Iranian president insists his nuclear program is peaceful

Thursday, September 21st 2006, 12:16 pm
By: News On 6

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad insisted Thursday that Tehran's nuclear program is peaceful and said he is ``at a loss'' about what more he can do to provide guarantees.

Ahmadinejad said his country has not hidden anything and was working within the framework of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

``The bottom line is we do not need a bomb,'' he said at a news conference on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

With world leaders gathered at the United Nations, the United States had hoped to move decisively this week toward political and economic sanctions against Iran after it missed an Aug. 31 deadline from the U.N. Security Council to halt uranium enrichment. The enrichment process can be used to make electricity _ or nuclear weapons.

The Iranian president's remarks drew the most attention on a day that saw Saudi Arabia's foreign minister say there is new moment for reviving the Middle East peace process, and former President Bill Clinton repudiate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for his personal insults of President Bush.

The Saudi official, Prince Saud al-Faisal, said there is a new ``very significant'' consensus among Arab countries for restarting the stalled peace process.

``We have found for the first time probably a consensus that is very significant about the need for restarting the peace process,'' al-Faisal told The Associated Press.

He said the Arab League foreign ministers would meet later Thursday, but their idea is to take ``stock of the past failures that prevented peace from happening and urging a new look and approach to the peace process.''

He said the Arab countries wish for a restarted peace process that would ``concentrate on the important issues, rather than the process itself. In other words, the final status negotiations, the border, Jerusalem, Palestinian rights and so on.''

Those nations are hoping to revive efforts to end the Arab-Israel conflict during a Security Council ministerial meeting Thursday. The meeting comes a day after the architects of the ``road map'' to peace also reaffirmed their commitment to the plan.

Leaders of the so-called Quartet _ the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia _ met Wednesday and issued a statement stressing the need for ``a credible political process'' to make progress toward the goal of two peaceful, democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side.

But Wednesday's spotlight was Chavez's address to the General Assembly, in which he called Bush ``the devil.''

His fiery, theatrical address drew sharp criticism from Clinton.

``Hugo Chavez said something that was wrong yesterday, unbecoming a head of state,'' the former president told NBC's ``Today'' show Thursday. ``All that name-calling is undignified and not helpful, and it's not true.''

After the speech, Chavez reached out to an audience of Americans, saying he sees himself as a friend of the United States. He spoke to hundreds of New Yorkers who filled a college hall Wednesday night, saying he hopes Americans choose an ``intelligent president'' in the future.

``I'm not an enemy of the United States. I'm a friend of the United States ... the people of the United States,'' Chavez said during his speech to an audience including union organizers and professors. ``They're two very different things _ you the people of the United States, and the government that's installed there.''

He drew a standing ovation when he said Bush committed genocide during the war in Iraq.

``The president of the United States should go before an international tribunal,'' Chavez said as applause filled the hall at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. He compared the Bush administration's actions to those of the Nazis.

With his bitter and theatrical address to the U.N. earlier Wednesday, the leftist leader, long at odds with Washington, appeared to be making one of his boldest moves yet to coalesce international opposition to the Bush administration. Chavez began Wednesday's speech noting that Bush spoke from the same podium a day earlier.

``The devil came here,'' Chavez said. ``Right here. Right here. And it smells of sulfur still today, this table that I am now standing in front of.''

He then made the sign of the cross, brought his hands together as if praying and looked up to the ceiling.

Chavez's words drew tentative giggles at times from the audience, but also some applause.

The main U.S. seat in the United Nations was empty as Chavez spoke, although U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said a ``junior note-taker'' was present, as is customary ``when governments like that speak.''

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Chavez's remarks in the United Nations were ``not becoming for a head of state.''

``I am not going to dignify a comment by the Venezuelan president to the president of the United States,'' Rice told reporters.