President Barack Obama has described as hateful and offensive remarks at the United Nations on Thursday by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States could have been staged by the U.S. government. Mr. Obama spoke in an interview with BBC Persian Television.
The president said people of all faiths and ethnicities see the 2001 attacks as "the seminal tragedy of this generation", adding it was inexcusable for the Iranian leader to make such a statement in Manhattan where families lost loved ones in the attacks.
Addressing the General Assembly on Thursday, President Ahmadinejad asserted that, in his words, "the majority of the American people as well as most nations and politicians around the world" agree with the view that "some segments" in U.S. government orchestrated the attacks.
The remarks triggered a walkout by U.S and other diplomats. President Obama, who at one point in the BBC interview also called the remarks "disgusting", said they do not reflect the views of the Iranian people.
"It stands in contrast with the response of the Iranian people when 9/11 happened, when there were candlelight vigils and I think a natural sense of shared humanity and sympathy was expressed within Iran," said President Obama. "And it just shows once again, sort of the difference between how the Iranian leadership and this regime operates and how I think the vast majority of the Iranian people who are respectful and thoughtful think about these issues."
Briefing reporters earlier, a senior administration official said the comments by President Ahmadinejad were part of a pattern of remarks, including denials of the holocaust, that do not serve the Iranian people and only isolate Iran.
On U.S. and allied efforts to press Iran to change course on its nuclear program, the official said the door remains open for Iran for a diplomatic solution. But he said Iran must come to the table and demonstrate through tangible actions that it intends to comply with international obligations.
In his BBC interview, President Obama said sanctions imposed on Iran by the United Nations and individual governments do not contradict a diplomatic approach.