Ahmadinejad vows to pursue nuclear programme

Arab countries welcome new leader; Jewish state brands him ‘global threat’ TEHRAN (AP) — Iran’s newly elected president vowed Sunday to pursue a peaceful nuclear programme and says his country does not need the United States in order to make progress.

Hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also downplayed Western and liberal concerns about his election, saying his country’s progress is based on freedom and human rights for all.

“Iran’s peaceful technology is the outcome of the scientific achievements of Iran’s youth. We need the peaceful nuclear technology for energy, medical and agricultural purposes and our scientific progress. We will continue this,” the ultraconservative Ahmadinejad told his first news conference since being elected on Friday.

He said Iran’s decision would not change. “This is the final path we have taken,” he said. Iran has said it will restart its uranium enrichment programme which it halted last November as a negotiation concession to the European Union.

While the suspension was only temporary, Ahmadinejad wouldn’t say when the resumption would begin.

It was a defiant Ahmadinejad who said that Iran wouldn’t be dictated to, would be able to move forward without the assistance of the United States and would pursue its nuclear energy development programme to enable his nation to acquire a cheap energy source.

He entered the crowded chambers in Iran’s municipal building with little fanfare maintaining the unassuming style embraced by the roughly 17 million Iranians who voted him to power in a landslide victory on Friday.

He fielded questions with ease, and smiled broadly when asked by one of Iran’s female journalists wearing the more casual and colourful headscarf whether he would introduce a strict dress code. He said that wasn’t his job to decide.

“I am the president. There are people who make those decisions,” Ahmadinejad said.

In his opening statement, he promised to shun extremism and cobble together a moderate regime. Yet his reform-minded critics say his election only consolidated the hardliners’ hold on power and that there no longer were any reform minded people holding sway in Iran’s halls of power.

A former Revolutionary Guard commander, Ahmadinejad resurrected platitudes that had been popular in the early days of the 1979 Islamic revolution. “Iran can accomplish anything. Iranians have everything they need themselves to accomplish everything.” But 26 years on from the revolution, Iran’s economy is staggering under the weight of high unemployment, double digit inflation and interest rates of 25 to 30 per cent on personal loans.

On the matter of negotiations with the European Union troika of Britain, Germany and France, Ahmadinejad said Iran was waiting for the European Union to come through with some offers to break the stalemate.

“We will continue talks with Europeans while preserving our national interests and insistence on the right of the Iranian nation to use nuclear energy,” he said. “If there is to be trust building then it should be mutual.” Ahmadinejad reacted harshly to European Union Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini threats to freeze talks with Iran if the EU didn’t get commitments from him on human rights and the nuclear issue. In Sunday’s Rome daily La Repubblica, Frattini was quoted as saying: “We are waiting for clear words on human rights and the nuclear issue from the new president. But if the responses are negative, the European Union can’t but freeze the dialogue with Iran.” Ahmadinejad didn’t offer any commitments and accused the EU of highhandedness.

“I think the European Union should come down from its ivory tower and understand that they cannot talk to the Iranian nation in this way,” he said. “We are ready for trust building measures in all fields, but…our nation is a great nation and they cannot talk to the Iranian nation in such an arrogant manner.” On relations with the United States, Ahmadinejad said Iran was determined to make progress and it didn’t need the United States to achieve that.

“The Iranian nation is taking the path of progress based on self-reliance. It doesn’t need the United States significantly on this path,” he said.

US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld criticised Ahmadinejad and dismissed Friday’s vote as a “mock election.” “He is no friend of democracy,” Rumsfeld said on “Fox News Sunday.” “He is a person who is very much supportive of the current ayatollahs, who are telling the people of that country how to live their lives, and my guess is over time the young people and women will find him as well as his masters unacceptable.” Ahmadinejad said he would seek to improve relations with other countries, and would “pay attention to improving relations with any country that doesn’t seek hostilities against Iran.” His government’s foreign policy would focus on “peace, moderation and coexistence,” he said.

“Moderation will be the policy of [my] popular government,” he said. “Extremism will have no place in [my] popular government.” France, Britain and Germany have been negotiating with Iran on its nuclear programme, offering economic incentives in the hope of persuading the country to permanently halt uranium enrichment.

Tehran’s nearly 20-year-old atomic programme was revealed in 2002.

Iran suspended all uranium enrichment-related activities in November to avoid having its nuclear programme referred to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions. Uranium enriched to low levels has energy uses, while highly enriched uranium can be used in bombs.

Last week, former chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix told Swedish Radio it would take many years for Iran to achieve the capability to produce highly enriched uranium needed for an atomic bomb.

Arab countries welcome new Iran leader, Jewish state brands him ‘global threat’
DUBAI (AFP) — Several Arab countries on Sunday welcomed Iranian president-elect Mahmood Ahmadinejad despite historically chilly relations with the Islamic republic, but arch-enemy Israel branded him a danger to the world.

Ahmadinejad’s shock landslide win in a second-round run-off on Friday was seen as a blow to US plans for Middle East democracy and raised fears among some analysts of further instability in the turbulent region.

But oil-rich Gulf Arab neighbours sent warm messages to the new president despite longstanding disputes and Ahmadinejad himself said he would make improving relations with the Arab and Muslim worlds a priority.

Leaders from regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia, including the ailing King Fahd, were among the first to congratulate Ahmadinejad.

“The monarch highlighted the existing fraternal relations between the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Iran, and called for the consolidation of the relations,” according to the official SPA news agency.

The Kuwaiti Cabinet also expressed “true hope that bilateral ties will further improve and grow stronger to achieve common interests of the two friendly nations.”

Those sentiments were echoed by the United Arab Emirates despite its longstanding dispute over three strategic Gulf islands — Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa — controlled by Tehran since 1971.

“We hope for a deepening of our bilateral relations in the interest of our two countries and friendly peoples,” said UAE President Sheikh Khalifa Ben Zayed Al Nahayan.

The Gulf Cooperation Council — which groups Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE — said it hoped the new president will work towards “turning a new page” in relations with it neighbours.

But Gulf analysts warned Ahmadinejad’s election would worsen the Islamic republic’s ties with the oil-rich Gulf states.

“The victory of the new president will lead to a kind of isolation of Iran in the region,” said liberal Kuwaiti academic Ahmed Al Rubei, a former government minister and MP.

His Majesty King Abdullah also congratulated Ahmadinejad and called for bolstering of ties.

But an Amman-based expert on Iranian affairs said: “We must hope that the new leadership in Iran will deal with issues that worry the international community, such as the nuclear question and Iran’s influence in Iraq, through dialogue.”

“The region could not bear to see a new front open up because it is already shaken by the Iraqi and Palestinian conflicts.”

Israel — which views Shiite Iran as enemy number one since the downfall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and wants international action over its nuclear work — warned that Ahmadinejad’s victory would increase Tehran’s diplomatic isolation.

“The conclusion is that the dangerous combination of extremists, non-conventional weapons, and isolation from the West will continue and will generate a great deal of problems for the free world,” Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres said.

The Israeli press warned Tehran was likely to work against the moderate Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to try to derail any moves towards a peace settlement with Israel.

And another Amman-based analyst voiced fears that Iran would harden its position on Iraq where the United States has accused it of arming Shiite militiamen.

Iran said, however, that its “policy of detente” with the Arab and Muslim worlds would continue under the new regime.

“Great progress has already been made, and more progress will be made. We will see a development of relations with the Muslim world and countries of the region,” the president-elect said.

“It will be a priority in our foreign policy. The Persian Gulf is a Gulf of peace and justice,” he said. “We want understanding with the countries of the Persian Gulf and friendly relations to defend its interests.”

Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution put it on a collision course with much of the region as Tehran sought to export its anti-Western ideology. Saddam’s Iraq also won key regional financing in his war against Iran.

But relations with much of Arab world improved under outgoing president Mohammad Khatami whose rule saw improvements in ties with countries such Saudi Arabia, post-Saddam Iraq, Jordan and Algeria.

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