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Nuclear issue ‘closed,’ Iran tells the U.N.

Times Staff Writers

Iran’s defiant stance on its nuclear research program took center stage Tuesday at the opening of the General Assembly, with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declaring the issue “closed” while leaders of France and Germany issued ominous warnings about his nation’s alleged weapons ambitions.

“In the last two years, abusing the Security Council, the arrogant powers have repeatedly accused Iran and even made military threats and imposed illegal sanctions against it,” Ahmadinejad said. “I officially announce that in our opinion the nuclear issue of Iran is now closed and has turned into an ordinary agency matter” between Iran and the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, he said.

The Iranian leader said his nation would ignore demands by the Security Council to halt uranium enrichment activities.

President Bush, in earlier remarks to the assembly, was nearly silent on the topic of Iran, and adopted a conciliatory tone far from his confrontational stance here five years ago when he argued his case against Iraq. He mentioned Iran only once, among a list of “brutal regimes” that he said denied their people fundamental rights, along with Belarus, North Korea and Syria.

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In a day filled with 27 speeches, far more time was taken on other topics, including global warming, human rights, the situation in Sudan’s Darfur region, and political dissent in Myanmar. But the issue of Iran bookmarked the day’s sessions.

Ahmadinejad’s remarks, though polarizing, found sympathizers at the General Assembly, where an annual dialogue plays out between rich and poor nations.

On the other side of the divide, France and Germany painted the Iranian leader as a dangerous rogue whose pursuit of nuclear know-how was one slippery step away from a weapon. “Let’s not fool ourselves,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in the final speech of the day.

“If Iran were to acquire the nuclear bomb, the consequences would be disastrous.”

She rejected Ahmadinejad’s contention that Iran’s development of nuclear technology was lawful, transparent and now only the business of the IAEA.

“The world does not have to prove to Iran that Iran is building a nuclear bomb. Iran has to convince the world that it is not striving toward such a bomb,” she said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy focused suspicion on Iran earlier in the day, saying that to allow Tehran to develop nuclear weapons would mean an “unacceptable risk” for regional and world stability.

Both European leaders said they would advocate firmer sanctions on Iran, despite recent hints from Merkel that Germany did not support more penalties.

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Ahmadinejad, however, said that the same countries that held themselves up as the protectors of human rights and international law were the worst violators of those principles. The Security Council member nations charged with preventing conflict often were “the aggressor,” he said.

“How can the incompetent who cannot even manage and control themselves rule humanity and arrange its affairs? Unfortunately, they have put themselves in the position of God!”

He also said the IAEA had “illegally” politicized his nation’s nuclear program.

Bush, in a marked change from his original appearance before the General Assembly in 2002, when he challenged the U.N. to confront Iraq or stand aside, on Tuesday emphasized upholding the promise of the U.N.'s founding values, that all people have the right to be free from hunger, poverty, tyranny and fear.

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“Every civilized nation also has a responsibility to stand up for the people suffering under dictatorship,” Bush said.

He announced new sanctions on the military government in Myanmar, also known as Burma, where Buddhist monks for more than a week have led thousands in daily demonstrations against repression and poverty under the junta’s leadership.

In remarks shorn of the flourishes of a domestic political speech, Bush pressed the nations of the world to recognize that they were not adhering to the U.N.'s human rights declaration “when innocent people are trapped in a life of murder and fear.”

“When millions of children starve to death or perish from a mosquito bite, we’re not doing our duty in the world,” he said, a reference to malaria and famine in undeveloped nations.

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Bush’s address sounded at times as if he accidentally had picked up the secretary- general’s script.

Indeed, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who presided over his first General Assembly, gave a quiet nod to Bush’s evolution in tone.

“The pendulum of history is swinging in our favor. Multilateralism is back,” Ban said. “An increasingly interdependent world recognizes that the challenges of tomorrow are best dealt with through the U.N. Indeed, they can only be dealt with through the U.N.”

He said the world body needed its members’ help facing “a daunting array of challenges.”

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“Often it seems as though everybody wants the U.N. to do everything. We cannot deliver everything, of course,” he said. “But that cannot be an excuse for doing nothing.

“To deliver on the world’s high expectations for us, we need to be faster, more flexible, and mobile. We need to pay less attention to rhetoric and more attention to results, to getting things done.”

Ban pledged to “leave no stone unturned to end the tragedy in Darfur,” which he has made one of his top priorities, along with promoting peace in the Middle East.

He spent almost as much time on Iraq as Bush did in his speech, mentioning it only once. He said the U.N. would expand its role to help reconcile rival groups and provide more aid there.

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“Iraq has become the whole world’s problem,” he said.

Ban also touched on Iran’s nuclear program and urged Myanmar authorities to exercise “utmost restraint.”

The United Nations under Ban is a quieter, different place than it was under Kofi Annan, whom he replaced. Ban has not used his post as the world’s top diplomat to exhort countries to live up to universal values of human rights, as did some of his predecessors and as Bush did Tuesday. He has not pushed the boundaries of international law, as did Annan, who demanded that nations intervene to protect citizens whose government can’t or won’t. Instead, his style has been pragmatic and he has aimed for efficiency and behind-the-scenes diplomacy.

But also unlike his predecessors, Ban wants to treat this week’s assemblage of presidents and prime ministers as a working meeting, not just a moment of global theater.

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In the days leading up to Tuesday’s opening of the annual General Assembly debate, Ban put foreign ministers to work in sessions on Darfur, Afghanistan, Iraq and the Middle East. On Monday, about 80 heads of state and government met on climate change, and with the exception of the United States and a few other nations, agreed to work toward mutual agreements on limits to emissions blamed for global warming.

Global warming will be a predominant theme of this year’s speeches, which began with Ban’s remarks to a packed General Assembly chamber. The oratory will continue until Oct. 3, when a diplomat from Trinidad and Tobago will deliver the 193rd speech to a chamber that will, by then, be largely empty.

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maggie.farley@latimes.com

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james.gerstenzang @latimes.com

Times staff writer Borzou Daragahi in Beirut contributed to this report.


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