NEW YORK CITY – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, already well known for denying the Holocaust, abused his address to the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday to suggest that elements within the U.S. government were behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Mocking the memory of the more than 3,000 who died on Sept. 11 just a few miles from the U.N., the Iranian dictator said: “A majority of the American people, as well as most nations and politicians around the world,” believe that U.S. officials orchestrated the Sept. 11 terrorist attack “to reverse the declining American economy and … save the Zionist regime.”
U.S. and European diplomats promptly got up and walked out of the hall. Such wild accusations seem to be a sign that Ahmadinejad is beginning to panic under the impact of the growing number of sanctions imposed by the world community against his regime’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Ahmadinejad canceled many scheduled meetings following the growing notoriety of his Sept. 11 speech. A particular sign of his entering panic mode was his sudden cancellation of an opportunity to get his message across to the American people. Shepard Smith, Fox News Channel’s lead news anchor, was to host an exclusive interview with Ahmadinejad on Friday morning, which I had arranged.
After having worked through the night in meetings with Iranian contacts, I was able to secure permission directly from President Ahmadinejad to proceed with the interview on Friday morning. Eric Shawn, Fox senior correspondent and anchor, hosted the interview at 10:30 a.m. at the Warwick Hotel.
This was the third major U.S. TV network interview for the Iranian leader since coming to the U.S. last week. CNN’s Larry King and ABC’s Christiane Amanpour conducted their interviews early in the week.
As a journalist specializing in the Middle East, I arranged the Fox interview while in meetings all week with Iranian diplomats. It was the product of several years of contacts.
I had just made arrangements with the Secret Service to inspect the camera equipment for the interview when all hell broke loose. Iranians were shouting at each other in the Hilton Hotel lobby in a growing state of panic. The Iranian chief of staff then came to me and asked if the Fox network could arrange a debate between Ahmadinejad and Obama. I said there was no chance of that happening.
The situation became totally chaotic when Ahmadinejad himself arrived. The Iranian delegates were shouting at one another and running around in alarm.
A Sudanese diplomatic delegation arrived from the U.N. shortly afterward for a scheduled meeting with the Iranian leader. Before the meeting, a scuffle broke out as they pushed, shoved and screamed at each other. One of the Sudanese diplomats had to be cuffed by police.
Ahmadinejad’s aides would only repeat to me that the president had “bilateral problems, bilateral problems.”
It was Iran’s mullahs who overpowered many of their own diplomats in demanding Ahmadinejad attack America by accusing the U.S. of carrying out the Sept. 11 attacks. I met with the Iranian religious leaders and their diplomats in the hotel, and the inescapable conclusion is that the mullahs, Iran’s real rulers, were seeking to use Ahmadinejad’s speech to appeal to their followers in Iran. During the Fox interview, the mullahs were seated next to the cameras. There were few Iranian diplomats in the room.
Eric Shawn asked Ahmadinejad if the Mahdi, the prophesied redeemer of Islam and the world, would come soon. Ahmadinejad responded in the affirmative. Shawn then followed up by asking if his coming would be ushered in by an apocalyptic event.
In the four days at the Hilton Hotel, Iranian spies living in the United States poured in almost hourly. Some claimed to be physicians, others were journalists and numerous business leaders as well. One thing was obvious: They were treated as celebrities by Iran. In addition, diplomats with embassies from Turkey to Pakistan used their missions to assist Iran. The entourage ranged from a Holocaust-denying rabbi desperately trying to profit financially from Iran to a group of Zionist-denying rabbis who had the same ambitions.