Friday, September 18, 2009

Ahmadinejad says Iran has 'no need for nukes', expresses regret over protestors' deaths

IRANIAN President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has told US television that Tehran has no need of nuclear weapons, while expressing regret over protestors' deaths during violent demonstrations which erupted after June's disputed elections.

Ahmadinejad made the remarks on NBC television ahead of Iran's scheduled meeting with the United States and five other powers on which are demanding that Tehran halt its disputed nuclear program.

"We have always believed in talking, in negotiation. That is our logic, nothing has changed,'' Ahmadinejad told NBC television.

"Nuclear arms, we believe they belong to the past and the past generation,'' he said through an interpreter. "We do not see any need for such weapons.''

Asked by NBC's Ann Curry if he could issue a clearer statement ruling out Iran's obtaining such weapons, he replied: "You can take from that whatever you want Madam.''

In the interview filmed on the grounds of the Presidential Compound in Tehran, Ahmadinejad said that he regretted the deaths of protestors killed during demonstrations over his re-election.

"All of us regret the fact that some people were killed,'' Ahmadinejad said, in excerpts of the interview which will air in full on Sunday.

The unrest officially left about 30 people dead - opposition groups claim 72 died - and isolated Iran even further from world powers who are threatening fresh sanctions over the country's suspect nuclear program.

The Iranian president added he had also been saddened by the death of a young woman, Neda Agha-Soltan, whose killing during a protest rally in Tehran generated an international outcry.

"I was saddened, as well all the Iranian people were saddened,'' he told NBC Thursday.

But he added: "We think that this incident is a suspicious death. We are treating it as a suspicious death. We are very sorry about this and I am sure that the truth will come to light.''

Neda, as she is more commonly known, became an icon for the opposition which is protesting Ahmadinejad's re-election, after an Internet video showing her final moments was seen around the world.

Ahmadinejad has already called for a probe into her death, saying there had been fabricated reports about the incident and "widespread propaganda'' by the foreign media.

The president went on to accuse the US and British governments of trying to "damage and hurt the Islamic Republic of Iran" by encouraging rioters.

"They were totally wrong in their assumption," Ahmadinejad said of statements of support for the protesters from President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. "What they did was heinous."

The post-election protests were not evidence that the election was tainted, Ahmadinejad said, but proof that "any person can express his or her point of view ... within the confines of the law."

Ahmadinejad also defended the legality of his re-election, saying that he didn't "see any problems" and that "the law prevails".

The interview was conducted a week before Ahmadinejad is scheduled to address the UN General Assembly and a fortnight before multilateral talks begin on Iran's nuclear program, the first involving Iran since 2008.

AP reported on Thursday the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded that Iran does have the ability to make a nuclear bomb, but the agency later issued a statement, saying it had "no concrete proof" of a nuclear weapons program.

The United States, which suspects Iran may be using its uranium enrichment program as a cover for building a nuclear weapon, wants more explicit answers from Iran in the upcoming talks.

Iran denies the charge, saying its program is for peaceful nuclear energy.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that Iran must answer "head on'' concerns about its nuclear program at the meeting even though Tehran has so far ignored such appeals.

Clinton said the point of the meeting between Iran and the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany is to test Tehran's readiness to discuss such concerns.

Washington will be taking its dual track, or carrot-and-stick, approach to the meeting, Clinton added.

The UN Security Council has imposed three sets of sanctions against Iran over its refusal to freeze its uranium enrichment activities and Washington has threatened to push for new sanctions if engagement with Iran fails.

The six powers are offering diplomatic, trade and other benefits if Iran cooperates.

The six powers - which represent the five veto-wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany - had called for urgent talks with Iran after it handed over the proposals last week.

Washington expressed disappointment with the package, saying it was "not really responsive to our greatest concern,'' which is the nuclear issue, but Moscow said it offered "something to dig into.''

According to a copy of the proposals obtained and published by US non-profit investigative journalism group, Pro Publica, Iran said it was prepared to hold "comprehensive, all-encompassing and constructive negotiations.''

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