IRAQ: Ahmadinejad speaks
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appeared for a freewheeling hour-long press conference at the home of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani on Monday. He smiled and winked at the reporters and welcomed their questions.
There was nothing explosive or urgent in his remarks. It was interesting to watch how he handled the press. He flattered Iraq, calling it "the land of education, manners; the land of peaceful living by people of differing religions; the land of idealism, poets, writers and scientists ... and artists."
But he also harshly criticized the U.S., without naming it, urging America to head back home and let the countries of the Middle East resolve their problems. Check it out:
"The states that come from a distance must allow the regional states to run things independently. Foreign countries must not interfere in the matters of local states because they are capable of working out things. Peace and stability will return to the region if the foreigners leave. We believe the powers that came from overseas thousands of miles away must leave this region and leave the issues in the hands of the locals. If they claim that they want to spend their money to develop the region I think it's better to spend this money in their own country. The people here witnessed from the foreigners nothing but sabotage, destruction and humiliation. Those who came from far places did not make any gains in here. The only thing that they gained is anger and hate from the public. No people from this region likes these foreign powers. Actually most people hope for the departure of the foreign powers."
Here are more excerpts from his opening statement from our unofficial, hastily assembled transcript. Scroll down for excerpts from the question-and-answer session with reporters:
"The Iraqi people are strong, overcame many obstacles in their history but they always remain. The Iraqi and the Iranian people enjoy old and strong relations throughout history. The bilateral ties that connect the two countries have been good and exceptional. Since the old times our people enjoyed the same principles, culture and traditions. Despite the foreigners or the dictators who attempted to break the ties between the two nations, the brotherly relations never stopped between our cultures.
The bad times will pass and the Iraqis will experience a new era in time. With their efforts and struggles they were able to write a constitution, form a parliament and government ... We support the political process and the government that is an outcome of the people. We believe the government and the people of Iraq are capable of running their own matters in a very brave way ... A well constructed and strong Iraq will serve the interests of all states in the region. This Iraq will bring stability and peace for all."
Here's what we caught from the question-and-answer session with reporters.
QUESTION: Are Iranian elements targeting members of the Sunni militias of the so-called Awakening movement?
AHMADINEJAD: We did not witness nor did we get any complains from the Iraqi side about this issue. There may be a few incidents along the borders. And this is normal. We have laws and everything will be conducted under the umbrella of our laws.
Q: What about the fate of Iraqi soldiers missing from the time of the Iran-Iraq war?
A: There are few missing. Both sides are cooperating to discover the fate of those who are missing.
Q: What about about the American accusations that Iran supports militias in Iraq?
A: We discussed with the Iraqi side the issues that serve the interests of the two countries. We are not committed to answer the demands of others.
Q: Are you pursuing any dialogue with the Americans?
A: So far we had two dialogue sessions based on a request from American as well as the Iraqi government for the sake of supporting Iraq. Representatives from Iraq, Iran and the U.S. attended these meetings.
Q: Is Iran ready to cooperate with Turkey against the PKK [Kurdistan Workers Party]?
A: ... Concerning terrorism we think that it hurts everybody. And all must overcome terrorism. Iraq, Iran and Turkey were greatly harmed by terrorism. And with good collaboration, terrorists can be defeated. In fighting terrorism there are two important points that must be kept in mind. First, the sovereignty of the state must not be touched. Secondly, the general populations must not be hurt in fighting terrorism.
Q: Will you meet the Sunni Arabs in Iraq?
A: Our relations with all the factions in Iraq are good. In our meeting yesterday, Iraqi tribes from different sects attended. This morning we also met with individuals from different sects. This discrimination may be important for the foreigners. But we view things differently: all Iraqis as one. All the Iraqi sects are dear to us.
Q: Two months of preparations were made for your visit to Iraq. But the foreigners come secretly and discreetly. You came and stayed two days. Why?
A: We do not hide anything from the Iraqi or Iranian people.We lived with each other for hundreds of years. Visits must be made openly. You should ask [the foreigners] why they make their visits secret.
Q: What do you say to the charge that the Iranian-backed militias are more dangerous than Al Qaeda?
A: The American commanders talk too much.We don’t care about such allegations because we discovered that Americans make statements based on wrong information, so we cannot take them seriously. But we can provide a good friendly recommendation for them. We believe just accusing others will not solve anything for the Americans. They must solve their problem by other means.
Q: Will Iran participate in the rebuilding of Iraq in 2008?
A: Iran will work for the sake of the Iraqi people and other countries in the region should do the same, we hope this year will bring prosperity to Iraq.
— Caesar Ahmed in Baghdad