NEW YORK — One day after he outraged delegates at the United Nations by claiming that the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated by the United States, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad offered to end his country's controversial uranium enrichment program.
Unabashed by the condemnation of President Barack Obama, who called the remarks "hateful" and "offensive," Ahmadinejad presented a much more conciliatory front in a packed news conference. Iran, he said, was prepared to resume talks on its nuclear program as soon as next month.
The volatile leader's willingness to open talks on a matter that three years ago he had said "was closed," may indicate that his changed status at home and abroad has weakened his ability to withstand U.N. pressure to scale back his nation's nuclear program. The United States and its allies suspect the program is aimed at developing atomic weapons, while the Iranians say it is purely for electricity generation.
Political turmoil in Tehran has eroded Ahmadinejad's standing in foreign capitals and cast doubt on his ability to negotiate an end to the nuclear dispute, says Cliff Kupchan, an analyst at the risk consultant Eurasia Group in New York.
"Ahmadinejad has been out front in calling for talks with the U.S., but in the context of ongoing factional fighting, the pragmatic conservatives are very unlikely to let him get credit for improving relations with the U.S.," Kupchan said in an e-mail. "Any apparent agreement would likely get torpedoed by domestic rancor."
Ahmadinejad gave no hint of that weakened position Friday, suggesting that it would be the rest of the world that would need to soften if talks were to go forward. Pressure was counterproductive, he said, but respectful talks will bear fruit.
"The era of following a policy of carrot and stick is over. Even such words are insulting to nations. It's only good for cowboys and those of retarded people. Definitely it has no effect," he said.
That's open to debate.
Iran is under four sets of U.N. Security Council sanctions as punishment for its failure to make its nuclear ambitions transparent. On Wednesday, Ahmadinejad received a signed decree from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev banning weapons sales to Iran, including missile defense systems, in compliance with U.N. sanctions.
"It was a masterful move and a kick in the teeth of Ahmadinejad," said Suzanne Maloney, a former State Department policy planner and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. "His stature certainly has been diminished."
Ahmadinejad, 53, has been surprised by the strength of the latest Security Council sanctions, adopted June 9, and ensuing penalties imposed by the United States and European Union, according to Ilan Berman, vice president of the Washington-based American Foreign Policy Council.
"The experience of Iran, dealing from history, was that the U.N. Security Council passes a resolution, the global community yawns, and it is essentially business as usual," Berman said. "But since June there has been a very significant constriction of trade with Iran from countries you would not expect, such as Turkey and South Korea."
South Korea said on Sept. 8 that it would ban any new investments for Iranian oil, gas and construction projects. Turkey's gasoline sales to Iran in July plunged to 47.9 million liters from 187.4 million liters a month earlier after U.S. sanctions against Iran took effect, according to Turkey's statistics office.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul, who met with Ahmadinejad in New York, said Wednesday that sanctions must be respected. "We are not undermining American policies," he said.
Former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said Sept. 14 that Iran is facing its harshest ever sanctions and Iran's officials should take the threat seriously, according to the Iranian Labor News Agency.
Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad has drawn criticism for his public statements on Israel. Cuba's Fidel Castro chided Ahmadinejad this month for denying the Holocaust and said his anti-Semitism doesn't help the cause for peace.
President Obama responded to Ahmadinejad in a BBC Persian service interview Friday saying: "Well, it was offensive. It was hateful.
"And particularly for him to make the statement here in Manhattan, just a little north of ground zero, where families lost their loved ones, people of all faiths, all ethnicities who see this as the seminal tragedy of this generation, for him to make a statement like that was inexcusable," Obama said.
The president said that while he is willing to bargain with Iran, "the Iranian government must demonstrate a clear and credible commitment, and confirm to the world the peaceful intent of its nuclear program."
On Friday, Ahmadinejad appeared to make his clearest statement yet.
He said that Iran would consider ending higher level uranium enrichment, the most crucial part of its controversial nuclear activities, if world powers send Tehran nuclear fuel for a medical research reactor.
Information from Bloomberg News and the Associated Press was used in this report.