NEW YORK — President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, at a dinner here for academics and students, said Iran was ready to make concessions on its nuclear drive, but insisted that it had a legal right to enrich uranium and intended to keep on using that right.
“Iran is entitled to domestic uranium enrichment,” he said at the dinner Monday night with more than 150 academics and students at his hotel. “It is a legitimate right…. And what rights do you have if you do not use them?”
Mixing blustery rhetoric with conciliatory remarks, the Iranian leader said the violent protests that erupted in many Muslim countries over a YouTube video that mocked the Prophet Muhammad were indicative of the “negative mindset” of many Muslims toward the United States. He said Iran could help change that mindset.
“Iran has made mistakes, Iran could have behaved better,” he said, speaking through a translator, and apparently referring to Iranian relations with the West in general and the US in particular. “We are ready for transparent dialogue… We are ready to help to eliminate negative mindsets.”
The event at the Warwick Hotel, at which Ahmadinejad gave generally lengthy and sometimes evasive answers to questions, was one of several public and media appearances he made ahead of his speech Wednesday to the United Nations General Assembly.
He asserted that negotiators from the so-called P5+1— the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany— have told Iran that they are confident Iran hasn’t moved toward nuclear weapon manufacture. But the IAEA International Atomic Energy Agency), he said, had made “illegal requests” of Iran relating to its program, and the list of requests had “only gotten longer and longer.” He said the IAEA’s absent oversight of Israel’s purported atomic weapons program was indicative of a double-standard.
In an apparent indication of readiness for compromise, Ahmadinejad said Iran had supported a proposal to create an international consortium to oversee Iran’s enrichment program, and said US companies could be involved in building and engineering the program.
Ahmadinejad, referring to the Israelis as the “Zionist regime,” told the dinner, “They want to provoke the situation and give rise to more tensions and get themselves out of a dead end. We are for eradicating the foundations, the reason for these tensions. For a regime to threaten to bomb Iran, this must be condemned by the world.”
He asked: “Are the Western governments willing to rein in this regime?”
He suggested that the 1979 takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran, and the subsequent 444-day hostage crisis, was wrong. “I don’t want to say this was the right action…. But I want to put ourselves in their shoes,” he said.
Ahmadinejad ducked a question about relations between Israel and the Palestinians, saying only that the Palestinians deserved to have a vote about self-determination.
Outside the Warwick Hotel, a heavy presence of New York police and Secret Service agents added to the already snarled traffic that occurs when dozens of world leaders descend on the city for the General Assembly meetings.
Earlier, groups of anti-Ahmadinejad protesters gathered on the sidewalks nearby the hotel. In another group, of black-clad Hasidic Jewish men, presumably from the anti-Israel Neturei Karta extremist sect, one wore a sign that read “I’m a Jew, not a Zionist.”
One man walked by yelling that the Iranian leader was a “deranged genocidal nutjob.”