Iran's president defiant in face of new sanctions, says they would represent Obama failure

NEW YORK (AP) — After months of campaigning to avert new U.N. sanctions, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad summed up his case Tuesday and dismissed the threat of further economic penalties over his country's nuclear program.

"Experience has proven that sanctions cannot stop the Iranian nation," Ahmadinejad told reporters at a hotel across from U.N. headquarters, where a monthlong nuclear treaty conference was in its second day.

"While we do not welcome sanctions, we do not fear them either," he said. "It seems to us that the structure of the Security Council is undemocratic and unjust, and is unable to bring about security. ... This Security Council will completely lose its legitimacy."

Despite Iran's defiance, major powers on the 15-nation United Nations Security Council appear resolved to seek further sanctions.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei A. Ryabkov said Tuesday he was "reasonably optimistic" an agreement can be reached on a fourth round of sanctions.

"I do believe the talks are slowly moving forward. There's definitely some space to bridge over. But I wouldn't over-exaggerate the differences," Ryabkov said.

The Iranian president has calibrated his globe-trotting since last year in an effort to undermine the pressure the U.S. and its allies are trying to build against Tehran to force it to suspend its uranium enrichment program, which Western powers allege is aimed at building atomic bombs.

In recent months he has paid visits to China and Russia, the two nations among the Security Council's five veto-wielding permanent members that have been reluctant to endorse further sanctions on Iran, and to rotating members such as Uganda and Brazil.

Now, Ahmadinejad — the sole head of state to attend the once-every-5-years Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty conference — argues any new sanctions would mean that U.S. President Barack Obama has given up on his campaign to engage Iran diplomatically.

"We feel that the U.S. government will be damaged, more than us, by those sanctions," he said. "It's very clear that if the United States starts another sanctions (regime) against Iran, it means that it's the end of Mr. Obama's effort. It means Mr. Obama's submission. It means no change will occur."

Ahmadinejad called the U.S. disclosures Monday about its previously secretive nuclear arsenal "a positive step forward," but one that still raises questions.

"It's no pride to possess 5,000 bombs," he said. "Now, how can you have the trust of a government that announces 5,000 bombs after 60 years?"

The Pentagon announced it has 5,113 nuclear warheads in its stockpile and "several thousand" more retired warheads awaiting the junkpile, in a move by the Obama administration to improve its bargaining position against Iran and to persuade other nuclear nations to be more forthcoming.

Arab countries, meanwhile, sought to turn attention to Israel on Tuesday as delegates from 189 countries debated how to stem the spread of nuclear weapons.

On the second day of the monthlong meeting at the United Nations, Arab countries reiterated calls for a nuclear-free Middle East with criticism of Israel's unacknowledged nuclear arsenal and failure to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

The first day of the conference was dominated by rhetorical crossfire between the United States and Iran, as Ahmadinejad rejected allegations his country was building nuclear weapons while the U.S. said sanctions were necessary to stop the Iranian programs.

On Tuesday, Jordan's Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh expressed frustration at the lack of progress on implementing a nuclear-free Middle East, a goal that was declared in a resolution of a previous meeting of NPT signatories.

He said that Israel's failure to sign the NPT and allow international monitoring of its nuclear program "renders the NPT a source of instability in the Middle East."

Egypt has proposed that this 2010 NPT conference back a plan calling for the start of negotiations next year on such a Mideast zone. The proposal may become a major debating point in the monthlong session.

The United States has cautiously supported the idea while saying that implementing the idea must wait for progress in the Middle East peace process. The position reflected a middle ground as the Obama administration sought to satisfy Arab countries while keeping the spotlight of the conference on Iran's nuclear program.

The Israeli U.N. mission declined to comment on the specifics of the conference, but told The Associated Press that Israel's stance on nonproliferation continues to be that an accepted political solution for comprehensive peace in the Middle East should first be reached.

The NPT is formally reviewed every five years at a meeting of treaty members — which include all the world's nations except India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea, all of which either have confirmed or are believed to have nuclear weapons.

The review conference is meant to produce a final document pointing toward ways to better achieve the NPT's goals of checking the spread of nuclear weapons, while working toward reducing and eventually eliminating them.

Because it requires a consensus of all parties, including Iran, any final document would be highly unlikely to censure the Tehran government, which would block consensus.