- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 21, 2006

1:40 p.m.

NEW YORK — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad insisted today that Tehran’s nuclear program is peaceful and said he is “at a loss” about what more he can do to provide guarantees.

Mr. Ahmadinejad said his country has not hidden anything and is working within the framework of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

“The bottom line is we do not need a bomb,” he said at a press conference on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

With world leaders gathered at the United Nations, the United States had hoped to move decisively this week toward political and economic sanctions against Iran after it missed an Aug. 31 deadline from the U.N. Security Council to halt uranium enrichment. The enrichment process can be used to make electricity — or nuclear weapons.

The Iranian president’s remarks drew the most attention on a day that saw Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister say there is renewed interest in reviving the Middle East peace process and former President Bill Clinton repudiate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for his personal insults of President Bush.

The Saudi official, Prince Saud al-Faisal, said there is a new, “very significant” consensus among Arab countries for restarting the stalled peace process.

He said the Arab League foreign ministers would meet later today. He alsi said the Arab countries wish for a restarted peace process that would “concentrate on the important issues, rather than the process itself. In other words, the final status negotiations, the border, Jerusalem, Palestinian rights and so on.”

Those nations are hoping to revive efforts to end the Arab-Israeli conflict during a Security Council ministerial meeting today. Leaders of the so-called Quartet — the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia — met yesterday and issued a statement stressing the need for “a credible political process” to make progress toward the goal of two peaceful, democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side.

But yesterday’s spotlight was Mr. Chavez’s address to the General Assembly, in which he called Mr. Bush “the devil.”

His fiery, theatrical address drew sharp criticism from Mr. Clinton.

“Hugo Chavez said something that was wrong yesterday, unbecoming a head of state,” the former president told NBC’s “Today” show today. “All that name-calling is undignified and not helpful, and it’s not true.”

After the speech, Mr. Chavez reached out to an audience of Americans, saying he sees himself as a friend of the United States. He spoke to hundreds of New Yorkers who filled a college hall last night, saying he hopes Americans choose an “intelligent president” in the future.

“I’m not an enemy of the United States. I’m a friend of the United States … the people of the United States,” Mr. Chavez said during his speech to an audience including union organizers and professors. “They’re two very different things — you the people of the United States, and the government that’s installed there.”

He drew a standing ovation when he said Mr. Bush committed genocide during the war in Iraq.

“The president of the United States should go before an international tribunal,” Mr. Chavez said as applause filled the hall at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. He compared the Bush administration’s actions to those of the Nazis.

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