Americans Give Ahmadinejad Cold-War Treatment

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad received a variety of responses at Columbia University and other places in the United States. That brings to mind the treatment given to Soviet leaders when they visited during the Cold War.

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DANIEL SCHORR: Any good diplomat will tell you that publicly insulting your invited guests can be immensely counterproductive.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

NPR senior news analyst, Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: I can remember when Nikita Khrushchev toured America in 1959. He found himself accompanied by Henry Cabot Lodge, who acted as a sort of troop squad, contradicting him everywhere that he appeared. The Soviet leader rose at a dinner in Los Angeles and threatened to cancel the tour and fly home. Lodge was quickly called off.

This week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was invited to speak on the Columbia University campus. He was introduced in a long harangue by university president Lee Bollinger who accused him of being a petty and cruel dictator. This may have been intended to placate the student protesters. It clearly did not placate the Iranian leader who went on before the United Nation's Assembly to accuse the United States unnamed of violating the fundamental human rights.

What was accomplished? Ahmadinejad's power in Tehran has been slipping lately because of gas rationing and a shaky economy. Now, he returns from the United States a hero, who stuck it to the great Satan. The Iranian media are all out in praise of their hero on the television evening news, which showed protesting crowds outside the university, the reporter said that Mr. Ahmadinejad has been in the center of world news for days.

The central issue, Iranian enrichment of uranium, remains unchanged by the hubbub. The Iranian president insisted more loudly than ever before on his country's right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes.

It's hard to figure how the release of a fourth Iranian American, Ali Shakeri, in Tehran yesterday fits into this murky picture.

Shaul Bakhash, whose wife Haleh Esfandiari was released last month, told me he believes the latest release was meant as a gesture to coincide with Ahmedinejad's trip to the United States, but it got delayed.

The American Iranian standoff leaves the Bush administration for lobbying the U.N. for toughest sanctions over the nuclear program. But the verbal exchanges of the past few days have not helped very much.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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