President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran arrived in New York yesterday as critics protested his planned speech at Columbia University, and the hard-line leader denied that his country is building a nuclear weapon.
"In political relations right now, the nuclear bomb is of no use," Ahmadinejad said in a "60 Minutes" interview broadcast last night. "If it was useful it would have prevented the downfall of the Soviet Union. If it was useful it would resolved the problem the Americans have in Iraq. The time of the bomb is passed."
Ahmadinejad said Iran does not need nuclear weapons and his country is not heading toward war with the United States. "You have to appreciate we don't need a nuclear bomb. . . . What need do we have for a bomb?" he said.
The interview with CBS reporter Scott Pelley was taped Thursday in Tehran.
Ahmadinejad's planned speeches this week at Columbia and the United Nations have drawn heavy opposition.
Protesters rallied yesterday outside the university, where Ahmadinejad is scheduled to speak today. Demonstrations also were planned today near Columbia and at the UN headquarters, where the Iranian president is to address the General Assembly tomorrow.
Several elected officials and civic leaders joined the Columbia demonstration. "This invitation is a slap in the face to all New Yorkers and especially to those families who lost loved ones on Sept. 11 right here in New York City," said City Councilor David Weprin.
Ahmadinejad has called the Holocaust "a myth" and called for Israel to be "wiped off the map." The White House has said Iran sponsors terrorism and is trying to develop nuclear weapons, while Iran insists that its atomic activities are aimed at producing energy.
Columbia has said Ahmadinejad has agreed to take questions and will be challenged to discuss his views on the Holocaust, Iran's nuclear ambitions, and other issues.
Through a spokesman, Columbia president Lee Bollinger said the university's commitment to "understanding the world as it is and as it might be" required engagement at times with "offensive and even odious" beliefs, the AP reports.
Columbia’s invitation to such a controversial figure, who has denied the Holocaust and called for Israel to be "wiped off the map", has been criticised by politicians and religious groups, but the university has not backed down - unlike last year, when a similar visit was cancelled.
The university's president, Lee Bollinger, has promised that before he allows the Iranian leader to speak he will subject him to tough questioning on subjects such as human rights, the Holocaust and Iran’s nuclear programme.
Relations are poor between Washington and Tehran. America says that Iran is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons and accuses it of helping Shia militias in Iraq to attack US troops - claims that Iran denies.
“Well, you have to appreciate we don’t need a nuclear bomb. We don’t need that. What need do we have for a bomb?” Mr Ahmadinejad said in the interview with the CBS news programme 60 Minutes that was taped in Iran on Thursday.
“In political relations right now, the nuclear bomb is of no use. If it was useful it would have prevented the downfall of the Soviet Union.”
He also said that: “It’s wrong to think that Iran and the US are walking toward war. Who says so? Why should we go to war? There is no war in the offing.”
Mr Ahmadinejad has appealed to the American people before, distinguishing between the population and its government.
Recently, he told a television show that Iran wants peace and friendship with America. Since coming to power in 2005, Mr Ahmadinejad also has sent letters to the American people criticising President Bush’s policies in the Middle East.
Washington says that it is addressing the Iran situation diplomatically, rather than militarily, but US officials also say that all options are open , timesonline.co.uk reports.