Iran has been all over the news again this week. It seems that much of the building tension around US relations with Iran exploded in outrage at President Ahmadinejad’s controversial visit to New York City this week. Much of the debate centered on Columbia University’s decision to host the Iranian president for a speech, and Ahmadinejad’s desire to visit the site of the September 11 attack in Manhattan. Lee Bollinger, President of Columbia University, introduced Ahmadinejad with harsh words:
We at this university have not been shy to protest the challenge — and challenge the failures of our own government to live by our values, and we won’t be shy about criticizing yours. Let’s then be clear at the beginning. Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator.
Ahmadinejad, appearing somewhat flustered following that introduction, touched on many issues, including Iran’s nuclear program:
Our nuclear program, first and foremost, operates within the framework of law, and second, under the inspections of the IAEA, and thirdly, they are completely peaceful. The technology we have is for enrichment below the level of 5 percent level, and any level below 5 percent is solely for providing fuel to power plants. Repeated reports by the IAEA explicitly say that there is no indication that Iran has deviated from the peaceful path of its nuclear program. We’re all well aware that Iran’s nuclear issue is a political issue; it’s not a legal issue.
The International Atomic Energy Organization — Agency has verified that our activities are for peaceful purposes. But there are two or three powers that think that they have the right to monopolize all science and knowledge. And they expect the Iranian people, the Iranian nation, to turn to others to get fuel, to get science, to get knowledge that’s indigenous to itself — to humble itself. And then they would of course refrain from giving it to us too.
So we’re quite clear on what we need. If you have created the fifth generation of atomic bombs and are testing them already, what position are you in to question the peaceful purposes of other people who want nuclear power? (Applause.) We do not believe in nuclear weapons, period. It goes against the whole grain of humanity.
Congress has also been focusing on relations with Iran this week. Today, the House of Representatives overwhelming passed Rep. Tom Lantos’ Iran Counter-Proliferation Act, 397-16. This bill is another attempt to ratchet up pressure on Iran by toughening US sanctions, and many groups have expressed concern that it would put up more potential roadblocks to diplomacy.
The Senate is expected to vote this week on a provocative Iran amendment by Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ). The amendment is based on largely unsubstantiated evidence about Iran’s involvement in Iraq, and could in retrospect be viewed as condoning some kind of military action against Iran. Call your senators right away and urge them to vote against the Lieberman-Kyl amendment.