Iran: U.S. should be punished for nuclear "threats"

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called on Monday for states that threaten to use atomic weapons to be punished, a clear reference to a new U.S. nuclear strategy released last month.

A demonstrator holds a sign during an anti-nuclear weapons protest rally and march in New York May 2, 2010. REUTERS/Chip East

Speaking at the start of a month-long meeting of the 189 signatories of the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), he urged “considering any threat to use nuclear weapons or attack against peaceful nuclear facilities as a breach of international peace and security.”

Such threats should face “swift reaction from the United Nations and termination of all cooperation of NPT member-states with the threatening aggressor state,” Ahmadinejad said.

In keeping with past practice during annual General Assembly gatherings, the delegations of the United States, Britain and France all walked out of the assembly chamber during the Iranian president’s speech.

“I think rightly our delegation and many others left as a series of wild accusations were made during the speech,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

The walkout came as Ahmadinejad charged that Israel threatened its neighbors with “terror and invasion,” and enjoyed unconditional support from Washington and its allies.

Among the punishments that should be meted out to countries that use, or threaten to use, atomic weapons against other nations is suspension from the board of governors of the U.N. nuclear watchdog in Vienna, Ahmadinejad said.

The United States’ so-called nuclear posture review reduces the role of atomic weapons in U.S. defense policy but does not rule out the use of nuclear warheads against countries like Iran and North Korea that are considered to be NPT violators.

Both the United States and Israel have suggested that they could use military force against Iranian nuclear facilities, which they suspect are part of a covert atomic weapons program. Iran denies pursuing atomic weapons and insists its nuclear ambitions are limited to peacefully generating electricity.

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The Iranian president did not mention his country’s uranium enrichment program, which Tehran has refused to suspend, prompting the U.N. Security Council to impose three rounds of sanctions on Iran. The United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China are now discussing possible new sanctions.

Ahmadinejad called nuclear arms “disgusting and shameful.”

Iran’s nuclear program will be one of the most hotly debated topics on the sidelines of the NPT review conference, a meeting held every five years to assess compliance and problems with the treaty.

Ahmadinejad accused the United States and its allies of using fears about proliferation as a pretext to deny developing nations access to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes in breach of the NPT.

It is an argument that has resonated well in the past with developing nations, which account for the majority of the signatories of the landmark arms control treaty. The NPT is intended to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and calls on those with atomic warheads to abandon them.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was scheduled to speak later on Monday. Last week she predicted that the Iranian president might not receive a very warm welcome in New York City and said that Iran’s record of violating the NPT was “indisputable.”

Clinton was expected to highlight a reversal in U.S. nuclear policy since President Barack Obama came to power last year. Obama has made both non-proliferation and disarmament priorities in his foreign policy, unlike his predecessor George W. Bush, who repudiated arms reduction pledges Washington and the four other official nuclear powers made in 2000.

The United States, Britain, France, China and Russia -- the permanent Security Council members -- were allowed to keep their nuclear weapons under the NPT but pledged to launch negotiations on scrapping their arsenals. Non-nuclear weapon states complain that the five have not done enough to disarm.

The new U.S. nuclear strategy and a recent nuclear arms reduction agreement with Russia are among the examples U.S. officials hope will persuade developing countries that the United States is serious about disarmament.

Editing by Eric Beech