Iran boasts its nuclear disarmament summit draws more support than Obama's
Iranian officials boasted on Sunday that a nuclear disarmament summit hosted by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over the weekend had drawn more global support than one held by US President Barack Obama in Washington earlier this month.
One day earlier, Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, condemned Washington as the world's "only atomic criminal," while President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for it to be "suspended" from the UN nuclear watchdog.
The competing summits set the stage for a review of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the framework agreement on nuclear disarmament, at the United Nations in New York next month.
Although attendance was diminished by volcanic ash over Europe, Tehran managed to draw delegations from most of the 60 countries that originally pledged to attend - an improvement on the 47 countries Mr Obama hosted in Washington last week, though the US conference attracted far more senior diplomats. Among the delegations in Teheran were representatives from China and Russia - both major powers the West is pushing to accept new santions against Iran over its nuclear programme.
Iran has broken NPT rules by producing highly enriched uranium that Western intelligence agencies believe put it within a year of making an atom bomb.
The UN has levied three rounds of sanctions on Iran in an attempt to force the country to change course.
With new sanctions an increasingly likely possibility, Mr Ahmadinejad used his summit to hit back at the Western "bullies" who were trying to prevent Iran from gaining the nuclear knowledge it claims is for purely peaceful purposes.
Ten months after a disputed election returned him to power, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for America to be treated as a nuclear pariah.
As he regally waved to the assembled ministers and ambassadors in a UN Assembly-shaped Tehran theatre, he praised attendees, saying they were the nucleus of a new "independent" movement to eliminate all nuclear weapons.
He said: "The presence [at next month's conference] of those possessing weapons, especially the US, prevents the drawing up of a fair treaty."
The Tehran summit's closing statement called for the new Non-Proliferation Treaty to set a firm deadline for worldwide nuclear disarmament, modelled on the convention to eliminate chemical weapons by 2012.
But despite the claims of the organisers, there was a lukewarm reaction to Iran's assault on America.
A representative of Uganda was unable to explain why she had even travelled to Tehran. "I'm part of a delegation. I've never been to a summit on nuclear issues so I don't know what it is about."
US delegates, who travelled in a private capacity to a country that America has not had diplomatic relations with since the siege of its embassy in 1979, said Mr Ahmadinejad's criticisms of President Obama were unfair.
"I think attempts to stir up old concerns about America dismisses President Obama's courageous efforts as the first president in 20 years to begin talks on the issue of disarmament," said William Luers, a former State Department official.
Jonathan Granoff, president of New York-based Global Security Institute, said Iran should take up its own challenge on nuclear disarmament if it wanted to be taken seriously.
"Words without action are insufficient," he said. "I think we should have very strong monitoring and verification on all nuclear activity. Since Iran claims it does not have an ambition to make a nuclear weapon, it should take a unilateral decision to make its openness a model for the rest of the world."
Prof Gunnar Westberg, a Swedish member of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, said President Ahmadinejad had issued a deeply worrying threat to leave the NPT.
He said: "The threat in the speech that it might leave the NPT would be a disaster for Iran because it would open the way for a US attack."