President Obama today suggested that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad harmed himself and the Iranian people when he harshly criticized Israel at this week’s United Nations conference on racism in Geneva — though he suggested the rant would not impact his administration’s diplomatic efforts with that country, which the president referred to as "the Islamic Republic."
Ahmadinejad called Israel "the most cruel and repressive racist regime" and said "it is all the more regrettable that a number of Western governments and the United States have committed themselves to defending those racist perpetrators of genocide while the awakened-conscience and free-minded people of the world condemn aggression, brutalities and the bombardment of civilians in Gaza."
The speech prompted dozens of European diplomats in attendance to walk out.
When asked to comment today, President Obama Tuesday said, "Sadly, the rhetoric is not new. This is the kind of rhetoric that we’ve come to expect from President Ahmadinejad. When I said, during the course of the campaign and repeated after the election, that we were serious about engagement with Iran, it was with no illusions. I was very clear that I found many of the statements that President Ahmadinejad made, particularly those direct with — directed at Israel, to be appalling and objectionable."
That said, President Obama noted that "Iran is a very complicated country with a lot of different power centers. The Supreme Leader Khamenei is the person who exercises the most direct control over the policies of the Islamic Republic, and we will continue to pursue the possibility of improved relations and a resolution to some of the critical issues in which there have been differences, particularly around the nuclear issue."
Mr. Obama said the "rhetoric you saw from Ahmadinejad is not helpful; in fact, it is harmful — but not just with respect to the possibility of U.S.-Iranian relations, but I think it actually undermines Iranians’ position in the world as a whole. We weren’t at the conference, and what you saw was a whole host of other countries walking out and that language being condoned by people who may be more sympathetic to the long-term aspirations of the Iranian people. So I think it actually hurts Iran’s position in the world."
The president made his remarks in the Oval Office during a joint press availability with His Majesty King Abdullah II Ibn Al Hussein of Jordan, who refrained from offering an opinion on the matter.