"Fundamentally we do not take seriously the threats of the Zionists." - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad didn't need to make it to a UN podium to make news after coming to New York for the world body's General Assembly, telling reporters Israel has "no roots" in the Middle East and that Iran doesn't take the threat of an Israeli attack seriously.
The comments came a day after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with Ahmadinejad to warn him about the potentially harmful consequences of inflammatory rhetoric "from various countries in the Middle East" and "the grave regional implications of the worsening situation in Syria and underlined the devastating humanitarian impact," U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said.
Ahmadinejad is scheduled to address the full gathering on Wednesday.
If Ahmadinejad's comments, made to reporters in New York ahead of the 67th meeting of the General Assembly, are any indication, he won't be holding back on Wednesday. Iran finds itself at odds with much of the entire world as it pursues a nuclear weapon and ratchets up its rhetoric against Israel, but Ahmadinejad does not seem to be intent on displaying diplomacy.
Ahmadinejad said Iran has been around for thousands of years, Reuters reports, but Israel has existed for only 60 or 70.
"They (Israel) have no roots there in history," Ahmadinejad added. "They do not even enter the equation for Iran."
Israel is believed to be considering a pre-emptive strike to take out Iran's burgeoning nuclear weapons capabilities, but Ahmadinejad scoffed at the prospect of an attack on his country.
"Fundamentally we do not take seriously the threats of the Zionists," he said. "We have all the defensive means at our disposal and we are ready to defend ourselves."
Ahmadinejad has previously taken to the UN podium to defend Iran's nuclear program, attack Israel and the west and even question whether Muslim terrorists were behind the 9/11 attacks. Last year and in other years, western diplomats have walked out en masse as Ahmadinejad spoke.
In his speech at the UN's high-level meeting on the rule of law on Monday, Ahmadinejad once again defended Iran's nuclear program, asserting that its enrichment project is for peaceful purposes and that it was not too late for dialogue with the United States to resolve differences. He also said Iran is neutral about the Syrian civil war, and denied it is providing weapons or training to the government of President Bashar Assad.
Christopher DeVito, executive director of the advocacy group Iran180, said the organization will have a protest at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza on Wednesday when Ahmadinejad is scheduled to speak. Iran180 wants a change in Iran's nuclear and human rights policies.
Tension between some Arab states and Israel is perhaps even more raw this year than in years past. Aside from Iran's nuclear threat, instability in the region, brought on by democratic uprisings, deadly protests generated by an anti-Islamic video and the ongoing civil war in Syria are all weighing heavily on the world body.
Ki-moon predicted that the ministerial session, which starts Tuesday, will be among the busiest ever, reflecting "the tumultuous time in which we live — a time of turmoil and transition." It is also taking place "against a backdrop of widespread violence linked to intolerance," he said.
Ahead of the opening ministerial session, which President Barack Obama will address, the U.N. chief has invited leaders to the first high-level meeting on the rule of law on Monday, hoping they "will send a strong signal to the world's people that they are serious about establishing well-functioning institutions and delivering justice."
The Syrian conflict has bitterly divided the most powerful members of the Security Council, paralyzing the only U.N. body that can impose global sanctions and authorize military action. Russia, Syria's key protector, and China, have vetoed three Western-backed resolutions aimed at pressuring Assad to stop the violence and start political talks with opponents of his family's 40-year dictatorship who began demonstrating against his regime 18 months ago.