Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in a U.N. General Assembly speech late Tuesday, stood firm behind what he said was his country's right to enrich uranium as part of a nominally peaceful nuclear program. Big-power foreign ministers meanwhile discussed possible sanctions against Tehran.
The Iranian leader's evening speech was being monitored closely for signs Tehran might be willing to suspend enrichment to stave off a sanctions move.
But there was no indication of flexibility in the Ahmadinejad message, which mixed religious themes with defiance of diplomatic efforts to persuade Iran to suspend what U.S. and some European officials believe is a nuclear weapons drive.
The Iranian President, making his second U.N. appearance since his election last year, accused the U.N. Security Council, which has taken up the Iranian nuclear issue, of bias and domination by the United States.
He said countries with nuclear technology including weapons, are trying to prevent Iran from acquiring it, even though he insisted Iran's intentions are peaceful.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran is a member of the IAEA and is committed to the NPT," said Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "All our nuclear activities are transparent, peaceful and under the watchful eyes of the IAEA inspectors. Why then are there objections to our legally-recognized rights? Which governments object to these rights? Governments that themselves benefit from nuclear energy and the fuel cycle."
Iran defied a U.N. Security Council resolution to suspend enrichment by August 31 and return to negotiations over its nuclear program. The resolution had been approved in late July to back up an offer by world powers of incentives for Iran to cooperate along with a threat of punitive action if it did not.
In his U.N. policy speech, several hours before the Ahmadinejad appearance, President Bush excoriated the Iranian government for promoting terrorism and extremism and pursuing nuclear weapons. Yet he stressed the United States' determination to resolve the nuclear issue through diplomacy:
"The United Nations has passed a clear resolution requiring that the regime in Tehran meet its international obligations," said President Bush. "Iran must abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions. Despite what the regime tells you, we have no objection to Iran's pursuit of a truly peaceful nuclear power program. We're working toward a diplomatic solution of this crisis."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held a dinner meeting with late Tuesday on the nuclear issue with her foreign minister colleagues from the four other permanent U.N. Security Council member countries, as well as Germany and Italy.
The Secretary told television interviewers earlier in the day that a failure to move ahead with sanctions against Tehran would cause a credibility problem for the international community.
In Congressional testimony, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicolas Burns said Iranian defiance should be met with escalating layers of sanctions beginning with those aimed at Iran's leadership and nuclear procurement efforts:
"Those sanctions in their first phase, and there may be multiple phases of graduated sanctions in Iran, should be focused on their leadership and should be focused on their nuclear program, and should be designed to curtail the kind of dual-use exports that we believe make it possible for the Iranians to conduct nuclear research by using technologies that are now permissible under international trade guidelines," said Nicolas Burns.
No senior U.S. official was in the General Assembly hall for the Ahmadinejad speech and there were no plans for any U.S. meetings with the Iranian leader. However, Secretary Rice said she was prepared to meet her Iranian counterpart anytime once Iran had met the precondition to stop enrichment.