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Iran's Ahmadinejad Defends Nuclear Program

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addresses the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Tuesday.
Timothy A. Clary
AFP/Getty Images
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addresses the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Tuesday.

Iran's president has captured most of the headlines at the United Nations General Assembly by defending his country's right to what he calls a peaceful nuclear program.

Tuesday night, he used his speech to blast the United States, calling it a bullying, arrogant power that is misusing the Security Council.

U.S. and European diplomats are pushing for tougher sanctions to stop what they believe is a secret nuclear weapons program.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy took a tough position on Iran during his first speech before the U.N. General Assembly. He made it clear the stakes are high.

"And I weigh my words carefully," he said. "There will be no peace in the world if the international community falters in the face of the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Iran is entitled to power for civilian purposes, but if we allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons we would incur an unacceptable risk to the stability of the region and the stability of the world."

When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took the podium, he tried to paint the U.S. and other Security Council members as the real threat. And though he did not mention the U.S. by name, it was clear what country he meant.

"How can the incompetent who can't manage themselves rule humanity and arrange its affairs?" he asked.

Ahmadinejad told the General Assembly that Iran's nuclear activities are peaceful and transparent, and he rejected what he described as illegal U.N. Security Council sanctions. He said Iran is resisting and thinks this political issue is now closed because his country is cooperating with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"Iran decided to pursue the issue through its appropriate legal path — one that runs through the IAEA — and to disregard unlawful and political impositions of the arrogant powers," he said.

Iran has agreed to answer the IAEA's questions about its past nuclear activities. The U.S. and European diplomats describe that as a first step, but they still insist that Iran suspend uranium enrichment and related activities.

Diplomats are trying to persuade Russia and China to go along with a third sanctions resolution. German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the General Assembly that diplomats need to stay united, and she called for harsher sanctions.

"Iran is ignoring U.N. Security Council resolutions," she said. "Iran is blatantly threatening Israel. Let's not fool ourselves. If Iran would acquire the nuclear bomb, the consequences would be disastrous."

The nuclear issue was not the only one surrounding Ahmadinejad's trip to New York. He faced a tough crowd at a news conference Tuesday, refusing to speak to a woman who said she is married to one of the Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Iranian-backed Hezbollah militants in Lebanon more than a year ago.

Asked later to clarify his position on Israel, the Iranian leader said, "We believe the Zionist regime is a usurpative, illegal occupational entity regime."

He also said Palestinians should determine the region's future.

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Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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