The United States is labeling as "very aggressive," a United Nations speech Saturday by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in which he said Iran has an inalienable right to a complete nuclear fuel cycle. Senior State Department officials will discuss the speech in New York Sunday with counterparts from Britain, France and Germany, the European states that have been engaged in nuclear dialogue with Tehran.
Iranian officials had said in advance that the Iranian Presidents speech would ease international concerns about Iran's nuclear intentions. But the strongly-worded half-hour address to the U.N. General Assembly seems to have had the opposite effect.
A senior U.S. official who spoke to reporters called the speech "very aggressive" and said Mr. Ahmadinejad's repeated assertion of an Iranian right to enrich uranium appears to cross "red lines" set by the three European Union states that have negotiated with Tehran.
Mr. Ahmadinejad, an Islamic hardliner making his debut in international politics, accused the United States of a policy of "nuclear apartheid," in which some countries can have access to nuclear technology and material and others cannot.
The Iranian president repeated his government's contention that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful.
"Those hegemonic powers who consider scientific and technological progress of independent and free nations as a challenge to their monopoly on these important instruments of power have misrepresented Iran's healthy and fully-safeguarded technological endeavors in the nuclear field as pursuit of nuclear weapons. This is nothing but a pure propaganda ploy," he said.
Mr. Ahmadinejad warned that the Tehran government would reconsider its approach to the nuclear issue if outside powers try to impose their will on Iran with what he termed "the language of force and threat."
In what he described as confidence-building steps, Mr. Ahmadinejad said Iran is prepared to engage in partnership with foreign governments and companies in the conduct of its uranium enrichment program.
He called for the creation of a special ad hoc committee of the U.N. General Assembly to seek global nuclear disarmament.
He also proposed expanding Iran's nuclear dialogue with the three European powers to include other countries, specifically proposing to add South Africa.
Iran backed out of a nuclear freeze agreement with the EU-3 in August and began uranium conversion work, a precursor to enrichment.
Mr. Ahmadinejad's speech precedes a meeting Monday of the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which could refer the issue of Iran's nuclear program to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.
A British spokesman called Mr. Ahmadinejad's speech unhelpful, while French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said that what he had heard from the Iranian leader means the option of a Security Council referral remains on the table.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in comments to reporters at a meeting with Libyan Foreign Minister Abd al-Rahman Shalgam, said she had not had time to read the Iranian speech, but that it is very clear from all her U.N. contacts that Iran needs to return to the talks with the EU-3.
The Europeans have offered Iran political and economic incentives to abandon enrichment and other nuclear activities that the United States has long maintained are part of a covert weapons effort.