WASHINGTON (AFP) – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said it would be “fine with us” if the Palestinians reach a “two state” peace deal with Israel, despite his full-throated opposition to the Jewish nation.
The firebrand leader, in an interview broadcast Sunday on US network ABC, appeared unhappy with President Barack Obama’s failure to return a message of greetings and said nuclear talks could only proceed with a clear agenda.
After triggering a storm with anti-Israel remarks at a UN racism conference in Geneva, Ahmadinejad attacked Obama’s “support of the massacre of Gazans, in support for the criminals who were responsible for that atrocity.”
But having previously called for Israel to be erased from the map, he appeared to hold out a potential olive branch in backing the Palestinians’ right to pursue a deal for statehood alongside Iran’s arch-enemy.
“Whatever decision they take is fine with us. We are not going to determine anything. Whatever decision they take, we will support that,” Ahmadinejad said via an interpreter in the interview, which was taped Wednesday in Tehran.
“We think that this is the right of the Palestinian people. However we fully expect other states to do so as well,” Ahmadinejad said, without saying whether Iran might recognize the Jewish nation as part of a “two state” agreement.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has set the bar high for statehood by arguing that only a referendum open to all Palestinians, including post-1948 refugees but excluding immigrant Jews, can decide the land’s future.
Ahmadinejad stood by his vitriolic speech last Monday in Geneva, which prompted a walkout by European diplomats. The United States and Israel boycotted the conference.
Attacking Obama’s decision to stay away and his subsequent condemnation of the speech, Ahmadinejad said the Geneva conference was all about combating racism.
“My point of view is that the Zionist regime is the manifestation of racism,” he told ABC.
The Iranian president said meanwhile it was up to the United States to take the lead in negotiations on his regime’s nuclear program, which the West says is designed to make atomic weapons rather than civilian energy.
“Iran and US relations are dependent on the decision taken by the US administration.
“Mr Obama sends us messages of friendship, but in the communique issued by the ‘5+1’, enmity can be seen,” he said, referring to nuclear talks involving the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany.
“So this is a dual route, if you will.”
Ahmadinejad said he had received criticism at home for sending his message of congratulations on Obama’s election. “Nevertheless, I did that. I am yet to receive a response.”
Obama did, however, broadcast an Iranian New Year message last month, in which he called for a “new beginning” between the United States and the Islamic republic after a three-decade diplomatic estrangement.
But asked if Tehran was ready to talk to Washington without preconditions, Ahmadinejad said: “No, no.
“We should just have a clear-cut framework for talks,” he said. “The agenda should be clear.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told US lawmakers last week that the United States was preparing for “very tough sanctions” against Iran if the new US overtures fail.
Earlier this month, Ahmadinejad said his government would offer a new nuclear package to the world powers.
“And we are going to make that public as soon as possible. We are always ready to talk,” he told ABC.
In his own US television interview Sunday, Jordan’s King Abdullah II said the Obama administration must explore “connecting the dots” between the Iranian nuclear standoff and Middle East peace.
“If you have an issue of the threat that Iran poses to Israel, which is what (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu is saying, the best way of solving that problem is solving the core issue, which is the Palestinian problem and that of Jerusalem,” he told NBC.