updated 8/29/2006 2:21:33 PM ET 2006-08-29T18:21:33

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday challenged the authority of the U.N. Security Council as Iran faces a deadline to halt its uranium enrichment and he called for a televised debate with President Bush on world issues.

The White House dismissed the idea of a debate, describing it as a diversion.

The Security Council has given Iran until Thursday to suspend enrichment, a process that can produce either fuel for a reactor or material for weapons, or face economic and political sanctions.

“The U.S. and Britain are the source of many tensions,” Ahmadinejad said at a news conference. “At the Security Council, where they have to protect security, they enjoy the veto right. If anybody confronts them, there is no place to take complaints to.

“This (veto right) is the source of problems of the world. ... It is an insult to the dignity, independence, freedom and sovereignty of nations,” he said.

Ahmadinejad challenged Bush to a live, televised debate on “world issues and the ways of solving the problems of the international community.”

He said such a debate would show “the proposals of the Iranian nation on how to run the world better, different from the U.S. method of use of force.”

In dismissing Ahmadinejad’s proposal, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the United States was willing to talk to Iran in the context of a “positive response” to the package of incentives offered by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany.

U.S. responds
“Talk of a debate is just a diversion from the legitimate concerns that the international community, not just the U.S., has about Iran’s behavior, from support for terrorism to pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability,” Perino said, adding: “Iran may want to look first to allowing free expression and open debate within its borders, as opposed to the current practice of crushing dissent.”

It was not the first overture Ahmadinejad made to Bush. Earlier this year, he wrote a letter to Bush that was promptly dismissed by Washington as irrelevant and not addressing the key issue of its nuclear program.

Iran says its nuclear program is intended solely to generate electricity, while the United States and Europe contend it secretly aims to develop weapons.

Ahmadinejad rejected any suspension of enrichment, even if U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked for it during an upcoming visit to Iran.

Ahmadinejad defends program
“The use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes is the right of the Iranian nation. The Iranian nation has chosen this path. ... No one can prevent it,” he said.

Iran last week responded to the incentive package aimed at getting Tehran to roll back its nuclear program. Iranian officials said the Islamic country did not agree to halt enrichment — the key demand — before engaging in further talks.

Ahmadinejad called the response an opportunity for the two sides to resolve the issue and he didn’t rule out the possibility of direct talks with the United States.

“The opportunity the Iranian nation has given to other countries today is a very exceptional opportunity for a fair resolution of the issue,” he said.

The Iranian president also called Israel a threat to peace and stability in the Middle East.

“The Zionist regime has deprived the Palestinian nation and other nations of the region of a single day of peace. In the past 60 years, it has imposed tens of wars on the Palestinian nation and others,” he said.

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