Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says there is no hate between Muslims and Americans despite an apparent escalation in tensions fueled by controversies over a proposed mosque near ground zero in New York and a plan by a Florida pastor to burn Qurans.
"People (in Islamic countries) are against that ugly behavior," he said in an exclusive interview with NBC News' Andrea Mitchell. "They are not against the people of the United States. They are not against Americans, they are not against Jews. They are not against Christians or Christianity."
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, several copycat burnings were posted on the Internet and broadcast in the Muslim world. 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 that has drawn sharp opposition across the United States.
In the interview with Mitchell in Iran, Ahmadinejad on Wednesday denounced what he described as a "minority" in the United States seeking to foster hostility with other nations.
"Their interests lie in creating wars and conflicts," he said. "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."
Yet Ahmadinejad also spoke out generally against U.S. policy to Iran since the 1979 revolution that overthrew the country's monarchy. Since then, the two nations have had no official relationship, a divide widened amid concerns about Iran's nuclear program and its human rights record.
And he accused "Zionists" of preventing Obama from improving relations with Iran.
"We think maybe President Obama wants to do something, but there are pressures — pressure groups in the United States who do not allow him to do so," he said.
Yet Ahmadinejad was also adamant that he would not yield to pressure from the United States over what he maintains is a peaceful nuclear program, which has aggravated tensions and led to multiple Security Council sanctions.
"Our nation does not need the United States whatsoever," he said, rebuffing the idea that his people are suffering under the sanctions, which limit commercial and financial exchanges. "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."
At the meeting next week of the U.N. General Assembly, Ahmadinejad said he would again reiterate its position that Iran's nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes.
"Iran is against the development of a nuclear bomb," he said. "We also asked for a global nuclear disarmament."