NEW YORK (AP) — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday dismissed threats of military action against Iran's nuclear program, arguing that his country's project to enrich uranium is only for peaceful purposes and saying that Iran has no worries about a possible Israeli attack.
Ahmadinejad spoke before a group of editors and news executives after his arrival in New York for the annual U.N. General Assembly. He told the group that it was not too late for dialogue with the United States to resolve differences.
But in his remarks, Ahmadinejad sought to delegitimize U.S. ally Israel's historic ties to the Middle East and its political and military power in the region and the world, saying that Israelis "do not even enter the equation for Iran."
"Fundamentally, we do not take seriously threats of the Zionists," said Ahmadinejad. "We believe the Zionists see themselves at a dead end and they want to find an adventure to get out of this dead end. While we are fully ready to defend ourselves, we do not take these threats seriously."
Ahmadinejad declared Israel has no place in the Middle East, saying that Iran has been around for thousands of years while the modern state of Israel has existed only for the last 60 or so years. "They have no roots there in history," he said.
White House press secretary Jay Carney responded to Ahmadinejad's remarks, telling a midday news briefing, "Well, President Ahmadinejad says foolish, offensive and sometimes unintelligible things with great regularity. What he should focus on is the failure of his government of Iran to abide by its international obligations, to abide by United Nations Security Council resolutions."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had met with Ahmadinejad on Sunday and "urged Iran to take the measures necessary to build international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear program," U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said. The U.N. chief also raised the potentially harmful consequences of inflammatory rhetoric "from various countries in the Middle East," Nesirky said.
On other topics in his meeting with editors, Ahmadinejad said that Iran favors a negotiated settlement to the civil war in Syria, and denied that Tehran is providing weapons or training to the government of President Bashar Assad, as Assad's opponents and others have alleged.
"We like and love both sides, and we see both sides as brothers," he said. He referred to the conflict in Syria as "tribal" fighting and said that international "meddling from the outside has made the situation even harder." He refused to say whether Iran would accept a government not led by the Assad regime, which for years has been Iran's closest ally in the Middle East.
Ahmadinejad met journalists in the mid-town hotel where he was saying. It was Ahmadinejad's eighth visit to the U.N. gathering held each September, which he cited as proof that he is open to understanding other countries' views.
In spite of his assertions on the importance of dialogue and respect for others, Ahmadinejad presented a hard line in many areas. He refused to speak of the state of Israel by name and instead referred only to the "Zionists," and when asked about author Salman Rushdie he made no attempt to distance himself from recent renewed threats on the author's life emanating from an Iranian semi-official religious foundation. "If he is in the U.S., you should not broadcast it for his own safety," Ahmadinejad said.
He said this would be his last trip to New York as president of Iran, because his term is ending and he is barred from seeking a third consecutive term. But he did not rule out staying active in Iranian politics and said he might return as part of future Iranian delegations to New York.
Ahmadinejad said the argument over Iran's nuclear program was a political rather than a legal matter and needs to be resolved politically.
"We are not expecting that a 33-year-old problem between America and Iran to be resolved in speedy discussions, but we do believe in dialogue."
Later in the day, Ahmadinejad took aim at both the United States and Israel while addressing a high-level U.N. meeting promoting the rule of law, accusing Washington of shielding what he called a nuclear-armed "fake regime." His remarks prompted a walkout by Israel's U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor.
"Ahmadinejad showed again that he not only threatens the future of the Jewish people, he seeks to erase our past," Prosor said in a statement. "Three thousand years of Jewish history illustrate the clear danger of ignoring fanatics like Iran's president, especially as he inches closer to acquiring nuclear weapons."
Ahmadinejad also alluded to the amateur anti-Islam video made in the U.S. that has caused protests across the Muslim world, accusing the United States and others of misusing freedom of speech and failing to speak out against the defamation of people's beliefs and "divine prophets."
Associated Press writers Matthew Daly in Washington and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.