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(photo credit: AP)
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad retaliated Tuesday to comments made by French President Nicholas Sarkozy, saying the people of France deserve better than their leaders. Sarkozy had made similar comments after Iran's contested elections.
In an interview to France 2 television carried by Agence France Presse, Ahmadinejad said "The French people deserve better than their current leaders," after he was asked by a journalist to comment on Sarkozy's recent remarks on Iran.
"This Mr Sarkozy is meddling in the internal affairs of our nation. I too have a similar view," Ahmadinejad said.
Sarkozy said on August 31 that Iranians deserved better after Ahmadinejad's re-election in June.
Several Western countries, France included, suspect foul play on the part of the regime during the vote-count. Iran also violently suppressed protesters who voted for reformist candidates.
"The people of Iran deserve better than their current leaders," Sarkozy said back then.
Ahmadinejad also said Iran could not grant amnesty to a French teacher accused of spying unless France was willing to reciprocate with help on Iranian prisoners in France.
"Unfortunately we have seen no action by the French government in favor of these prisoners," he told France 2.
University teaching assistant Clotilde Reiss, 24, was freed from a Teheran prison in August and transferred to the French embassy to await a verdict, after appearing in a televised mass trial on August 8.
She is accused of spying during post-election unrest in Iran. France rejected the Iranian government's accusations.
While he played hardball with the French, the Iranian president was more forthcoming when it came to the United States, saying in an interview with the Associated Press that he would seek leniency for three American hikers who strayed across the Iranian border, and urged US President Barack Obama to see Iran as a potential friend.
The Iranian leader also said he expects "free and open" discussion of nuclear issues at a meeting next week with six world powers, but stressed that his country would not negotiate on its own nuclear plans.
He said the onus should be on the United States and other major nuclear powers to give up their weapons and to expand opportunities for all countries to make peaceful use of nuclear power.
The Iranian leader's remarks on those and other issues in an hour-long interview at his New York hotel appeared designed to present his country as open to a broad international dialogue and to soften Iran's image as a rogue nation bent on spreading its Islamic revolution.
He reiterated explicitly that Iran is not building nuclear weapons.
He described Iran as "an opportunity for everyone," and he pointedly said Obama - who came into office vowing to seek direct talks with Washington's longtime nemesis - should waste no time pushing for big changes in the world order and to deal with Iran as a friend rather than foe.
"I hope that Mr. Obama will move in the direction of change," Ahmadinejad said. At another point he said, "The sources of insecurity around the world need to be discussed."
Ahmadinejad also softened his anti-Semitic rhetoric in the interview.
Using markedly less confrontational language than he has in the past, Ahmadinejad told the AP he is not interested in debating historical details. Instead, he said he wanted to focus on what he called the wrong done to Palestinians who lost their land when the state of Israel was formed.
Ahmadinejad said the Holocaust is used as a pretext for the repression of Palestinians. He grouped the deaths of Jews during World War II with those of millions of others who died.
The Iranian leader is in New York to address the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday.