NEW YORK — Nikita Khrushchev banged his shoe on his desk, Fidel Castro delivered torturously long rants, Yasser Arafat showed up wearing a holster and Hugo Chavez called President Bush the “devil.”
Now, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is securing his place in this rogues’ gallery of world leaders who have visited New York for the U.N. General Assembly, the annual gathering where petty tyrants and powerful heads of state alike get their say.
Ahmadinejad will be making his third appearance in the past three years. Tensions with Iran are escalating as the United States accuses the country of trying to develop nuclear weapons and arming insurgents in Iraq with powerful roadside bombs that kill U.S. troops.
A defiant and unpredictable Ahmadinejad is not expected to defuse the situation when he appears at a forum at Columbia University on Monday and addresses the General Assembly on Tuesday.
“You should treat this as an off-Broadway production,” former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton said, describing the United Nations as a “Twilight Zone” that gives a platform to “tinhorn dictators.” “The General Assembly is the theater in which Ahmadinejad and others perform.”
Shoe banging, empty holster
The show has been going on practically since the United Nations was founded in 1945 after World War II.
Soviet Premier Khrushchev banged his shoe on his desk after a diplomat criticized the USSR in 1960. On his first visit to the U.N., in 1960, Castro warned the world about American “aggression” in a speech that lasted more than four hours.
Arafat came to the General Assembly in 1974 and delivered a fiery oration while wearing an empty holster, trying to legitimize the Palestinian struggle.
“I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter’s gun,” Arafat said. “Do not let the olive branch fall from my hands.”
A year later, the murderous Ugandan dictator Idi Amin exhorted the United States “to rid their society of the Zionists” and called for the “extinction of Israel as a state.”
Last year, Venezuelan President Chavez called Bush “the devil,” “an alcoholic” and “a sick man.”
For his part, Ahmadinejad has called the Holocaust a “myth” and has said Israel should be “wiped off the map.”
Iran leader has already caused stir
Though he has yet to arrive, he is already caused a stir with a failed bid to lay a wreath at the World Trade Center site. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said he would not allow Ahmadinejad to go to ground zero.
The city’s tabloids went ballistic, labeling him a “madman,” “idiot” and a “Holocaust-denying, nuke-coveting, terrorist-aiding nut.”
“He’s more dangerous than Osama bin Laden,” said Malcolm I. Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “He has missiles. He has an army which has purchased huge amounts of weapons.”
Despite being roundly denounced from the White House to the mayor’s office, Ahmadinejad will be treated like royalty, chauffeured around the city by the Secret Service, which, in tandem with the NYPD, will protect him until he leaves early Wednesday. His appearances at the U.N. and Columbia — which rescinded an invitation to Ahmadinejad last year after an uproar — are expected to draw large crowds of protesters.
The cost to taxpayers? Kim Bruce, a Secret Service agent, said she did not know how much her agency will spend. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he has no idea what it will cost New York. Whatever it is, he said, the federal government is supposed to pay for the protection of foreign political figures but seldom does.
While he is here, Ahmadinejad will be under the same travel restrictions as diplomats in the Iranian U.N. mission, said Kendal Smith, spokesman for the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Iranian diplomats are free to travel up to 25 miles from midtown Manhattan. Any farther requires an exemption.
Will Ahmadinejad try to eat at one of New York’s excellent Persian restaurants? A spokesman for Iran’s U.N. mission said Ahmadinejad would fast during the day because of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and would have no time to go to restaurants.
Some have used Ahmadinejad’s visit to draw attention to this country’s tradition of protecting free speech.
“This is a country where people can come and speak their minds. It’s something that we’re proud of — giving people whose ideas and beliefs we find abhorrent if not dangerous,” White House spokesman Tony Fratto said.
“It would be wonderful if some of the countries that take advantage of that here allowed it for their own citizens there.”
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