The President of Iran has admitted in an interview that there may be “a few” gay people in his country, but attacked homosexuality as destructive to society.

In an interview with US current affairs TV programme Democracy Now, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also rejected criticism of the execution of children in Iran.

During his last visit to the US a year ago he said in reply to a question posed about homosexuality during his speech at New York’s Columbia University:

“In Iran we don’t have homosexuals like in your country‚Ķ In Iran we do not have this phenomenon, I don’t know who has told you that we have it.”

In his TV interview yesterday he condemned American acceptance of gay people.

“It should be of no pride to American society to say they defend something like this,” President Ahmadinejad said.

“Just because some people want to get votes, they are willing to overlook every morality.”

Iranian human rights campaigners estimate that 4,000 gay men have been executed since the Islamic revolution in 1979.

Under Sharia law gay sex illegal, with penalty of death for offenders as young as 14 years old.

The vast majority of executions of juvenile offenders worldwide take place in Iran, where judges can impose the death penalty in capital cases if the defendant has attained “majority,” defined in Iranian law as 9 years for girls and 15 years for boys, says Human Rights Watch.

Iran is known to have executed six juvenile offenders so far in 2008. More than130 other juvenile offenders are currently sentenced to death.

In 2005 Iran sparked international outrage when it publicly executed two teenage boys.

Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni were hanged because according to the regime they were rapists, however gay campaigners insist the boys were killed under Sharia law for the crime of homosexuality.

At first it was claimed by Iranian officials that they were aged 18 and 19.

The best evidence is that both youths were aged 17 when they were executed and therefore minors, aged 15 or 16, at the time of their alleged crimes.

“The legal age in Iran is different from yours,” the President told Democracy Now when asked about executions of juveniles.

“If a person who happens to be 17 years old and 9 months kills one of your relatives, would you just overlook that?”

Mr Ahmadinejad was also unbowed by speculation that the US may take action against his country’s nuclear weapons programme.

“Mr. Bush is very interested to start a new war,” he said, but claimed Iran is “very capable of defending itself.

“We think there are enough wise people in this country to prevent unreasonable actions by the administration.”

Mr Ahmadinejad is in New York to attend the General Assembly of the United Nations.