By Louis Charbonneau
NEW YORK, Sept 24 (Reuters) - Iran does not take seriously Israeli threats of attack, but is prepared to defend itself, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Monday.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has hinted that Israel could strike Iran's nuclear sites and has criticized U.S. President Barack Obama's position that sanctions and diplomacy should be given more time to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons.
Iran denies that it is seeking nuclear arms and says its atomic work is peaceful, aimed at generating electricity.
"Fundamentally we do not take seriously the threats of the Zionists. ... We have all the defensive means at our disposal and we are ready to defend ourselves," Ahmadinejad told reporters in New York, where he is due to attend the U.N. General Assembly.
"While we are fully ready to defend ourselves, we do not take such threats seriously," he said, speaking through an interpreter.
Amir Ali Hajizadeh, a brigadier general in Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, was quoted as saying on Sunday that Iran could launch a pre-emptive strike on Israel if it was sure the Jewish state was preparing to attack it.
"The nuclear issue is not a problem. But the approach of the United States on Iran is important," Ahmadinejad told reporters. "We are ready for dialogue, for a fundamental resolution of the problems" but under conditions that are based on "fairness and mutual respect," he added.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned Ahmadinejad of the dangers of incendiary rhetoric when two men met in New York on Sunday before this week's annual gathering of world leaders at the General Assembly.
In previous years, Ahmadinejad has used his U.N. speeches to defend Iran's nuclear program and to attack Israel, the United States and Europe. He has questioned the Holocaust and cast doubt on whether 19 hijackers were really responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.
Western envoys predictably walk out of Ahmadinejad's speeches in protest.
There will be high-level side meetings on Iran's nuclear program and Syria during the General Assembly, but U.N. diplomats do not expect either issue to be resolved soon.