Iranian president spars with academics in NY
( Reuters ) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad clashed with a U.S. academic who called him a "petty and cruel dictator" at a forum in New York on Monday where Ahmadinejad said Iran was a peaceful nation and a victim of terrorism.
Ahmadinejad also insisted in a forum at Columbia University Iran's nuclear program was purely peaceful. Challenged over his past comments that Israel should be wiped off the map and questioning the Holocaust, he said his concern was why the Palestinians were suffering.
Ahmadinejad received a caustic welcome at the university, which had come under fire from critics who said it should not give a platform to a Holocaust denier.
Security was tight at the hall where he addressed around 700 people, 80 percent of them students -- dozens of whom were wearing T-shirts saying "Stop Ahmadinejad's Evil."
Introducing him, Columbia University President Lee Bollinger said that Ahmadinejad behaved as a "petty and cruel dictator" and that his Holocaust denials suggested he was either "brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated."
Bollinger asked a string of tough questions, most of which Ahmadinejad ignored in a 30-minute speech which dwelt at length on science as a gift from God and the importance of using knowledge and learning purely and in a pious way.
Answering questions about his views on the Holocaust, Ahmadinejad said there were no absolutes in academia, and "a different perspective" was necessary given the impact on the Middle East of those events.
"I'm not saying that it didn't happen at all," he said. "I said, granted this happened, what does it have to do with the Palestinian people."