Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad yesterday reaffirmed his denial of international suspicions that his nation's nuclear program is geared toward weapons development, the Associated Press reported (see GSN, Sept. 17).
"We are not afraid of nuclear weapons. The point is that if we had in fact wanted to build a nuclear bomb, we are brave enough to say that we want it. But we never do that. We are saying that the arsenal of nuclear bombs (worldwide) have to be destroyed as well," Ahmadinejad told AP in New York, where he will attend this week's U.N. General Assembly session (Daniszewski/Lederer, Associated Press I/Washington Post, Sept. 20).
The Iranian leader also played down the effect of international economic penalties on his nation's economy, Agence France-Presse reported. The U.N. Security Council in June adopted its fourth sanctions resolution aimed at pressuring Iran to halt elements of its nuclear program that could support bomb development; a number of countries and the European Union have since enacted unilateral punitive measures to the same end.
"These sanctions will definitively mark a new level of progress in our economy," Ahmadinejad told ABC News. "We have turned sanctions around and created opportunities out of this."
The increasing number of countries seeking to isolate Iran over its disputed nuclear work "is meaningless to us," he said.
"We do take sanctions seriously, but taking it seriously is different from believing that they are effective," Ahmadinejad said. "We consider this and have recorded it as a serious violation of international law. It was illegal. It was wrong. It wronged the people of Iran by insulting them."
Addressing the penalties' potential impact on Iran's shipping sector, he said, "None of this is a problem."
"I want to stress, it is not a problem. If you want to say it's effective, why not wait for the next six months or a year to see with your own eyes whether there are effects or not? And I tell you there are none," he said (Agence France-Presse I/Google News, Sept. 19).
The Iranian president avoided suggesting a specific schedule for new negotiations over his nation's nuclear program with the five permanent Security Council members and Germany, AP reported. He said in July such discussions could begin this month.
"We have placed no restrictions on negotiations," Ahmadinejad said. "If they tell us officially that there's a joint meeting, we'll make the preparations for it."
He said Iran still seeks answers from the six powers to a number of questions ahead of the talks: whether the nations intend "to create the circumstances for further friendship or for further confrontation"; whether they intend to fully implement the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty; and "what the group's opinion is regarding the atomic bombs that [Israel] holds" (see related GSN story, today).
"Their response does not prevent the resumption of negotiations, but it certainly will define the framework for those talks when they resume," he said (Daniszewski/Lederer, AP I)
"We're always prepared to talk, but under fair conditions and respectful conditions," the Xinhua News Agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying. "If somebody thinks that they can, like, order us around or rule us and talk -- call it a talk, that wouldn't work. But if they are ready to sit down, respect the law, be fair and just, we're always prepared to talk" (Xinhua News Agency I, Sept. 20).
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon yesterday told Ahmadinejad he "hoped that Iran will engage constructively in negotiations" on the atomic dispute, AFP reported.
The negotiations should yield "a mutually acceptable agreement in conformity with relevant Security Council resolutions," a U.N. spokesman said in a statement. The resolutions call for Iran to end its uranium enrichment program, an effort that can produce nuclear-weapon material as well as fuel for civilian applications (Agence France-Presse II/Spacewar.com, Sept. 19).
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she was in communication with senior Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili on reconvening the talks, Iran's Fars News Agency reported Friday.
"Our communications continue and there is hope for the resumption of talks," Ashton told the al-Alam News Network, noting the importance of "going back to the negotiating table at the first opportunity" (Fars News Agency, Sept. 17).
Ahmadinejad also addressed the charge that Tehran had impaired an ongoing investigation of its nuclear program by vetoing the appointment of two veteran inspectors, Xinhua reported. The officials had identified unreported atomic work in the nation, but Iran said the two were banned because their findings were incorrect.
Iran's nuclear program is "being controlled by cameras," and the nation's atomic resources are monitored to prevent their diversion for military use, Ahmadinejad asserted. "So as far as the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) is concerned, there's no blockage of that supervision."
The inspectors' release of nuclear data provided by Iran was "illegal," he said.
"The IAEA is required by a statute to protect that information, not to release it," Ahmadinejad added. "And plus, the IAEA is aware of several other violations that they have permitted" (Xinhua News Agency I).
"It appears that the agency is suffering from (a) moral authority and credibility crisis," Iranian Atomic Energy Organization head Ali Akbar Salehi added today, according to Reuters (Dahl/Westall, Reuters, Sept. 20).
Meanwhile, Tehran on Saturday asserted it had ended all purchases from abroad of gasoline, AFP reported. Iran has sought to increase its production of gasoline in response to economic penalties targeting the country's ability to import refined petroleum products.
"No purchase has been made of petrol since last month," Iranian Oil Minister Massoud Mirkazemi said (Agence France-Presse III/Google News, Sept. 18).
Elsewhere, former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell yesterday expressed doubt that "the stars are lining up" for U.S. or Israeli military action on Iranian nuclear facilities, AP reported (Anne Gearan, Associated Press II/Google News, Sept. 19).
The deputy head of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, though, yesterday said Washington and Jerusalem are "daily beating on their war drums" and speculated that an attack by one of the governments was likely, Xinhua reported.
Iran's army and Revolutionary Guard were prepared for any possible scenario, Maj. Gen. Gholamali Rashid said (Xinhua News Agency II, Sept. 19).