TEHRAN, Iran – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has extended an invitation to U.S. President George W. Bush to speak at an Iranian university if the American leader ever traveled to the Islamic Republic, state-run television reported Friday.
As part of his controversial trip to New York, the hardline Iranian leader spoke Monday at Columbia University, where he faced hostile questioning and a combative introduction by the university's president, who said Ahmadinejad exhibited "all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator."
"If their president plans to travel to Iran, we will allow him to make a speech" at a university, Ahmadinejad told state TV before leaving New York to travel to South America earlier this week.
His comments were aired on state TV Friday and signaled an unusual readiness by Iran to receive an American president after more than a quarter century with no diplomatic ties.
The harshness of Monday's introduction at the Columbia University forum prompted complaints in Iran and elsewhere that Ahmadinejad had been blind-sided by his host. Ahmadinejad complained that Columbia University President Lee Bollinger's speech had contained "many insults" and amounted to "unfriendly treatment," but he otherwise appeared to take the comments in stride.
Back home, Iranians also were dismayed by Bollinger's introduction and said his words only added to their image of the United States as a bully.
Tensions are high between Iran and the U.S. over Washington allegations that Tehran is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons and supplying Shiite militias in Iraq with deadly weapons that kill U.S. troops. Iran denies both claims.
Iran and the U.S cut off diplomatic relations in 1979 after Iranian militant students seized the U.S. Embassy and took 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.
Ahmadinejad left New York on Wednesday and traveled to friendlier ground in South America, first stopping in Bolivia — where he pledged $1 billion in investment — and then visiting Venezuela to meet his ally President Hugo Chavez on Thursday.