Blog post on Iran’s president visits Larry King

Post on The Times’s news blog, The Lede: Ahmadinejad Goes on ‘Larry King Live’

The pairing seemed improbable: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the ever-controversial Iranian president who dominated the day’s news as he was again taken to task for his country’s nuclear ambitions, sitting with Larry King, a popular master of the gentle interview often known for the questions he doesn’t ask.

Yet there Mr. Ahmadinejad was, joining the calm Mr. King in a warmly lit room seemingly more ready for a cup of tea than an in-depth Q. and A. with a world leader who insists Iran’s nuclear activities are peaceful, has said Israel should be “wiped off the map,” and whose disputed re-election was marked by charges of fraud and a violent crackdown.

Anyone expecting Mr. King to skirt the sensitive issues of the moment with the Iranian president would have been surprised with his line of questioning. He went straight to the day’s hot topic, asking for Mr. Ahmadinejad’s response to revelations that Iran was allegedly developing a secret nuclear facility and flouting the regulations of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the nuclear watchdog.

After a long pause following the end of Mr. King’s question, Mr. Ahmadinejad poured forth with familiar responses to claims by President Obama and others that Iran had failed to notify the I.A.E.A. of the nuclear facility. “I believe he has made a mistake,” Mr. Ahmadinejad, speaking through an interpreter, said of Mr. Obama. “The mistake is very clear. We informed the agency, even before we were required to, about the facility’s operation. How can he possibly accuse us of secretly engaging in an activity that did not take place?”

Later in the interview, the Iranian president dismissed threats of additional economic sanctions on Iran if it does not take measures to address the concerns about the facility and the country’s nuclear ambitions.

“Whoever sanctions Iran is, in fact, sanctioning itself,” he told Mr. King. “The time for sanctions has passed. It belonged to previous generations.”

The possibility that Israel could destroy Iran’s facility by military means lacked credibility to Mr. Ahmadinejad. “The Zionist regime is far too small and little to be able to engage in an act of aggression against Iran,” he said. “They will not make this mistake because the response they will get from us will be one which they will regret.”

Mr. King often interrupted Mr. Ahmadinejad to move the interview ahead, but Mr. Ahmadinejad would utter “Allow me, allow me,” and then continue taking his meandering answers to their occasionally surprising conclusions. Case in point: his comments on Neda Agha-Soltan.

Ms. Agha-Soltan, a 26-year-old Iranian woman, was shot and killed on a Tehran street in the unrest that followed the country’s disputed election in June. Graphic video of her death was posted on YouTube and shown by news networks around the world. Mr. Ahmadinejad said he was “very sorry one of our fellow citizens was killed.” Then, citing the video of her death, he said, “If there is a camera that can actually follow a person for tens of minutes, how is it logically possible for the same camera to fail to show who the murderer is?”

Mr. King turned the conversation toward the Holocaust, which Mr. Ahmadinejad has claimed never happened. Despite Mr. King’s repeated questions, the Iranian president did not give a “yes” or “no” as to whether he believed the Holocaust occurred or not.

The full video of the interview has not been released by CNN, but here is an excerpt:

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