Iranian president expects nuclear talks to resume

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tuesday that he saw a “good chance” that talks could soon resume with the United States and its allies over Iran’s disputed nuclear program because “there is no other alternative.”

Ahmadinejad, visiting New York to take part in United Nations General Assembly meetings, denied that Iran had been hurt by economic sanctions imposed in the last three months to pressure Tehran to dramatically alter its nuclear program. He also dismissed talk of a possible attack to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations as no more than “psychological warfare.”

New talks over Iran’s nuclear policies are “bound to happen,” he told a group of reporters at a breakfast, because “what is left is talks.... There’s no other way.”

The U.S. and many other world powers believe Iran’s nuclear program is aimed at developing a bomb. Iran insists its goals are peaceful, such as power generation.

Sanctions against Tehran have sought to cut off investment in Iran’s energy sector, limit the country’s access to international banking and punish Iranian officials tied to the nuclear program.

Iran has been trying to make up for the loss of trade and investment by turning to other countries, especially in the developing world. Ahmadinejad has been urging countries not to enforce the sanctions, arguing that it is the U.S., rather than Iran, that stands in the way of a solution to the nuclear standoff.

U.S. officials say they are willing to negotiate but that Iranian officials have not agreed to offers from the West to resume the conversations.

“Iran has been talking about talks but needs to follow up,” said a senior administration official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Ray Takeyh, a former U.S. advisor on Iran, said that although Ahmadinejad has floated the idea of new talks, a majority of the most powerful figures in Iran, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, are opposed.

Ahmadinejad has become “the main advocate for engagement,” said Takeyh, now with the Council on Foreign Relations. “That’s what it’s come to.”

Although Ahmadinejad seemed open to renewed contacts in his meeting with journalists, he also repeated harsh criticisms of the U.S. and its allies.

He blasted the U.S. for a planned $60-billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, a regional rival of Iran. “That’s how much the United States wants peace,” he said.

But even as he dismissed talk of war, Ahmadinejad suggested that the U.S. was not capable of waging one.

He said the U.S. has “never entered a real war, not in Vietnam, nor in Afghanistan, nor in World War II.” He suggested that other countries bore the brunt of fighting in World War II. “War is not just bombing someplace. When it comes, it has no limits,” he said.

He accused the U.S. of using the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to dominate other countries and criticized U.S.-led peacemaking efforts in the Middle East, contending that the Palestinian leaders engaged in peace talks are not the chosen representatives of the Palestinian majority.

Kaveh Afrasiabi, an Iranian political scientist and onetime advisor to Iranian nuclear negotiators, said Iranian officials were trying to persuade other governments that the sanctions and U.S. arms sales were a threat to regional stability but that Iran was willing to cooperate with the U.S. in the interest of stability.

Afrasiabi, who was traveling with the Iranian delegation, said he believed there had been behind-the-scenes diplomatic conversations and that a resumption of U.S.-Iran talks might be announced soon.

Ahmadinejad and President Obama are scheduled to address the General Assembly in speeches Thursday.