Updated at 2:44 p.m. ET
(CBS/AP) NEW YORK - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday dismissed threats of military action against Iran's nuclear program, asserting that his country's project to enrich uranium is only for peaceful purposes and disputing that the country worries at all about an Israeli attack to destroy Iran's nuclear capacity.
"Fundamentally, we do not take seriously threats of the Zionists," Ahmadinejad said. "We believe the Zionists see themselves at a dead end and they want to find an adventure to get out of this dead end. While we are fully ready to defend ourselves, we do not take these threats seriously."
"We have all the defensive means at our disposal and we are ready to defend ourselves," Ahmadinejad also told reporters, the Reuters news agency reports.
Speaking to a group of editorial leaders, the first full day of his visit to New York for the annual U.N. General Assembly, Ahmadinejad said it was not too late for dialogue with the United States to resolve differences.
Ahmadinejad also said Monday that Israel was a disturbance for Iran for a "historical phase," noting the nation has only existed for about 60 years, and "they are then eliminated," Reuters reports.
He also sought to delegitimize Israel's historic ties to the Middle East and their political and military power in the region and the world, saying that Israelis "do not even enter the equation for Iran."
"They have no roots there in history," Ahmadinejad said.
On the other hand, he said the argument over Iran's nuclear program was a political rather than a legal matter and needs to be resolved politically.
"We are not expecting that a 33-year-old problem between America and Iran to be resolved in speedy discussions, but we do believe in dialogue."
He also said that Iran is neutral in the Syrian civil war, and denied that Tehran is providing weapons or training to the government of President Bashar Assad. "We like and love both sides, and we see both sides as brothers," he said. He referred to the conflict in Syria as "tribal" fighting and said that international "meddling from the outside has made the situation even harder." He refused to say whether Iran would accept a government not led by the Assad regime, which for years has been Iran's closest ally in the Middle East.
It was Ahmadinejad's eighth visit to the U.N. gathering held each September, which he cited as proof that he is open to understanding other countries' views.
In spite of his assertions on the importance of dialogue and respect for others, Ahmadinejad presented a hard line in many areas. He refused to speak of the state of Israel by name and instead referred only to the "Zionists," and when asked about author Salman Rushdie he made no attempt to distance himself from recent renewed threats on the author's life emanating from an Iranian semi-official religious foundation. "If he is in the U.S., you should not broadcast it for his own safety," Ahmadinejad said.
He said this would be his last trip to New York as president of Iran, because his term is ending and he is barred from seeking a third consecutive term. But he did not rule out staying active in Iranian politics and said he might return as part of future Iranian delegations to New York.
White House press secretary Jay Carney responded to Ahmadinejad's remarks, telling a midday news briefing, "Well, President Ahmadinejad says foolish, offensive and sometimes unintelligible things with great regularity. What he should focus on is the failure of his government of Iran to abide by its international obligations, to abide by United Nations Security Council resolutions."
Said Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council: "President Ahmadinejad's comments are characteristically disgusting, offensive, and outrageous. They underscore again why America's commitment to the security of Israel must be unshakeable, and why the world must hold Iran accountable for its utter failure to meet its obligations."
Ahmadinejad later took aim at the United States and Israel while addressing a high-level U.N. meeting promoting the rule of law, accusing Washington of shielding what he called a nuclear-armed "fake regime."
He also alluded to the amateur anti-Islam video made in the U.S. that has caused protests across the Muslim world, accusing the United States and others of misusing freedom of speech and failing to speak out against the defamation of people's beliefs and "divine prophets."