Saturday, September 20, 2008

Iranian President Takes Obama Up On Offer

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad put Barack Obama on the spot offering to debate with both U.S. presidential candidates when he arrives at the United Nations next week for its annual summit. The fiery Iranian leader, who provoked a storm of controversy when he visited last year, said he would debate global issues at a public forum in UN headquarters if the candidates agreed. Obama said early in his campaign that, as president, he would be prepared to meet the leaders of U.S. foes such as Iran and Syria. The statement sparked a sharp rebuke from Republican candidate John McCain, who argued it showed the Illinois senator's inexperience in knowing how to deal with recalcitrant leaders on the world stage. Leading UN powers have been in a standoff with Iran over that country's refusal to roll back its nuclear ambitions, which the United States and its allies believe are aimed at producing a nuclear bomb. Canada has also led criticism at the UN of Iran's human rights record, which two leading monitoring groups said in a report Thursday had reached "new lows" since Ahmadinejad became president in August 2005. "I am ready to have a televised debate over global issues with U.S. presidential nominees at the United Nations," Ahmadinejad told Press TV, Iran's state-run satellite news network. He also dismissed the possibility of Israeli military action against Iran, and said the UN's headquarters should be moved out of the U.S. Ahmadinejad spoke ahead of a meeting Friday of six world powers that have offered Iran incentives to freeze uranium enrichment, which has the potential of producing fuel for nuclear-bomb production.The U.S. and its allies want to impose ever-increasing sanctions. "Those who want to impose sanctions are demonstrating their helplessness," Ahmadinejad said. A spokesman for Obama's campaign did not return a call for comment on whether the democratic presidential candidate would be willing to meet with the Iranian leader. Ahmadinejad's debate challenge comes the same week Hillary Clinton, Obama's former rival for the Democratic nomination, pulled out of a planned New York march Monday against Iran because she heard Sarah Palin, McCain's running mate, would also take part. The new human rights report on Iran says Ahmadinejad's Intelligence Ministry has targeted Iranians who have active professional ties abroad, accusing them of being agents of western efforts to instigate a "velvet revolution" in Iran. Among leaders of the Baha'i faith in Iran who remain jailed without charge since their May arrests is Behrouz Tavakkoli, 57, the father of Ottawa resident Naim Tavakkoli. "Under Ahmadinejad's administration, Iran's human rights record has deteriorated markedly," Human Rights Watch and the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran says. "While the international community's attention has focused on nuclear concerns, Iran has not been held accountable for its serious violations of international human rights law." New York authorities refused Ahmadinejad's request during his visit last year to lay a wreath at the former World Trade Center site. Columbia University, however, went ahead with allowing him to address students at its facility, where he sparked jeers when he said there were no homosexuals in Iran.