Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has dismissed threats of military action against Iran's nuclear program, asserting that his country's project to enrich uranium is only for peaceful purposes and disputing that the country worries at all about an Israeli attack to destroy Iran's nuclear capacity.
Speaking to a group of editorial leaders on the first full day of his visit to New York for the annual UN General Assembly, Ahmadinejad said it was not too late for dialogue with the United States to resolve differences.
He also said that Iran is neutral in the Syrian civil war, and denied that Tehran is providing weapons or training to the government of President Bashar al-Assad. "We like and love both sides, and we see both sides as brothers," he said.
He referred to the conflict in Syria as "tribal" fighting and said that international "meddling from the outside has made the situation even harder." He refused to say whether Iran would accept a government not led by the Assad regime, which for years has been Iran's closest ally in the Middle East.
It was Ahmadinejad's eighth visit to the UN gathering held each September, which he cited as proof that he is open to understanding other countries' views.
Still the hardliner
In spite of his assertions on the importance of dialogue and respect for others, Ahmadinejad presented a hard line in many areas. He refused to speak of the state of Israel by name and instead referred only to the "Zionists," and when asked about author Salman Rushdie he made no attempt to distance himself from recent renewed threats on the author's life emanating from an Iranian semi-official religious foundation. "If he is in the U.S., you should not broadcast it for his own safety," Ahmadinejad said.
He said this would be his last trip to New York as president of Iran, because his term is ending and he is barred from seeking a third consecutive term. But he did not rule out staying active in Iranian politics and said he might return as part of future Iranian delegations to New York.
"Fundamentally, we do not take seriously threats of the Zionists," Ahmadinejad 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."
He also sought to delegitimize Israel's historic ties to the Middle East and their political and military power in the region and the world, saying that Israelis "do not even enter the equation for Iran."
On the other hand, he said the argument over Iran's nuclear program was a political rather than a legal matter and needs to be resolved politically.
"We are not expecting that a 33-year-old problem between America and Iran to be resolved in speedy discussions, but we do believe in dialogue."