In a series of combative interviews in New York on the eve of the UN General Assembly, Iran’s political leader said Israel was making a lot of ‘noise’ and encouraging the West to prevent legitimate scientific progress in his country.
Reiterating that he was open to dialogue with the United States on the nuclear issue he also said he was prepared to defend Iran from any external threat.
“Fundamentally, we do not take seriously threats of the Zionists,” he said. “We believe the Zionists see themselves at a dead end and they want to find an adventure to get out of this dead end. While we are fully ready to defend ourselves, we do not take these threats seriously.”
Despite a plea from UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon to “build international confidence” and refrain from grandstanding statements Mr Ahmadinejad once again questioned the legitimacy of Israel as a nation.
“Iran has been around for the last seven, 10 thousand years. They (the Israelis) have been occupying those territories for the last 60 to 70 years, with the support and force of the Westerners. They have no roots there in history,” he said.
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“We don’t even count them as any part of any equation for Iran. During a historical phase, they represent minimal disturbances that come into the picture and are then eliminated.”
His comments came as Barack Obama prepared to address the Assembly later today [TUES], where he is expected to strike a more sombre note than last year when the ‘Arab Spring’ pro-democracy revolutions across the Middle East and the ending of war in Iraq allowed him to assert that the “tide of war is receding”.
A year on, however, with Syria locked in civil war, Israel heating up its rhetoric over Iran and the Muslim world roiled with anti-American protests, Mr Obama is under pressure both at home and abroad.
The White House said that the President would address Middle East turmoil but also “underscore that Iran must not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon,” according to his press secretary, Jay Carney.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is to address the UN on Thursday, has been publicly piling the pressure on the White House in recent weeks, calling for clearer ‘red lines’ that – if crossed – would precipitate intervention to stop Iran developing a nuclear weapon, an event which Israel says is potentially only “months” away.
Mr Netanyahu is expected to use his own speech to clarify his position and demand that Mr Obama lays out an unequivocal boundary stating how much further he is willing to allow Iran to enrich higher-grade uranium, according Israeli government sources.
“Iran’s nuclear weapons program has a number of elements and I’ve heard the prime minister say on different occasions at a number of private meetings that one of the most crucial is the issue of enrichment, because that is the most difficult ingredient for a nuclear weapon,” an official said.
The White House has taken a more sanguine view of Iran’s progress towards a nuclear weapon, refusing to yield to pressure from both Israel and Mr Obama’s republican opponent in November’s general election to take a clearer, tougher line with Tehran.
Mitt Romney, who will speak in New York tomorrow [TUES] at an annual philanthropy forum organised by former President Bill Clinton, accused Mr Obama of failing to support Israel adequately and being too slow to support rebel groups in Syria.
The Obama administration was running a “policy of paralysis” in Syria and was sending “a message throughout the Middle East that somehow we distance ourselves from our friends,” by his attitude towards Israel, Mr Romney argued an interview with CBS News’s *60 Minutes*.
However, Mr Obama, quickly shot back in his own* 60 Minutes* interview.
“If Gov. Romney is suggesting that we should start another war, he should say so,” he said. Mr Obama said he would not be swayed by outside “noise” when making national security decisions – a phrase that was taken by Republicans as a derogatory reference to Mr Netanyahu’s very public calls for actions in recent weeks.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused Israel of bluffing over threats of air strikes against his country’s nuclear programme on Monday while once again questioning the right of the Jewish state to exist.
Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gestures as he attends the high level meeting on rule of law in the United Nations General Assembly