Before sparks began flying between me and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, he began my interview with an unusual olive branch: “I would like to, with your permission, greet all of your readers as well as Web viewers and wish all of them the success and blessings of the Almighty.”
Mr. Ahmadinejad is a complex, even bizarre, figure. A firebrand with a penchant for making explosive public statements, he is small in person, subdued and very soft-spoken. Even when I pushed him hard on human rights abuses and nuclear deceptions, he responded in even tones while claiming that Iran is manifestly more democratic than the United States.
Another olive branch came hours after our conversation with the release of the two American hikers who had been imprisoned unjustly for two years in Iran. Mr. Ahmadinejad didn’t even attempt to suggest that they were spies, but he bristled at my questions about them. He claimed that they had entered Iran illegally and would have merited punishment in any country.
This was Mr. Ahmadinejad’s only print interview on his visit to the United Nations General Assembly, and he made a significant effort to be friendly and conciliatory. Most important, he repeated an offer made in a Washington Post interview this month to stop all nuclear enrichment if the West would supply nuclear fuel enriched to a 20 percent level. He insisted that Iran will happily give up its enrichment processing if it can get this enriched uranium for… >>>