(photo credit: AP)
The United States sharply dismissed Iranian President Mahmoud Admadinejad's assertion Tuesday that "the nuclear issue of Iran is now closed" and spent the week gathering support for a new round of Security Council sanctions.
Foreign ministers, including US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, are expected to meet Friday to chart out intensified sanctions against the Islamic Republic, which has so far refused to halt its enrichment of uranium despite international demands.
However, differences between the US and Russia on further sanctions emerged during a closed luncheon of G-8 countries Wednesday, according to sources who were present.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said after the meeting that he had strong words with Rice about whether the time was right for new sanctions when the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, had struck an agreement with Iran about its past activities. "We want to rely on IAEA expertise," Lavrov said after the meeting of G-8 members: Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States.
Nicholas Burns, the State Department's No. 3 diplomat, acknowledged that there had been differences on Iran during the "lengthy discussion" on the topic at the lunch. "There is a very clear tactical disagreement," he said. "But we are hopeful that tactical agreement can be overcome."
Earlier he rejected Ahmadinejad's suggestion that the nuclear issue has been shut.
"I am sorry to tell President Ahmadinejad that the case is not closed," he said ahead of a meeting with senior diplomats from the five permanent Security Council members and Germany to craft elements of a new sanctions resolution.
"We're going to keep going," Burns told reporters. "If Mr. Ahmadinejad thinks somehow that he has been given a pass, he is mistaken about that."
State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey was blunter in his response to Ahmadinejad's comment: "In my old neighborhood, people would have said, 'Yeah, he wishes.'"
Ahmadinejad's UN General Assembly comments - he called the countries to limit the Iranian nuclear program "arrogant powers" and said it would be subject only to IAEA monitoring rather than the Security Council - did nothing to dampen the flaring tensions between his country and the West over Iran's nuclear ambitions.
At a press conference he held after his GA speech, he referred to the termination of the "political" dimension of the dispute.
At the same press conference, he also refused to address a question posed by the wife of one of the IDF soldiers kidnapped by Hizbullah last summer. She had infiltrated the press meeting to ask Ahmadinejad to provide information on her husband.
"Why are you not allowing the Red Cross to visit them?" Karnit Goldwasser asked of her husband Ehud Goldwasser and fellow kidnapped soldier Eldad Regev.
When Ahmadinejad didn't respond to her despite her having been called on by the moderator, she asked, "How come you're not answering me?"
Right before Goldwasser's question, Ahmadinejad refused to answer a question from Channel 10 correspondent Gil Tamari. Tamari asked whether Iran was concerned that Israel might take an action similar to the one it took last week, in which the IAF allegedly bombed a possible nuclear site in Syria. Ahmadinejad simply said, "Next question."
When another reporter asked a question seeking clarity on whether the Iranian president recognized Israel or wanted to destroy it, he asked for the journalist's news outlet before responding. Told that it was a Fox News reporter, he declined to address the question directly, but did eventually ask rhetorically: "The Soviet Union, where is it now? ... It failed. It disappeared. Was it done through war? No."
He also reiterated his support for Palestinians' "right to self-determination," as well as earlier calls he has made for a Palestinian referendum.
Later when a different reporter asked a similar question, Ahmadinejad replied: "They really want to hurt us, but with the support of God, they won't be able to harm the Iranian nation."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.