Iran's Nuclear Defense

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Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accused Iran of seeking nuclear weapons capability Saturday, as Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad countered with a series of proposals at the United Nations designed to defuse those fears. In a much-anticipated speech Ahmadinejad offered to permit foreign countries as well as private companies to participate in his country's uranium enrichment program as a confidence-building measure that would demonstrate Iran is not fabricating nuclear weapons. He also asked the UN General Assembly to set up a special committee to compile a report and draw up practical strategies for complete nuclear disarmament.

But Ahmadinejad's words are unlikely to satisfy U.S. and European objections to Iran's nuclear plans. That could set the stage for further confrontation when the watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency meets in Vienna on September 19. The IAEA is expected to discuss U.S. and European plans to refer the case of Iran's alleged nuclear violations to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions, although it is not clear that the U.S. has enough votes to move in that direction immediately.

Meanwhile, in an exclusive interview with TIME magazine, the first one-on-one session given to a Western print publication since his election as president earlier this year, Ahmadinejad attacked the "threat" to bring the issue of Iran's nuclear activity to the UN Security Council by the US, France, Britain and Germany. He also implied that if the Security Council does eventually try to impose sanctions on Iran, his country would consider a variety of responses, possibly including use of the oil weapon, and denial of access to international nuclear inspectors.

As he told TIME Senior Correspondent Adam Zagorin: "Some of the European countries and America are using the Security Council as a threat. They threaten us so that we give up our rights. We have had more than 1,200 man-days of inspections, something that is really without precedent in the last 40 years. Their monitoring cameras are everywhere in our facilities. At the same time, we see that some powers continue to expand their armaments. We see that the occupiers of Jerusalem have been getting nuclear warheads. But there is absolutely no report about controls in countries where nuclear arms already exist. So we think that this whole attitude toward Iran is actually a political posture."

Asked about possible Iranian countermeasures if the UN Security Council were to impose sanctions, he replied tersely: "The decision will depend on the circumstances."

On Iraq, Ahmadinejad told TIME his country wants a speedy end to the U.S. occupation, and demanded an internationally sanctioned trial for Saddam Hussein, in addition to the legal proceeding already planned by the Iraqi government. "As for Saddam," the Iranian president said, "There are the crimes he committed inside Iraq, and the government there should try him. But we think there should also be an international court, an international trial."

Asked if he had a "personal message" for President Bush concerning Hurricane Katarina, the Iranian leader said, "Wherever people are in a difficult situation, it causes a lot of pain for us. And I think that the government of the USA should have acted much quicker. . . and if people had been informed earlier, they would have been able to help better."

See TIME magazine this week for 10 questions with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad