LONDON – Merry Christmas, "bullying, ill-tempered and expansionist powers."
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will deliver a Christmas Day broadcast on Britain's Channel 4 television, occupying a slot used to provide an often controversial counterpoint to Queen Elizabeth II's traditional annual message, the station said Wednesday.
In his recorded message, Ahmadinejad offers seasonal greetings to Christians and says he believes that if Jesus were alive, he would "stand with the people in opposition to bullying, ill-tempered and expansionist powers," an apparent reference to the United States and its allies.
According to a transcript of the broadcast released in advance, Ahmadinejad says most of the world's problems stem from leaders who have turned against religion. He doesn't refer to rival nations or leaders by name or raise the issue of Israel, despite his previous calls for the removal of the Jewish state.
"If Christ were on earth today, undoubtedly He would hoist the banner of justice and love for humanity to oppose warmongers, occupiers, terrorists and bullies the world over," Ahmadinejad said, according to the text.
The U.S., Britain and others suspect Iran of secretly developing nuclear weapons, while Tehran insists its uranium enrichment program is intended solely for a civilian energy program.
Ties with the U.K. were further strained in 2007 over the detention by Iran of 15 British sailors and marines, who were held for 13 days.
The Israeli ambassador to London condemned Ahmadinejad's speech as a "bogus message of good will" and said the broadcast was a disgrace.
"That (Channel 4) should give an unchallenged platform to the president of a regime which denies the Holocaust, advocates the destruction of the sovereign state of Israel, funds and encourages terrorism, executes children and hangs gay people is a disgrace," Ron Prosor said. "Outrage doesn't begin to explain it."
Ahmadinejad's message follows similar Christmas broadcasts on Channel 4 by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sharon Osborne and the animated TV character Marge Simpson of "The Simpsons." Last year's message was delivered by Sgt. Maj. Andrew Stockton, a British soldier badly wounded in Afghanistan.
Ahmadinejad spoke in Persian, with subtitles in English, the channel said.
Dorothy Byrne, head of news and current affairs at Channel 4, said Ahmadinejad had been selected because relations between Iran and the West are likely to be a key global issue in 2009.
"As the leader of one of the most powerful states in the Middle East, President Ahmadinejad's views are enormously influential. As we approach a critical time in international relations, we are offering our viewers an insight into an alternative world view," Byrne said.
The channel's news program broadcast an interview with Ahmadinejad in September 2007, when the Iranian leader insisted his nation wasn't seeking to develop a nuclear weapon.