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updated 9/24/2010 7:15:11 PM ET 2010-09-24T23:15:11

Iran would consider ending higher level uranium enrichment, the most crucial part of its controversial nuclear activities, if world powers send Tehran nuclear fuel for a medical research reactor, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told reporters Friday.

Addressing a packed press conference in a New York hotel, Ahmadinejad also said Iran was prepared to set a date for resumption of talks with six world powers to discuss Tehran's nuclear program, saying October would be the likely time for the two sides to meet.

Ahmadinejad also defended his remarks at the U.N. a day earlier in which he claimed most people in the world believe the United States was behind the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks and again challenged the United Nations to set up a commission to probe the attacks.

"I did not pass judgment, but don't you feel that the time has come to have a fact finding committee?" Ahmadinejad asked.

Story: Freed U.S. hiker meets with president of Iran

Ahmadinejad said Iran had no interest in enriching uranium from around 3.5 percent to 20 percent purity but was forced to do so after the world powers refused to provide nuclear fuel that is needed for a Tehran reactor that produces medical isotopes for patients. He did not indicate that Iran would stop enriching at low levels.

That level is far below the more than 90 percent purity needed to build a nuclear weapon, but U.S. officials have expressed concern Iran may be moving closer to an ability to reach weapons-grade level.

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Tehran began higher enrichment in February after talks stalled over a U.N.-brokered proposal that the United States hoped would — at least temporarily — leave Iran unable to produce a warhead. The U.S. and its allies accuse Iran of seeking to build a nuclear weapon, a claim Iran denies.

"We were not interested to carry out 20 percent enrichment. They (the U.S. and its allies) politicized the issue. We were forced to do it to support the (medical) patients," Ahmadinejad said in response to a question from The Associated Press. "We will consider halting uranium enrichment whenever nuclear fuel is provided to us."

Ahmadinejad said pressure was counterproductive, but respectful talks will bear fruit.

"The era of following a policy of carrot and stick is over. Even such words are insulting to nations. It's only good for cowboys and those of retarded people. Definitely it has no effect," he said. "They issued resolutions as talks were underway. Still, we are ready for talks."

The Iranian leader said an Iranian representative will probably meet with members of the five permanent members of the Security Council — the U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China as well as Germany in October.

He suggested that a specific date could be set should European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton contact Iran.

"Probably in October; we are ready for talks. The doors are open for talks within the framework of justice and respect," he said. However, he warned that Iran won't give in to pressure. "They are definitely mistaken if they think they can trample the rights of the Iranian nation through coercion in the talks."

In his one and a half hour session with reporters, Ahmadinejad also lashed out at the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as an overreaction to the September 11 attacks. The Americans should "not occupy the entire Middle East ... bomb wedding parties ... annihilate an entire village just because one terrorist is hiding there."

Ahmadinejad also gave no ground on his Sept. 11 remarks in a feisty interview on Fox News in which he was asked he you could insult millions of Americans by saying "such an insane and nutty thing."

"Would you address your own president the same way? Would they ever allow you to?," replied Ahmadinejad, adding that he felt insulted by the interviewer.

Ahmadinejad said a commission should investigate the Sept. 11 attacks rather than have the entire world just accept what the U.S. government tells them.

"The fact-finding mission can shed light on who the perpetrators were, who is Al-Qaida ... where does it exist? Who was it backed by and supported? All these should come to light," he said.

Ahmadinejad's remarks during a speech to the U.N. General Assembly Thursday afternoon prompted a walkout by the U.S. diplomats. Delegations from all 27 European Union nations followed the Americans out along with representatives from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Costa Rica, an EU diplomat said.

President Barack Obama responded to Ahmadinejad in a BBC Persian service interview Friday saying: "Well, it was offensive. It was hateful."

"And particularly for him to make the statement here in Manhattan, just a little north of Ground Zero, where families lost their loved ones, people of all faiths, all ethnicities who see this as the seminal tragedy of this generation, for him to make a statement like that was inexcusable," Obama said.

Ahmadinejad's remarks will make the American people even more wary about dealing with his government, Obama said.

