Tehran: Iran slammed the United States as an "atomic criminal" which should be suspended from the UN nuclear watchdog on Saturday, while urging changes to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
At a two-day nuclear disarmament conference in Tehran, the foreign ministers of Lebanon, Syria and Iraq voiced support for Iran's "peaceful" atomic programme and demanded that Israel join the nuclear NPT "without conditions."
At the start of the meeting, Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ruled out any use of nuclear weaponry as "haram," meaning religiously banned under Islam.
He branded the United States an "atomic criminal" in his message which was read out by an aide at the conference, Tehran's answer to a nuclear summit held in Washington earlier this week.
Hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad went a step further and called for Washington's suspension from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) along with all other nations which possess nuclear arms.
"Only the US government has committed an atomic crime," said the message of the all-powerful Khamenei who formulates Tehran's foreign policy, including its nuclear strategy.
"The world's only atomic criminal lies and presents itself as being against nuclear weapons proliferation, while it has not taken any serious measures in this regard," he said.
Ahmadinejad, under whose presidency Iran has aggressively pushed ahead with a controversial nuclear programme despite three sets of UN sanctions, attacked the present structure of the UN Security Council, the IAEA and the NPT.
"An independent international group which plans and oversees nuclear disarmament and prevents proliferation should be set up," he told the conference attended by several foreign ministers and UN officials.
He said those countries which "possess, have used or threatened to use nuclear weapons should be suspended from the IAEA and its board of governors, especially the US."
Ahmadinejad's remark was expected to irk allies Russia and China, two nuclear states with veto powers in the Security Council that have so far hesitated to back a fourth set of sanctions against Tehran.
"The right to veto, which is undemocratic, inhumane and unfair, should either be annulled, or if some insist on having this right, then some countries from Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe should also have the right to veto in order to reduce its negative outcomes," he said.
Khamenei and Ahmadinejad have been angered by Washington's new nuclear policy unveiled last week.
The policy limits the countries against which Washington might use its nuclear arsenal but singles out Iran and North Korea as exceptions for flouting Security Council resolutions over their nuclear programmes.
Fraser Cameron, an analyst with the think-tank EU-Russia Centre who was attending the conference, said the Iranian nuclear issue has been aggravated by "misunderstandings from both sides" -- the West and Iran.
Ahmadinejad also called upon "independent countries" to review the NPT, of which Iran is a signatory and as such considers it has the right to enrich uranium, the most controversial part of its nuclear programme.
"The presence of those possessing weapons, especially the US, prevents the drawing up of a fair treaty," he argued.
The foreign ministers of Lebanon, Syria and Iraq jointly blasted Israel, Middle East's sole but undeclared nuclear weapons power.
"The major threat in the region is Israel which has nuclear warheads. Israel must join this treaty and take quick steps to destroy its nuclear weapons," Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said in a speech.
His Lebanese counterpart Ali al-Shami said Israel should be "stripped" of its arsenal "since the atomic weapons of the Zionist regime are not inspected, there is a danger of these weapons being used in the future."
"This regime must join the NPT without any conditions."
And Hoshyar Zebari, the foreign minister of Iran's former foe Iraq, said: "We reject any threat against Iran and insist on Iran's rights to use peaceful nuclear energy."
The Jewish state, which has never publicly acknowledged having atomic weapons while maintaining a policy of deliberate ambiguity, has not ruled out a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities to halt its atomic programme.
First Published: Saturday, April 17, 2010, 20:06