Behind Comic Relief At The United Nations
Khrushchev took off his shoe and pounded the table
has there been a U.N. General Assembly conclave to rival
"(T)he devil came here yesterday. … Right here
… talking as if he owned the world," ranted Hugo
Chavez, crossing himself. "And it smells of sulfur
still today." Chavez was talking about President
The Venezuelan president began his address by holding
up a copy of Noam Chomsky`s Hegemony
or Survival: America`s Quest for Global Dominance.
Ever since, it has soared on Amazon.com.
Chavez spoke the morning after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,
who had opened with a prayer for an early reappearance
Twelfth Imam, whom the Iranian president is said to
believe will return in two years. He then proceeded to
excoriate George W. Bush and the United States.
Earlier, Bush insulted Ahmadinejad by
going over his head to
tell the Iranian people the current crisis was
because "your rulers have chosen to deny you liberty
and to use your nation`s resources to fund terrorism and
fuel extremism and pursue nuclear weapons."
What was transpiring, however, was a global version
of the Iowa Straw Poll. The three presidents were
playing to their base, using the U.N. forum to solidify
their domestic constituencies and appeal to global ones.
Chavez, however, reduced himself to a comic figure.
Other than those who already love him and hate America,
the devil talk appeals to no one. Even in Latin America,
they are tiring of him.
Felipe Calderon, the PAN party candidate in Mexico,
was running well behind the
leftist Lopez Obrador, until his campaign began
linking Obrador to Chavez. Obrador`s lead vanished, and
he lost, dragged down by Hugo.
Ahmadinejad used the forum to burnish his credentials
as a devout Shi`ite, an Iranian nationalist, an
implacable foe of Israel and the most defiant of all
anti-American Muslims, standing up for Iran`s right,
under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to enrich
uranium for peaceful nuclear power.
As the General Assembly is a hostile forum, Bush used
it as a foil, and to good effect, challenging an Iranian
regime that is feared and loathed by Americans more than
any other on earth.
Indeed, for a Republican president to be attacked on
one side by an Iranian radical perceived to be a
Holocaust denier, who heads up a terrorist state and
wants nuclear weapons, and, on the other, by a
Latin leftist dictator, is an enviable position to
be in, six weeks out from an off-year election.
Democrats are grinding their teeth.
But comic relief aside, a serious play is underway.
In a startling comment, Bush, after declaring that
"Iran must abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions,"
added, in comments directed to the Iranian people,
"Despite what the regime tells you, we have no objection
to Iran`s pursuit of a truly peaceful nuclear power
Hours later, Ahmadinejad declared that Iran`s nuclear
program is "transparent, peaceful and under the
watchful eye" of the International Atomic Energy
Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog. He further pledged to
observe the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Tehran has
signed that prohibits any acquisition of nuclear
weapons, but entitles Iran to peaceful nuclear power and
the working knowledge of the technology of how it is
Between Bush`s position—America has no objection to
Iran`s pursuit of nuclear power—and Ahmadinejad`s—Iran`s
program is for peaceful nuclear power and fully under
IAEA inspection—there seems to be common ground on which
to stand to avoid a conflict.
If both men are serious, the questions that remain
Are all of Iran`s nuclear facilities open to IAEA
inspection? If not, will Iran ensure they all are
subject to inspection and shall remain so? Does Bush now
accept Iran`s right, under the NPT Iran has signed, to
enrich uranium, under IAEA supervision, and acquire the
knowledge that goes with it? Or does Bush yet insist on
regime change, before Iran can exercise its rights under
The conflict between us boils down to this: The
United States contends that, as Iran kept part of its
nuclear program secret for years, it must be seeking a
nuclear weapons capability. Thus, Iran cannot be
entrusted, despite its rights under the NPT, with a
uranium-enrichment program. For the knowledge and the
experience Iran would thereby gain would move it but a
step away from being able to produce nuclear material
for an atom bomb.
The bottom line question for President Bush is this:
If Iran is unwilling to surrender its rights under the
NPT to enrich uranium, is he willing to go to war to
prevent this? Or would he settle for IAEA inspectors in
all Iranian plants, which Ahmadinejad has said at least
he is willing to accommodate? This may be the most
critical question Bush will face in his remaining years
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