In a speech to the U.N. General Assembly, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran has a right to a nuclear fuel program but he stressed that its "religious principles" prevent it from seeking atomic weapons.
The highly anticipated speech was billed as Iran's response to a European demand for Iran to halt uranium enrichment in exchange for a series of incentives.
Ahmadinejad implicitly criticized the United States and the Europeans for "misrepresenting" Iran's desire for a civilian nuclear energy program "as the pursuit of nuclear weapons."
"This is nothing more than a pure propaganda ploy," he said.
Iran has a right to nuclear energy under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, he said, and "the peaceful use of nuclear energy with a fuel cycle is an empty proposition."
To reassure the international community of Iran's peaceful intentions, Ahmadinejad said his government is prepared to take "the most far reaching step outside the requirements of the NPT... in keeping with Iran's inalienable right to have access to a nuclear fuel cycle."
Ahmadinejad's remarks came after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice addressed the General Assembly about Iran's refusal to negotiate with the European Union an end to activities that suggest it is developing nuclear weapons.
"Questions about Iran's nuclear activities remain unanswered, despite repeated efforts" by the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, she said. But she deleted from her prepared speech a reference to Iran as a leading supporter of terrorism.
"Secretary of State Rice made clear in her remarks that the U.S. favors a referral of Iran to the Security Council for sanctions if negotiations fail," said CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst Pamela Falk from the U.N. "because the Bush Administration suspects that Iran's uranium enrichment program is a nuclear weapons program, but the resistance from Russia and China to vote for sanctions, may undermine a U.S. referral."
Rice also urged the United Nations on Saturday to move boldly to reform the world body so it can be more effective at fighting poverty and terrorism.