TEHRAN Iran's president issued a scathing personal attack on U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday, calling him an "inexperienced amateur" who was quick to threaten to use nuclear weapons against U.S. enemies.
Commenting on new U.S. policy restrictions on the use of atomic weapons which sent a stern message to nuclear-defiant Iran that it remained a potential target, hard-line Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Obama that Iran would not yield to threats.
"Obama made these latest remarks because he is inexperienced and an amateur politician," Ahmadinejad said on Iranian television. "American politicians are like cowboys. Whenever they have legal shortcomings, their hands go to their guns."
Obama made a diplomatic overture to Tehran soon after taking office in 2009, urging it to "unclench its fist."
But since then a confrontation has intensified over Iran's nuclear activities which the West suspects are aimed at developing an atomic bomb and Tehran says are for civilian use.
Obama is urging U.N. Security Council members to back new sanctions against Iran.
His changes to U.S. weapons policy were announced before a nuclear summit in Washington next week. He renounced the development of new atomic weapons and ruled out the use of nuclear arms against non-nuclear armed states.
But this came with a condition. Countries would be spared a U.S. nuclear response only if they are in compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran and North Korea would thus not be protected and be potential targets.
"Yesterday some news was published saying that he (Obama) has threatened to use nuclear and biochemical weapons against countries that don't comply with America and which do not yield to America's pressure," Ahmadinejad said in the speech from the northwestern city of Urmia. "We hope these reports are false."
Iran will host its own Nuclear Disarmament Conference on April 17-18. China, which has been courted by Obama to support sanctions against Iran, has said it might attend.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Wednesday that China would join talks with the United States, Britain, Russia, France and Germany in New York on Thursday to discuss possible sanctions against Iran
But he indicated this was not necessarily a sign that China was dropping its resistance to sanctions.
"Negotiations will be long, will they be over by the end of April? I hope so," Kouchner said.
IRAN WARNS ISRAEL
Iran repeated warnings to Israel not to attack.
"If they (Israel) attack Iran, possibly no trace will be left from the Zionist regime (Israel)," Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi was quoted as saying by semi-official Mehr news agency.
Israel has hinted it could strike Iran in an effort to halt the nuclear activities. Iran has threatened to retaliate for any attack by firing missiles at Israel, which is believed to have the Middle East's only atomic arsenal.
A deputy of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in the elite Revolutionary Guards made similar threats on Tuesday.
The United States and its allies hope to get new sanctions imposed in the coming weeks over Iran's nuclear enrichment work, after failing to reach a fuel-swap agreement with Tehran.
Iran, which says it needs nuclear technology to generate power and for medical reasons, says it would hand over its low-grade enriched uranium in return for higher-grade uranium, but the swap must be carried out inside the country under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
"We have a positive attitude toward the fuel swapping idea ... provided it is done within Iran," Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told a news conference on Wednesday.
Russia, which, like China, is under intense Western pressure to support tougher U.N. sanctions has so far failed to deliver a S-300 anti-aircraft system Iran has ordered, a move which has irritated Iranian officials.
But Defense Minister Vahidi said Russia had no intention of breaking the agreement to sell the missile system. "Russia is committed to our agreements over the S-300 system. They have told us that the system will be delivered to Iran on time."
Analysts say the S-300 could help Iran to thwart any attempt by Israel or the United States -- which have refused to rule out military action if diplomacy fails to resolve the atomic row -- to bomb its nuclear facilities.
The truck-mounted S-300PMU1, known in the West as the SA-20, can shoot down cruise missiles and aircraft. It has a range of 150 km (90 miles) and travels at more than 2 km per second.
(Additional reporting by Ramin Mostafavi and Hossein Jaseb, Writing by Parisa Hafezi, Editing by Noah Barkin)