June 2, 2006
The Guardian

If Iran is Ready to Talk, the US Must Do So Unconditionally

It is absurd to demand that Tehran should have made concessions before sitting down with the Americans

by Jonathan Steele

It is 50 years since the greatest misquotation of the cold war. At a Kremlin reception for western ambassadors in 1956, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev announced: "We will bury you." Those four words were seized on by American hawks as proof of aggressive Soviet intent.

Doves who pointed out that the full quotation gave a less threatening message were drowned out. Khrushchev had actually said: "Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will bury you." It was a harmless boast about socialism's eventual victory in the ideological competition with capitalism. He was not talking about war.

Now we face a similar propaganda distortion of remarks by Iran's president. Ask anyone in Washington, London or Tel Aviv if they can cite any phrase uttered by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the chances are high they will say he wants Israel "wiped off the map".

Again it is four short words, though the distortion is worse than in the Khrushchev case. The remarks are not out of context. They are wrong, pure and simple. Ahmadinejad never said them. Farsi speakers have pointed out that he was mistranslated. The Iranian president was quoting an ancient statement by Iran's first Islamist leader, the late Ayatollah Khomeini, that "this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time" just as the Shah's regime in Iran had vanished.

He was not making a military threat. He was calling for an end to the occupation of Jerusalem at some point in the future. The "page of time" phrase suggests he did not expect it to happen soon. There was no implication that either Khomeini, when he first made the statement, or Ahmadinejad, in repeating it, felt it was imminent, or that Iran would be involved in bringing it about.

But the propaganda damage was done, and western hawks bracket the Iranian president with Hitler as though he wants to exterminate Jews. . . .

His predecessor, Mohammad Khatami, was seen in the west as a moderate reformer, and during his eight years in office western politicians regularly lamented the fact that he was not Iran's top decision-maker. Ultimate power lay with the conservative unelected supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Yet now that Ahmadinejad is president, western hawks behave as though he is in charge, when in fact nothing has changed. . . .


Simon Tisdall, "Ahmadinejad on Israel: Global Danger or Political Infighting?," Guardian, December 20, 2005

Enver Masud, "Iran Has an 'Inalienable Right' to Nuclear Energy," The Wisdom Fund, January 16, 2006

Paul Krugman, "Yes Bush Would Bomb Iran," New York Times, April 10, 2006

William Branigin and Karl Vick, "Bush Threatens Iran With UN Action: Iran Says it Welcomes Dialogue but Not U.S. Conditions," Washington Post, June 1, 2006

[The commission urged all countries to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and called on nuclear states to reduce their arsenals and stop producing plutonium and highly enriched uranium for more nuclear weapons.

The United States has not ratified the test ban treaty, and in 2002 it withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.--Warren Hoge, "Lack of U.S. Leadership Slows Nuclear Disarmament, Report Says," New York Times, June 2, 2006]

[Experts confirm that Iran's president did not call for Israel to be 'wiped off the map'.--Jonathan Steele, "Lost in translation," Guardian, June 14, 2006]

Yitzhak Benhorin, "Ahmadinejad: Zionists different from Jews,", September 18, 2006

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