NEW YORK—Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, meeting with several dozen American peace activists here Wednesday night, said that Iran was not seeking a nuclear bomb and asserted that the Bush administration was not in a position to launch military strikes to stop Iran from carrying out its nuclear activities.
"I really believe the American government is not able to start another war for the next decades to come. This is good news for the entire world," he declared. He was referring to the financial crisis that may trigger a historically expensive public bailout to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. He very likely also had in mind the long U.S. military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan—a theme he has struck on other occasions.
Ahmadinejad's New York visit to speak before the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly and to conduct a media blitz has become an annual ritual. His appearance here usually draws angry protests, denunciations for his alleged support for terrorism and the destruction of Israel, and tough questioning.
But this meeting was decidedly different, with a friendly tone that seemed to please the Iranian leader.
"It is definitely a very unique meeting as a whole," he said. The gathering was sponsored by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, America's oldest interfaith peace group. The few news media representatives permitted to attend were not allowed to ask Ahmadinejad questions.
Ahmadinejad said of Iranians, "We are opposed to war," adding, "the Iranian nation loves the American people." As for Americans, he said, "I'm certain that the American people are opposed to war."
He said he would try to encourage nongovernmental exchanges between Iranians and Americans as well as the granting of more visas to American peace activists. "On the Iranian side, I will prepare the conditions for more talks and exchanges," he said. He asked U.S. officials to do the same for Iranians.
He did not, however, directly address a question pointing out that some Iranians involved with exchanges have been accused of attempting to overthrow their government. Some have been arrested and others harassed, according to news reports.
Despite a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency last week that charged Iran was stalling on answering key questions on its nuclear drive, Ahmadinejad argued that "the IAEA and others know all our activities are peaceful." He added, "We don't believe in the Bomb."
And despite U.S. and allied findings to the contrary, the Iranian president contended that Iran had helped improve matters. "We've really helped security in Iraq. Iraq's security is our security," he said.
Ahmadinejad's remarks seemed to impress the activists who gathered. "He made it absolutely clear where the threat comes from—it comes from the United States," said Sara Flounders, coordinator of the Stop War on Iran Campaign. "He's always distorted in the media as hateful. You can see he's not."
Mark Johnson, executive director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, seemed to be more cautious. "The message was one of peaceful intention," he said.