Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad heralded his disputed reelection as “a glorious and fully democratic” event Wednesday in a speech to the General Assembly and avoided mention of Tehran’s nuclear program, even as he faces possible sanctions from U.N. nations.
Ahmadinejad devoted most of his comments to accusing Israel of “racist ambitions” and to portraying himself as a defender of the poor against unbridled capitalism. Speaking of voters in Iran’s June presidential election, which led to violent street protests and widespread allegations of fraud, Ahmadinejad said, “They entrusted me once more, by a large majority, with this heavy responsibility.”
The comments on Israel, delivered to a hall only about half-filled, brought a swift response from the U.S. mission.
“It is disappointing that Mr. Ahmadinejad has once again chosen to espouse hateful, offensive and anti-Semitic rhetoric,” said Mark Kornblau, spokesman for U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, in a statement released even before Ahmadinejad had finished speaking. U.S. delegates walked out during the speech.
Israel was not represented in the room, where Ahmadinejad did not take the podium until nearly 7:30 p.m. because of others’ long-running speeches.
Iran is to meet the five permanent Security Council members -- Russia, the United States, France, China, and Britain -- as well as Germany in talks next week that could determine whether the council seeks tougher sanctions to pressure Tehran to back down from what the Iranian government says is a peaceful nuclear program. Critics say Iran’s goal is to build a bomb.
Russia on Wednesday suggested that it might support sanctions against Iran, a switch from the past and most likely a result of President Obama’s dropping of plans for a missile-defense shield in Eastern Europe that the U.S. said was to protect against long-range Iranian missiles. Russia had objected to the antimissile plan. In his speech to the General Assembly, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called Obama’s shift a “step in the right direction” that deserves a “positive response.” Later, speaking with reporters, he said, “In some cases, sanctions are inevitable.”
During his speech, Ahmadinejad said Iran was “prepared to warmly shake all those hands which are honestly extended to us.”
“Settlement of global problems . . . and maintenance of peace will only materialize with the collective determination and cooperation of all nations and states,” he said.
But his berating of U.S. ally Israel and the blunt American reaction made clear the depth of hostility between Tehran and Washington, just hours after Obama had exhorted U.N. members to work together on goals such as nuclear disarmament and Middle East peace.
Ahmadinejad, in a clear reference to the United States, accused “those who define democracy and freedom” of not living up to their own standards. “They can no longer sit both as the judge and executioner and challenge the real democratically established governments,” he said.
Earlier, outside the United Nations, hundreds of protesters raised green flags -- the color of the opposition movement in Iran -- and signs reading “Free Iran” as they railed against Ahmadinejad. Many of them had come from Los Angeles to take part in a series of protests, which were set to continue today.
Roya Teimouri, an Iranian American from Los Angeles, urged Obama not to meet with Ahmadinejad and said the Iranian’s speech showed he could not be trusted.
Amir Blorchi of Washington described Ahmadinejad’s words as “bluster” and applauded the nations that did not listen to him speak. “His absurd talk about world peace and love will not deceive anyone,” said Blorchi, adding that sanctions were the best approach to Ahmadinejad.
“His government is the result of a rigged election and has survived the mass protests only by use of brute and barbaric violence,” Blorchi said.
Times staff writer Amber Smith in New York contributed to this report.