NEW YORK — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that "the future belongs to Iran," and challenged the United States to accept that his country has a major role in the world.
The comments came in an hourlong interview Sunday with The Associated Press on the first day of his visit to the United States to attend the annual General Assembly of the United Nations this week.
He insisted that his government does not want an atomic bomb — something he has said in the past — and that Iran is only seeking peace and a nuclear-weapons-free world. He repeatedly sidestepped questions on when Iran would resume talks on its disputed nuclear program, and he said anti-nuclear sanctions against his government would have no effect.
Appearing calm and self-assured on his seventh trip to the United States, the Iranian president showed every sign of being in command of himself and prepared to deflect questions about his government's harsh suppression of opposition forces after last year's disputed election that returned him to a second term.
"The United States' administrations ... must recognize that Iran is a big power," he said. "Having said that, we consider ourselves to be a human force and a cultural power and hence a friend of other nations. We have never sought to dominate others or to violate the rights of any other country.
"Those who insist on having hostilities with us, kill and destroy the option of friendship with us in the future, which is unfortunate because it is clear the future belongs to Iran and that enmities will be fruitless."