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Ahmadinejad Cancels,” Rebooks” Press Conferences: Jewish Media, Others Not “Invited”

George Baumgarten, April 28, 2011, United Nations Correspondent

When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to the U.N. again recently, he filled the air with his usual pompous bluster…asserting on this latest occasion that “many believe the U.S. itself responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks”. But a deeper and more interesting story has emerged, in the way he treated the U.N. press:  for the third straight time he canceled his press conference at the U.N., and rescheduled it across the street at the Millennium hotel. In that venue, the U.N.’s own rules (All press conferences are open to all accredited press.) simply do not apply. And Iran invites only those of whom it approves, which does not include representatives of Jewish or Israeli media…or certain others, for whom the President simply does not care.

The story actually begins over three years ago, during Ahmadinejad’s annual press conference at that year’s General Assembly. He took a question from one Israeli journalist, and then responded by simply saying “next question” (He was reported to have done this in some previous years also.). Suddenly, the journalist introduced his “colleague”, who turned out to be the spouse of one of the two Israelis held captive by Hezbullah (both of whom were later revealed to have been killed a year earlier, in the process of their capture). Staring directly at Ahmadinejad, she said, in English, in exactly these words, “What have you done with my husband”?

Under the circumstances, Ahmadinejad was relatively cool. But the Undersecretary for Public Information, who was moderating the press conference, took no more questions from overtly-Jewish media (He later apologized personally to this correspondent.).It has never been definitively determined  just how the captive’s spouse managed to enter the room—which was of course open only to U.N.-accredited journalists.

The following year (2008), the Iranians decided to run the annual press conference themselves, with their press officer presiding. Once again, no overtly-Jewish media (i.e., Israelis and representatives of specifically Jewish organizations) were called upon.

Ahmadinejad’s 2009 press conference was scheduled for Friday, 25 September.  On Thursday the 24th, it was suddenly announced that a second Iranian nuclear reactor had been discovered, in the Shiite holy city of Qom (in addition to the known and acknowledged one at Natanz). Ahmadinejad forthwith cancelled his press conference, and that was where the matter stood…until it was discovered that it had been merely rescheduled across the street at the Millennium. 

In May, 2010 a special review conference was held, on the subject of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. While not-- strictly speaking-- a United Nations event, this conference had as its venue the General Assembly Hall in New York, and its elected President was Leban Cabactulan, Ambassador of the Phillippines. The sole Head of State or Government participating was...none other than His Excellency the President of Iran. In an address that surely must rank as a prime example from never-never land of the theatre of the absurd, Ahmadinejad harangued the conference on the evils and dangers of nuclear weapons (!). Once again, he scheduled a press conference at the U.N. (Now booked in the Library’s Dag Hammarskjold Auditorium, while the usual space was under renovation), only to cancel it and hold it at the Hotel. It was at this time that reports began to circulate that Jewish media were not the only ones excluded. And the President of the U.N. Correspondents’ Association wrote to the Mission of Iran (to no avail).

It should be emphasized here that the Iranian policy was not aimed specifically against individual Jews. There are any number of Jewish journalists who continue to be invited to—and attend—President Ahmadinejad’s press conferences.  Rather, they aim to exclude those (like this reporter) who represent North American Jewish media, Israeli media and any others who, by policy or by whim, for whatever reason, may be excluded.

At the September 2010 “General  Debate” (the two-week period when nearly every U.N. member state—often represented by their Head of State or Government—makes an annual statement),  Ahmadinejad (as noted above) went so far as to accuse the U.S. of responsibility for the September 11 attacks. Once again, he booked the Auditorium for his press conference, only to cancel and rebook it at the Millennium Hotel. What trouble this may have caused to the U.N. and its space-booking offices can only be surmised. As one official of the Department of Public Information told me, “We have to cater to the whims of people like Ahmadinejad”. The Under-Secretary-General of another Department told an even stranger story: since Ahmadinejad speaks in Farsi, which is a “non-standard” language, he brings his own interpreter. When the time for his speech came, the interpreter was nowhere to be found (She was later located, alone, in a room upstairs.).  It was decided to have one U.N. employee—who spoke no Farsi—to simply read the text, from the printed advance version released by the Mission of Iran.

It was at this time also that it was clearly revealed that list of the “media non grata” included not only the Jewish media, but the Voice of America and the British Broadcasting Corporation as well. In addition, this reporter learned that two female Lebanese journalists (for French and Arab media) were also denied invitations.

As this is written, the Mission of Iran has appointed a new Press Officer. He assured me that he wishes to establish good relations with the U.N. media community.  Or so he says. The reality…remains to be seen.

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