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David Ignatius: An unfazed Ahmadinejad

BY DAVID IGNATIUS Published: September 25, 2012
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Iran may be on the firing line, but President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was as calmly combative as ever over the weekend, dismissing Israel's military threats and predicting that nothing will happen in the nuclear talks until after the U.S. presidential elections.

In an interview during his visit to the United Nations, Ahmadinejad seemed unfazed by recent months of speculation about bombing strikes or by the precarious state of Tehran's allies in Damascus. Instead, he talked often about politics — including a reference to what he saw as the war-weariness of the American public.

The hour-long conversation was a case study in the bob-and-weave style that has made Ahmadinejad a survivor in Iranian politics and a particular nemesis for critics in the United States, Israel and the Arab world. While he expressed a willingness to negotiate on a range of subjects, he retreated into generalities when pressed about details. His tone was calm, even in discussing a potential clash with Israel.

“We, generally speaking, do not take very seriously the issue of the Zionists and the possible dangers emanating from them,” he said early in the interview. “Of course, they would love to find a way for their own salvation by making a lot of noise and to raise stakes in order to save themselves. But I do not believe they will succeed.”

Ahmadinejad's bland self-assurance is partly a matter of style, for no politician ever wants to display weakness before his adversaries. But in this third interview I've had with the Iranian president, I had the sense that he genuinely believes the world is going Iran's way. He sees an America that is facing reversals across the Muslim world — in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and most recently, in dealing with the Arab uprisings. Close U.S. allies such as Egypt's Hosni Mubarak are gone, and Ahmadinejad is still standing.

In discussing Iran's negotiations with the international group known as the P5+1, Ahmadinejad said Iran was willing to make a deal to limit its stockpile of enriched uranium. But he implied that the Obama administration wants to slow the negotiations down until after the November election, to avoid bargaining concessions that might embarrass the president.

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