TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran said China and Russia were represented at its own disarmament conference on Saturday, held in response to a summit in Washington to which it was not invited and intended to hit back at nuclear-armed “bullies.”
Iran said 60 countries were represented, including “seven or eight” foreign ministers and the deputy foreign ministers of China and Russia — the two major powers the West is pushing to accept new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.
U.S. President Barack Obama spoke to the leaders of both countries at his Washington summit on Monday and Tuesday where Iran’s nuclear program was not on the official agenda but dominated talks on the sidelines.
With new sanctions looking ever more likely, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used his address to the conference to hit back at the “bullies” who were trying to prevent Iran gaining the nuclear knowhow it says is for purely peaceful purposes.
“Unfortunately, the American government has both used nuclear weapons and has also officially threatened to use nuclear weapons,” Ahmadinejad told delegates gathered at the conference center of the state broadcaster IRIB.
“When those who possess nuclear weapons and use those weapons have the unequal veto right in the highest body responsible for international security, does this not mean encouraging others to proliferate nuclear weapons in order to provide their national security?” he asked.
The foreign ministers of Iraq, Lebanon and Syria supported Iran’s nuclear work, calling for Israel to be stripped off its nuclear arsenal. Israel is believed to have the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal. Iran refuses to recognize Israel.
“Israel should let U.N. inspectors to visit its nuclear facilities,” Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari told the conference, state TV reported.
A U.S. sanctions draft proposes new curbs on Iranian banking, a full arms embargo, tougher measures against Iranian shipping, moves against members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and firms they control, and a ban on new investments in Iran’s energy sector.
While Washington hopes the U.N. Security Council will approve the sanctions in the coming weeks, Ahmadinejad has said he will not beg to avoid them and that they did not pose a huge risk to the economy of the world’s fifth largest oil exporter.
“The Security Council has openly turned into a tool for the implementation of the policies of a few bullying governments,” Ahmadinejad told the conference.
He called for changes to its structure and to that of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which had become “a political lever” to use against non-nuclear countries. The IAEA said in February Iran might be working on a nuclear weapon.
Ahmadinejad said a new U.N. body should oversee global disarmament and that states that possess or threaten to use nuclear weapons should be suspended from the IAEA.
While Iran remains defiant in the face of new sanctions — saying its nuclear program is “irreversible” — Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast it said it remained open to a deal with the West.
Mehmanparast restated that Iran was prepared to swap its low-level enriched uranium for higher-grade fuel enriched abroad, a move which would help address fears about Iran’s enrichment activities, but this must happen on Iranian soil.
“We want to exchange 3.5 percent enriched uranium, 1 tonne, for 100 kg (220 lb) of 20 percent enriched nuclear fuel inside Iran under the supervision of the IAEA and we are ready for interaction,” Mehmanparast told Reuters on the sidelines of the conference.
Iran would continue cooperation with the IAEA even if a new round of sanctions were imposed, its envoy to the Vienna-based body said.
“We continued our cooperation with the IAEA in the past despite three imposed (U.N.) resolutions. This is our clear policy, even in that case (of new sanctions) we will continue our cooperation,” Ali Asghar Soltanieh told Reuters.
Writing by Robin Pomeroy; Editing by Jon Hemming