JAKARTA, Indonesia – Iran's president told Indonesian Islamic leaders Friday that his country's nuclear program was for civilian purposes, and that he wanted to live in a "peaceful manner."
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is visiting Indonesia, the world's most populous Islamic nation, amid a deepening international standoff over Tehran's nuclear program and suspicions it is seeking atomic weapons.
He met with leaders of Muhammadiyah, the county's second largest Islamic group, for around half an hour on Friday. He was due to perform Friday prayers at Jakarta's Grand Mosque before flying to the resort island of Bali for a development conference.
"President Ahmadinejad told us he that he wants to live in a peace full manner and the nuclear program we have in the country is for civilian purposes," said Sudibyo Marcus, one of Muhammadiyah's chairman.
Iran's president said Thursday he was ready to hold talks over his country's nuclear program, but he warned that efforts to force Tehran to the negotiating table with threats could backfire.
Ahmadinejad also launched a scathing attack on Israel and told more than 1,000 cheering Muslim students in the Indonesian capital that the West was being hypocritical in pressing Iran to stop its uranium enrichment program.
"The big powers ... have a lot of nuclear weapons in their warehouse," Ahmadinejad said during a visit to the world's largest Muslim majority nation amid a deepening international standoff over Tehran's nuclear program and suspicions it is seeking atomic weapons.
"We want to use technology for peace and the welfare of the Muslim people around the world," he told students who gathered at Islamic University on Jakarta's southern outskirts. "But they want to use it to invade other countries. This is the difference between us and them."
Ahmadinejad, known for his fiery rhetoric, has become a pariah in the West.
But he received a warm welcome in Indonesia, where his willingness to criticize the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — seen by many here as attacks on Islam — his outspoken criticism of Israel, and his refusal to stand down to international pressure on the nuclear dispute resonates with many of its young people.
"I think you are the man of the year," one student stood to say. "We will always be with you. You will never walk alone," said another.
Key U.N. Security Council members agreed Tuesday to postpone a resolution that would have delivered an ultimatum to Tehran, giving Iran another two weeks to reevaluate its insistence on developing its uranium enrichment capabilities.
The Chinese and Russians have balked at British, French and U.S. efforts to put the resolution under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter. Such a move would declare Iran a threat to international peace and security and set the stage for further measures if Tehran refuses to suspend its uranium enrichment operations. Those measures could range from breaking diplomatic relations to economic sanctions and military action.
The Iranian leader brushed off the threat, saying in an interview with Metro TV that the West had more to lose than Tehran did if it was internationally isolated. Sanctions would serve only to "motivate" Iran's nuclear scientists, he said.
Asked what it would take to begin talks to resolve the standoff, Ahmadinejad told the station Iran was "ready to engage in dialogue with anybody."
"But if someone points a weapon at your face and says you must speak, will you do that?"
Ahmadinejad also continued his verbal attacks on Israel (last year he said the Jewish state should be "wiped off the map" and questioned whether the Holocaust was a myth) calling the country a "a tyrannical regime that one day will be destroyed."
He repeated earlier allegations that European countries were driven by anti-Semitism when they decided after the Holocaust to establish a Jewish state in the midst of Muslim countries. They wanted the Jews out of their own backyard, he said, and by surrounding them with their enemies paved the way for their ultimate destruction.
Israeli officials — who have described Iran's nuclear quest as the Jewish state's greatest threat — had no immediate comment on Ahmadinejad's latest remarks, said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev.
Indonesia has cordial relations with Iran, supporting its right to pursue nuclear technology for peaceful means. Like Tehran — which recently announced plans to invest $600 million in the Southeast Asian nation's oil and gas sector, a much-needed cash infusion — Jakarta also refuses to recognize Israel.
But President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono also enjoys good ties with the United States, which considers him a close ally in the war on terror. He offered this week to mediate the nuclear dispute.
The students who crammed into the auditorium at the Islamic University — where U.S. envoy Karen Hughes received a grilling last year over U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East — were enthusiastic supporters of the Ahmadinejad, clapping and cheering throughout his 90-minute speech.
He told the crowd every country should have the right to new technology to meet energy needs.
"If nuclear technology is such a bad thing, why do you (Western countries) have it?" Ahmadinejad said, drawing more applause.
He got the same response earlier in the day when he addressed a crowd of about 300 at the University of Indonesia, where students held signs saying "Iran in our Hearts," and "Nuclear for Peace."
"I loved him, he was very charismatic," said a first-year economics student who identified herself as Deslina. "If it comes to that, they should go to war. If I could, I would fight the United States."