At Iran nuclear summit, Ahmadinejad calls for U.S. to disarm first

By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, April 17, 2010; 3:52 PM

TEHRAN -- Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad drew applause at a nuclear disarmament conference here attended by representatives of 60 countries when he called for the destruction of all atomic weapons, starting with those in the U.S. arsenal.

The two-day forum, titled "Nuclear energy for all, nuclear weapons for none," came a week after the Nuclear Security Summit to which the Islamic republic was not invited. The United States was not invited to the Tehran conference.

Ahmadinejad took particular aim at President Obama's announcement this month of a new U.S. policy that does not rule out the use of nuclear weapons against Iran and North Korea.

"Threatening with nuclear weapons only dishonored the American government officials and more fully exposed their inhumane and aggressive policies," he said.

Iran's nuclear program was heavily debated at the Washington summit last week, with the United States working to win support from China for a fourth round of sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear program.

The United States and its Western allies suspect that Iran is trying to build an atomic weapon, while Iran says it wants only to meet the country's growing energy needs.

In a statement to the Tehran conference, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the top political and religious authority in the predominantly Shiite state, reiterated a fatwa, or religious edict, he had issued earlier against the use of nuclear weapons. He called the United States' nuclear weapons "tools of terror and intimidation."

Fatwas are binding only on followers of the religious authority that issues them and can be changed if the situation requires, religious experts here say.

Taking direct issue with the consensus reached in Washington to take steps to reduce the world's stock of nuclear weapons, Ahmadinejad called for more rigorous action.

He demanded an end to what he called the United States' "blind support" for Israel, which he said has 200 atomic warheads yet has not signed a nonproliferation treaty. Ahmadinejad also called for veto power for all members of the United Nations, a right now accorded only to the five permanent members of the Security Council.

Talks on nuclear disarmament should from now on be controlled by states that do not have atomic weapons, Ahmadinejad said, adding, "The involvement of the government of America will prevent any new treaty from being fair."

Russia's deputy foreign minister, Sergei Rybakov, used the conference to call for more confidence-building measures by Tehran to allay international concerns over its nuclear program.

"We need to reinforce, reinstall full confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iran nuclear program," Rybakov said Saturday on Iran's English-language Press TV.

The delegates -- from Congolese in colorful robes to Russians in business suits -- drank tea during breaks while talking to Iranians, some in wheelchairs, who had been exposed to mustard gas used by Iraqi forces during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

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