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Iranian president hurls insults with less fury

Remarks aimed at nuclear powers

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2012

UNITED NATIONS — Iran's president complained Wednesday about threats of military action from "uncivilized Zionists" and intimidation by nuclear-armed "hegemonic powers" in his address to the U.N. General Assembly.

But Mahmoud Ahmadinejad largely ignored Western concerns about his country's suspected nuclear weapons program and support for Syria's embattled regime. U.S. and Israeli diplomats did not attend his speech, and European nations were represented by low-level delegations.

Sharp rhetoric between Iran and Israel over the nuclear issue prompted U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to express alarm Tuesday at the "shrill war talk" that has tainted the atmosphere at the world body's annual meeting.

"Continued threats by the uncivilized Zionists to resort to military action against our great nation is a clear example of this bitter reality," said Mr. Ahmadinejad, using a pejorative term to refer to Israel.

He also complained about a "new era of hegemony" and "double standards" applied to certain nations over their weapons programs.

"Unilateralism, application of double standards and imposition of wars, instability and occupations to ensure economic interests and expand dominance over sensitive centers of the world have turned out to be the order of the day," he said in rambling comments that mark his last address to the U.N. as Iran's president. His second term ends next year.

"No one feels secure or safe, even those who have stockpiled thousands of atomic bombs and other arms in their arsenals," he said, failing to explain Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Iran claims its nuclear program is intended for peaceful purposes, but many suspect the Iranians have been trying to build nuclear weapons for years.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been pushing President Obama to lay down clear lines on Iran's nuclear program, which, if Iran crosses, would precipitate military action. Mr. Netanyahu will address the U.N. on Thursday.

Mr. Obama told the U.N. on Tuesday that he is committed to resolving the crisis over Iran's nuclear program through diplomacy, but, he warned, "time is not unlimited." He said a nuclear-armed Iran "would threaten the elimination of Israel, the security of Gulf nations and the stability of the global economy."

U.S. officials are alarmed by Israeli threats to launch pre-emptive strikes on Iranian nuclear sites. The Obama administration, while not specifically discussing any military strike, has said that all options are on the table.

Western nations also are concerned about Iranian support for Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, which has been involved in a civil war since March 2011 that the U.N. estimates has claimed more than 20,000 lives.

Some observers noted Mr. Ahmadinejad's embrace of a measurably softer tone than usual toward Israel and the U.S. on Wednesday.

"His speech this year was a little better than in previous years in that it wasn't quite as insulting," said Barbara Slavin, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's South Asia Center. "He had some remarks about Osama bin Laden, but he didn't deny that al Qaeda did 9/11, he didn't deny the Holocaust and he didn't say Israel should be wiped from the pages of history. So I think he's gotten a little mellower."

Mrs. Slavin, a former editor at The Washington Times and author of the 2007 book "Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the U.S. and the Twisted Path to Confrontation," said Mr. Ahmadinejad may understand that "some of the language he's used in the past has not helped Iran internationally."

Away from tension with the U.S. and Israel, Iran has long attempted to bolster perceptions that it is emerging as a major player on the global stage.

Last month, Tehran hosted the summit for the Non-Aligned Movement, whose 120 member countries do not include the United States or much of Europe. During the summit, Iran was granted control of the movement's rotating three-year presidency.

Mr. Ahmadinejad consistently pushes a message that the U.N. is unfairly controlled by Western powers. His appearances over the years in New York have driven headlines and triggered debate over the extent to which the rest of the world draws any inspiration from his position or simply finds him insulting and outrageous.

The past year brought the leveling of deep sanctions against Iran by the United States, which also has attempted to lead a global embargo of Iranian oil in order to pressure the Islamic republic into proving to the world that it is not pursuing nuclear weapons.

The developments have coincided with friction between Iran and the U.N. nuclear watchdog -- the International Atomic Energy Agency -- over a lack of transparency of the Islamic republic's nuclear program.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told a Security Council meeting later Wednesday that Iran had ignored numerous demands by the body to cooperate with the IAEA and resolve doubts about its nuclear program.

She accused Iran of sponsoring terrorist groups and smuggling weapons to the Assad regime.

"Meanwhile, the Iranian people themselves suffer gross violations of their rights at the hand of their own government," she said.

Guy Taylor in Washington contributed to this report.

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