Ahmadinejad says ready for 'face-to-face' talks with Obama

by Hiedeh Farmani, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Aug 02 2010 05:04 PM | Updated as of Aug 03 2010 09:54 PM

TEHRAN, Iran (UPDATE 2) - Hardline Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Monday he was ready for face-to-face talks with his US counterpart Barack Obama, whom he said was being influenced by Israel in his global policies.

Criticising Obama for missing "historic opportunities" to repair the broken relations with Iran, Ahmadinejad said he was ready to discuss issues concerning the international community with the US president.

"We are hopefully coming for the UN assembly," Ahmadinejad said in an address to expatriate Iranians which was broadcast live on state television.

"We are ready to sit down with Mr Obama face-to-face and put the global issues on the table, man-to-man, freely, and in front of the media and see whose solutions are better. We think this is a better approach."

Ahmadinejad is expected to travel to New York for the UN General Assembly meeting next month.

The Iranian president has previously challenged Obama to hold a public debate with him on issues concerning the international community.

He has on various occasions blamed the United States for "global disorders," particularly the financial crisis in the world economy.

His call on Monday comes after a series of punitive sanctions imposed on Iran by the UN Security Council, the United States and the European Union over Tehran's controversial nuclear programme.

Ahmadinejad criticised Obama for missing what he said were "historic opportunities" to repair relations with Iran, with whom the United States has had no direct diplomatic ties for more than 30 years.

"He (Obama) said he wants to make changes and we welcomed (that). Unfortunately, he did not correctly exploit historic opportunities," the hardliner said, adding that Obama "overly values Zionists."

Obama had in March 2009 extended a hand of diplomacy towards Iran in an attempt to break the deadlock between the two countries, but since then the animosity between the two nations has steadily worsened.

Ahmadinejad said he was informed that Obama "is under a lot of pressure."

"Somebody should answer questions whether the US government is dominated by the Zionists or the Zionist regime is controlled by the US government."

Israel, like the United States, has not ruled out a military strike against Iran to halt its nuclear programme.

Ahmadinejad, under whose presidency Iran has been slapped with four sets of UN sanctions, has remained steadfast in pursuing a sensitive uranium enrichment programme, which Washington and other world powers want Tehran to abandon.

Iran says it is not enriching uranium for any military aims.

Under Ahmadinejad, animosity between Iran and Israel has also increased dramatically, with the world powers lashing out at him for his regular anti-Israel tirades.

In front of a cheering audience, Ahmadinejad blasted Obama and Western powers for supporting Israel, the sole if undeclared nuclear weapons power in the Middle East.

"You support a country which has hundreds of atom bombs and you say 'we have to stop Iran' which you say can one day have a bomb. You are disgracing yourselves in the world," he said.

Ahmadinejad reiterated that Iran was ready to hold talks based on "logic" with the world powers.

"The US government recently said it was ready for a high level dialogue. Fine, we are ready to have high level talk based on mutual respect and dignity," he said.

"But if you think you can brandish a stick so that we accept all that you say, that will not happen," he said to roars from the crowd.

Ahmadinejad has ordered a freeze until the end of August on talks with the six world powers -- Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany -- concerning Iran's overall nuclear programme. Talks are expected to begin in September.

But Iran has said it is ready for separate talks with the UN atomic watchdog, the United States, Russia and France over a nuclear fuel swap deal.

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told Iran's Arabic language television Al-Alam on Sunday that the chief of the UN atomic watchdog was seeking to "organise a meeting" with the other parties over the deal.