Ahmadinejad challenges Bush to TV debate

TEHRAN (AFP) — President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday challenged his US counterpart George W. Bush to a live television debate as he shrugged off the threat of sanctions two days ahead of a UN deadline for Iran to halt sensitive atomic work.

“I suggest we talk with Mr Bush, the president of the United States, in a live television debate about world issues and ways out of these standoffs. We would voice our opinions and they would too,” he told a news conference.

The debate “should be uncensored, above all for the American public”, said Ahmadinejad, who earlier this year sent Bush a letter in the first contact in decades between leaders of the two arch-foes.

However, a White House official rejected the debate offer outright, dismissing Ahmadinejad’s move as “just a diversion from the legitimate concerns that the international community, not just the US, has about Iran’s behaviour”.

Ahmadinejad said Iran would be prepared to restore ties frozen by the United States after the seizure of the US embassy in Tehran in 1979, but Washington would first have to change its tone towards the Islamic republic.

“We would like to have relations with all countries except for the one country which we see as illegitimate and imposed,” he said, referring to Israel which Tehran refuses to recognise.

“The US is not an exception, but United States cut the ties to pressure us. The US administration is still dreaming about returning the Iranian nation to 30 years back.

“They have to wake up from this dream, correct their behaviour and language, take a fair stance. They cut the ties, they should provide the conditions themselves,” he told only his third news conference since taking power.

Ahmadinejad was speaking as the clock ticked down to a Thursday deadline from the UN Security Council to suspend all uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities, with Iran facing possible sanctions if it fails to comply.

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is to report to the Security Council the same day on Iran’s compliance with its demands. Iran has insisted it has no intention of abandoning such work.

But Ahmadinejad said he believed it was “unlikely” the Security Council would act against Iran over its nuclear programme, which the US maintains is cover for a weapons drive.

“We have said everything in our response. I think the time to use the instrument of the Security Council has expired,” he said.

He was referring to Iran’s answer to a Western package of incentives over its nuclear programme, which Iran says is for civilian energy purposes only.

“I see it as unlikely that they want to use it [the Security Council]. Using nuclear energy is Iran’s right and we want to use it according to international law,” Ahmadinejad said.

British Ambassador to the United Nations Emyr Jones Parry said he expected the Security Council to wait a couple of weeks before discussing what action to take.

“I would expect the dossier to come back into the council shortly, but only after a further period of discussion among capitals,” he said in New York.

“I would expect activities here to resume toward the middle of September.” Ahmadinejad, who last year caused outrage when he described Israel as a tumour that should be “wiped off the map”, said he wanted the root of tensions in the Middle East to be “removed”.

“Our position on the Middle East is clear. We want the root of tensions to be removed. During these 60 years what was the root of massacres, crimes and conflicts?” Ahmadinejad asked, referring to the creation of Israel in 1948.

“The solution is clear and nothing has changed,” he added.

Ahmadinejad, who has repeatedly questioned the historical veracity of the Holocaust, said that the Jewish state was “founded upon a story” and complained how “questioning that story has become an unforgivable crime”.

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