NEW YORK — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Tuesday brushed off the threat of new United Nations sanctions against Iran, saying they'd have little impact and would end up undermining President Barack Obama's standing at home and abroad.
"The failure of the motto of change is really not going to harm Iran. It will harm mainly the U.S. administration," Ahmadinejad asserted, referring to Obama's 2008 presidential campaign slogan, "Change you can believe in."
"While we do not welcome sanctions, we do not fear them either," he said, warning that the approval of new measures "will mean relations between Iran and the U.S. will never be improved again."
The U.S. and Iran haven't had diplomatic relations in three decades.
Ahmadinejad, who began his second term as president last year amid election fraud charges that led to bloody clashes between his regime and the opposition, made his comments at a wide-ranging news conference one day after he addressed an international arms control conference at the U.N.
Sitting before an Iranian flag and flanked by top aides, he used many of the questions to continue the attacks he launched against the U.S. from the U.N. General Assembly podium, questioning whether the only nation ever to have used nuclear weapons has the standing to accuse Iran of seeking nuclear arms.
Speaking through a translator, he also warned that Iran would defend Lebanon and Syria if they're attacked by Israel over alleged missile shipments to Lebanese militants, and he claimed that Iranian women enjoy better rights and treatment than their European counterparts, an assertion at odds with numerous human rights reports.
Ahmadinejad's speech to the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference was part of an intense Iranian diplomatic campaign to head off or dilute a fourth round of sanctions for defying U.N. orders to suspend its uranium enrichment program.
Enrichment is the process that produces low-enriched uranium for power plants — Iran's professed intention — and highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons, which is what U.S. and European officials charge is the country's real goal.
The nearly month-long conference coincides with deliberations between U.S., Russian, Chinese, British, French and German diplomats over the new U.N. sanctions resolution, which is expected to target senior Iranian officials and companies involved in the nuclear program.
Earlier Tuesday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, Moscow's chief negotiator on Iran, told reporters that the talks on the sanctions "are slowly moving forward."
Ahmadinejad insisted that Iran has been unaffected by U.S. sanctions imposed after the 1979 Islamic Revolution or by the existing U.N. nuclear sanctions, an assertion that U.S. officials and independent experts dispute, citing the worsening state of Iran's economy.
"The Iranian nation has been able to withstand all of the sanctions brought by the United States and its allies," he contended. "Sanctions in a free trade world are a broken deal. But we do fear that a group of radicals may be ready to push Mr. Obama, who came to office with the motto of change, speedily towards an irreversible point."
The Iranian leader didn't identify the group to which he referred, and he denied he meant that Washington would go to war over Iran's nuclear program when he referred to "an irreversible point."
"We are not concerned about any war against Iran," he said. "When I say an irreversible point will be reached, I'm not speaking of war. I mean that Mr. Obama will reach a political point," he said. "We're not concerned by war. There is no power in the world that can engage in a military attack against Iran."
Obama has been pursuing what he calls a "dual track" approach of offering to negotiate a diplomatic resolution to the dispute while using sanctions to force a halt to Iran's uranium enrichment.
U.S. officials, however, also say the president hasn't taken the option of launching military strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities off the table.
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