His remarks were "bracketed" for me by those of Bollinger (the Columbia president) who sought to distance himself from any possible accusation of hospitality and Nora O’Donnell (MSNBC anchor) who sought to distance herself from any possible accusation of neutrality.
– Scholars should seek the truth.
– That he does not dispute the facts of the Holocaust, but that he thinks that scholarship should continue on the details and on the effect on his part of the world. He particularly stressed the innocence of the Palestinian people in the matter of the Holocaust. Since scholarship continues on the matter of this subject (the Holocaust) under the sponsorship of the US Holocaust Museum, this was an interesting point.
– He said that the nature of Palestine/Israel should be determined by referendum among "Jewish Palestinians, Muslim Palestinians and Christian Palestinians." This is a variation on the long standing Arab desire for either a bi-national state or a state that is not specifically a Jewish state. He did not specify whether his referendum would include Palestinians of the diaspora. That, of course, would make a difference in the outcome.
– He said that the Iranian nuclear enrichment program was forced on them by foreign defaults on agreements for nuclear electric assistance. He said that the Iranian sites are all under IAEA inspection and will remain that way. He also said that the concentration level of their enrichment did not meet the requirement for weapons production.
– He abjured the idea of nuclear weapons and said they do not want any. Presumably the IAEA inspection regime applies.
– When challenged on Iranian government support of international terrorist groups, he said that Iran herself is the victim of extensive terrorist attack sponsored by foreign governments. He clearly had in mind the MEK. He said that all parties should stop this kind of activity. There may have been an implied offer in that. The Persians are subtle people. Perhaps they are too subtle for his audience
– He accepted the idea of wide negotiations with the US to resolve all differences..
– In response to a challenge by Bollinger, he invited Columbia to send delegations of faculty and students to any or all of Iran’s 400 universities.
– He insisted that Iranian women are free.
– He made a lame joke out of Iranian capital punishments for homosexual behavior. The esoteric gist was, "we don’t care what you think about it."
– He made some goofy reference to "the real story on 9/11." This was at the end and I guess he just couldn’t "hold it together" any longer.
It was quite a performance. If this were a presidential debate, I would judge him the winner based on rhetorical skill and coolness under fire. The student audience got quieter and quieter as he spoke. There was no booing at the end.
On the whole I think this event was meaningless. I think that the die is cast and that this will have no effect on the international game. pl