Sunday, September 18, 2005

NEW YORK — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad yesterday vehemently defended his country’s right to develop nuclear power and enrich the spent fuel, and he expressed confidence that the U.N. atomic agency would not refer the matter to the Security Council tomorrow.

In a speech to the U.N. General Assembly’s annual session and later remarks to reporters, Mr. Ahmadinejad repeatedly criticized the United States as an aggressor bent on a “nuclear apartheid” that emphasizes nonproliferation rather than disarmament.

He also repeatedly said that Tehran’s nuclear aspirations were solely for the peaceful generation of power.

Western governments, he said, “have misrepresented Iran’s healthy and fully safeguarded technological endeavors in the nuclear field as a pursuit of nuclear weapons,” he said at an afternoon session of the assembly. “This is nothing but a propaganda ploy.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad spoke only a few hours after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, standing on the same podium, demanded Tehran “abandon forever its plans for a nuclear-weapons capability.” She called Iran “a leading state sponsor of terrorism, which threatens to destroy the fragile opportunity for peace that now exists in the Middle East.”

After Mr. Ahmadinejad’s speech, the European Union said yesterday that referring Iran’s nuclear program to the U.N. Security Council was its sole option after Mr. Ahmadinejad affirmed Tehran’s plans to press ahead with producing nuclear fuel.

“The EU’s reaction to Mr. Ahmadinejad’s speech is that the language he used leaves us no alternative but to pursue a U.N. referral,” an EU spokeswoman told Reuters.

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors is scheduled to meet in Vienna, Austria, tomorrow to discuss referring the matter to the U.N. Security Council.

Despite Washington’s lobbying and the concerns of many governments, a majority of the 36-member board does not appear to favor referral. France, Britain and Germany, collectively the “EU-3,” have been trying to negotiate a suspension of the fuel-enrichment in exchange for economic incentives, but those talks fell apart last month.

Mr. Ahmadinejad last night suggested several “confidence-building” measures to get beyond the impasse, but French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said he is unconvinced.

The Iranian suggested that South African President Thabo Mbeki join the negotiations between Iran and the EU-3.

Mr. Douste-Blazy told reporters afterward that Europe acknowledged Iran has a right to peaceful uses of nuclear power.

“I am, however, truly concerned by his intention to develop cycle technology without taking into account international concerns,” he said. “We believe that Iran must not develop fissile material, because we do not believe the demonstration that this is only for peaceful purposes.”

He added: “The option of referral to the Security Council remains on the agenda.”

Tehran has resumed enriching spent nuclear fuel, a process that creates the fissile material necessary to build a nuclear weapon. The country had suspended enrichment after concerns by the International Atomic Energy Agency, Washington and several European nations.

The West is deeply suspicious of Tehran’s intentions in part because Iran hid the nuclear-power program for nearly 20 years. Iran is a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which permits IAEA-supervised construction of nuclear-power plants.

In her remarks to the assembly, Miss Rice stressed U.N. reform, saying that a strong organization would be more useful in responding to these and other threats.

She also pressed the General Assembly to carry out more management and policy reforms, a reflection of the disappointment many in the Bush administration said they feel with the results of a much-touted summit to improve the workings of the world body.

In her first address to the General Assembly since she took office earlier this year, Miss Rice called a 35-page declaration adopted by President Bush and other world leaders last week only a first installment in the reform process.

In addition, Miss Rice said the United Nations had to do more to sharpen its fight against terrorism and to improve the workings of its widely discredited human rights arm. A U.S. push to ensure known human rights abusers such as Sudan and Libya are barred from the human rights panel was defeated last week.

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