Diplomats at the United Nations were sent into disarray yesterday when President Ahmadinejad of Iran declared that he intended to attend the General Assembly of the world body on September 19 and to debate his country's nuclear program with President Bush, who is due to address the Assembly that day.
However, it was far from clear whether the Iranian president was serious in his suggestion or whether he was merely tweaking the nose of his American opponents. His intention to visit New York was reported by the Islamic Republic News Agency, which quoted the Presidential Office Media Department reporting him as saying, "We are ready for a debate with the Americans at the U.N. General Assembly" and that "the American side can even take part in the debate side by side with his advisors, and as a full team, if they wish so." Mr. Ahmadinejad last visited the United Nations last year.
The speculation, however, was enough to prompt sharp questions from reporters to the press spokesman of Secretary-General Annan about whether a precedent existed for America denying a visa to a president visiting the General Assembly. The spokesman replied that he knew of no such precedent.
The prospect of Mr. Ahmadinejad striding the world stage and voicing his well-known anti-Semitic views and his belief that Israel should be destroyed in the General Assembly was enough to cause a member of the Israeli parliament, M.K. Dan Naveh, to ask the Israeli government to demand that Mr. Ahmadinejad be prevented from attending the Assembly.