Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused the U.N. nuclear watchdog of being in the pocket of the United States and illegally releasing the names of three nuclear scientists who were then assassinated by alleged Israeli-trained killers.
In a wide-ranging interview Thursday evening with The Associated Press, he also claimed that explosive material _ and not airliners alone _ brought down the World Trade Center, attacked U.S. policies from Libya to Afghanistan, and said when his second and final term ends in two years "new elections will be held and someone else will occupy this office."
The interview took place hours after Ahmadinejad lashed out at America so fiercely in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly that diplomats from more than 30 countries, led by those from the United States, walked out.
Yet, after calling the U.S. a greedy, arrogant power too ready to use military force, Ahmadinejad told the AP that it isn't too late for President Barack Obama to carry out his election pledge to improve ties with Iran after three decades of enmity.
"I don't believe that this is a chance that has been completely lost," he said.
Ahmadinejad said he never received a reply to a personal letter he sent Obama, or to an announced offer to meet him during the General Assembly to open a dialogue, including on the nuclear issue.
"He could have chosen not to continue the wrong path chosen by his predecessor _ and he can still do so," Ahmadinejad said. "Animosity with Iran will not yield any results, will not give them any benefit."
Iran has been subjected to four rounds of U.N. sanctions for refusing to suspend its uranium enrichment program that can make nuclear fuel or fissile material for a nuclear warhead. The U.S. and its Western allies believe Tehran is pursuing nuclear weapons and for the first time the International Atomic Energy Agency said earlier this month it is "increasingly concerned" about "extensive and comprehensive" intelligence suggesting Iran is continuing its secret nuclear weapons work.
Ahmadinejad insisted Iran's nuclear program is peaceful and repeated an offer to meet with world powers to discuss nuclear issues. But he also warned that "the nuclear issue has been manipulated and turned into a political issue."
The Iranian leader claimed the IAEA is "succumbing to pressures of the United States of America _ and they speak the word of the United States of America." He also accused the nuclear agency of acting "illegally and unethically" by releasing the names of Iranian nuclear scientists, saying "this is a clear crime."
Those arrested for assassinating three of those scientists _ whom he didn't identify _ "confessed to the fact that they were trained in the occupied lands by the Zionists, and the proof and the documentation is now sitting before a judge."
Ahmadinejad's visit to New York comes at a time of rising concern about the global economy, the Palestinian bid for U.N. membership and international recognition as an independent state, and uprisings in the Middle East following the Arab Spring protests that toppled longtime authoritarian rulers in Tunisia and Egypt.
Ahmadinejad blamed the U.S. for the economic recession and for opposing U.N. membership for the Palestinians, which is expected to be formally launched on Friday.
The Americans want Israel and the Palestinians to resume negotiations, he claimed, "to enable the Zionists to draw the most benefit from it."
"At the end of the day, at one point, the Palestinian government will stand up, will be created _ if not this year next year, if not next year the following year, because these people do exist," Ahmadinejad said. "They are 10 million strong. You cannot erase them from history."
As for the Arab Spring, he said Iran supports any movement that pursues the inalienable rights of all people to freedom, justice and fairness, as long as it doesn't end up in conflict.
"People are always striving for freedom, dignity and justice _ and this is not exclusive to Arab countries," he said. "No one can contain such movements in spirit. Even if all of the political might of many countries unite, they will not be able to withstand the pressures of such changes throughout the world."
But Ahmadinejad defended Iran's bloody crackdown on demonstrators in 2009, saying "a very limited number of people were aimed at creating instability and destabilizing society and the government" by burning a mosque and destroying property, shops and vehicles.
"Such actions anywhere else in the world would be viewed as breaking the laws," he said. "This has nothing to do with protesters or opposition."
As for Libya, where there has been intense fighting, he said the people have a right to be free but he strongly opposed the NATO bombing campaign and claimed the goal of the U.S. and its allies was not to protect civilians but to go after control of Libya's oil wealth.
Ahmadinejad's powers have been weakened by Iran's ruling clerics and that weakness was evident last week when the judiciary knocked down his attempt to free two Americans jailed in Iran for more than two years as suspected spies.
Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, ended up being released Wednesday in what Ahmadinejad said was a humanitarian gesture. He offered no proof the pair were conducting espionage but said it is beyond doubt that they illegally crossed the border _ an offense he added that the United States itself routinely prosecutes.
When asked who is in charge in Iran as the power struggle rages, Ahmadinejad launched into a civics lesson on the separation of powers in the country and said there are political rivalries, just like there are in the United States.
Then, he smiled disarmingly and said, "In Iran, some people don't like me very much, and they try to limit the discretion of the government. The same goes for the United States."
On the Sept. 11 attacks, Ahmadinejad stopped short of saying the United States staged the disaster 10 years ago, but said that as an engineer, he's sure "this was a systematic collapse of those towers."
"I can say with certainty there must have been explosive material that was set off in sequence," he said.
He reiterated his call for an independent investigation, noting there are doubters in the United States as well.
"A few airplanes without previous coordination known to the security forces and the intelligence community in the United States cannot become missiles and target the heart of the United States," Ahmadinejad said.
A six-year investigation by The National Institute of Standards and Technology found that extreme heat from the jetliner crashes in the twin towers caused some steel beams to lose strength, causing further failures in the building until the entire structure succumbed.