"For Ahmadinejad to come to somebody else's country and then to suggest somehow that the worst tragedy that's been experienced here, an attack that killed 3,000 people, was somehow the responsibility of the government of that country, is something that defies not just common sense but basic sense — basic senses of decency that aren't unique to any particular country — they're common to the entire world," he said.

Ahmadinejad routinely makes incendiary remarks, which the West claims are a diversion from heavy international pressure on Tehran to end uranium enrichment and prove that it is not trying to build a nuclear weapon. Iran insists it is enriching uranium only to fuel nuclear reactors to generate electricity.

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Iran is under four sets of U.N. Security Council sanctions as punishment for its failure to make its nuclear ambitions transparent.

Later Friday, Ahmadinejad met with Sarah Shourd, one of three Americans who were taken prisoner in Iran during a hiking trip along the border with Iraq. She was released from solitary confinement on Sept. 15 and has said she wants to meet Ahmadinejad while he is in New York.

The Iranian leader did not answer a question about whether Iran would also release Shourd's boyfriend Shane Bauer and their friend Josh Fattal. All three were captured in 2009.

Obama seemed unimpressed with the Iranian position. He sharply criticized Iran's leadership for hurting its people by incurring severe financial and trade sanctions when it refuses to comply.

"Right now what the Iranian government has said is, it's more important for us to defy the international community, engage in a covert nuclear weapons program, than it is to make sure that our people are prospering," he told the BBC. "And the international community I don't think prefers the choice that has been taken."

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Explainer: Leaders who dislike the U.S.

  • Image: Castro speaking
    Getty Images
    Former Cuban President Fidel Castro before the U.N. General Assembly in 1960.

    From meandering rants to impassioned speeches, world leaders have used the annual U.N. General Debate to launch attacks against the United States.

    Take Fidel Castro, for example. In 1960, the former Cuban president unleashed a record-setting four-hour, 29-minute speech in which he denounced the U.S.

    On Thursday, representatives of 192 countries will gather at the U.N. General Assembly in New York for this year's General Debate. Once again, some may use the forum to take on America.

    Leaders to watch: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, Bolivia's Evo Morales, Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, Cuba’s Raul Castro and Libya's Moammar Gadhafi.

    Click on next, or scroll down, to find out who likened former President Ronald Reagan to Rambo, who quipped to the U.N. that it "doesn't smell like sulfur anymore" and who delivered a tirade so exhausting even his personal interpreter passed out.

  • Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

     Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
    Don Emmert  /  AFP/Getty Images
    Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

    Beef with the U.S.: There are many, but sanctions against Tehran over nuclear technology is a top issue.

    Background: In the past, Ahmadinejad has used the general debate as a forum to defend Iran's nuclear program and assail its arch foes Israel and the United States, typically prompting walkouts by the U.S. and some European countries.

    Since the 1979 revolution that overthrew Iran's monarchy, Tehran and Washington have had no official relationship, a rift widened amid concerns about Iran's nuclear program and its human rights record.

    A Holocaust denier, Ahmadinejad accuses "Zionists" of preventing U.S. President Barack Obama from improving relations with Iran.

    Ahmadinejad has repeatedly said that Iran's nuclear program is for peaceful purposes and that it would not buckle to U.S. pressure to halt plans for further nuclear development.

    He has scoffed at U.N. sanctions imposed on his country over its nuclear stance. The sanctions have limited Iran's ability to attract foreign investment, pinched its ability to import gasoline, created a drag on its shipping business and hurt Iranian banking relationships worldwide.

  • Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez

    Hugo Chavez
    Timothy A. Clary  /  AFP/Getty Images
    Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez

    Beef with U.S.: SaysU.S. government is "first enemy" of Venezuela.

    Background: Chavez has a long history of attacking U.S. policy.

    At the General Assembly in 2006, he called former President George W. Bush "the devil" no fewer than eight times.

    "The devil is right at home. The devil, the devil himself, is right in the house. And the devil came here yesterday. Yesterday the devil came here. Right here. And it smells of sulphur still today," he said.

