Diplomats from the United States and Europe walked out of the U.N. General Assembly Thursday amid a strident address by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian leader blamed Western powers for world problems, and questioned the Holocaust and circumstances of the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
On the eve of the Iranian president’s speech, Iran released two American hikers imprisoned for two years in a move welcomed by the White House. But any goodwill generated by the gesture may have been swept away by the Ahmadinejad policy speech.
In it, he blamed Western powers for a catalogue of world ills including slavery, the two world wars, drug trafficking and the imposition of authoritarian regimes in Asia, Latin America and Africa.
Ahmadinejad’s U.N. speech, his fifth since assuming power in 2005, was probably his most controversial and triggered what has become an annual walkout by Western delegates including the mid-level U.S. diplomats present when the speech began.
He made no mention of current policy issues such as Iran’s controversial nuclear program, instead attacking what he termed arrogant Western powers. He is heard through an interpreter.
“They tolerate no questions or criticism and instead of presenting a reason for their violations, they always put themselves in the position of a claimant," he said. "By using their imperialistic media network, which is under the influence of colonialism, they threaten anyone who questions the Holocaust and September 11th with sanctions and military action.”
The Iranian president, who at the U.N. last year called for an investigation of so-called “hidden elements” of the 2001 attacks, suggested Osama bin Laden had been killed by U.S. forces last May to foreclose an inquiry.
“Instead of assigning a fact-finding team, they killed the main perpetrator and threw his body into the sea," he said. "Would it not have been reasonable to bring to justice and try openly the main perpetrator of the incidents in order to identify the elements and reason behind the safe-space provided for the invading aircraft to attack the twin world trade towers?
The Iranian president, who did not mention Israel by name, said Western leaders treat Zionism as a sacred notion, and said any question about the Jewish state’s founding and history is seen as an unforgivable offense.
Reacting to the speech, the spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the U.N. said Ahmadinejad had a chance to address his own people's aspirations for freedom and dignity, but instead again turned to abhorrent anti-Semitic slurs and despicable conspiracy theories.
In a New York Times interview Thursday, Ahmadinejad again denied his country has nuclear weapons ambitions, and said it would halt uranium enrichment if world powers provided the 20-percent enriched uranium he said Iran needs for domestic power production.
The European Union said Wednesday it was prepared to resume without pre-conditions the nuclear talks with Iran that broke down in January. The International Atomic Energy Agency says Iran has failed to provide sufficient evidence that its program is entirely peaceful.