UNITED NATIONS — The United States on Thursday led a mass walkout of the UN General Assembly when Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad launched an outspoken attack on Western nations.
A US diplomat left halfway through the Iranian leader’s speech, while the 27 European Union nations followed in a coordinated protest move.
The Iranian leader again cast doubt on the origins of the Holocaust and the September 11, 2001 attacks and criticized the United States for killing Osama bin Laden rather than bringing him to trial.
“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 US mission spokesman Mark Kornblau.
A French spokesman called Ahmadinejad’s attacks “unacceptable” in a message sent on Twitter just after the walkout.
Earlier Ahmadinejad had offered to halt Iran’s production of low-enriched uranium — which can be a stepping stone to producing atomic weapons — if the West supplied Tehran with the material in return.
Iran, accused by Western nations of seeking to develop a nuclear weapon, is under four sets of UN sanctions for refusing for years to bow to international demands to rein in uranium enrichment.
“If they give us the 20 percent enriched uranium this very week, we will cease the domestic enrichment of uranium of up to 20 percent this very week. We only want the 20 percent enrichment for our domestic consumption,” Ahmadinejad told The New York Times.
The European Union also offered to resume the sputtering talks with Iran over its suspect nuclear program which broke down in January.
But in his speech to the UN, the Iranian leader made no mention of the nuclear standoff with the West in a rambling diatribe, accusing the United States and its allies of “waging wars and selling arms.”
In a general blast at the West, Ahmadinejad said: “Hypocrisy and deceit are allowed in order to secure their interests and imperialistic goal.”
“Drug trafficking and killing of innocent human beings are also allowed in pursuit of such diabolic goals,” he added.
“They weaken countries through military intervention and destroy their infrastructures, in order to plunder their resources by making them all the more dependent.”
The Iranian leader also steered clear of a looming showdown at the United Nations over a bid by the Palestinians to win full UN membership as a state.
He referred only to the imposition of “60 years of war, homelessness, terror and mass murder on the Palestinian people and on countries in the region.”
Iran has been increasingly isolated for refusing to rein in its nuclear program. But the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Thursday offered to resume talks between Iran and the so-called P5+1 group of Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany.
The European Union is “ready to resume talks with Iran on building confidence in the nature of its nuclear program, on the understanding that Iran is ready to enter into meaningful talks without pre-conditions,” spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said.
US President Barack Obama warned Wednesday that Iran would face even deeper isolation if it failed to bring its nuclear programs under international law.
“The Iranian government cannot demonstrate that its program is peaceful, has not met its obligations, and rejected offers that would provide it with peaceful nuclear power,” Obama said in his UN speech on Wednesday.
“If they continue down a path that is outside international law, they must be met with greater pressure and isolation,” Obama said. “That is what our commitment to peace demands.”
Across the street from the sprawling United Nations complex, behind steel security barriers, about 400 people rallied to protest the Iranian regime under the banner of the opposition People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran.
“While Ahmadinejad is getting the podium at the world’s biggest party, the Iranian people are being suppressed,” said organizer Ali Safavi.
Activists in New York have also set up a “war room” in upscale Warwick Hotel where Ahmadinejad is staying with anti-Ahmadinejad posters and converted into a media center where the activists are coordinating their protests.
“We want to show him he is not welcome here,” Nathan Carleton, a spokesman for an advocacy group called United Against Nuclear Iran, told AFP.