UNITED NATIONS | Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Friday that a newly disclosed uranium enrichment plant in his country does not violate international rules and that Western powers were trying to stack the deck against Iran before negotiations next week.
On the defensive at home in the aftermath of a disputed June 12 presidential election, the Iranian leader faced a new international challenge Friday after President Obama revealed that U.S., British and French intelligence found a secret nuclear facility tunneled into a mountain on a military base near the Iranian theological center of Qom.
Iran, which apparently realized that the facility had been detected, sent a letter Monday to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announcing that it had a second facility beyond one already declared.
“We are supposed to give them six months’ notice about such a place when you have six months until [operation],” Mr. Ahmadinejad told a packed news conference, referring to the IAEA.
“We told them at 18 months [before the site becomes operational]. What we did is completely legal.
“We don’t have any problems with inspections of the facility,” Mr. Ahmadinejad added. “We have no fears.”
The Iranian leader accused Western powers of seeking leverage against Iran before a scheduled meeting Thursday to discuss the nuclear issue.
“They wanted to set up a sort of media game, take the stage to sort of set up the upper hand. This is not nice,” said Mr. Ahmadinejad. “This kind of behavior goes back to what was done in the past.
“I’m sure they’ll definitely feel sorry about it. I think they probably already regret it and will be regretting it more down the road,” he said. “At the end of the day, this is a very ordinary facility that has been set up, and it’s only in the beginning stages.”
Dodging a question about whether Iran already has enough enriched uranium to manufacture a nuclear weapon, he said Iran believes such weapons are “against humanity.”
“This bomb belongs in the last century. It is the most massively dangerous weapon, but it didn’t help the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan, or the Zionists in Gaza,” he said.
News of the facility drew swift admonishments from London, Paris and Washington.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan E. Rice told reporters that “the United States has been tracking this situation for some time and indeed our confidence in the nature of this facility has strengthened over recent months.”
Mr. Obama briefed Russian and Chinese leaders about the intelligence this week and U.S. officials have told the IAEA what they know about the site, U.S. officials said.
Since 2006, when Iran resumed a uranium enrichment program, the U.N. Security Council has imposed ever-widening sanctions on Iran, barring the sale of arms and equipment that could help its nuclear program and banning travel by Iranians connected with the nuclear program. Separately, the United States and Europe have barred transactions with Iranian banks in an effort to pressure Tehran to suspend the program.
Despite the latest revelations, Mr. Ahmadinejad again insisted Friday that Iran’s goals were purely peaceful. He said Iran’s nuclear interests go no further than the production of “clean, environmentally friendly” power.
The IAEA has repeatedly said it has unanswered questions about Iran’s nuclear program.
Mr. Ahmadinejad, on his fifth trip to New York for the annual opening of the U.N. General Assembly, has sounded relatively conciliatory compared with previous years.
He has repeatedly said that he welcomes dialogue with the United States, and in his speech to the assembly on Wednesday, apart from some swipes at Israel and Jews, he sounded almost tame compared with Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi.
Jim Walsh, a proliferation expert at MIT who attended a dinner with the Iranian president Thursday night, said he “looked very relaxed and comfortable” compared with previous years. “He did not go off on the Holocaust and Israel, nor recite the standard litany of past U.S. abuses,” Mr. Walsh said.
Barbara Slavin contributed to this story from Washington.
• Betsy Pisik can be reached at email@example.com.
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