Iranian leader is evasive on Hezbollah arms issue

Ahmadinejad won't say whether he would comply with a U.N. demand

September 22, 2006|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

UNITED NATIONS -- Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, refused to say yesterday whether he would comply with a Security Council demand to withhold arms from Hezbollah, the Tehran-backed guerrilla group that fought a 34-day war with Israel in southern Lebanon.

"I'd like to say that Lebanon's affairs are its own affairs, and we don't want to interfere," Ahmadinejad said at a news conference, when he was asked whether Iran would favor disarming the group, as called for in the council resolution that ended the combat last month.

As for the measure's call for an arms embargo to keep Hezbollah from rearming, he said that the United Nations charter gave people the right to defend themselves and that "we give spiritual support to all those who want to uphold their rights."

Ahmadinejad spoke to reporters about a wide range of subjects in a packed U.N. conference hall, repeating Iran's denial that it is trying to build a nuclear weapon and chastising Western countries for trying to curb the country's pursuit of nuclear energy.

"They're not concerned about the bomb, they want to stop the development of our country," he said of the Western nations. "Iran considers the nuclear issue a political one."

The United States and its European partners are urging Iran to suspend its enrichment of uranium and enter negotiations over a package of financial and commercial incentives the West has offered Tehran to drop its nuclear ambitions.

Deadline missed

Iran missed a U.N. deadline for suspending the enrichment Aug. 31, and the United States has been pushing for sanctions in response, including bans on travel by Iranian officials and freezes of their assets.

Washington has agreed to hold off for the moment and allow about two more weeks for talks favored by countries like China and Russia that are reluctant to impose sanctions.

Ahmadinejad said those talks were "moving on the right path," but that Iran was seeking "guarantees" and an established "framework" because Iran had had "bitter experiences from the past" with unfulfilled promises by the West.

He held out a slight hope that Iran might agree at some point to a suspension of its nuclear activities, provided there was no threat of sanctions. "We have said that under fair conditions and just conditions, we will negotiate about it, under fair and just conditions," he said. "We will tell you when the time arrives."

He said: "The bottom line is, we do not need the bomb. Some think that bombs can be effective in international relations, but we know that these nuclear arsenals will not benefit anyone."

Asked about his threat to wipe Israel off the map, he argued that his criticism of Israel had been misinterpreted as a rejection of Jews.

"These Zionists are not Jews - this is the biggest deception we have faced," he said. "They are a power group, a power party. We oppose any group that seeks raw power."

He said Iran "loved everyone around the world - Jews, Christians, Muslims." But returning to the subject of the Israelis, he said, "We announce and declare loudly that you will be condemned by the rest of the world if you displace people from their homes."

Ahmadinejad's attitude was less belligerent yesterday than on Tuesday evening when he addressed the General Assembly.

At the news conference, he was dressed in what has become his signature outfit, a light gray jacket over an open-necked pink shirt. He smiled frequently, alluding to universal desires for love, justice, peace and happiness, and even apologizing to the New Yorkers he had seen out his car window, waiting for his motorcade to pass before they could cross the street.

Impatient nation

As in his General Assembly address, he spoke of Iran as a growing country that is impatient with the current U.N. order, one that he said gave undeserved authority to the nations that won World War II and only limited respect to countries such as Iran that had arisen since.

"When you look at the Security Council, we see that some members of the council are, in fact, party to many conflicts around the world," Ahmadinejad said. Though those countries created the problems, he said, under current arrangements "they nevertheless sit in judgment of world affairs."

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