President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attempted to shift attention Tuesday from a looming international deadline to end Iran’s uranium enrichment program by challenging President Bush to a televised debate on world affairs.
Ahmadinejad’s remarks came during a news conference two days before a U.N. Security Council deadline for Iran to halt its nuclear activity. Tehran says it aims to produce electricity, but the West believes Iran’s efforts are aimed at weapons production.
Ahmadinejad indicated Tuesday that he wanted a full discussion of U.S. and British influence in the Middle East in the decades after World War II. He also questioned the U.N. framework for resolving conflicts, and specifically the worthiness of the Security Council.
The Iranian president said he wanted to “present his ideas” in a debate with Bush, “provided there was no censorship” by the news media.
The State Department and the White House swiftly dismissed Ahmadinejad’s statement and said international concern should remain focused on the Thursday deadline, which, absent Tehran’s compliance, could lead to sanctions.
Ahmadinejad rebuffed questions about Iran’s willingness to negotiate a suspension of nuclear activities and skirted a question about whether Tehran, which is stumbling economically, could handle sanctions.