By Karl Vick
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, January 15, 2006
TEHRAN, Jan. 14 -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pushed back at President Bush and European leaders on Saturday, insisting Iran will press ahead with its nuclear program despite the threat of economic sanctions because "ultimately they need us more than we need them."
At a news conference that lasted more than two hours, a confident Ahmadinejad posed a question to Western governments: "So why do you strike a mighty pose? I advise you to understand the Iranian nation and revolution in a better way. A time might come that you would become regretful, and then there would be no benefits in regretting."
Ahmadinejad's remarks, broadcast live on international news networks, brought to a confrontational close a week in which Tehran defied a U.N. watchdog agency by resuming nuclear research that had been suspended for 2 1/2 years after going forward in secret for almost two decades. Iran's removal of seals on nuclear equipment at its enrichment plant at Natanz and preparations to resume research brought a cascade of criticism, with Bush saying Friday that the prospect of an Iran armed with nuclear weapons was "a grave threat to the security of the world."
Diplomats from the United States, Europe, Russia and China are scheduled to gather in London on Monday to discuss shifting Iran's file from the International Atomic Energy Agency to the U.N. Security Council, which could impose sanctions.
Ahmadinejad, a hard-line conservative who took office in August, said Iran remained open to negotiation and to foreign partnerships that would ensure it was not diverting uranium to a weapons program. His statements reflected positions already established by the unelected officials steering the Iranian government's strategy, a consensus approach ultimately guided by the country's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The defiant notes struck again and again by Ahmadinejad vividly described the chasm that separates Iran and the Western powers struggling to contain its nuclear ambitions.
Ahmadinejad called it "laughable" that his assertions that Israel be "wiped off the map" and his reference to the Holocaust as a "myth" may have seeded doubts about the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program.
"We don't need nuclear weapons," Ahmadinejad said, noting that religious doctrine restrained Iran from unleashing its own stocks of chemical weapons when Iraq gassed Iranian troops during the 1980s. "Nuclear weapons are pursued by those who want to solve everything by bullying everyone."
He challenged the United States to open its own nuclear facilities to U.N. inspection. Reversing a warning Western leaders leveled this week at Tehran, he advised Washington and Europe "not to isolate yourself anymore in the family of nations."
"They confront us and deal with us in a very harsh and illegal language, but ultimately they need us more than we need them," Ahmadinejad said.
"They're telling us you should build confidence, trust. Let me tell you, for two and a half years that point was made. Now I tell you, it is high time for the E.U. countries to provide some trust for us.
"We have to understand they do not want the Iranian nation to have technological programs."
The argument goes to the heart of Iran's rationale for pursuing a nuclear program despite its vast petroleum reserves. Leaders of the theocratic government, which regards itself as the leader of the Islamic world, say they are defying the relatively recent colonial past and hearkening back to the era when Muslims pioneered discoveries in medicine and mathematics.
"One should always try to acquire knowledge from those who possess it," Khamenei, who holds ultimate power in Iran, told an audience of Muslim pilgrims last week. "However, the Islamic world should try not to remain a student all the time. Rather, it should make use of its talents and make optimal use of its innovation and abilities to make scientific advances."
Many ordinary Iranians, frustrated by high unemployment and a chronically troubled economy, add that they consider technology to be synonymous with development. But while public support for the nuclear program remains high, some are discomfited by their president's strident tone.
"He doesn't know foreign policy, and it's making trouble for Iran," said Ali Reza, 32, who has a bachelor's degree in economics but earns his living ferrying passengers around Tehran in his sedan.
"It's like having a car accident in a place where you don't know the people. You shouldn't jump out of the car screaming. If you do things calmly, you might get away without paying anything at all. The other way, you might end up getting beaten."