With his now-familiar mix of bombast, politics and theater, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday denounced the United States and its European allies as colonialist “slave masters” intent on wrecking the world economy, prompting dozens of Western diplomats to walk out.
As in previous years, Ahmadinejad used his appearance at the United Nations General Assembly to condemn the United States and its allies, accusing them of causing centuries of misery. He charged that they were responsible for the suffering caused by slavery, world wars, nuclear attacks and the current global economic turmoil.
As before, his presence also sparked protests outside the U.N. But this time around, his influence seems to be ebbing in Tehran, and his speech was overshadowed by the week’s dominant topic, the Palestinian Authority’s bid for U.N. recognition.
Ahmadinejad had no comment on the Palestinian issue, keeping instead to his usual themes and invective. He accused Israel of causing “60 years of war,” and railed that European nations used the Holocaust “as the excuse to pay ransom or fines to Zionists.”
In a veiled reference to the U.S., he charged that the “mysterious” Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were a pretext to invade Iraq and Afghanistan. He complained that Western powers wouldn’t help Somali famine victims, despite the fact that Western nations have provided most of the relief recently.
The caustic comments prompted diplomats from the United States, European countries and several other nations to walk out of the session in protest. Delegations from Israel and Canada skipped the speech, one of scores given by world leaders during the annual U.N. gathering in New York.
Iraqi officials who sat next to the Iranian delegation remained in their seats and clapped politely when Ahmadinejad concluded his 30-minute address.
U.S. officials dismissed the speech in sharp terms.
“Mr. Ahmadinejad had a chance to address his own people’s aspirations for freedom and dignity, but instead he again turned to abhorrent anti-Semitic slurs and despicable conspiracy theories,” said Mark Kornblau, a spokesman for Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Ahmadinejad spoke a day after Iranian authorities released two young American men who were jailed for two years after they allegedly hiked into Iranian territory. The move appeared timed to improve the atmosphere for the Iranian leader’s visit, but any conciliatory gestures did not extend to Ahmadinejad’s address.