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Pugnacious Iranian president rips Israel, US ahead of final UN speech

Eduardo Munoz / Reuters

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addresses diplomats during a session of the General Assembly on the Rule of Law at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Monday.

In a meeting with reporters that was billed as an exchange of views rather than a press conference, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continued his drumbeat of attacks on Israel’s legitimacy on Monday and warned that an Israeli attack on Iran could have ramifications for U.S. bases in the region.

He also pointedly noted that author Salman Rushdie could still face danger as a result of a recently renewed fatwa against him and called the U.S. decision last week to remove the People’s Mujahedin of Iran from the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations a “gift” to the Iranian government.

Ahmadinejad was in New York for his eighth -- and final –U.N. General Assembly meeting as Iran’s president. Ahmadinejad, who will exit the presidency in June after two terms, will address the General Assembly on Wednesday.

As he has in the past, Ahmadinejad dismissed Israel both as a threat to Iran and as a legitimate government. Referring to recent military threats by Israeli government officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, over Iran’s nuclear program, Ahmadinejad said that they are not of “utmost importance” to him or Iran.

“Whether he's bluffing doesn't come into the equation for us,” Ahmadinejad said of Netanyahu. “Put a map in front of you, an atlas. Iran has been Iran for the last seven to ten thousand years. They've been occupying that territory for 60 years. They have no roots there in history. They do not enter the equation for Iran.”

But while Reuters quoted Ahmadinejad as calling for Israel to be “eliminated,” the official translation of his remarks indicated that he steered clear of  the fiery rhetoric he is best known for.   

Reminded  that he was quoted as saying  several years ago that Israel should be wiped off the map, the Iranian president responded that he only wants Iran's neighbor to change its behavior. “We say occupation must be done away with," he said. "We say war seeking and war mongering must be eliminated. We say threats must be eliminated.  Threatening manners and ways must be eliminated. Destroying people’s homes on the head of their wives and children must be done away with and eliminated. 


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Ahmadinejad added that more important is “the political atmosphere that allows them to threaten -- and not be condemned for it. Where is the organization that rules the world today that allows them to act so rudely?”

Iran subtlety criticized U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon earlier this month for condemning Iranian officials’ comments on Israel while saying nothing about Israeli officials threats against Iran. Iran’s ambassador called Ban’s criticism an “irony.”

Asked whether Iran would go after U.S. targets should Israel attack Iran, Ahmadinejad said that if an attack does come, “All equations would see a deep change.”

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad discusses freedom of expression, insults against Islam and the fatwa against author Salman Rushdie in a meeting with reporters on Monday, two days before his final address to the U.N. General Assembly as president.

Ahmadinejad also was asked by "New Yorker" editor David Remnick if the fatwa against Rushdie still stood.  The fatwa, first issued by the late Ayatollah Sayyed Ruhollah Musavi Khomenei following Rushdie’s publication of “The Satanic Verses,” was withdrawn in 1998, but recently, an Iranian religious foundation renewed it an offered $3.3 million to any Muslim who kills Rushdie.

“Where is he now?” a smiling Ahmadinejad repeatedly asked Remnick, who has published Rushdie in the pages of his magazine. “If he is in the United States, you should not broadcast that, for his own safety.”

The Iranian president also fielded a question about the U.S. State Department’s decision Friday to remove the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, an Iranian dissident group commonly known as the MEK, from the U.S. list of terrorist groups, permitting them to operate freely in the United States.

Claiming the MEK has killed 16,000 Iranian civilians and “is a terrorist group,” Ahmadinejad said that the U.S. hurt itself with the Iranian people by recognizing a group he said had “no value.”

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“We believe that this action contains response in itself,” he said when asked by NBC News if Iran planned a response to the U.S. move. “If we wanted to show the double standards in behavior, we couldn't have done it any better ourselves. They gave us a gift. We got result for free. We regret their (State Department) action but should be grateful. They work to our advantage.”

Seldom shy about sharing his opinion, Ahmadinejad nevertheless declined to comment on GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s criticism of President Barack Obama for failing to meet with Netanyahu. “We believe U.S.  elections are a domestic issue and we will not in any way … take a position,” he said. “We believe Americans are not war-seeking people and they do wish to have friendly relations with other people.”

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