Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told NBC News on Wednesday that his country was justified in barring further visits by U.N. atomic inspectors and challenged other nations to fully disclose their nuclear activities.
He also rebuffed the threat of new sanctions: "Our nation does not need the United States whatsoever," he told NBC's Andrea Mitchell in Tehran. "Even if the U.S. administration increases the sanctions and — 100 times more, and even the Europeans join the United States to impose heavier sanctions, we in Iran are in a position to meet our own requirements."
Iran has already allowed the inspectors several visits and other western nuclear powers should allow the same kind of access to their facilities, Ahmadinejad said in a wide-ranging exclusive interview that included comments on the recent release of American Sarah Shourd from a Tehran prison. "We have gone beyond the law, and we have cooperated with them," he said.
Ahmadinejad gave the interview a week before he is scheduled to attend the U.N. General Assembly in New York where Iran's nuclear program is likely to come under further scrutiny.
Earlier Wednesday, Western powers accused Iran of trying to intimidate the U.N. atomic agency by barring some inspectors, with the United States warning the Islamic state of possible diplomatic consequences.
Iran, which has maintained that its nuclear program is aimed only at generating electricity, has said two inspectors it banned in June had provided false information about its activities.
During the interview Wednesday with NBC, Ahmadinejad denied his nation was being uncooperative and said the International Atomic Energy Agency should instead focus its attention on Israel, which he named only as an illegal "Zionist regime."
Israel, widely assumed to be the only Middle East country to have nuclear weapons, has grown increasingly nervous over the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran and has hinted that it might make a pre-emptive military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities to prevent this from happening.
"They possess nuclear weapons, and they constantly threaten their neighbors," Ahmadinejad said. "And in the past year, they threatened Iran more than 10 times."
Ahmadinejad said he was unconcerned about growing pressure from the United Nations, the United States and European governments over the inspection controversy.
Earlier, United States, Britain and France on Wednesday were joined by Russia and China, which have close ties to Iran, in calling on the government in Tehran to return to negotiations on its nuclear program.
China's deputy U.N. ambassador Wang Ming said, without elaborating, that "at present new opportunities have emerged for restarting dialogue."
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice pointed to "clear evidence that Iran is refusing to take any step to begin resolving concerns that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons — and continues actions that in fact deepen these concerns."
When asked about the apparent escalation of tensions between Muslims and Americans in recent weeks, Ahmadinejad said there was "no conflict between the two cultures."
Protests erupted around the world denouncing the United States after a small Florida church had threatened to burn the Quran on the Sept. 11 anniversary, marking the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center towers in New York.
Although that church backed down, video of several copycat burnings were posted on the Internet and broadcast in the Muslim world, sparking outrage and violence. The controversy around the Quran burning has been heightened amid plans to build a Islamic cultural center and mosque near the World Trade Center site, a proposal which has drawn sharp opposition across the United States.
Ahmadinejad on Wednesday blamed a small minority in the United States for fueling the rising anger between Muslims and Americans.
"Their interests lie in creating wars and conflicts," he said of that minority. "Quran is a heavenly book, a divine book. That was an ugly thing, to burn a holy book. That is a desecration to billions of believers and people in the world."
In response to questions from Mitchell on the ongoing Middle East peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, Ahmadinejad discounted the meetings.
Earlier this month, he said that the Mideast peace process was bound to fail and criticized some Muslim leaders for not providing all-out support to the Palestinians in their revolt against Israel.
"Let them talk," he said Wednesday. "But we think that this is not the solution to the Palestinian issue."
He said the Palestinian officials negotiating with Israel did not represent the Palestinian people.
The Palestinian government is divided, with President Mahmoud Abbas leading the Palestinian National Authority from the West Bank and Hamas controlling the Gaza Strip. Abbas is leading the negotiations with Israel, which Hamas rejects.
Ahead of his travels next week to the U.N. General Assembly, Ahmadinejad reiterated Iran's stance that it supports only a peaceful nuclear program.
"We have repeatedly expressed our position, and also our position that Iran is against the development of a nuclear bomb," he said.