Dear America, from Ahmadi-Nejad

By Gareth Smyth in Tehran

Financial Times

Published: November 29 2006

Having been ignored when he wrote to George W. Bush earlier this year, President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad of Iran sought to appeal over his head on Wednesday by releasing a “letter to the American people” asserting his criticism of US policies in the Middle East.

The letter, issued at the United Nations in New York, seemed geared as much towards opinion in Iran and the Muslim world as towards Americans. It mentioned neither Iran’s controversial nuclear programme nor Lebanon, where Iran’s ally Hizbollah fought a war against Israel in the summer.

Mr Ahmadi-Nejad wrote this year to both the US president and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, but neither replied. In a change of approach, Iran’s president has now stressed the “common concerns” of Iranians and Americans as “God-fearing, truth-loving and justice-seeking” people.

Mr Ahmadi-Nejad drew a clear line between Americans and their government but also addressed the Democratic party winners of the mid-term US elections with a plea to “alleviate some of the global resentment ... of the US” if they wanted to avoid disappointing the American people.

But the Iranian president emphasised two causes fuelling strong resentment in the Arab and Muslim worlds: the Israel-Palestinian conflict and Iraq.

Mr Ahmadi-Nejad did not repeat his past expressions of doubt over the Jewish Holocaust but instead denounced the “Zionist regime” for “driving millions of the inhabitants of Palestine out of their homes”. He backed the right of all Palestinian refugees to return – a demand Israel regards as a threat to its existence.

Over Iraq, Mr Ahmadi-Nejad condemned the US military presence for doing nothing to “rebuild the ruins” as “terrorism has grown exponentially”.

The mothers and relatives of US soldiers had, he said, “displayed their discontent with the presence of their sons and daughters in a land thousands of miles away from US shores”.

As his letter appeared in New York, Mr Ahmadi-Nejad was emphasising Washington’s difficulties in Iraq during the visit of President Jalal Talabani of Iraq. Mr Talabani said his trip has been “100 per cent successful”, with “joint conclusions in all fields, including security, the economy, oil and industry”.

Mr Talabani, who leads the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, a close ally of the US since the 2003 invasion, promised “good news for the Iraqi nation” that would “see the result of this visit soon”. He advised the US to “save a little face by leaving Iraq . . .  according to a timetable, handing over responsibilities as asked by the Iraqi government”.

John Bolton, the US ambassador to the UN, said he had not read the letter, “but I understand it’s only five pages, not 18 pages, like the last one, so that’s a step ahead”.