Ahmadinejad at the UN: US the real nuclear threat

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used his speech at the opening of the United Nations nuclear non-proliferation conference Monday to accuse the world's nuclear powers of 'monopolizing' nuclear technology.

Chip East/Reuters
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addresses the United Nations Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference Monday in New York.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad condemned the United States and Israel as two of the world’s “real” nuclear threats and called for nuclear energy to be shared with all countries in his speech at a major United Nations nuclear non-proliferation conference Monday.

Barely mentioning his own country’s nuclear program – which international experts and Western powers suspect is aimed at producing a nuclear weapon – the controversial Iranian leader hammered at one of his signature themes: that the world’s nuclear powers are determined to “monopolize” nuclear technology as a means of power and domination over the world’s nuclear have-nots.

Declaring that Iran is “a great nation that does not need nuclear bombs for its development and does not need them for its sense of honor,” Mr. Ahmadinejad called on countries “who do see nuclear weapons as a source of power and dignity” to abandon “thinking that belongs to the past and is not valid any more.”

Ahmadinejad was one of the first speakers at the opening session Monday of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference, a once-every-five-years event that seeks to update and strengthen the 40 year-old NPT. The treaty’s 189 signatory countries will be in session throughout the month of May hearing proposals on the NPT’s three pillars: nuclear disarmament, nuclear non-proliferation, and the equitable access to nuclear energy technology for peaceful purposes.

By attending the NPT review as the opening session’s only head of state, Ahmadinejad guaranteed himself top billing under the UN’s prevailing rules of protocol. A succession of speakers ranging from the conference president to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon found themselves obligated to refer to the Iranian leader by name before addressing other “excellencies.”

But the diplomatic deference did not guarantee the Iranian leader a universally positive reception. Both Mr. Ban and the director general of the UN’s nuclear watchdog agency, Yukiyo Amano, made specific reference to Iran’s “noncompliance” with its International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) obligations and “urged” Iran to quickly meet its NPT obligations.

"The onus is on Iran to clarify the doubts” about its nuclear ambitions and for Ahmadinejad to offer “transparent” assurances “of his country’s nuclear program,” Ban said just minutes before the Iranian president took the stage.

Mr. Amano, whose IAEA has repeatedly sought clarifications from Iran on its nuclear activities to little avail, condemned Iran’s “continuing diversion of nuclear materials that remains a significant concern.” He said he would continue to press Iran to exercise “full implementation of its IAEA agreements” and to “clarify activities with a possible military dimension.”

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is scheduled to deliver the US perspective on nuclear non-proliferation – and the American rebuttal to Ahmadinejad’s attacks – later Monday afternoon.

The Iranian leader stifled most of the vitriol that has earned him an international reputation, but he did surpass the eight minutes allotted each speaker several times over. He opened his remarks by ad-libbing a response to Ban’s and Amato’s criticisms of Iran before turning to his prepared text.

Ahmadinejad said it is the “arrogant” insistence of countries like the US in holding on to their substantial nuclear arsenals that leads others to seeks nuclear weapons. In an odd reference to the Obama administration’s recent Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) – which for the first time establishes that the US will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states – the Iranian leader said, “The US continues to threaten the use of its nuclear weapons against other countries, including mine.”

The new NPR provision does make an exception for countries that are found by international authorities to be in noncompliance with their NPT obligations. So by saying he considers Iran to be under threat of nuclear attack from the US, Ahmadinejad seemed to be suggesting that Iran either acknowledges being
in violation of its NPT obligations or already has a nuclear weapon. [Editor's note: The original version of this paragraph did not consider the
exception in the NPR provision.]

Despite such hyperbole, it seems likely that several of Ahmadinejad’s themes, including the tyranny of the powerful and the hypocrisy of special arrangements for non-NPT signatories like Israel, India, and Pakistan, will reverberate throughout the month-long conference.

Calling for the review conference to set up an independent committee to set a deadline for the elimination of all nuclear weapons, Ahmadinejad concluded by inviting Obama “to join this humane movement if he is still committed to his motive of change.”

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