Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad insisted Thursday that Tehran does not need atomic weapons and he is "at a loss" about what more he can do to prove that.
Ahmadinejad said his country has not hidden anything and was working within the framework of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty.
"The bottom line is we do not need a bomb," he said at a news conference on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.
The nations seeking to halt Iran's disputed nuclear activities are working out a new deadline for the Islamic republic and have authorized the European Union's foreign policy chief to go anywhere at any time to meet Tehran's top nuclear negotiator.
Despite the possible new accommodations, diplomats said they are not willing to wait much longer for Iran to respond more definitively to their package of incentives to stop uranium enrichment.
Ahmadinejad said he believed negotiations on the issue were "on the right track."
"Our position on suspension is very clear," Ahmadinejad said. "Under fair and just conditions ... we will negotiate about it."
He said the Iranians "want to make sure that everything we agree on" has a guarantee but they were not looking for security measures.
"We are able to protect ourselves and our security," he said. "What we speak of are guarantees of enforcement of provisions that are agreed upon."
He also accused the United States of having a double standard and said it should destroy its own nuclear arsenal, which would make it "less suspicious of others."
He questioned what the U.S. has done to shut down its weapons program. "They too need to submit a report" to the International Atomic Energy Agency on its nuclear program, he said. "We've acted in a very transparent manner."
Ahmadinejad, whose country has been accused of smuggling weapons to the Islamic militant group Hezbollah, which fought a 34-day war with Israel this summer, said Lebanon's internal affairs were its own concern.
"We give spiritual support to all those who want to support their rights," he said when asked about whether Iran is arming Hezbollah. He added that Iran supports "permanent stability in Lebanon, and we will fall short of no means in supporting this goal."
The hard-line Iranian leader also reached out to the American people, two days after President Bush addressed himself to the Iranian public.
"The people of the United States are highly respected by us ... many people in the United States believe in God and believe in justice," he said.
In response to a question by an Israeli TV reporter on his past remarks that he sought the destruction of Israel, Ahmadinejad hesitated before responding.
"We love everyone in the world — Jews, Christians, Muslims, non-Muslims, non-Jews, non-Christians," he said. "We are against ugly acts. We are against occupation, aggression, killings and displacing people — otherwise we have no problem with ordinary people."
"Everyone is respected. ... We declare this in a loud voice," he said.
With world leaders gathered at the United Nations, the U.S. had hoped to move decisively this week toward political and economic sanctions against Iran after it missed an Aug. 31 U.N. Security Council deadline to halt uranium enrichment.
Oil-rich Iran insists the program has the peaceful purpose of producing fuel for nuclear reactors that generate electricity. But the U.S. and other countries fear Iran's goal is to build a nuclear arsenal and transform the balance of power in the Middle East.
A dinner meeting Tuesday with British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the foreign ministers of France, Russia, China, Germany and Italy produced little consensus about the next step, U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said. He said the diplomatic effort to counter Iran was in "extra innings."
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said Wednesday that the nations leading efforts to halt Iran's uranium enrichment are working on a new deadline for Tehran to provide a more definitive response, despite differences over sanctions.
France also is pushing a compromise proposal that would have Iran suspend uranium enrichment at the same time as a Security Council suspension of all threats of sanctions.
Former President Bill Clinton, meanwhile, said Thursday the U.S. should try talking to Iran about its nuclear weapons ambitions without imposing a lot of conditions.
"If you think you might have trouble with somebody, and God forbid if you think it could lead to a military confrontation, then there needs to be the maximum amount of contact beforehand,'' Mr. Clinton said in an NBC interview.
"The United States should not be afraid to talk to anyone. They should not be reluctant and shouldn't have too many conditions,'' said Mr. Clinton, who said his own offer to meet with Iranian Ahmadinejad's predecessor had been rebuffed.