U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that Iran's nuclear ambitions are endangering the entire world and called on the international community to hold Tehran accountable.
Speaking on the opening day of the UN's month-long Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) conference, Clinton cast Iran as the outlaw among the 189 states gathered to review the treaty that seeks to end the spread of nuclear weapons.
"Iran is the only country represented in this hall that has been found by the IAEA board of governors to be currently in noncompliance with its nuclear safeguards obligations," she said, referring to the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency. "The only one. It has defied the UN Security Council and the IAEA and placed the future of the nonproliferation regime in jeopardy."
Clinton's remarks come at the end of months of intensive U.S. diplomacy spent trying to persuade world leaders to support Washington's push for a fourth round of tough, targeted sanctions against Iran for failing to prove that it is not seeking nuclear weapons.
She repeated a warning she has given many times already, namely that, "Iran will do whatever it can to divert attention away from its own record in an attempt to evade accountability."
Indeed, just hours earlier, Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad stood before the same group and called for the disarmament of the world's nuclear powers and a change in the structure of the UN Security Council, calling its current structure "extremely unjust and ineffective, and it is one of the main factors of support for those countries that have nuclear weapons."
"Reforming the structure of the UN Security Council and completing the NPT is necessary and inseparable and they're needed for achieving the goals of the nuclear agency," Ahmadinejad added.
He denied that Iran is seeking to build nuclear weapons, describing them as a "fire against humanity."
"To have a nuclear bomb is not only a dishonor, it's obscene and shameful. Threatening to use it and using it is even more shameful," he said.
Ahmadinejad, who is the only head of state attending the conference, also accused the United States and its allies of using fears about proliferation of nuclear weapons as a pretext to deny developing countries' access to nuclear technology for civilian purposes.
He said the United States was the "main suspect" in the stockpiling, spread, and threat of nuclear weapons and called for countries that threaten to use atomic weapons to be punished. "Unfortunately, the United States has used nuclear weapons, and it has also threatened some countries, including my country, with them." The Iranian leader also accused Israel of threatening Middle East countries with nuclear weapons.
Statements like those prompted Clinton to respond directly to Ahmadinejad when it was her turn to speak. "This morning, Iran's president offered the same tired, false, and sometimes wild accusations against the United States and other parties at this conference. But that's not surprising," she said. "As you all heard this morning, Iran will do whatever it can to divert attention away from its own record and to attempt to evade accountability."
Delegations from the United States, Britain, and France all walked out of the UN General Assembly hall during Ahmadinejad's remarks.
Earlier in the day, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Iran to fully comply with Security Council resolutions and cooperate with the UN nuclear watchdog.
He encouraged Iran to accept the nuclear fuel supply proposal put forward by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and said Iran should clarify "the doubts and concerns" about its nuclear program.
Ahmadinejad reacted to Ban's comments by saying that Iran has already accepted the deal. "The secretary-general said Iran should accept the nuclear swap deal and that the ball is in Iran's court," he said. "I would like to tell him and tell you that we had accepted the deal from the beginning."
He added, "Therefore, the ball is now in the court of those who have to accept the swap deal and cooperate."
Also today, the United States disclosed for the first time the current size of its nuclear arsenal, deciding to lift the secrecy on the numbers to bolster the White House's nonproliferation agenda.
The Pentagon said it had a total of 5,113 warheads in its nuclear stockpile at the end of September, down 84 percent from a peak of 31,225 in 1967. The arsenal stood at 22,217 warheads when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.
written by Golnaz Esfandiari with agency reports