Thu, Sep 24, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Ahmadinejad says Iran not a threat to the US

AP , NEW YORK

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad urged US President Barack Obama to see Iran as a potential friend instead of a threat before addresses that both leaders were to give to the UN General Assembly yesterday.

The Iranian leader also said in a wide-ranging Associated Press interview on Tuesday that he expects “free and open” discussion of nuclear issues at a meeting next week with six world powers, but stressed that his country would not negotiate on its own nuclear plans.

He sought to open a wider nuclear dialogue with the West, and said the onus should be on the US and other major nuclear powers to give up their weapons and to expand opportunities for all countries to make peaceful use of nuclear power.

Speaking to AP reporters and editors just hours after arriving in the US, Ahmadinejad said he will seek a quick resolution to the case of three US hikers jailed in Iran.

He dismissed last week’s US shift away from a planned long-range missile shield in Europe, meant to guard against an Iranian strike, as “a respectful way of buying out” Russian objections.

“I heard Mr. Obama saying the next threat is Iran. Iran is an opportunity for everyone,” he said.

Ahmadinejad said Obama is not the first US president to believe Iran is a threat and said the president should read up on history “to see what the fate is of viewing these problems from this perspective.”

“Historically, whoever made friends with Iran saw a lot of opportunities,” Ahmadinejad said.

His remarks on those and other issues in an hour-long interview at his New York hotel appeared designed to present Iran as open to a broad international dialogue and to soften Iran’s image as a rogue nation bent on spreading its Islamic revolution.

He reiterated explicitly that Iran is not building nuclear weapons.

“I hope that Mr. Obama will move in the direction of change,” Ahmadinejad said.

At another point he said, “The sources of insecurity around the world need to be discussed.”

When asked about the three American hikers, Ahmadinejad said they broke the law by illegally entering Iran and “we’re not happy that this happened.”

“What I can ask is that the judiciary expedites the process and gives it its full attention, and to basically look at the case with maximum leniency,” he said.

He did not elaborate on what that might mean for the fate of the trio. Families of the imprisoned hikers have said they hope Ahmadinejad’s visit to New York might yield a breakthrough in the case.

The three have been held for 53 days since they went off course while hiking in northern Iraq’s Kurdistan region in July. Their case has become the latest source of friction between the US and Iran.

Ahmadinejad also was asked about the case of an Iranian-Canadian journalist, Maziar Bahari, who was working for Newsweek magazine and imprisoned while covering the social unrest in Iran after the disputed June presidential election. Ahmadinejad did not reply about Bahari, limiting his remarks to the case of the hikers.

Iranian Ambassador to the UN Mohammad Khazee said later that he hoped the case of Bahari would also be resolved.

Ahmadinejad said he regrets the deaths of protesters in the violence that followed June polls, but denied that his government had any role in the killings.

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