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Reuters AlertNet 8/17/07

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Amid US' Nick Burns' Tough Talk on Iran, Ahmadinejad Laughs At UN Press Conference

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, September 25 -- In the UN's second floor hallway on Tuesday, Nick Burns of the U.S. State Department told UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen, "I've been working with the Israelis on Iran... about our military relationship." Burns added that Roed-Larsen should be sure to come see him next time he is in Washington.

            Hours later in Conference Room 4 in the UN's basement, the topic of possible military action on Iran by the U.S. or Israel arose, in one of several simultaneous questions posed to Iranian president Mahmood Ahmadinejad. There is no reason we should be attacked, Ahmadinejad responded smiling. In his speech to the General Assembly, he said that for Iran the nuclear question was resolved, and now no more than an administrative matter before the International Atomic Energy Agency.

            Of the Tibor Toth, Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, Tibor Toth, Inner City Press on Tuesday asked about the countries which owe dues, and about the U.S.'s nuclear deal with India. Video here, from Minute 25. On the former, Toth said only to consult his agency's website. On the later, he said that the positive view is that at least the non-binding moratorium on nuclear testing was discussed, another neither the U.S. nor India is bound by it. Inner City Press asked, and what is the negative view? Just reverse what I said, responded Mr. Toth.

            Given the interest in Ahmadinejad's visit, many journalists were surprised at how circus-like his UN press conference was allowed to become. Access to the room was ostensibly limited, by guards with metal detectors, to accredited reporters and members of the Iranian mission. In fact, this security system has been cited as explaining the relatively low turn-out for a Ban Ki-moon press conference in the same room. But Tuesday evening, numerous questions were asked by people whom the moderator called on, but who obviously were not journalists. Some interventions were, on a human level, entirely understandable, for example that of the wife of kidnapped Israel soldier Udi Goldwasser. She asked about proof of life, but was not answered. Nor was a correspondent for Israel's Channel 10 television.

            A Voice of America correspondent, Nazzy Beglari, asked about Ahmadinejad's statement Monday at Columbia University that there are no homosexuals in Iran. When she begged to differ, saying that she knows several Iranian homosexuals, she was met by Ahmadinejad's laughter. "Give me their address," he said with a smile.

Mahmood Ahmadinejad at the UN on September 25, 2007

            The moderator was the Under Secretary General for Public Information and, it was later explained to Inner City Press, this was his first large press conference to moderate. Like other such briefings, a list was taken in advance of reporters who wanted to ask a question. But as sometimes happens for other reasons, this time the list was not consulted. The reporters weren't called on by name, or name of media -- areas of the room were pointed at, and then reporters elbowed each other and fingered their microphone buttons to be the one to which Ahmadinejad would respond. Afterwards one Sunny correspondent complained to the USG that Ahmadinejad was allowed not only to evade entire questions, but to do so, he said, simply because a reporter was from Israel. The USG said, "You are asking for the impossible." Given that earlier in the day, the French mission was allowed to exclude from the UN's briefing room any journalist who couldn't show a French passport (or whom they otherwise wanted to let in), running credible press conference may become more and more of a challenge for this UN.

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Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540