Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last night insisted his country was ready to make concessions on its controversial nuclear program, but again accused Israel of fomenting tension in the Middle East and criticized international atomic regulators for what he called “double-standards.”
Mixing blustery rhetoric with conciliatory remarks, the Iranian leader also told a dinner of academics and students at a New York hotel that the violent protests that erupted in many Muslim countries over a YouTube video mocking the prophet Muhammad were indicative of the “negative mindset” of many Muslims toward the US.
“Iran has made mistakes, Iran could have behaved better,” he said, speaking through a translator. “We are ready for transparent dialogue…. We are ready to help to eliminate negative mindsets.”
Mr. Ahmadinejad’s discussion was one in a long list of media and public speaking events for the Iranian leader ahead of his speech before the United Nations General Assembly tomorrow. The Iranian leader had interviews with CNN, PBS, and a long list of US media outlets.
His remarks come as rhetoric has reached alarming levels in the Middle East, with Israeli officials claiming that Iran is nearing a “zone of immunity,” when a military attack on its nuclear facilities will be impossible and Iran will be able to manufacture nuclear weapons without restriction.
Tehran has repeatedly said its nuclear program is for peaceful energy and research purposes. However, International Atomic Energy Agency officials have documented some moves by Iran that suggest it is keeping its options open, for example, for making highly enriched uranium that could be used in a bomb.
“Iran is entitled to domestic uranium enrichment,” Ahmadinejad said. “It is a legitimate right…. And what rights do you have if you do not use them?”
He claimed that negotiators from the so-called P5+1 – the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany – have told Iran that they are confident Iran hasn’t moved toward nuclear weapon manufacture. But he said that the IAEA had made “illegal requests” and its list of requests had “only gotten longer and longer.”
He also insisted the IAEA’s lack of oversight of Israel’s purported atomic weapons program – Israel is not a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and does not allow the IAEA access to the facility believed to house Israel's nuclear weapons program – was indicative of a double-standard.
Ahmadinejad said Iran supports a proposal to create an international consortium to oversee Iran’s enrichment program, saying US companies could be involved in building and engineering the program.
As in the past, Ahmadinejad repeatedly derided Israel, calling it a “Zionist regime,” though he did not repeat earlier inflammatory remarks that he made in other venues. At a high-level UN meeting earlier in the day, he reportedly said Israel should be “eliminated.” Israel’s delegation to the meeting walked out of the hall in protest.
“[The Israelis] want to provoke the situation and give rise to more tensions and get themselves out of a dead end,” he said at the dinner. “We are for eradicating the foundations, the reason these tensions. For a regime to threaten to bomb Iran, this must be condemned by the world.”
“Are the Western governments willing to rein in this regime?” he asked.
He also suggested he thought the 1979 takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran, and the subsequent 444-day hostage crisis, was wrong, telling the room, "I don't want to say this was the right action to take, but I want to put ourselves in their shoes." And he ducked a question about relations between Israel and the Palestinians, saying only that the Palestinians deserved to have a vote about self-determination.
Outside the Warwick Hotel, where Ahmadinejad spoke, a heavy presence of New York police and Secret Service agents added to the already snarled traffic that occurs when dozens of world leaders descend on the city for the UN General Assembly meetings.
Earlier, sporadic groups of protesters gathered on the sidewalks nearby the hotel. One man walked by yelling that the Iranian leader was a “deranged genocidal nutjob.” In another group of black-clad ultra-Orthodox Jewish men, at least one wore a sign that read “I’m a Jew, not a Zionist.”