x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Ahmadinejad underlines Iran's commitment to nuclear agenda

Iran's president vows that his country would not curb its nuclear programme.

The Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks during a press conference in Tehran before heading to New York for the UN General Assembly.
The Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks during a press conference in Tehran before heading to New York for the UN General Assembly.

New York // Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's firebrand president, vowed yesterday that his country would not curb its nuclear programme, again predicted Israel's demise and challenged the two US presidential contenders to a televised debate. His typically controversial remarks came in a press conference ahead of a trip to New York for the United Nations General Assembly. The Iranian president's three previous attendances at the annual meeting have been full of publicity-seeking sound and fury. He made an unsuccessful request to visit ground zero in New York last year and stunned an audience at Columbia University by declaring: "In Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country." His first trip as president to the General Assembly in Sept 2005 provoked controversy at home when he claimed that a celestial green light had surrounded him as he addressed world leaders who supposedly sat transfixed for nearly half an hour without blinking once as he spoke. "I have no plan to meet with US politicians but ? I am ready for debate with the US presidential candidates over global issues in the presence of the media at UN headquarters," he said. Manouchehr Mottaki, Iran's foreign minister, said on Sunday that the Iranian president intended to team up with world leaders in order to put forward Iran's ideas for global peace and unity. Mr Ahmadinejad said he was prepared to meet George W Bush at last year's General Assembly but there was little point in doing so now because he was at "the end of his tenure and cannot leave any impact" on relations between Iran and the United States. Iran's president previously has ruled out announcing who he would prefer to win the White House, insisting Tehran did not interfere in any country's internal affairs. Many Iranians favour Barack Obama, the Democratic contender, who has stated his readiness to hold direct talks with the Islamic republic. His Republican rival, John McCain, has adopted a more hawkish stance on Iran. Mr Ahmadinejad has described the United States as a declining power and said it would make little difference to Iran whoever won November's elections, although he was sceptical of Mr Obama's chances. "Do you think a black candidate would be allowed to be president in the US?" he asked rhetorically. Neither Mr Obama nor Mr McCain would dream of accepting the Iranian president's debate offer: he is viewed as toxic by American voters. Mr Ahmadinejad yesterday repeated his uncompromising stance on Israel, which has made him a hate figure for many Americans. "Some say the idea of a Greater Israel has expired, I say the idea of a lesser Israel has expired, too," he said. He also insisted that one of his closest aides, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, Iran's vice president in charge of cultural heritage and tourism, was misquoted when he reportedly claimed recently that Iranians are "friends with all people in the world - even Israelis". "Mashaie ? has never used the words 'Israeli people' and will never use them," Mr Ahmadinejad said. The president, whose son is married to Mr Mashaie's daughter, has faced angry calls from Iranian conservatives to sack his deputy. Mr Ahmadinejad told the news conference Iran would continue its nuclear programme and did not fear the threat of further punitive action by the UN. "Let them impose sanctions against us ? the more they impose sanctions, the more we thank God," he said. "A country that owns nuclear energy, stem cells, aerospace industries ? does not need these countries." The US, Britain and France warned Iran of further sanctions after a critical report by the UN's nuclear watchdog on Monday. Earlier yesterday, in an interview with Iran's English language satellite news channel, Mr Ahmadinejad insisted the report had confirmed the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme. He also maintained that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had no legal right to consider intelligence alleging Iran had in the past covertly researched ways to make a nuclear bomb. The intelligence, which the IAEA refers to as "alleged studies", was supposedly found on the laptop of an Iranian diplomat acquired by the United States. Iran has dismissed it as "fabricated" and "forged". The "alleged studies" suggest Iran may have been trying to develop a nuclear warhead, convert uranium and test high explosives and a missile re-entry system. Tehran refuses to address the issue until it sees copies of the unverified intelligence. The IAEA on Monday said Iran had to do more to clear up the matter: the documentation was "sufficiently comprehensive and detailed that it needed to be taken seriously". But the agency also implicitly criticised the United States for not permitting it to give Tehran copies of the source intelligence material. The latter point was overlooked by many western media outlets, as was the IAEA's main finding that it has been able to verify "the non-diversion of nuclear material in Iran". This was a stark denial of unsubstantiated claims in a British national newspaper last week that Iran had resumed research on developing nuclear weapons because large amounts of enrichment uranium had gone missing from one of its facilities. As such, Mr Ahmadinejad was correct in claiming the IAEA had provided no evidence that Iran's nuclear programme was anything but peaceful. What he ignored was that the IAEA made clear it needed more co-operation from Iran before it could give Tehran a clean bill of health. The Iranian president also overlooked the IAEA's criticism that Tehran was still expanding its uranium enrichment programme instead of suspending it as demanded by the UN Security Council. mtheodoulou@thenational.ae

Their calls came after the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency said in a report on Monday that Iranian stonewalling had brought to a standstill its investigation into whether Iran had covertly researched ways to make an atom bomb.

Mr Ahmadinejad earlier today told Iran's state Press TV that the IAEA report had confirmed the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme and that Tehran had co-operated with the Vienna-based UN agency with "full transparency". He also said the IAEA had no mandate to consider Western intelligence, which alleges that Iran had linked projects to process uranium, test high explosives and modify a missile cone in a way suitable for a nuclear warhead. Iran has repeatedly denied the allegations but the IAEA says Tehran must substantiate its position by granting access to sites, documents and relevant officials for interviews. The Islamic Republic says its nuclear work is for generating electricity and rejects Western accusations it is seeking to build weapons. "The United States government has made a claim that is beyond and outside of the purview and the provisions of the IAEA and the IAEA does not have a mandate really to examine such claims," Ahmadinejad said. Iran has withstood three rounds of limited UN sanctions imposed so far and may count on Russia, at odds with Western powers over Georgia, to hold up harsh action by the UN Security Council, analysts say. "Those who say we want to put sanctions do so because of their weakness ... They are putting sanctions on themselves," Mr Ahmadinejad told the news conference. "We will never surrender to excessive demands," he said. *Reuters