TEHRAN, Iran – Iran said Saturday it would continue its nuclear program but provide “guarantees” not to build atomic weapons, and warned Washington it cannot stabilize neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan without Tehran’s help.
In a wide-ranging news conference, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said the wall of mistrust separating Tehran and Washington had become thicker during the Bush administration, adding he hoped American casualties in Iraq would affect U.S. public opinion before the November election.
Washington claims the Iranian nuclear program is aimed at building atomic weapons, but Tehran says is directed at generating electricity.
“We are ready to do everything necessary to give guarantees that we won’t seek nuclear weapons,” Khatami said.
“As Muslims, we can’t use nuclear weapons,” he told reporters in Tehran. “One who can’t use nuclear weapons won’t produce them.”
He did not elaborate on the nature of the guarantees, but Iran has already agreed to international inspections of its nuclear facilities and military sites. Khatami reiterated his country would not give up its nuclear program.
Khatami’s statement marks the first time Tehran has so publicly said it would provide guarantees to ease international concerns about its nuclear program.
On the U.S.-led conflicts in neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan, Khatami said Washington needs Iranian help to succeed in both countries. The United States and some Iraqi officials accuse Iran, which follows the Shia branch of Islam like most Iraqis, of meddling in Iraqi affairs.
“The U.S. knows itself that it can’t succeed in Iraq and Afghanistan without an Iranian presence,” he said. “Without imposing itself, Iran is considered an effective force in Iraq. You can’t ignore the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Khatami, however, said Tehran will not to settle its “many differences with America” in Iraq, but strongly criticized Bush for his Iraq policies, saying he hoped U.S. casualties in Iraq would affect the outcome of the upcoming election.
But he praised Iraq’s most senior Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, as a supporter of democracy in Iraq, unlike the Americans “who are suppressing the people.”
He warned Washington against making the same mistake it did in Iraq by attacking Iran, but said an American invasion was doubtful because the United States was so bogged down in Iraq.
President Bush labeled Iran as part of a global axis of evil along with North Korea and Iraq under Saddam Hussein.
“There is enough American public opinion pressure on Washington because of the young soldiers being killed in Iraq” to ensure Washington does not threaten Iran, he said.
Khatami warned Israel it would be committing “suicide” if it attacked Iran, following recent threats that the Jewish state might take military action to prevent Iran from making a nuclear bomb.
On the nuclear issue, Khatami said Iran is entitled to obtain capabilities to go through the full nuclear fuel cycle, from extracting uranium ore to enriching it for use as reactor fuel.
“We don’t want anything beyond this. It’s our legitimate right and no country can prevent us from achieving it,” he said.
Earlier this month, Iran confirmed it had resumed building nuclear centrifuges, which can be used to enrich uranium to weapons grade, and declared it should have the right to advanced nuclear technology.
Washington has been lobbying U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to refer Iran’s nuclear dossier to the Security Council, which could impose sanctions.
Khatami said Washington has no evidence to demand U.N. sanctions and urged the IAEA not to bow to U.S. pressure when it discusses Iran’s nuclear program next month, saying the Iranian case should be closed.
Khatami, ending his second and final four-year presidential term in 2005, acknowledged he had failed to fully implement his social and political reform program because of opposition from unelected, powerful hard-line institutions controlled by Islamic clerics.
Still, he said he had changed Iran’s political landscape, adding “I came to work within the ruling system, not to change the system or bring tension.”