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May 11, 2006
Ahmadinejad Plays Cat To Media Mouse

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad got more headlines tonight by hinting that he would accept indirect negotiations with the United States on the nuclear program pursued by Iran, but only when the US quits issuing threats. The AP reports that the Iranian president also relied on the normal anti-Israeli diatribe when addressing his Indonesian hosts:

Iran's president said Thursday he was ready to hold talks over his country's nuclear program, but he warned that efforts to force Tehran to the negotiating table with threats could backfire.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also launched a scathing attack on Israel and told more than 1,000 cheering Muslim students in the Indonesian capital that the West was being hypocritical in pressing Iran to stop its uranium enrichment program. ...

Asked what it would take to begin talks to resolve the standoff, Ahmadinejad told the station Iran was "ready to engage in dialogue with anybody."

"But if someone points a weapon at your face and says you must speak, will you do that?"

Ahmadinejad also continued his verbal attacks on Israel — last year he said the Jewish state should be "wiped off the map" and questioned whether the Holocaust was a myth — calling it a "a tyrannical regime that one day will be destroyed."

The Indonesian government, which enjoys good relations with the US for its efforts to combat terrorism in the region, volunteered to mediate these talks. Ahmadinejad responded by saying that he had no problem meeting with anyone for direct talks, but that if mediators were needed, he would prefer Indonesia above all others.

This is nothing much more than a ploy to distract the media. Iran used similar tactics with the Russian initiative to enrich Iran's uranium for them in order to placate fears of an Iranian nuclear-weapons program. Ahmadinejad publicly vacillated between acceptance and refusal of the Russian offer for months, using the media to add conditions and to express his dissatisfaction with the plan. The Iranians stll occasionally make reference to the Russian suggestion, but the mullahcracy got its mileage from the offer and have shown no real interest in pursuing it.

Now Ahmadinejad visits Indonesia in a splashy state visit, and he shows that he understands exactly how to manipulate the media. Following his missive to George Bush, which Ahmadinejad admits had nothing to do with the nuclear standoff, he makes broad hints of his willingness to attend direct talks with Bush, even though the two nations have no diplomatic relationship at all. He knows that the Western media will portray him as a reasonable head of state and make any refusal on Bush's part appear churlish. He wants the media to create enough pressure on the West to distract from the true Iranian purpose: stalling for time.

His only miscalculation comes in his timing. By this time, most newspapers have their morning editions set. The coverage of this comment will remain limited to the Internet and to television news shows. However, Ahmadinejad has the right strategy in mind for victory, a strategy that the Western media too often telegraphs.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 11, 2006 10:00 PM

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