Tuesday night I was among a couple dozen American "progressives and anti-war activists" invited to meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in New York "on occasion of the International Day of Peace."
Included with the invitation I had received was a flier on "the purpose of the meeting": the Islamic Republic of Iran's Mission to the UN’s Call to Promote the Cause of Peace (see below).
The midtown Manhattan Warwick Hotel was in lock-down mode -- surrounded by concrete barriers and NYC sanitation trucks parked to block truck bombs. Police snipers were on neighboring rooftops. Inside, arriving guests were herded through a US Secret Service metal detector and pat-down line.
There was no shared guest list and no name tags provided. Other than the few in attendance whom I knew, I still don't know who most of my fellow guests were.
The guests mingled among ourselves as an Iranian dinner was served buffet-style in the upstairs function room: olives, salads, nuts, several rice dishes and a chicken stew. Pear and pomegranate juices, no alcohol.
Guests were nearly outnumbered by the suited Iranian bodyguards and US federal agents who mixed in among the smallish crowd.
After dinner guests were led into a different, narrower function room set up with a head table and 10 or so round tables with 6 chairs each. Several stationary Iranian TV cameras, a roaming cameraman and several large flat TV screens lining the room gave it the feel of a TV set. Which, it soon became obvious, is what it was.
President Ahmajinejad entered from a side door alongside the head table to applause from the guests. He smiled and sat at the head table along with Mohammad Khazaee, the Iranian Ambassador to the UN, and, two foreign ministry advisers.
Ambassador Khazaee, who speaks fluent English, served as the evening's emcee. After his welcoming remarks, the Ambassaador announced that due to time constraints a limited number of guests would be allowed to speak. And, that six guests had already been invited to address the president. The format, he said, would be for all the American speakers to speak first while Ahmadinejad listenened through his interpreter. Then the president would speak to end the evening.
First up was former Congresswoman and 2008 Green Party Presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney, who gave a rather good - but rambling - stump-like speech. But it was downhill from there.
Here is Iranian Press TV's report on Ahmaninejad's speech Tuesday night:
'Justice Can Bring About Peace'
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says implementation of justice across the world is the only solution to the establishment of sustainable peace.
"We believe that implementation of justice is the major factor that will restore sustainable peace to the world; peace without justice is meaningless," President Ahmadinejad said in a meeting with anti-war coalitions in New York on Tuesday.
He described "those who seek justice and peace through war" as the greatest liars of history, saying justice can not be established without relentless effort or resistance.
The Iranian chief executive also pointed out that the Iranian nation stands alongside all justice and peace-seeking groups, calling resistance the major key to the nation's victories.
"We think the majority of American people are in favor of peace and justice, but a hypocrite minority tries to present itself as the majority," he went on to say.
Those states that preserve their existence by waging wars proclaim that they are defenders of peace and human rights, he concluded.
President Ahmadinejad has travelled to New York to attend the 65th session of the United Nations General Assembly. He addressed the forum on Tuesday.
The following is the text of the document sent with the invitation:
The Islamic Republic of Iran's Mission to the UN’s Call to PROMOTE THE CAUSE OF PEACE
In the name of God
PROMOTING THE CAUSE OF PEACE
According to a well-documented report, the US had more than 70 military interventions since 1945. Britain and France had even more interventions than America. During the last two decades, using forces of the European army, France had 25 interventions in Africa, most of them unnoticed. This is the present situation of international politics based on the Veto Wielding Powers dominating international relations through the UN Security Council, Sanctions, the G8 and G20 and so on. Apart from these above facts, the proxy wars, cyber wars, conspiracy and covert operations against other governments are not known.
On a daily basis, tens of innocent Afghan civilians are killed either by NATO or US forces. On average, each day tens of Iraqis & Palestinian civilians are being killed by foreign occupier forces. In most countries of the Middle East the number of the orphans, widows and disabled are increasing. The social disruptions in all sectors are appalling. At the same time, according to a Congressional report, every 10 minutes, one American citizen dies because he or she is not covered by state medicare. The present economic recession and stagnation, unemployment and shortage of social welfare are the result of the US war mongering policies overseas.
THE PURPOSE OF THIS MEETING
- To provide progressive activists in the United States an opportunity to hear firsthand Iran's view of the international situation. Most of what Americans, even progressive Americans, hear about Iran comes filtered through the media, often resulting in distortions and miscommunication. This meeting will be an opportunity to directly hear the views of the Iranian government.
- The president is interested in hearing about the struggles for peace and social justice being carried out by American activists. If those struggles are reported to the world at all, they are, again, received through the filter of the media. The president's hope is that a frank and honest exchange of views will help further the goal of peace and friendship in international relations. All peoples in the world have a deep desire for peace. This especially includes the people of Iran, who from 1980-1988 experienced firsthand the horrors of war, a war that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and the wounding of many thousands more. Iranians understand that the American people also have suffered from wars, as in Vietnam and, more recently, in Iraq and Afghanistan. And it is people like you who have worked hard to try and end the scourge of war for all of humanity.
It is the president's fervent hope that hosting this meeting with American progressives will help further the cause of peace by promoting communication, understanding and mutual respect between our peoples.
To Promote the cause of PEACE:
- Oppose Occupation.
- Oppose US Interference in the Internal Affairs of other Countries.
- Oppose War in the Middle East and Worldwide.
- Support Nuclear Energy for All, Nuclear Weapons for NONE.
- Support Dialogue, Justice and Equality Among all Countries in the United Nations.