updated 8/28/2007 10:57:29 AM ET 2007-08-28T14:57:29

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned Tuesday that a power vacuum is imminent in Iraq and said that Iran was ready to help fill the gap.

“The political power of the occupiers is collapsing rapidly,” Ahmadinejad said at a news conference in Tehran, referring to U.S. troops in Iraq. “Soon, we will see a huge power vacuum in the region. Of course, we are prepared to fill the gap, with the help of neighbors and regional friends like Saudi Arabia, and with the help of the Iraqi nation.”

Although Ahmadinejad did not elaborate how Iran could fill a power gap, his bold remarks reflected what may be perceived as Iran’s eagerness for an increasing role on its neighbor’s political scene.

Earlier this month, during a visit here by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Iranian leaders said that only a U.S. pullout would bring peace to Iraq and pledged their government would do its best to help stabilize the country.

'Who are you?' he asks U.S.
Ahmadinejad accused the United States of interfering in Iraq’s internal affairs, and dismissed U.S. criticism of al-Maliki’s unsuccessful efforts to reconcile the country’s Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.

“They rudely say (the Iraqi) prime minister and the constitution must change,” Ahmadinejad said. “Who are you? Who has given you the right” to ask for such a change, he added, addressing the U.S. critics of al-Maliki, who is also a Shiite.

Ahmadinejad stressed that any U.S. effort to topple the al-Maliki government will fail. Key U.S. Democrats, including Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., have called for al-Maliki to be replaced because his Shiite-dominated government has been unable to forge national unity.

Ahmadinejad dismissed the possibility of any U.S. military action against Iran.

“I tell you resolutely that there is no possibility, whatsoever, of such a decision in the U.S.,” Ahmadinejad told reporters. “Even, if they were to decide to do so, they would be unable to carry it out.”

U.S. has accused Iran of being behind attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq — a claim the Iraqi government has only partially backed, saying Iran could have a role in the attacks. Iran has denied the accusations.

'Iran is a nuclear Iran'
On another issue of contention, the U.S. and its allies fear Tehran is using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to produce atomic weapons. Iran denies the charge, saying its program is solely geared toward generating electricity.

Ahmadinejad again Tuesday rejected any possibility of Iran suspending its controversial uranium enrichment program, saying it was “out of the question” and that the nation has achieved full proficiency in the nuclear fuel cycle.

“Today, Iran is a nuclear Iran,” Ahmadinejad said, while vowing Iran was committed to a “peaceful (nuclear) path.”

His comments followed an announcement Monday by the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, which said Tehran has offering some cooperation in the agency’s probe of an alleged secret uranium processing project linked by U.S. intelligence to a nuclear arms program.

The U.S. criticized the deal with the IAEA, saying it won’t save Iran from a third set of U.N. Security Council sanctions for refusing to halt enrichment.

Ahmadinejad said Bush was a “wicked, selfish and arrogant” leader who has abused the Security Council in a push to stop Iran’s nuclear program.

“You saw that your coercion ... was futile,” Ahmadinejad said, addressing Bush. “You sold out your prestige and stood against a cultured nation. ... I recommend that you don’t repeat this ugly behavior.”

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