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 Iran's President Says He'll Move Forward With Nuclear Program

(my note-for the first time since 9/11, after reading this article, am I now convinced on the inevitability of war with Iran, and soon. The only 'x-factor' is that the Israeli military will take their own lead, and remove the burgeoning threat)

TEHRAN, June 26 - Iran's conservative president-elect, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said today that he planned to move forward with his nation's nuclear program, insisting it was a matter of national pride. But he also agreed to continue discussions with three European nations which, along with the United States, fear the Islamic Republic is intent on building nuclear weapons.

In his first news conference since his election on Friday, Mr. Ahmadinejad demonstrated the kind of positions that made him the choice of this country's hard-liners, dismissing the need for any relationship with the United States, telling the Europeans they needed "to come down from their towers," and to move forward with the nuclear program.

"We need this technology in medicine, and engineering and for the progress of our youth and we will pursue it," he said, referring to nuclear technology in his hourlong news conference.

But on the most combustible of issues, like the nuclear program, the president-elect left himself some room to maneuver. Unlike hard-line members of Iran's parliament, for example, Mr. Ahmadinejad said he would continue the talks with the European Union - just as the outgoing president, Mohammad Khatami, had done.

"We will defend the right of Iranian people and this is definite," Mr. Ahmadinejad said at the news conference. "If they have a reasonable approach, the Europeans are obligated to fulfill their promises. In that case we will reach a conclusion soon."

With his election as president in a landslide victory over a former two-term president, Ali Akhbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Mr. Ahmadinejad gained a seat at the table in setting the course of Iran's nuclear program. As is the case with all of Iran's policies, the ultimate decisions are made by appointed clerics, chiefly the supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Though Iran is one of the world's largest producers of oil, it has said that it needs nuclear technology so that it can export more of its oil to raise money for development. But many western countries believe Iran plans to use its nuclear program to build weapons - a charge the country denies.

Talks are scheduled to resume between the European Union and Iran this summer, and European leaders are concerned that their efforts to stop Iran's nuclear development will be thwarted by the ascension of a hard-line, religious conservative to the presidency.

But Mr. Ahmadinejad does not appear overly concerned about what anyone outside Iran is thinking of him. He speaks with a nationalist pride, and a determination to have Iran treated as an equal, not as a second-class party at the negotiating table.

- At his news conference, the new president carried himself as a rehearsed politician, staying on message, deflecting questions he did not want to answer, always returning to the themes of moderation, progress and development - even when it came to the United States.

"Our nation is continuing on the path of progress and on this path has no significant need for the United States," Mr. Ahmadinejad said.

But, he added: "We would like to have relations with any country that doesn't have hostile relations towards us. I think those in the United States who want to have relations with Iran should state their policies transparently so that we can examine the possibility of having relations."

The new president also offered a conciliatory gesture to his political opponents, including the reform movement leaders who with this election have been vanquished from power. He also tried to reassure the public he is not about to impose a Taliban-style government on the nation, as his critics charged during the campaign.

"In domestic policy, moderation will be the policy of the government," he said. "We will confront any kind of extremism."

Mr. Ahmadinejad also sought to calm the concerns of investors and the business community. He said he had never called for closing down Tehran's stock market - as has been reported in Iran - and he said he welcomed foreign investment into Iran.

"I will support the stock market," he said, adding that he wants to implement some changes to rid the market of corruption and favoritism.

Mr. Ahmadinejad, 49, is a religious man, whose style and manner harkens back to the early days of the revolution when strict codes of conduct and dress for women were strictly enforced, often by militants called Basiji, of which the new president was once one.

- Mr. Ahmadinejad began his news conference by having someone read from the Koran, a throwback to the early days of the revolution. He was greeted by supporters who shouted out religious greetings, then he recited passages from the Koran. His news conference was the first presidential news conference not to be translated into English in many years.

The new president is diminutive and seemed to disappear behind the sea of microphones placed on a desk. A banner stapled to the wood paneling behind him tried to fuel his image as a man of the people. It read "The cabinet of 70 million people... We can do it."

Throughout the news conference he smiled easily and sat patiently while questioners grilled him on his attitudes about everything from women's dress to international investment to his ideas about sports. But more often than not, Mr. Ahmadinejad answered with vague responses, espousing principals, and not specifics. When asked how he felt about reducing the size of the government, he agreed that it was too large, and that the state-owned industries needed to be put into private hands. But he offered no specifics.

When asked if he would follow through on a specific promise to prosecute those guilty of corruption working in the oil industry - he said that yes, he would pursue corruption.

And he punted completely when he was asked if he would impose a stricter dress code on women - who in recent years have been allowed to wear brightly colored head scarves and modest overcoats, instead of more restrictive Islamic cover-ups.

"This is the duty of the current government," he said. "I have stated my opinions in the past."

His most direct remarks were in praise of the Islamic Republic's blended government, where elected bodies, like the presidency, must adhere to the decisions of the religious rulers. "Religious democracy is the only path toward human prosperity," he said, "and it's the most advanced type of government that humans can ever have."

 2005/6/26 18:47

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