it was so funny and superficial and not in depth that a school kid could laugh at it.
"The IAEA must act independently," he said.
According to the LA Times, the US is unlikely to win approval this week for stepped-up financial and trade sanctions against Iran because Russia opposes the idea and China is reluctant. Foreign ministers of a six-nation group monitoring Iran's nuclear program, which also includes Britain, France and Germany, are to meet on the sidelines of the General Assembly debate, the daily said.
During the interview Ahmadinejad acknowledged that the sanctions, the global financial crisis and wars in neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan were hurting Iran's oil-fueled economy, which is beset by inflation, unemployment and shortages of gasoline.
According to the LA Times, the Iranian leader, who is seeking reelection next year, made two claims sharply at odds with what Western journalists and other independent observers find in his country: That 98% of Iranians support his government and that "we do not have poor people or people who live below the poverty line to the extremes that you find in the United States."
Dudi Cohen and AFP contributed to the report