RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is in New York today. He'll speak at Columbia University before addressing the UN general assembly tomorrow. Last night, he appeared on "60 Minutes," and said Iran has no interest in obtaining nuclear weapons, and that it's not headed for war with the United States. One of those watching Ahmadinejad's visit is Trita Parsi. He's a scholar of Iran, and joins us now. Good morning.
Dr. TRITA PARSI (Specialist, Iranian Foreign Policy; Author, "Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the United States"): Good morning.
MONTAGNE: You've been quoted as saying this U.S. visit is a win-win for Ahmadinejad. What did you mean by that?
Dr. PARSI: Well, particularly, his attempt to go and visit Ground Zero, I think, was a very calculated move by Ahmadinejad because if he had been granted the visit, he would have been able to use it as a publicity stunt and score some political points. And now when he was rejected, he can still use it to say look, the United States is not interested in a reconciliation. It's not interested in an effort by a leader of an Islamic nation to be able to improve relations. So either way, he finds a way to be able to score some points.
MONTAGNE: Now, is Ahmadinejad showing a more public face this time around than he's done in his two previous visits to the U.S.?
Dr. PARSI: Not only that, he's also trying to show a much softer face, and I think it's partly because of the fact that he is - at least Iran is in the stronger position than it was two years ago. And he's trying to consolidate that now by reaching out to the American people and trying to create a wedge between the American people and the U.S. government.
MONTAGNE: Before leaving for New York, Ahmadinejad said the American people had been denied correct information. Are we going to hear anything new?
Dr. PARSI: I think there's going to be a lot of the same, and he's going to be trying play on the tremendous unpopularity of the Iraq war in many of his comments, particularly today at the National Press Club and later on in Columbia University.
MONTAGNE: You know, looking back last night at the "60 Minutes" interview, Ahmadinejad said - I'm quoting - "The time for the bomb has passed." Exactly what he mean - does he mean by that? And is that at all plausible?
Dr. PARSI: I think what he means by that is that Iran's key objective here is to regain a very, very strong position in the Middle East and be recognized as a regional power. And the need for a bomb to get to that position is actually quite useless, because a bomb would cause the other countries in the region to fear Iran rather than to increase their willingness to accept Iran as a region of power. So in that sense, he's actually right.
Now whether that is something that genuinely means that Iran is not pursuing a weaponization or a nuclear capability that could lead to weaponization is a completely different question.
MONTAGNE: Well, just one last - few seconds we have. Should, in your opinion, the Bush administration talk directly with Iran?
Dr. PARSI: I think the Bush administration should pursue a policy that's going to be far more effective than the policy that the U.S. has pursued so far. And that policy the U.S. has pursued so far has been anything but dialogue. So I think it's definitely time to give that a try and see what the (unintelligible) we can achieve.
MONTAGNE: Thanks very much.
Dr. PARSI: Thank you for having me.
MONTAGNE: Trita Parsi, who was born in Iran, is an authority on Iranian foreign policy and U.S.-Iran relations. His book is "Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the United States."
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