Scornful Ahmadinejad says issue of Iranian nuclear programme closed

The President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, remained on a direct collision course with the Western powers last night, unilaterally declaring that as far as he is concerned the issue of his country's nuclear enrichment activities should henceforth be "closed".

In an address filled with scornful references to the United States and the other "bullying powers", Mr Ahmadinejad insisted that all Iran's nuclear steps have been "completely peaceful and transparent" and therefore should be handled only by the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

His remarks, reiterated in a sometimes raucous meeting with reporters, came as foreign ministers of the Security Council nations prepare to meet on Friday to debate a third round of sanctions on his country for its continuing refusal to abide by resolutions demanding it suspend enrichment operations.

The President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, meanwhile underscored the toughening attitude of his government, openly hinting in New York that a failure of the Western powers to deflect Iran from a course towards obtaining nuclear weapons would result in war.

"If we allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, we would incur an unacceptable risk to stability in the region and in the world," President Sarkozy said. He added: "Weakness and renunciation do not lead to peace. They lead to war." M. Sarkozy said that if the Council steps back from imposing harsher sanctions on Tehran, the European Union would seek to introduce its own measures.

Mr Ahmadinejad repeatedly assailed the decisions of the Council on Iran saying it had been pressured by "certain big powers which have been hostile to our nations for the past 30 years, which have made every effort to turn a simple legal issue into a very loud, controversial political issue". It has been pressure that Iran has been able to resist, he added.

The President made almost gleeful mockery of the travails of the US and its allies in Iraq, meanwhile. "Is it not high time for these powers to return from the path of arrogance and obedience to Satan to the path of faith in God?" he asked the Assembly. "Do they not notice that we are nearing the sunset of the time of the empires?"

After a reporter challenged the President to clarify his remark during a student forum at Columbia University that homosexuals do not exist in Iran and said that she herself knew many, he did not blink but merely smiled back at her and declared: "Seriously I don't know of any! I don't know where this is. Give me an address so we are also aware of what happens in Iran."

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