United Nations With his 18-page letter, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday delivered President Bush a history lesson, philosophy lecture and religious sermon laced with references to Jesus Christ.
The document gives rare insight into a man who has largely been a mystery to the West, showing him as fixated on a long list of grievances against the United States and seeking to build on a shared faith in God.
Ahmadinejad, whose Islamic government is suspected by the West of pursuing nuclear weapons, questions whether Christ and other religious prophets would have approved of U.S. policies and actions in the Middle East.
"I have been told that Your Excellency follows the teachings of Jesus (Peace be upon him) and believes in the divine promise of the rule of the righteous on Earth," Ahmadinejad wrote Bush, who has said that Christ is his favorite philosopher.
"If Prophet Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Ishamel, Joseph, or Jesus Christ (Peace Be Upon Him) were with us today, how would they have judged such behavior?" he wrote.
U.S. officials portrayed the document as a stalling tactic in the contentious negotiations among the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council over Iran's nuclear program. White House spokesman Scott McClellan accused Iran of trying to change the subject from demands that it abandon uranium enrichment. He refused to say whether Bush planned to respond.
On Tuesday, Ahmadinejad called his letter "words and opinions of the Iranian nation" aimed at finding a "way out of problems" facing humanity, according to the official Iranian news agency.
Yet its only proposal is an invitation, over the letter's last several pages, to join in with those believers who adhere to the teachings of prophets, monotheism and human dignity. Ahmadinejad quotes the Quran throughout, reminding Bush that everyone will someday face God for judgment.
It portrays the world as filled with people who are tired of corruption and poverty and who have joined an "ever-increasing global hatred of the American government."
Woven throughout the document are apocalyptic warnings that the world is on the brink of a major upheaval that will see its people rebel against "cruel governments" and move closer to God. Democracy and liberalism have failed, he says.
"Those with insight can already hear the sounds of the shattering and fall of the ideology and thoughts of the liberal democratic systems," it says. Ahmadinejad also accused the U.S. media of leaving Americans in a state of panic after the Sept. 11 attacks and spreading hype that led to the war in Afghanistan.
The letter covers a list of grievances that have made Bush deeply unpopular among Muslims: the Iraq war, U.S. support of Israel and treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.
Ahmadinejad is a former engineer, teacher and Tehran mayor who took office in August. On the first page of his letter, he strikes a tone of a man who is troubled by a friend's actions and decides to sit down and give him a little advice.
He later casts himself as a humble teacher and man of faith who mingles with students and common people.
He ends the letter with what appears to be a last-ditch plea to Bush.
"How long must the people of the world pay for the incorrect decisions of some rulers?" Ahmadinejad writes, adding on the last page: "Undoubtedly through faith in God and the teachings of the prophets, the people will conquer their problems. My question for you is: 'Do you not want to join them?"'
Hasty U.S. dismissal
The issue of Iran's nuclear program gets only brief mention. Ahmadinejad accuses Bush of portraying Iran's nuclear program as a threat to Israel and declares Tehran's right to "scientific R&D."
"You are familiar with history. Aside from the Middle Ages, in what other point in history has scientific and technical progress been a crime?" the letter asks.
Though the United States didn't get what it wanted from the letter, some Iranians worried that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's dismissal of it was too abrupt and warned she may have missed an opportunity to ease the strain between the longtime enemies.
Iran's former ambassador to France, Sadeq Kharrazi, said the letter "could have been a turning point in relations." But he said Rice squandered the opportunity with what he called a "hasty reaction."
"This gives a pretext to those in Iran who oppose re-establishment of ties with America," he said.
The two countries broke relations after Iranian students stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held its occupants hostage for 444 days to protest Washington's refusal to hand over the toppled shah, the late Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The U.S. and Iran have had no diplomatic ties since then.