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Obama Calls Ahmadinejad’s Sept. 11 Remarks ‘Hateful’

President Barack Obama called Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s remarks at the United Nations yesterday “offensive” and “hateful.”

In his first comments on the Iranian leader’s statement that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks may have been orchestrated to bolster the U.S. economy and “save the Zionist regime,” Obama told BBC Persian that “for him to make a statement like that was inexcusable.”

“It was offensive, it was hateful,” Obama said, according to a transcript of the interview released by the White House.

U.S. and European diplomats walked out of the UN General Assembly hall yesterday when Ahmadinejad delivered his remarks on the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon near Washington. Envoys representing Australia, Canada, Costa Rica and New Zealand also left the speech.

The interview with BBC Persian is part of the president’s attempt to communicate directly with the Iranian people as the U.S. and other nations increase pressure on Ahmadinejad’s government to comply with UN demands that it halt uranium enrichment.

“To have a president who makes outrageous, offensive statements like this does not serve the interests of the Iranian people, does not strengthen Iran’s stature in the world community,” Obama said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon weighed in with his own criticism of Ahmadinejad’s remarks.

“I strongly condemn the comments made yesterday by a leader of a delegation that called into question the cause of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on U.S. soil,” Ban said today at UN headquarters in New York.

Ahmadinejad’s Response

Ahmadinejed told reporters during a news conference at the Warwick Hotel in Manhattan today that he was only listing existing theories about the Sept. 11 attacks, not making a judgment on their likelihood.

“Did I say anything wrong?” he asked.

The conviction that al-Qaeda committed the Sept. 11 attacks must be questioned because it became the U.S. rationale for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq that were “wrong to begin with,” Ahmadinejad said.

War in Afghanistan

“Should they not re-examine the first claim they made?” he said, suggesting a Sept. 11 fact-finding commission. “We have opened up a path for the United States and the United Nations to identify an end to the war in Afghanistan.”

British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg intends to also refer today to Ahmadinejad’s speech, according to a text of his prepared remarks to the General Assembly distributed by the U.K. mission to the UN.

“I was ready today to welcome the progress made in this week’s meeting” of the U.S., U.K., China, France, Germany and Russia on Iran to help end the deadlock over its nuclear program, Clegg’s prepared remarks say.

“But instead, once again, an issue of grave global concern has been overshadowed by the bizarre, offensive and attention-grabbing pronouncements by President Ahmadinejad from this podium yesterday,” Clegg’s remarks say. “His remarks were intended to distract attention from Iran’s obligations and to generate media headlines. They deserve to do neither.”

United Front

The U.S., Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia were united this week in telling Ahmadinejad to comply with UN Security Council demands or remain under trade and financial sanctions. The council wants Iran to cease uranium enrichment and answer the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency’s questions about whether the effort is designed to achieve a weapons capability.

In his speech to the General Assembly yesterday, Obama said while he is willing to negotiate, “the Iranian government must demonstrate a clear and credible commitment, and confirm to the world the peaceful intent of its nuclear program.”

Obama told BBC Persian that Ahmadinejad’s address “defies not just common sense but basic sense -- basic senses of decency that aren’t unique to any particular country -- they’re common to the entire world.”

The president in the interview drew a distinction between the Iranian people and their government, saying that when the Sept. 11 attacks took place there was “a natural sense of shared humanity and sympathy was expressed within Iran.”

Gap With Government

“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,” Obama said.

The Iranian government is “ultimately betraying the interests of its own people by isolating it further,” he said.

The president said sanctions are likely to pressure Iran into cooperating with the international community because the economic costs are too high to sustain.

The U.S. isn’t “operating unilaterally” because other nations are pulling out of business arrangements with Iran even though it is a significant oil producer, Obama said.

Iran has the world’s second-largest oil and gas reserves after Saudi Arabia.

Iranians who are struggling to get basic goods and services because of UN sanctions “have to look at the management of their own government, both in terms of the economic management but also in terms of them deciding that it’s a higher priority to pursue a covert nuclear program than it is to make sure that their people have opportunity,” Obama said.

The president in the interview also addressed Afghanistan, saying the U.S. will stay in the country “until the job is done” even as American forces begin withdrawing in July 2011.

“We’re not going to suddenly leave, turn off the lights and go home on that date,” he said.

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