- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 9, 2006

NEW YORK — With his 18-page letter, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered to President Bush a history lesson, philosophy lecture and religious sermon laced with references to Jesus Christ.

The document gives rare insight into a man who has largely been a mystery to the West, showing him as fixated on a long list of grievances against the United States and seeking to build on a shared faith in God.

Mr. Ahmadinejad, whose government is suspected by the West of pursuing nuclear weapons, questions whether Christ and other religious prophets would have approved of U.S. policies and actions in the Middle East.

“I have been told that Your Excellency follows the teachings of Jesus (Peace be upon him) and believes in the divine promise of the rule of the righteous on Earth,” Mr. Ahmadinejad wrote to Mr. Bush, who has said that Christ is his favorite philosopher.

“If Prophet Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Ishamel, Joseph, or Jesus Christ (Peace Be Upon Him) were with us today, how would they have judged such behavior?” he wrote.

While Mr. Ahmadinejad asked Mr. Bush to do some soul-searching and atone for perceived U.S. transgressions of the past, the United States dismissed the letter as irrelevant and devoid of any concrete proposals.

U.S. officials portrayed the document as a stalling tactic in the contentious negotiations among the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council over Iran’s nuclear program.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan accused Iran of trying to change the subject from demands that it abandon uranium enrichment. He refused to say whether Mr. Bush planned to respond.

“It’s not an issue of whether we respond, it’s an issue of whether the regime will respond to the demands of the international community,” Mr. McClellan said yesterday. “The international community is concerned about the regime’s pursuit of nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian program.”

Iran sent an English translation of the letter to Washington on Monday. The United States later distributed it to some of the permanent five members U.N. Security Council, a U.S. official said.

Yesterday, Mr. Ahmadinejad called his letter “words and opinions of the Iranian nation” aimed at finding a “way out of problems” facing humanity, according to the official Iranian news agency.

Though the United States didn’t get what it wanted from the letter, some Iranians worried that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s dismissal of it was too abrupt and warned she may have missed an opportunity to ease the strain between the longtime enemies.

Iran’s former ambassador to France, Sadeq Kharrazi, said the letter “could have been a turning point in relations.” But he said Miss Rice squandered the opportunity with what he called a “hasty reaction.”

The two countries ended relations after Iranian students stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held its occupants hostage for 444 days to protest Washington’s refusal to hand over the toppled shah, the late Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

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