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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Hot News: Iran's president rails against capitalism


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UNITED NATIONS – Under increasing attack over Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday that Tehran was ready to meet conciliation with conciliation.

Ahmadinejad spoke to a half-empty chamber as he sought to cast himself as a beleaguered champion of the developing world, that he portrayed as under attack from rapacious capitalism.

At the same time, the Iranian leader issued stinging attacks on the United States and its allies without calling them by name. The delegations of the U.S., Canada and Israel were among those absent from the chamber.

Ahmadinejad did not mention the uproar over Iran's nuclear program, calling instead for global nuclear disarmament.

Moments before he spoke, foreign ministers of six global powers told reporters on the sidelines of the General Assembly that they expect Iran to come clean about its nuclear program. Tougher sanctions against Iran are being considered if talks between the powers and Iran on the issue, set for Oct. 1, don't yield results.

At times, Ahmadinejad struck a softer tone, declaring that Tehran was "prepared to warmly shake all those hands which are honestly extended to us." He said Iran is committed to participate in building durable peace and security worldwide, while defending its legitimate and legal rights.

The Iranian leader also peppered his speech with religious references, invoking the prophets of Judaism and Christianity, as well as Islam.

Yet most of the speech focused on his usual themes — scathing verbal attacks on archenemy Israel and the West.

He assailed Israel for what he said was a "barbaric" attack on the Gaza Strip last winter, and condemned the U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and attacks inside Pakistan. He also accused the West of hypocrisy, saying it preached democracy, but violated its fundamental principles.

Ahmadinejad portrayed Iran as a defender of poor countries, lashed out at unbridled capitalism which he said has reached the end of the road and will suffer the same fate as Marxism.

Turning to domestic affairs, Ahmadinejad insisted he won a "large majority" in what he described as "glorious and fully democratic" June elections. Pro-reform opposition politicians have alleged massive electoral fraud, and Ahmadinejad has been at the center of political turmoil since then.

Outside the U.N. complex, hundreds of supporters of Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi rallied against Ahmadinejad, wearing green, the movement's signature color. One of the demonstrators, Amir Arani, said that the election was stolen and that "our president is not Ahmadinejad."

In the plenum, many seats were empty during the speech, and some delegates got up midway through. The U.S., Israel and Canada were among those that boycotted the speech, in protest against his persistent denial of the Holocaust.

In another apparent anti-Semitic reference, Ahmadinejad complained that a "small minority" controls politics, economics and culture across much of the world.

Mark Kornblau, spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, said: "It is disappointing that Mr. Ahmadinejad has once again chosen to espouse hateful, offensive and anti-Semitic rhetoric."

Through the day, key speakers, including U.S. President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, had taken Iran to task for its nuclear ambitions.

The U.S. and its allies believe Iran is trying to make nuclear weapons, despite Tehran's assertion that it is only building a peaceful nuclear energy program.

The International Atomic Energy Agency says Iran has not been forthcoming about its nuclear program, and the U.N. Security Council has imposed sanctions against Iran three times since 2006 for its refusal to freeze uranium enrichment.

Next month, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, along with Germany, are to hold talks with Iran. Obama wants to pursue tougher sanctions if those meetings yield nothing.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met Wednesday with her counterparts from Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany to prepare for the meeting in Geneva. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the group expects a "serious response" from Iran at that meeting.

Russia has stood in the way of stronger action against Tehran in the past, but Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Wednesday, after a meeting with Obama, that "in some cases sanctions are inevitable."

In an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday, Ahmadinejad has said he expects "free and open" discussions at that meeting, but that Iran will not negotiate uranium enrichment.

When asked in an interview with CBS television Wednesday whether Iran had reversed position and was ready to put its nuclear program on the table, he said: "We have not actually changed our mind."

Iran's position suggests that diplomatic efforts might soon hit an impasse.

On Thursday, a high-level meeting of the U.N. Security Council is expected to adopt a resolution calling for a more intense global campaign to reduce the threat of nuclear proliferation. It does not name countries, but refers to previous resolutions that imposed sanctions on Iran and North Korea.

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