Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tried to put his best face forward in a series of interviews with American journalists prior to the opening of the UN General Assembly in New York. Unfortunately for him, he showed one too many faces.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Monday Israel has no roots in the Middle East and would be "eliminated," ignoring a U.N. warning to avoid incendiary rhetoric ahead of the annual General Assembly session.
Ahmadinejad also said he did not take seriously the threat that Israel could launch a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, denied sending arms to Syria, and alluded to Iran's threats to the life of British author Salman Rushdie.
The United States quickly dismissed the Iranian president's comments as "disgusting, offensive and outrageous."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has hinted Israel could strike Iran's nuclear sites and criticized U.S. President Barack Obama's position that sanctions and diplomacy should be given more time to stop Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Iran denies it is seeking nuclear arms and says its atomic work is peaceful and aimed at generating electricity.
"Fundamentally we do not take seriously the threats of the Zionists," Ahmadinejad, in New York for this week's U.N. General Assembly, told reporters. "We have all the defensive means at our disposal and we are ready to defend ourselves."
Ahmadinejad is due to speak at the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met Ahmadinejad on Sunday and warned him of the dangers of incendiary rhetoric in the Middle East.
Ahmadinejad, who has used previous U.N. sessions to question the Holocaust and the U.S. account of the September 11, 2001, attacks, did not heed the warning and instead expanded on his previous rejection of Israel's right to exist. Western envoys typically walk out of Ahmadinejad's U.N. speeches in protest at his remarks.
"Iran has been around for the last seven, 10 thousand years. They (the Israelis) have been occupying those territories for the last 60 to 70 years, with the support and force of the Westerners. They have no roots there in history," he said, referring to the founding of the modern state of Israel in 1948.
But we misunderstand the Iranian president. He really is a jolly fellow. See how he inquires so solicitously after the health of Salman Rushdie, the novelist under a death sentence from Iran:
"Where is he now?" Ahmadinejad asked of Rushdie. "Is he in the United States? If he is, you shouldn't broadcast that for his own safety.
What a card, that Mahmoud.
We can't wait to see what magic Ahmadinejad will perform from the dias of the General Assembly this time. All we know is that it will be entertaining - and frightening as hell.