NEW YORK — Israel is bullying the United States over the alleged threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon, using the prospect of an Israeli military attack on Iran to force the hand of its much larger ally, Iran’s president said Monday.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed the idea that Israel might attack on its own, over the objections of the United States, and said Israel is an inconsequential interloper with no rightful place in the Middle East.
“I look at it from the outside, and I see that a few occupying Zionists are threatening the government of the United States,” Ahmadinejad said during an interview with American editors and reporters.
“Is it the Zionists who must tell the United States government what to do, such as form a red line on Iran’s nuclear issues, and the United States government must make such vital decisions under the influence of the Zionists?” Ahmadinejad said, using the Iranian regime’s term for Israel. He spoke through an interpreter.
Americans should be insulted if their government takes marching orders from Israel, Ahmadinejad added.
The two-term Iranian leader spoke on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the U.N. General Assembly. The gathering this year is colored by the politics of the U.S. presidential election and by the possibility of an Israeli military strike on Iran.
The Obama administration is chafing under increasingly direct pressure from Israel to declare “red lines” in Iran’s nuclear development that would trigger a U.S. attack. President Obama, who is scheduled to address the United Nations on Tuesday, has said he would not tolerate an Iranian nuclear bomb. He has threatened a military strike if there is no other option to prevent Iran from getting a bomb, but he has not publicly set a deadline for diplomacy to run its course.
The Obama administration opposes a unilateral Israeli strike because it would be unlikely to finish off Iran’s program and could pull the United States into a wider Middle East war.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to tell the United Nations in an address Thursday that Israel must decide for itself what risk is unacceptable. In a clear challenge to Obama, Netanyahu said this month that outsiders who refuse to set a “clear red line” for Iran do not have the authority to tell Israel what to do.
Iran’s clerical leaders have previously vowed to eradicate Israel, although Ahmadinejad did not repeat that threat Monday.
He said he is not worried that Israel would go it alone; he made it clear that a U.S. strike is the only one Iran would take seriously.
“The people do not even count them as any part of an equation,” he said of Israel. “When you have prepared yourself for a much vaster, bigger threat, then of course the small disturbances hardly represent anything more than a blip on the radar screen.”
Ahmadinejad said Iran remains open to negotiation over the bounds of what he insisted is a peaceful nuclear development program, but he said several U.S. administrations have “managed to miss” opportunities to improve relations with Iran.
Although Netanyahu is presumed to favor Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Ahmadinejad declined an offer to endorse Obama. Netanyahu is featured in a pro-Romney television ad airing in Florida.
“The U.S. elections are a domestic issue,” Ahmadinejad said. “We will not meddle in that at all.”
Obama and Romney traded accusations about Israel and Iran in high-profile television interviews that aired over the weekend. Romney said in a “60 Minutes” interview that aired Sunday on CBS that Obama was making a “mistake” by not meeting with Netanyahu on the sidelines of the U.N. meeting.
Obama’s choice “sends a message throughout the Middle East that somehow we distance ourselves from our friends,” Romney said. “I think the exact opposite approach is what’s necessary.”
Speaking on the same program, Obama defended his handling of foreign policy.
“If Governor Romney is suggesting that we start another war, he should say so,” he said.
Obama and Romney will address the Clinton Global Initiative gathering in New York on Tuesday.