    The populist leader of a self-declared "socialist revolution," Chavez supports Cuba economically and politically. 

    Recently, Chavez softened his stance toward Obama. Recalling his "devil" speech, Chavez told the U.N., "It doesn't smell of sulfur. It's gone. It smells of something else. It smells of hope and you have hope in your heart."

    He has denounced capitalism as being a chief cause of climate change and accused Obama of making lofty promises and failing to live up to them.

  • Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe

    Robert Mugabe
    Michael Nagle  /  Getty Images
    President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe

    Beef with the U.S.: Sanctions imposed on the African nation.

    Background: He has lashed out repeatedly against Western powers, telling them to go "to hell" over sanctions imposed on his ZANU-PF party.

    The United States and European Union imposed sanctions on state firms and travel restrictions on Mugabe and dozens of his associates nearly 10 years ago, after a violent re-election campaign and often violent commercial farm seizures.

    "We say to hell, to hell, hell with them," Mugabe said in August. "Sanctions must go, and they must go. They are hurting our people regardless of political affiliation."

    The 86-year-old leader said he hoped Obama and new British Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg would move to mend ties between Harare and the West.

    "They have imposed unjustified and illegal sanctions on us. The sanctions are comparable to the military aggression in Iraq," he said.

    Meanwhile, Obama said he has been "heartbroken" by Zimbabwe's decline.

    Mugabe was forced into a power-sharing pact with his rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, more than a year ago after a crisis over a 2008 national vote that observers say was marred by violence and fraud.

  • Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega

    Daniel Ortega
    Spencer Platt  /  Getty Images
    Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega

    Beef with the U.S.: He says the U.S. is a worldwide dictatorship.

    Background: Since emerging as the leader in the Sandinista National Liberation Front during the Reagan years, Ortega has railed against what he views as U.S. hegemony. He has defended Iran's and North Korea's right to pursue nuclear technology.

    In 1987, the Nicaraguan president addressed the world body as the Marxist leader of Nicaragua's Sandinista-run government.

    He slammed U.S. policy in Central America and told then-President Ronald Reagan that "Rambo only exists in the movies." Reagan referred to Ortega as "the little dictator."

    In 2007, Ortega said little had changed since his first visit to the U.N.

    "The presidents of the U.S. change. And they may come to office with the greatest of intentions and they may feel that they are doing good for humanity, but they fail to understand that they are no more than instruments of one more empire in a long list of empires that have been imposed on our planet,” Ortega said, waving his arms.

    The world is under "the most impressive, huge dictatorship that has existed — the empire of North America," he said.

    He defended North Korean and Iran in their push for nuclear technology. Said Ortega: "And even if they want nuclear power for purposes that are not peaceful, with what right does (the U.S.) question it?"

  • Bolivian President Evo Morales

    Image: Evo Morales
    Stan Honda  /  AFP/Getty Images
    Evo Morales, president of Bolivia

    Beef with the U.S.: Accuses U.S. of protecting and promoting drug trade.

    Background: Bolivia's first indigenous president, a fierce critic of Washington and global capitalism, wants to reverse centuries-old inequities in his country, which has long been dominated by light-skinned descendants of Europeans. The indigenous minority didn't have the vote until 1952.

    Morales is a close ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. In promoting a socialist agenda, he nationalized control of Bolivia's natural gas reserves in 2006, alienating many investors and further polarizing South America's poorest nation.

    Two years ago, Bolivia kicked out the U.S. ambassador, accusing him of conspiring against the government. All U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agents and other personnel also were expelled.

  • Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi

    Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi
    Mario Tama  /  Getty Images
    Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi

    Beef with the U.S.: Accuses U.S. of controlling the U.N. Security Council.

    Background: Gadhafi made his first appearance at the U.N. last year. He slammed the Security Council and chastised the world body for failing to intervene or prevent some 65 wars since the U.N. was founded in 1945.

    Gadhafi called for reform of the U.N. Security Council, which has 15 members, including the United States, and leads the world body's mandate to maintain international peace.

    "It should not be called the Security Council, it should be called the 'terror council,'" he said. "Hence, the Security Council has been reduced to one country which controls it, therefore forming a danger to world peace."

