Thursday, September 21, 2006

CFR Vice Chair:
Is A Clear
And Present

The Vice Chair of the Council on Foreign Relations, Maurice Greenberg, came away from his meeting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with the impression that he is a real danger to the world:

Q: Please give us your perspective of President Ahmadinejad’s much-publicized performance yesterday at the Council on Foreign Relation, where only members were invited and no televisions cameras were present. Could we start with your personal exchange with the president of Iran?

Maurice R. Greenberg: He has been quoted many times, including last evening, that the Holocaust needs to be explored as to whether or not it really occurred. And he says, “Well you know, every time somebody tries to do that, they get imprisoned.” Well, the reason some have been imprisoned is because it’s against the law in some places to deny that the Holocaust occurred.

Of course it occurred. And when he said that, I responded: “Listen, I went through Dachau during the war. To suggest it didn’t occur is simply a lie.” So he turned around and asked me how old I was, to determine if I was old enough to have been there. And then he changed the subject.

Q: So that was the extent of it?

MRG: Yes, but then there was a lot of follow up on that. He wanted to know why there was an objection to have professors and historians explore whether or not it had occurred. The fact of the matter, obviously we said, is that it’s a recognized fact that it occurred; it was 6 million Jews that perished in the Holocaust and that any single individual that denies that is not only wrong but is also trying to be revisionist of history.

Q: Was it your sense that he truly doubts whether the Holocaust occurred or was he grandstanding? He was presumably playing just to that audience because there were no television cameras there.

MRG: No, no, but there were reporters there. Look, he has said this on many occasions, not just last evening. And it’s offensive. I would say that this man, he’s not only out of touch, he’s very clever and I worry about what he’s capable of doing. And I do believe that the administration’s, and the president’s in particular, view of Iran and the danger that it presents to the world, particularly our country and Israel, is not only real, it reflects a real and present danger. I do not think that we can take lightly what he stands for and is capable of, if he came into possession of nuclear weapons.

Q: Give us more insight on the man himself. Clearly you feel that he’s dangerous, and that the administration’s characterization of him is correct. Can you elaborate? You’ve dealt with many foreign leaders, given your position in the business community. Is there anything in particular that strikes you about Ahmadinejad?

MRG: Yes: How a man like this came to power. He’s very clever. He responds in an oblique way: never directly to the question. He changes the subject. He goes on and on and raises issues. For example, regarding those in prison in Iran, including members of the press-he doesn’t answer the question. He says, “There are 3 million people in prison in the United States. What are they in prison for?” He just throws back something that he believes is improper in our country. Not on any factual basis, it’s just his method of never answering the question.

The man... I wouldn’t call him nuts. He’s not crazy. He’s crazy like a fox.

Q: So bottom line: In your view, can we do business with him or is it impossible to do so?
MRG: I think it’s almost impossible to do business with him as long as he has those views. He says: “Why should the Palestinians suffer even if there was a Holocaust? What does one have to do with the other?” I mean, they have nothing to do with each other. We don’t link them together. And we discussed that. They’re not linked.

He thinks the Palestinians should be permitted to return, that’s never going to happen. If the Palestinians returned to Israel, they’d swamp the country and there wouldn’t be an Israel. But he doesn’t want an Israel.

Q: It sounds like he didn’t make any effort to try to reach out...

MRG: No, no. There was no effort to reach out. He’s offensive. He’s smug. He’s a danger.