UNITED NATIONS — The United States and Iran used the U.N. General Assembly’s famous green marble podium Monday to trade punches over the Islamic republic’s nuclear program, adding sudden drama to the normally staid opening of the international conference to review the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the only head of state attending a meeting usually left to foreign ministers, defiantly sought to rebuff accusations that Iran was a nuclear outlaw by going on the offensive against the United States.
The United States, represented by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, accused Iran of trying to create a smokescreen to hide its own violations and said Tehran should not be allowed to try to undermine a broad international consensus to strengthen the 40-year-old treaty.
The treaty is viewed as successful overall in dissuading countries from developing nuclear weapons but is seen as under threat as more nations express an interest in starting nuclear programs.
The U.N. secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said that expanding interest as well as new problems like possible nuclear terrorism made the treaty more important than ever. “The nuclear threat remains real,” Ban said. “It has evolved in new and varied forms.”
In his speech, Ahmadinejad said that all nuclear powers tried to intimidate countries that had no nuclear weapons, but he called the United States the “main suspect” in fostering a nuclear arms race. It has engendered worldwide hatred for being the first and only state to use a nuclear bomb, he said
As Ahmadinejad spoke, members of delegations from a number of countries, including the United States and many European Union members, walked out of the General Assembly. The hall was about one-third full during his 35-minute address.
The Iranian president said the United States and its allies had failed to provide a “single credible proof” of allegations that Tehran was hiding an attempt to develop a nuclear bomb of its own. The Islamic republic had already accepted a compromise deal over enriching uranium for a research reactor, he said.
In opening the conference, Ban urged Iran to prove that its nuclear program was solely for peaceful purposes and to accept a compromise deal offered to Tehran last fall. Iran is facing a fourth round of Security Council sanctions that are being negotiated separately.