Iran leader denies interference in Iraq
( AP ) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday rejected the congressional testimony of the top U.S. officials in Iraq accusing Iran of interfering in its war-torn neighbor.
He also said the Islamic Republic could help in Iraq if the U.S. and British governments stopped alleging it is fighting a proxy war there by arming Shiite Muslim militias accused of attacking coalition forces and Sunni Arabs.
In an interview on Iranian state television, Ahmadinejad said Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker raised allegations of Iranian meddling solely because of the political debate within the United States over the war in Iraq.
"These comments are the result of their domestic competition. Our stance on Iraq is quite clear, but they made a mistake and keep repeating it," the hardline leader said in a live interview.
" Iran has no need to interfere in Iraq. The Iraqi government and nation are close friends of Iran," he added.
Later, in an interview broadcast by Britain's Channel 4 television, Ahmadinejad denied charges that Iran supplies weapons to Iraq's Shiite groups or allows bomb-making technology to be passed to insurgents, saying Iranians don't benefit from having a neighbor in conflict.
"We are the country that gets damaged a lot by Iraq's insecurity," he said.
Ahmadinejad said his regime would be able to help calm Iraq if Washington and London dropped their hostile attitude.
"We can help solve many problems in Iraq; we can help secure Iraq; we can help the attackers and insurgents go out of Iraq - if the American and British governments correct themselves," he said, speaking through a translator.
He said Iran's help is needed and urged Washington to accept it failed in Iraq. "If you bring 10 times more forces you still cannot succeed there. Victory awaits no one in Iraq," he said.
Ahmadinejad disputed the view of many security analysts that a quick U.S. pullout from Iraq would bring chaos to the region.
"If the U.S. leaves the region, there will be more friendship, and Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia would fill the power vacuum," he said. "We are ready to help providing security. We are natural allies."
In another area of contention between his government and the West, Ahmadinejad said Iran will not suspend uranium enrichment despite the threat of tougher U.N. sanctions. He again insisted Tehran is not trying to develop nuclear weapons, as suspected by the U.S. and its allies.
"We do not want the bomb. We are against the bomb, actually," said the leader, who says the program is intended only to produce fuel for nuclear reactors that would generate electricity.
Earlier in the day, the State Department said U.S. diplomats would press for tougher U.N. Security Council sanctions on Iran during a Sept. 21 meeting with five other nations that have sometimes reluctantly used the body's punitive powers in the dispute over Tehran's atomic program.
The council's five permanent members, all nuclear powers, plus Germany have tried for nearly two years to use sanctions or the threat of them to persuade Iran to drop uranium enrichment, a process that can produce reactor fuel but also the material needed for nuclear bombs.
Two rounds of mild sanctions, meant more to shame Iran than to pinch it economically, have not slowed or stopped the disputed activities.
U.S. diplomats have not been specific about what they want the Security Council to try next, and some European diplomats are predicting contentious discussions among the six powers.
A senior Iranian envoy accused Western nations on Wednesday of "poisoning the environment" at a key meeting of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency in Vienna, Austria.
Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, Iran's chief delegate to the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the United States and its allies were unfairly playing down successes of the agency's investigation into his nation's nuclear past.
The U.S. and its allies suspect Iran is using limited cooperation with the IAEA as a smoke screen to deflect attention from its continued defiance of the Security Council's order to freeze uranium enrichment.