Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is poised to deliver a defiant address to the United Nations general assembly this week amid a storm of opposition to his visit to New York and growing international alarm over his country’s nuclear ambitions.
On the eve of his departure from Tehran, the Iranian military yesterday showed off a new long-range ballistic missile called the Ghadr – Farsi for ‘power’.
In a speech marking the event, Ahmadinejad shrugged off US and regional concerns about Iran’s more assertive role, saying: ‘Iran is an influential power in the region and the world should know that this power has always served peace, stability, brotherhood and justice.’
But with the Iranian leader expected to arrive in New York on Sunday for the annual meeting of the 192-member assembly, diplomats said that his visit was likely to raise the temperature yet again in the debate surrounding international moves to curb Iran’s nuclear enrichment programme.
Members of the UN security council have been informally consulting on the possibility of a new and tougher resolution in the wake of Iran’s refusal to abandon its ambitions to produce enriched uranium. Last week, the French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, warned the Iranians that if diplomatic efforts failed to dissuade Iran from becoming a nuclear power, war was a possibility.
Speaking to The Observer, the British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, played down that prospect, and interpreted Kouchner’s remarks as a move to convey to Iran ‘the depth of feelings’ about ‘the dangers of setting off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East’.
Miliband insisted that Britain and its EU allies were ’100 per cent committed to a diplomatic solution. But when asked whether he thought the issue ‘will be solved by diplomatic means’, he stopped short of saying yes. He replied instead: ‘I think it can be solved by diplomatic means.’
Ahmadinejad’s visit has already sparked bitter opposition in New York. He has been forced to cancel plans to ‘pay respects to the American nation’ at the Ground Zero site of the 11 September terror attack on the World Trade Centre, amid protests from relatives of some of the victims.
On Monday, Columbia University is scheduled to play host to Ahmadinejad for a question-and-answer session with students and faculty – despite calls from leading political figures, including a number of US presidential candidates, for the school to cancel the event.
The university’s president, Lee Bollinger, has said he will introduce the event with a ‘series of sharp challenges’ to Ahmadinejad on issues ranging from his ‘denial of the Holocaust’ and his ‘call for the destruction of the State of Israel’ to Iranian nuclear ambitions.