UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Calling nuclear weapons “disgusting and shameful,” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad urged the United Nations yesterday to punish countries like the United States that threaten to use them.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dismissed Ahmadinejad’s comments as the “same tired, false and sometimes wild accusations” and urged nations to focus on efforts to bring Iran to heel over its nuclear programme.
In keeping with past practice during annual UN General Assembly gatherings, the delegations of the United States, Britain, France, Germany and others walked out of the chamber during Ahmadinejad’s fiery speech.
“The possession of nuclear arms is not a source of pride,” he said at the start of a month-long review conference of the 189 signatories of the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
“It is rather disgusting and shameful. And even more shameful is the threat to use, or to use, such weapons.”
Ahmadinejad, the highest-ranking official to attend the conference, called for “considering any threat to use nuclear weapons or attack against peaceful nuclear facilities as a breach of international peace and security.”
States making such threats should face “swift reaction” from the United Nations and be ostracized by NPT members.
Clinton later called for similar stiff penalties against countries like Iran that violate their treaty commitments.
“Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something and the world must stand together to prevent the spread of these weapons,” Clinton said. “It is time for a strong international response.”
The United States and its allies accuse Iran of developing the capability to make nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian atomic energy program. Tehran insists it is interested only in generating electricity but has a long record of hiding sensitive nuclear activities from UN inspectors.
The Western walkout came as Ahmadinejad charged that Israel threatened its neighbours with “terror and invasion” and enjoyed unconditional support from Washington and its allies.
Israel, like nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, never signed the NPT. Israel is presumed to have a sizable nuclear arsenal but neither confirms nor denies its existence.
North Korea withdrew from the NPT in 2003 and conducted atomic tests in 2006 and 2009.
The US nuclear posture review, released last month, reduces the role of atomic weapons in US defense policy but does not rule out their use against countries like Iran and North Korea that are considered to be NPT violators.
Clinton detailed what she described as the strong US record on nuclear non-proliferation and weapons control, including the recently concluded US-Russia deal to cap strategic nuclear weapons and the new US nuclear strategy.
She said the United States would ratify nuclear weapons free zones in Africa and the South Pacific and back “practical measures” to make the Middle East a region free of weapons of mass destruction — which could pique US ally Israel.