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MIT Prof: Ahmadinejad Took 'Conciliatory' Tone In Academic Dinner

This article is more than 10 years old.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad received a cold reception in his visit to the United Nations General Assembly this year. Many delegates refused to attend his address, he has been the target of multiple protests and he has had trouble securing space for functions planned during his visit to this country.

As in previous years, Ahmadinejad scheduled a dinner meeting Thursday with academics and Iranian specialists. But in the wake of Iran's disputed presidential election and crackdown on the opposition, many invitees refused to attend.

Jim Walsh, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology research associate and an outspoken critic of the Iranian leader, did attend. He has said he wanted to speak with Ahmadinejad about the detention of one of his colleagues. Walsh shared his observations with WBUR on Friday.

The dinner conversation ranged from health care to detainees to Iran's nuclear enrichment program. Walsh said he pressed Ahmadinejad on securing the release of his colleague, Bijan Khajehpour, who has been imprisoned and held without charges in Iran. He said the president wrote down Khajehpour's name, but he is not sure that means anything will come of it.

Walsh said he is concerned about a crackdown on academic freedom in Iran. He said many of the country's leaders are worried about a revolution from Iranian people while, at the same time, they are pushing for more collaboration between American and Iranian scholars.

"As I tried to point out, that just doesn't make any sense if the people we talk to then end up in prison," Walsh said.

When the conversation turned to Iran's uranium enrichment program., which has drawn fierce criticism and sparked possible U.N. sanctions, Walsh said Ahmadinejad was surprisingly conciliatory and positive about the negotiation process. However, Walsh said that might not mean Iran will change its hard-line stance.

Ahmadinejad did not talk about reports the nation has a second uranium enrichment plant, which it had not previously disclosed. Walsh said that Ahmadinejad did say he is putting two new proposals on the table for the Oct. 1 talks with the U.N. Security Council: one to allow Iranian scientists to meet with other scientists around the world and another to let Iran buy uranium from other countries for medical program.

This was the fourth dinner Walsh has attended with the Iranian leader. Overall, Walsh said Ahmadinejad was surprisingly "relaxed."

"I've gotten the defiant Ahmadinejad in the past, the professorial Ahmadinejad," Walsh said. "This time it was much more the sort of 'gentle pastor,' if you will, talking about peace and love and harmony."

Nevertheless, Walsh warned that what really maters is Ahmadinejad's actions during the nuclear negotiations next month.

This program aired on September 25, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

Bob Oakes Twitter Host, Morning Edition
Bob Oakes has been WBUR's Morning Edition anchor since 1992.

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