RICHARD STENGEL, TIME - The invitation was on creamy stationery with
fancy calligraphy: The Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic
of Iran "requests the pleasure" of my company to dine with H.E. Dr.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The dinner is at the Intercontinental Hotel - with
names carefully written out at all the place settings around a
rectangular table. There are about 50 of us, academics and journalists
mostly. There's Brian Williams across the room, and Christiane Amanpour
a few seats down. And at a little after 8pm, on a day when he has
already addressed the U.N., the evening after his confrontation at
Columbia, a bowing and smiling Mahmoud Admadinejad glides into the room.
The format of the evening is curious. In his calm and fluent voice -
"dear friends," he calls us - he requests that we not ask questions, but
make statements, so that he can react to them in a form of dialogue. The
academics are not shy. They make statements not only about the need for
dialogue and reconciliation, but castigate the Iranian government for
chilling press freedoms and for arresting Iranian-American scholars who
were only trying to foster better relations between America and Iran.
Throughout, Ahmadinejad is courtly, preternaturally calm, and fiercely
After an hour, he is ready to respond. He does so first with a half-hour
ode to the relationship between man and God that might have been
dictated by the Iranian poet Rumi. . . When it comes time for him to
address the comments, he does so by citing each speaker by name - 23 in
all, he notes. In contrast with what he calls the lack of respect and
dignity accorded to him at Columbia - where, he says, he found it odd
that an academic institution which prizes tolerance would treat him
without any - he addresses each person carefully and patiently. . .