New York -- Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned today that passing tougher UN sanctions against Iran would not only shut off all chances of diplomatic engagement between Iran and the United States, but would also cripple President Obama's hopes for success in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Palestinian territories.
"Any connections and contacts with Iran, the pathway to Iran, will be shut permanently," he said in an interview with the Boston Globe. "Those who are trying to radicalize the atmosphere here fail to understand that they are speedily moving towards the cliff."
In a wide-ranging interview over 45 minutes, Ahmadinejad cast Iran as the key to ensuring Obama's historic legacy. He said that if Obama decides to side with more hawkish voices in the United States against Iran, it would ensure the continuation of intractrable conflicts for years to come.
"He should be very careful not to get entrapped in the web laid by radicals around him," he said. "If he can't resolve the impasse with Iran, do you think he can resolve the problems with Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine?" he said, adding that sanctions "will mean the end of his opportunity in improving world affairs."
But Ahmadinejad, who is the only head of state attending a UN conference on nuclear non-proliferation, said he still believes that Iran can reach a deal with the United States and its Western allies on taking some of its nuclear fuel out of the country, in exchange for fuel for its medical reactor. He said Iran is willing to put half of its low-enriched uranium in the custody of international inspectors as part of a phased exchange, offering a revised version of a deal that Iran had accepted in September, but backed away from later.
"We believe that through talks and negotiations we can find a middle ground," he said. "It can be done in a manner that is acceptable to both parties. . . It is only in the spirit of cooperation that we are agreeing to the swap, just to provide a field for cooperation and eliminate the clash."
But US officials say that Iran is merely employing a delaying tactic aimed at breaking the momentum that is building towards a new round of sanctions against Iran aimed at forcing the country to stop enriching uranium, which could be used as fuel for peaceful nuclear power or, if enriched to much higher levels of purity, for a nuclear weapon. Iran is a major focus at this week's Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference, where officials from around the world are discussing how to tighten controls and halt smuggling networks to ensure that no more countries are able to develop nuclear weapons.
In an interview at his New York hotel, Ahmadinejad argued that the United States - not Iran - should be the focus of discussion, since it still has nuclear weapons. He lauded the Obama Administration for disclosing more details on the United States' own nuclear arsenal on Monday, saying it is "definitely a positive trend, but it is not enough."
When asked why Iran hasn't released three American hikers who were taken into custody after staying into Iranian territory from Iraqi Kurdistan, Ahmadinejad said their case was with the judiciary and that he could not do anything about it. But later in the interview, he proposed trading the hikers for seven Iranians who have been arrested around the world and extradited to the United States, where they are accused of smuggling ring nuclear components.
"I think perhaps as a good gesture would be to exchange, to swap, these people," he said. "Let's have a formal judicial agreement so that ...every party can be brought to justice before the courts of their own country when cases of this nature arise?"
Ahmadinejad noted that he had sent a congratulatory message to Obama when he was elected, but that Obama never sent a response. Although Obama did send several overtures to Iran's Supreme Leader, and taped a video New Years message to the Iranian people, Ahmadinejad said Obama's letter should have been sent to him.
"People [in Iran] say our president has written you a letter and you haven't responded to our president's congratulatory note," he said. "So both the Leader and the people felt that by taking that step, the US administration is disrespectful of the Iranian government in place."
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.