Wednesday, September 26, 2007

NEW YORK — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad yesterday denounced the U.N. Security Council as tarnished and undermined by U.S. and Western interference, and declared that “the nuclear issue is now closed” in his second major New York speech this week.

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    “I officially announce that in our opinion the nuclear issue of Iran is now closed and has been turned into an ordinary [regulatory] matter,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said, speaking on the opening day of the U.N. General Assembly debate, hours after President Bush criticized the country’s human rights record.

    Instead, Mr. Ahmadinejad said, Iran has decided to pursue the monitoring of its nuclear program through the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog.

    He indicated that Tehran will disregard U.N. Security Council resolutions imposed by “arrogant powers” and demanding suspension of its uranium enrichment.

    Also addressing the General Assembly, French President Nicolas Sarkozy yesterday rejected Iran’s presumed nuclear ambitions, warning that the world could not be at peace if it is trying to arm.

    “There will be no peace in the world if the international community falters in the face of nuclear arms proliferation. Obviously, I am thinking here of the Iranian question,” he said. ” Iran is entitled to nuclear power for civilian purposes. But if we allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, we would incur an unacceptable risk to stability in the region and in the world.”

    “I want to say here, in the name of France, that we can only resolve this crisis by combining firmness with dialogue,” he added.

    Earlier, German Chancellor Angela Merkel threatened tougher sanctions against Iran if the country remains intractable on the dispute over its nuclear program.

    Mr. Ahmadinejad spoke just hours after the fourth Iranian-American was released after months of confinement in Evin prison outside Tehran or under house arrest.

    Ali Shakeri, 59, a California-based peace activist and businessman, was released after his family posted a bail of slightly more than $100,000. An academic, journalist and urban planner have also been released, although two are still forbidden to leave the country.

    Meanwhile, Iranians expressed dismay yesterday at the tough reception given to their president in New York, saying his host was rude and only fueled the image of the United States as a bully.

    The scenes at Monday’s question-and-answer session at Columbia University and the outpouring of venom toward Mr. Ahmadinejad by protesters during his U.S. visit could bolster the hard-line leader at a time of high tensions with Washington.

    Columbia University President Lee Bollinger’s statement — including telling Mr. Ahmadinejad that he resembles a “petty and cruel dictator” — offended Iranians on many levels, not least that of simple hospitality. In traditions of the region, a host should be polite to a guest, no matter what he thinks of him.

    The chancellors of seven Iranian universities issued a letter to Mr. Bollinger saying his “insult, in a scholarly atmosphere, to the president of a country with … a recorded history of 7,000 years of civilization and culture is deeply shameful.”

    But the Iranian president appeared less concerned than his citizens.

    “I speak my opinions and say what I need to say, and others speak of theirs,” he told reporters yesterday evening, wearing an enormous smile.

    “We are patient enough to hear what groups that are hostile say to us. Even when it is filled with claims, allegations and even insults.”

    Mr. Ahmadinejad, as is customary, used his press conference and prepared speech to slam Washington’s violations of Americans’ privacy and human rights.

    He also blamed Israel for “60 years of pain” endured by the Palestinian people, whom he indicated should be allowed to dictate Israel’s fate with a referendum.

    Mr. Ahmadinejad, who has long denied his country is enriching uranium in order to develop nuclear weapons, placed much of the blame for nuclear proliferation at the feet of the Bush administration, which he chastised for supporting Israel’s expansion at the Palestinians’ expense, and invading Iraq and Afghanistan.

    At the press conference, Mr. Ahmadinejad again refused to answer the question posed by an Israeli reporter, and also dismissed a plea by Karnit Goldwasser for information about her husband, the kidnapped Israeli Ehud Goldwasser.

    In other General Assembly developments yesterday:

    c Cuba’s foreign minister walked out of the Assembly in protest of Mr. Bush’s speech in which he said the “long rule of a cruel dictator is nearing its end” on the communist island.

    The Cuban delegation later issued a statement saying the decision by Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque to leave the session was a “sign of profound rejection of the arrogant and mediocre statement by President Bush.” In his speech, President Bush looked ahead to a Cuba no longer ruled by Fidel Castro, the ailing 81-year-old leader of the communist-run government.

    c Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was a no-show at the Assembly, one year after he captured the world’s attention by calling Mr. Bush “the devil.”

    Mr. Chavez blamed a packed agenda in Venezuela and sent Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro in his place, the state-run Bolivarian News Agency reported yesterday.

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