Lawrence Davidson, a renowned American author, political commentator and professor of history at the West Chester University was one of those who had the opportunity to meet President Ahmadinejad in New York's Hotel Warwick.
"My impression of President Ahmadinejad was completely the opposite of …the Western designed propaganda image against him. In the meeting I attended the president showed himself to be a quiet spoken idealist - someone who is quite knowledgeable and thoughtful," said Davidson in an interview with Fars News Agency.
Prof. Davidson took part in an exclusive interview with Fars News Agency and talked about his experience of attending a meeting with Iranian president, his feelings toward the opinions and viewpoints proposed by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and also some other relevant issues such as the U.S.-engineered economic sanctions against Iran, Iran's nuclear program and the American media's war on Islam.
Q: Would you please tell us about your first impression of President Ahmadinejad? How did you feel when you first received the invitation to attend a meeting with him? What's your assessment of his personality?
A: My impression of President Ahmadinejad was completely the opposite of his public image in the West. That image is of a mad, loudmouthed warmonger. It is, of course, a Western designed propaganda image. In the meeting I attended the president showed himself to be a quiet spoken idealist --someone who is quite knowledgeable and thoughtful. I am sure that, like most leaders, he shapes his approach to his audience, but the contrast between the man who spoke to us and his public image in the West was striking.
When I received the invitation to this event I was both surprised and pleased. About a year after Ahmadinejad came to office I had applied for a visa to go to Iran to attend a human rights conference in Qom, but was turned down. I don't know what sort of list I was on to be rejected, but I guess being allowed to attend this event means there is no longer much of a problem. So, maybe I will be able to visit Iran again soon.
Q: President Ahmadinejad's travels to New York in the past 7 years to attend the United Nations General Assembly have always made the headlines and received remarkable attention by the Western mainstream media. He has given numerous interviews, held several meetings with students, university professors, public intellectuals, religious figures, journalists and political experts and tried to reach out to the American public and have Iran's message be heard by the international community. What do you think of his public diplomacy and his trips to New York?
A: The president's public diplomacy and outreach is necessary and worthwhile, but one must accept that it will make only a limited impact. That is because the information flow in the U.S. is controlled by the enemies of the Islamic Republic. Those who influence both policy formation on the basis of economic interests, ethnic and religious interests or ideological orientation have crafted a picture of the Islamic Republic of Iran as a fanatical enemy of the Western Civilization in general and the United States in particular. The American media, which shares and promotes this picture, has encouraged an entire generation of U.S. citizens to believe this view of things. And so, most of them do believe it.
Ahmadinejad's efforts to counter this view receive little press and the best he can do is promote a process whereby a different picture is spread by word of mouth. Is it worth the effort? Yes, because those he talks to will be decision makers at one level or another. And so some small counterbalance is achieved.
Q: In his meeting with the university professors which you attended, President Ahmadinejad said that there's room for reconciliation and improvement of ties between Iran and the United States, provided that the U.S. government changes its attitude toward international issues, including Iran's nuclear program. What's your viewpoint? What steps should the U.S. government take in order to build confidence and ensure the Iranian nation that it will abandon its hostile stance?
A: I agree with the president of Iran. The United State should change its policies toward Iran and toward the Middle East in general. Washington should accept Iran's legal rights under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Actually, there should be support for a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East. The U.S. should cease all sanctions and other threatening actions against Iran. More broadly, it should cease supporting Israel's genocidal policies toward the Palestinians and begin to promote a viable and independent Palestinian state. This would certainly be the rational approach to the present problems.
Unfortunately that is not going to happen. U.S. foreign policy is driven by special interest lobbies. In the case of Iran the two special interests that are particularly influential with the Congress are the Israel and Zionist lobby, made up of both Zionist Jews and fundamentalist Christians, and neo-conservative ideologues who see the U.S. as engaged in a struggle for world power. For a politician to go against these lobbies is to risk both the loss of much financial support, but also to have that support purposefully given to his electoral opponents. Most politicians are not after world peace, they are after the resources needed to get elected or reelected. They will take the easy road and "follow the money."
Q: What's your viewpoint regarding the U.S.-engineered sanctions against Iran, including its illegal ban on the medicine, foodstuff and humanitarian goods? These sanctions hurt the ordinary Iranian citizens and portray a black image of the United States in the Iranian minds. Would you please expand on that more?
A: I believe that the U.S. practice of sanctions is criminal. This practice killed thousands upon thousands of Iraqis before a single soldier invaded that country. I remember when, back in 1996, then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was asked on U.S. national television whether she thought American sanctions were "worth it" given that they were directly and indirectly responsible for the deaths of approximately 500,000 poor Iraqi children. She replied that "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price- we think the price is worth it." That is a direct quote. As far as I am concerned, that confession made her a war criminal. Now Washington is pursuing the same genocidal policy with Iran.
Hopefully, Iran will be able to fend off the worse aspects of the sanctions and no one will die because of them. Even so they constitute an act of aggression against Iran - essentially it is economic siege warfare.
Q: Iranian President said that the country's nuclear program has become politicized and that the United States and its European allies are after pressuring Iran to persuade it to make nuclear and political concessions. Iran is under pressure over its nuclear program while it's said that the Israeli regime possesses up to 200 nuclear warheads. How should one explain this dualistic approach taken by the United States and its European allies?
A: The double standards on the nuclear issue and other issues as well, such as the rights of the Palestinian people, can be explained by the political and media power of the Israel lobby. I explained in one of my answers how that lobby operates in the U.S. It is, however, not just an American lobby. It is international.
When it comes to Europe, the World Zionist Organization can trace its history back at least 100 years. It has built a solid power base in the British Parliament that has existed since 1917 and the Balfour Declaration. On the continent Zionist influence grew in the post World War II period and was helped along by the guilt felt over the Holocaust, which did indeed result in the systematic murder of nearly six million Jews, as well as millions of others.
It is the influence of this lobby throughout the West that creates the conditions or a double standard approach between Israel, identified as a "civilized" Western place in the media, and both Iran and the Muslim world in general, identified by that same media as barbaric and backward places.
Q: Iran has always complained that the United States allows the Israeli regime to freely threaten the other nations, violate international law and behave irresponsibly, without being held bound to its international obligations. What's your viewpoint in this regard? Why does the U.S. forfeit its national interests to please the Israeli regime? What makes the Israeli-America relationship so special?
A: The "special relationship with Israel" has much to do with the nature of American domestic politics. The Zionist lobby, allied to the Christian Zionist fundamentalists goes to each of the American Senators and Congressmen and offer them support. The support comes in the form of mobilizing Jewish and Christian fundamentalist citizens in their areas to vote for them, producing positive media propaganda, and also giving financial contributions to their campaigns.
What they want in return is a consistent pro-Israel voting record which, of course, includes voting for generous foreign aid to Israel. Since the vast majority of Senators and Congressmen come from areas where their voting constituency is either indifferent or favorable to Israel, it is easy to see how they would go along with the Zionist and Christian fundamentalist lobby.
On those rare occasions when an American legislator refuses to play along, the Zionists financially back his or her opponent both in the primaries and the general election. Eventually they are able to help defeat them. The elected politician whom they backed is now beholden to the Zionists who helped get him win. It is a rather simple strategy.
In addition both political parties receive money from the Zionist lobbies and for that reason both parties try to keep the Zionists happy. So a real anti-Zionist candidate, with some rare exceptions, loses the backing of his party.
Thus, for all intents and purposes, members of the American Congress are transformed into agents of a foreign power when it comes to the question of Israel-Palestine. 95% of them are simply bought and bullied.
Interview by Kourosh Ziabari