UNITED NATIONS -- President Obama on Friday condemned Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's suggestion that the U.S. orchestrated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, calling the remark "inexcusable" and out-of-step with the Iranian people.
"It was offensive. It was hateful. And particularly for him to make the statement here in Manhattan, just a little north of Ground Zero, where families lost their loved ones, people of all faiths, all ethnicities who see this as the seminal tragedy of this generation, for him to make a statement like that was inexcusable," Mr. Obama told BBC Persia, according to a transcript provided by the White House.
Scores of diplomats walked out of the U.N. General Assembly room in protest Thursday afternoon when Mr. Ahmadinejad made the incendiary statement in a characteristic rambling tirade that hit the U.S. for its "occupation" of Iraq and Afghanistan, and predicted an end to the current world order.
The diminutive leader said one possible explanation for the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon is "that some segments within the U.S. government orchestrated the attack to reverse the declining American economy, and its grips on the Middle East, in order to save the Zionist regime."
Mr. Obama said Mr. Ahmadinejad's comments stand "in contrast" with the reaction by the Iranian people to 9/11.
"There were candlelight vigils and I think a natural sense of shared humanity and sympathy was expressed within Iran," Mr. Obama told reporter Bahman Kalbasi. "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."
The interview is not the first time Mr. Obama has sought to speak directly to the Iranian people. Both this year and last year, he taped a video message to mark the Persian new year, known as Nowruz. On both occasions, he emphasized that the U.S. quarrel is with the Iranian government and not its people.
"We want to see the people of Iran ultimately succeed. But the government has taken Iran on a path that has led to international condemnation," he said.
Mr. Obama noted his early attempts to engage Iran came at "some political cost."
"Outrageous, disgusting statements of the sort that Mr. Ahmadinejad just made makes the American people understandably wary of any dealings with the Iranian government," he said. "But I said, you know, there should be a way for us to change the dynamic that has been in place since 1979, since you were born. And it turns out that so far, at least, the Iranian regime has been unwilling to change its orientation."
Asked what will happen if the latest round of UN and unilateral sanctions against the regime fail, Mr. Obama said there "are a whole host of options and these options would be exercised in consultation with the international community." But his strong preference would be to resolve the issues diplomatically, he added.
Hours before Mr. Ahmadinejad's comments Thursday, Mr. Obama publicly chided Iran in his second address to the world body, but declared that the "door remains open to diplomacy should Iran choose to walk through it."
Indeed, the situation appeared more hopeful earlier in the week, when Mr. Ahmadinejad gave the impression that he is open to relaunching nuclear talks with the West, telling reporters in an interview that "is a good chance" that negotiations would resume "in the near future," according to Politico.
Speaking with reporters Friday, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes defended Mr. Obama's statement that the door is still open for negotiations, but stressed that the administration is not interested in "diplomacy for diplomacy's sake."
"We're not interested in half measures, we're not interested in Iranian statements, we're not interested in the things they may say about their desire for diplomacy," Mr. Rhodes said. "We're interested in their actions, and they have to come to the table" and into compliance with UN atomic inspection rules.
The White House said Mr. Obama saw the BBC Persia interview as a chance to speak directly to the Iranian people and make clear the U.S. quarrel is not with them but with their government.
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