    Tensions were high following Scotland's release of Libyan Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, who was convicted of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, in which 270 people died.

    Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice left before Gadhafi even took the podium. Israel's U.N. delegation walked out during the speech.

    Iran's president also left before the speech ended.

    Ninety minutes into Gadhafi's 96-minute speech, an exhausted English-language interpreter passed out and was relieved by another translator.

  • Cuban President Raul Castro

    Image: Raul Castro
    Desmond Boylan  /  Reuters
    Cuba's President Raul Castro

    Beef with U.S.: Sees U.S. as enemy since 1959 Cuban revolution.

    Background: When Cuba's parliament named Raul Castro president in 2008, it ended nearly 50 years of rule by his brother Fidel but left the island's communist system unshaken.

    The United States and Cuba have not had formal diplomatic ties since 1961, though Washington is represented by a U.S. interest section in Havana.

    Since 2009, Obama has eased travel and remittance restrictions imposed by his predecessor, George W. Bush, and resumed migration talks and direct postal service with the island.

Video: Iran leader’s speech prompts U.S. walkout

  1. Transcript of: Iran leader’s speech prompts U.S. walkout

    MATT LAUER, co-host: Now I want to talk about two major speeches before the UN General Assembly here in New York . President Obama addressed the Assembly on Thursday just hours before Iran 's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made some very incendiary comments about the 9/11 attacks. Those comments, by the way, led the US delegation to get up and walk out. NBC 's White House correspondent Chuck Todd has the latest on this. Chuck , good morning. Good to have you here.

    CHUCK TODD reporting: Good morning, Matt. Well, you know, the president wraps up his three-day tour here in New York for this United Nations gathering of world leaders. Going to use the chance to meet with some more leaders he's yet to meet since he's become president. But, of course, the spotlight stealer this week has been Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad .

    President BARACK OBAMA: I hear those voices of skepticism.

    TODD: While acknowledging that the path to Middle East peace is not easy, President Obama sounded like a politician on the stump, making the case before the United Nations that his plan for a permanent peace could be successful if the two sides simply seized the moment.

    Pres. OBAMA: If we do, when we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations , an independent, sovereign state of Palestine living at peace with Israel .

    TODD: While the president spoke, first lady Michelle Obama was in the audience. A few hours later, the roles were reversed at the annual meeting of former President Clinton 's Global Initiative where Mr. Obama simply gushed about his wife.

    Pres. OBAMA: Bill Clinton understands where I'm coming from here. He knows what it's like to be married to somebody who's smarter, somebody who's better looking, somebody's who's just all-around a little more impressive than you are.

    TODD: The first lady talked about the importance of hiring US military veterans.

    Ms. MICHELLE OBAMA: Right now the human potential of America 's veterans and military families is both vast and woefully under utilized.

    TODD: At almost the same time back at the UN , Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was suggesting that 9/11 was an American conspiracy to somehow help Israel .

    President MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD: That some segments within the US government orchestrated the attack to reverse the declining American economy and its grips on the Middle East in order to save the Zionist regime .

    TODD: He added that he plans to host his own conference on terrorism.

    Pres. AHMADINEJAD: I wish to announce here that next year the Islamic Republic of Iran will host a conference to study terrorism and the means to confront it.

    TODD: The entire rant about 9/11 caused the US delegation and a handful of other countries to walk out. Later, a White House spokesman called the comments "utterly outrageous and offensive, especially in the city where the 9/11 attacks occurred." And former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said, "this underscores the need to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon," adding, "he is insane or giving a great interpretation of someone that is insane."

    ALI AROUZI reporting: I think it was -- it was a cry for attention. It was in a very sensitive place to make these comments. There was no reason for it, so there couldn't have been any other reason than to make headlines and be controversial.

    TODD: You know, this latest thing happening at the United Nations comes just as, of course, there's some diplomatic tension as the US tries to negotiate the release of those two more American hikers.

    LAUER: And we're going to have more on that right now. Chuck , thank you very much . Now here's Meredith .


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