In the eyes of Washington, the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can't do right. Indeed, the more olive branches he flourishes the more he is demonised.

His latest "transgression" has triggered a firestorm. It seems he wants to lay a wreath on the hallowed soil of Ground Zero to honour those who died on 9-11.

When the request was initially made the New York police prevaricated citing construction works and security concerns. Politicians and the media were less circumspect.

The poisonous syndicated columnist and part-time Fox News host Michelle Malkin, who once advocated the corralling of American Muslims, would like to see him banned from US soil.

President George W. Bush didn't pull any punches either. "I can understand why they [the New York Police Department] would not want somebody that's running a country who's a state sponsor of terror down there at the site," he told journalists.

Hang on a minute. Let's put this faux, politically-motivated outrage into perspective. First of all, Ahmadinejad is the elected leader of a UN member country and for that alone he deserves respect and hospitality from the UN host nation.

Secondly, Iran had nothing whatsoever to do with the attacks on 9-11 and has no links with Al Qaida. In fact, Tehran's principal soccer stadium called for a minute's silence following the tragedy, while ordinary Iranians participated in candlelit vigils, said prayers and wrote letters of sympathy.

In his 2006 letter to Bush, which the US leader failed to acknowledge, Ahmadinejad expresses his views on 9-11.

"September eleven was a horrendous incident. The killing of innocents is deplorable and appalling in any part of the world," he wrote.

Ahmadinejad is being slammed for harbouring ulterior motives. Some commentators have cynically suggested his desire to visit Ground Zero is to gloat over the deaths; others say it is nothing more than a propaganda exercise. But there is absolutely nothing the Iranian leader has ever said to warrant those accusations.

On the contrary, during a recent television show on a state-owned satellite television network, he appealed to the American people for "peace, friendship" and "brotherhood".

Last year, he told Time magazine of his wish for dialogue with the US. This was no empty offer. In 2003, the US ignored a faxed Iranian proposal for serious dialogue with such issues on the table as Iran's cooperation on nuclear programmes, acknowledgement of Israel's right to exist and an end to Iranian support of militant organisations.

As for unresolved issues concerning the Iranian nuclear programme, Tehran has recently agreed to cooperate with the nuclear watchdog the International Atomic and Energy Agency (IAEA) to answer these. Surely the US government was relieved. Not likely!


In answer to calls by IAEA chief Mohammad Al Baradei for a moratorium on warmongering in favour of diplomacy, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice more or less told him to mind his own business. The IAEA "is not in the business of diplomacy," she said.

The British government adopted a similar sour approach when 15 of its sailors and marines were released from Iranian captivity after arguably straying into Iranian waters. The British personnel were well-treated and arrived home with new clothes and gifts after being feted by the Iranian leader himself.

Given Downing Street's frosty reaction to the return of their brave heroes - bar a chap called Arthur who whined that the Iranians had stolen his iPod - one could easily get the impression the government would have been far happier had they been strung up in the cells or attached to electrodes. Then government officials could have said "Aha! Now the world can see what we knew all along - the Iranian regime is barbarian".

Bush and his generals say Iran supports anti-American Shiite militias with weapons and training. Iran denies this. But let's suppose there is some truth in the US assertion. America is just as guilty. It is allegedly funding and arming Iranian opposition groups and according to various reports CIA operatives are inside Iran attempting to stir up revolution with a view to regime change. Isn't this, therefore, a case of the pot calling the kettle black?

Moreover the US pays and protects trigger happy mercenaries such as those who recently opened fire on Iraqi civilians without provocation, which removes any moral platform they might have been tempted to claim.

"They consider Iraqis like animals, although, actually I think they may have more respect for animals," an Interior Ministry official told the Washington Post. "If you are killing an innocent civilian who is riding in his car, isn't that terrorism?"

In summary, it's obvious the Bush administration prefers "war war" to "jaw jaw" and is going out of its way to cast Ahmadinejad in the worst light possible in case it goes ahead with its plan to preemptively attack Iran.

No wonder they've hysterically lined up against a photo-op of the Iranian president, flowers in hand, at the site of the twin towers. Such a sympathetic scene would run foul of their agenda.

Ahmadinejad is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't and that's exactly the situation. Bush has been manoeuvring to achieve.

Linda S. Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She can be contacted at Response to this article may be considered for publication.