Ahmadinejad speaks at UN nuclear conference

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Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke today in New York at a United Nations conference on the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. His appearance prompted walkouts by US, French and British delegates. Anchor Marco Werman speaks with Jim Walsh of the MIT Securities Studies Program. He recently attended a nuclear meeting hosted by Tehran.

MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World. Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stepped to the podium today at New York at a U.N. conference on nuclear non-proliferation and he proceeded to blast away at his usual suspects, including Israel.

INTERPRETER: Although, for example, the Zionist regime stockpiles hundreds of nuclear warheads, wages numerous wars in the Middle East region, and continues to threaten the people and nations . . .

WERMAN: Ahmadinejad criticized countries that have nuclear weapons. Delegates from three of those countries, the U.S. Britain and France walked out of his speech. The Iranian leader did not mention his nation's controversial nuclear program, one that has prompted U.N. sanctions. Jim Walsh is with the Security Studies program at MIT. Jim, Ahmadinejad called again today for a world free of nuclear weapons and reaffirmed the line that Iran has no interest in nuclear weapons. Why did western delegates walk out then?

JIM WALSH: Well, I guess there's a lot of doubt and suspicion. But if you ask me, I think it's good every time an official from Iran says we don't want nuclear weapons, we support the NPT. And recently the Supreme Leader at a conference in Tehran said that nuclear weapons are haram, or forbidden. Now, that's not going to bind them and keep them from pursuing a nuclear weapons program, but I think it acts as a constraint. It makes it more difficult if you're a religious regime to come out and fully say that these things are illegal and irreligious and then turn around and do the opposite.

WERMAN: And anticipating potential military action, Mr. Ahmadinejad said any attack on Iran's nuclear facilities must be immediately condemned by the U.N. Is there really a possibility that this dispute could come to blows like that?

WALSH: Oh yeah, absolutely. The Israelis talk about it. There are people here in the U.S. who are promoting that as an alternative. I think we're some distance from that and the reason why is structural. The uniformed military in the United States has made clear that they don't want any attacks while we still have 100,000 troops in Iraq and 40,000 in Afghanistan. But we are winding down our troops in Iraq. And so my own view is there may be a window late in Obama's term where this becomes a live issue. I hope that's not where it gets. I think history shows that if you bomb countries to get them out of the nuclear weapons business, they in fact do the opposite. They become more determined to become nuclear weapon states.

WERMAN: Now Jim you're heading to the New York conference tomorrow. Who are you going to be meeting with?

WALSH: Well I'll have a chance to talk to delegates from various governments and I also hope to have a chance to meet with Iranian colleagues.

WERMAN: What are you going to be talking about?

WALSH: Well, you know one of the funny things here, and it's true for both the American side and the Iranian side, is that there really are often differences between the public position and the private position. So we heard sort of harsh rhetoric from President Ahmadinejad today, focused really on the United States, saying that it's the first one to have used nuclear weapons, to have killed people with nuclear weapons and then Hillary Clinton has said some tough things about Iran. But behind closed doors, you get a somewhat different line. The Iranian officials that I've spoken with recently still hold out the hope for some negotiated settlement here. They say they haven't given up on Obama. And the American officials, Obama's Iran team, have not ruled out negotiation, although they're more skeptical than they were. So in some ways, despite the hot rhetoric, the fact that everyone is going to be in the same place actually provides an opportunity, if people want to take advantage of it, to try to sit down, talk, and move this thing along.

WERMAN: Jim Walsh with the MIT Security Studies Program thanks for coming in.

WALSH: Thank you.