Ahmadinejad provokes walkout at UN conference
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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad berated the United States Monday for threatening other countries with nuclear weapons. Ahmadinejad's comments spurred US delegates to walk out of the UN conference reviewing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
AFP - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used a UN conference here Monday to blast the United States for threatening to use atomic weapons, triggering a walkout by US and other delegates.
"Regrettably, the government of the United States has not only used nuclear weapons but also continues to threaten to use such weapons against other countries, including Iran," Ahmadinejad told the opening session of a meeting reviewing the landmark Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was due to speak later in the day, with the US-Iranian nuclear standoff clearly looming large over the conference, which runs through May 28.
Clinton had warned Sunday that Iran would try to divert attention at the crucial meeting from its violations of its obligations under the NPT which it has signed along with 188 other states.
Ahmadinejad said having nuclear weapons was "disgusting and shameful, and even more shameful is the threat to use or to use such weapons."
In Washington, the Defense Department was set to release previously classified statistics on the size of the US nuclear arsenal.
This is part of a US drive to prove it is serious about disarmament and transparency about its nuclear weapons.
Washington has launched various initiatives recently to give weight to President Barack Obama's vow to work for a world free of nuclear weapons.
The NPT review is an attempt to tighten up the non-proliferation regime, which is based on monitoring national nuclear programs as well as promoting both disarmament and the peaceful use of atomic energy.
In his 35-minute speech, Ahmadinejad called for the United States to be suspended from the UN atomic watchdog's executive board over its threats to use nuclear weapons.
"How can the United States be a member of the board of governors (of IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency) when it used nuclear weapons against Japan" and also used depleted uranium weapons in the war against Iraq, he said.
Besides the United States, fellow nuclear powers Britain and France walked out. Non-nuclear states which also left included Germany, Finland, the Czech Republic and Morocco, according to a Western diplomat.
Ahmadinejad also called for an independent body to set a deadline for the elimination of all nuclear weapons, in a wide-ranging speech on saving the non-proliferation regime from what he said were abuses by nuclear powers.
He said states without nuclear weapons have not "been able to exercise their inalienable and legal rights for peaceful use of nuclear energy without facing pressures and threats."
UN chief Ban Ki-moon earlier urged nuclear weapons states to reaffirm unequivocally a vow to scrap atomic weapons.
But IAEA chief Yukiya Amano brought up the issue of Iranian non-compliance with NPT obligations when he told the conference that his UN nuclear watchdog was unable to confirm that all Iranian nuclear activities are peaceful.
Iran is under three rounds of sanctions to get it to stop enriching uranium, even though it insists its nuclear program is a peaceful effort to generate electricity.
The United States is seeking a fourth, more stringent, round.
Iran is seen as a test case for non-proliferation as its getting the bomb could set off an atomic arms race in the Middle East.
Another stumbling block at the conference will be Egypt's insistence, backed by non-aligned states, that there should be an international conference on creating a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East.
The 1995 review conference had called for such a zone. Review conferences are held every five years.
Israel is not a member of the NPT and is believed to have some 200 atom bombs. It says there must be peace in the Middle East before setting up a weapons-free zone.
The NPT bargain is that nuclear weapons states move towards disarmament while other states forswear the bomb in return for peaceful nuclear energy.
But some nations insist the bargain has broken down. This will make it hard to agree on measures such as universalizing the NPT or even adopting a final document at the month-long review.