UNITED NATIONS, Sep 26 (Reuters) Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the issue of his country's nuclear ambitions was ''closed'' and a matter to be handled by the UN watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.
''All our nuclear activities have been completely peaceful and transparent,'' he told the UN General Assembly yesterday, accusing Western powers of trying to deprive Iran of its right to nuclear energy.
He said that despite military threats and ''illegal'' sanctions, ''Iran has moved forward step by step and now our country is recognized as a one with the capacity for industrial-scale fuel cycle production for peaceful purposes.'' Iran agreed with the IAEA on August 21 to explain the scope of its nuclear program, which Tehran insists aims at mastering technology to generate atomic power although Western nations believe it is a covert bomb program.
The pact allows Iran to settle questions one by one over a timeline the IAEA says would run to December -- even as it adds centrifuges to its Natanz enrichment plant, nearing the 3,000 needed to start producing usable quantities of nuclear fuel.
Western powers have cast doubt on the deal, saying it allows Tehran to string out answers to questions about past, hidden nuclear work while leaving intact its uranium-enrichment program, a possible path to atom bombs.
In an interview with Reuters on Monday, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Ahmadinejad had in the past made exaggerated claims about how far Iran had progressed in enriching and reprocessing nuclear fuel.
Ahmadinejad said yesterday Western powers had insisted on politicizing the Iranian nuclear issue.
''But today, because of the resistance of the Iranian nation, the issue is back to the agency (IAEA), and I officially announce that in our opinion the nuclear issue of Iran is now closed and has turned into an ordinary agency matter.'' ''Of course Iran has always been and will be prepared to have constructive talks with all parties,'' he added.
PROSPECT OF SANCTIONS IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei said the IAEA will be unable to declare Iran's current program is wholly peaceful before Tehran grants wider inspections aimed at verifying there is no nuclear activity at undeclared sites.
The UN Security Council has demanded Iran halt its enrichment program, and has imposed two rounds of sanctions.
The United States and France are pressing for a third round, but Russia and China are reluctant.
At a news conference, Ahmadinejad described US moves to tighten sanctions as ''not important.'' ''Some big powers seek to impose their will on the Security Council,'' he said. ''We can't expect that the rights of our nation will be taken care of, so what's right for us to do is to cooperate with the IAEA and to resist.'' In his lengthy speech, Ahmadinejad also blasted the policies of the ''illegal Zionist regime'' (Israel) toward the Palestinians and the US military presence in Iraq.
He said he looked forward to a time when ''Palestine and Iraq will be liberated,'' when powers would ''return from the path of arrogance and obedience to Satan'' and when ''the pleasing aroma of justice will permeate the world.'' Ahmadinejad refused to address an Israeli woman who asked him at the news conference about her husband, one of two Israeli soldiers kidnapped by pro-Iranian Hezbollah last year.
He also ignored a question from an Israeli journalist.
Ahmadinejad hit back at earlier charges by US President George W Bush of human rights violations in Iran.
In a clear reference to the United States he said rights were being violated by ''certain powers'' that were guilty of ''setting up secret prisons, abducting persons, trials and secret punishments without any regard to due process.'' Washington sent only a junior official to listen to the speech. ''We chose to have a low-level note taker attend the president of Iran's speech to send him a powerful message,'' said State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos.
Reuters KK VP0642