SHANGHAI, China—Clearly reveling in the spotlight at an Asian summit, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Friday welcomed a Western incentives plan to resolve a dispute over Iran's nuclear program as "a step forward," but he gave no hint on how soon his government will issue a formal response.
"We regard the offer of a package as a step forward, and I have instructed my colleagues to carefully consider it," Ahmadinejad said. "We will give a response in due time."
Ahmadinejad was referring to a plan offered two weeks ago by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany that's aimed at persuading Tehran to suspend its uranium enrichment program. In return for the suspension, the United States and others would offer Iran assistance in developing its civilian nuclear program.
U.S. and European officials have said they fear that Iran is planning to develop nuclear weapons under the guise of a peaceful nuclear energy program.
Flatly asserting that Iran has no intention of arming itself with nuclear weapons, Ahmadinejad evoked the horrors of World War II during a lengthy news conference.
"Pay attention to the fact that Hiroshima is just hundreds of kilometers away from us," the Iranian leader said, referring to the Japanese city leveled by a U.S. atomic bomb in 1945. "It touched the conscience of all humanity for all time."
Harking back again to the war at another moment, in response to a question, Ahmadinejad called for an independent investigation into whether the Holocaust occurred. In the past, he has described the extermination of 6 million Jews during World War II as a "myth."
Asked to reflect on the venue of the summit, a bustling port where many Jews sought refuge during World War II, Ahmadinejad didn't step back from his earlier stance on wartime history.
"These historical events need to be investigated by independent and impartial parties," he said, speaking through an interpreter.
He added that he has no problem with people of Jewish faith. "The problem is not the Jews. The problem is a political force called Zionism that has perhaps hidden behind the name of Judaism."
Following the extermination of Jews in Nazi death camps during World War II, Zionists sought a homeland for Jews in the Middle East.
Ahmadinejad's comment about the Holocaust came as debate grows over whether another comment he's alleged to have made about Israel was really a mistranslation. Scholars now suggest that a call for Israel "to be wiped from the map" was incorrect. Ahmadinejad didn't use the word "map," but Farsi words that are more figurative in nature and might be translated as "pages of history" or "our times."
Wearing an open-neck shirt and appearing slight behind a massive floral display, Ahmadinejad took questions for about an hour after meeting with President Hu Jintao of China following a one-day summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, an alliance that comprises China, Russia and four Central Asian countries.
He seemed to enjoy the large platform that the gathering of Asian leaders provided him, seeking international legitimacy as Tehran faces growing pressure over its nuclear program.
Ahmadinejad declined to provide details of his one-on-one discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin and with Hu on the sidelines of the summit, but he suggested that Iran found steady support from Moscow and Beijing.
"Our views and positions on many issues are close or even identical," he said. "We have very good cooperation."
After meeting with the Iranian, Hu urged Ahmadinejad to "positively respond" to the package, the state-run Xinhua news agency said. Hu added, "China understands Iran's concerns on its right to peacefully use nuclear power."
Ahmadinejad didn't criticize the United States, Britain, France and Germany by name for insisting on the suspension of much of Iran's nuclear program. But he used apocalyptic language in portraying the critics of Iran, saying they would only bring about their own downfall by pressuring Tehran.
"We believe that warmongering and selfish powers of the world have to correct themselves and their behavior if they want a place for themselves in the future," he said.
(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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