By Peter Baker and Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 25 -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vowed Tuesday not to give in to pressure by "arrogant powers" trying to force him to abandon his nation's uranium-enrichment program and unilaterally declared that as far as he is concerned, "the nuclear issue of Iran is now closed."
In a fiery speech to the U.N. General Assembly, Ahmadinejad denounced what he called the "master-servant relationship of the Medieval Age" imposed by the United States and other leading nations through the Security Council. He expressed confidence that God would not allow the Bush administration to launch a military attack against his country and said Iran has "spared no effort to build confidence" that it wants only civilian energy, not nuclear weapons.
His address punctuated a shadow debate with President Bush, who spoke to the assembly earlier in the day and called on world leaders to join him in a global "mission of liberation" against repressive governments such as that in Iran. Although the two men never crossed paths, their competing visions presented here framed the opening of the assembly's annual session and underscored the diplomatic confrontation between the two nations.
Bush did not mention the nuclear dispute with Iran in his speech, but Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other advisers used their time here to build support for a new Security Council resolution that would impose more meaningful punishment on Tehran for ignoring a U.N. mandate to suspend its enrichment program. For his public remarks, the president focused instead on tyranny, citing Iran as a prime example.
"Every civilized nation also has a responsibility to stand up for the people suffering under a dictatorship," Bush said in his address. "In Belarus, North Korea, Syria and Iran, brutal regimes deny their people the fundamental rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration" of Human Rights.
The president used the occasion to announce new sanctions against the military government in Burma, where tens of thousands of demonstrators are in the streets protesting what he called "a 19-year reign of fear." Bush also pointed to Cuba, where he said "the long rule of a cruel dictator is nearing its end"; Zimbabwe, for launching "an assault on its people"; and Sudan, for "repression" and "genocide."
Ahmadinejad sat 14 rows back as Bush spoke, idly touching his lower lip, whispering to a seatmate and once checking his watch. While the Cuban foreign minister stormed out in protest, Ahmadinejad fired back in his own speech hours later, lacing his remarks with religious references and anti-American rhetoric. Bush skipped the speech, attending another meeting.
While not mentioning the United States explicitly, the Iranian leader denounced nations that establish secret prisons, abduct people, tap private telephone calls and ignore the law. "Some powers do not value any nation or human beings," he said. In Iraq, "no day passes without people being killed, wounded or displaced," Ahmadinejad said, adding that the "occupiers," as he referred to U.S. forces, "do not even have the courage to declare their defeat and exit Iraq."
He then held a news conference that was typical Ahmadinejad -- outspoken, in command and impervious to diplomatic norms. He called any U.N. sanctions against Iran "illegal" and brushed off concern about U.S. military action if he does not comply. "They want to hurt us," he said, "but with the will of God, they won't be able to do it." Asked whether he is concerned that Israel might strike Iran, as it did Syria recently, he snapped, "Next question." He also ignored a plea shouted by the wife of an Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hezbollah last year.
An Iranian reporter asked Ahmadinejad how he could say during an appearance at Columbia University on Monday that there are no homosexuals in Iran, noting that she knows a few herself.
"Seriously?" he replied. "I don't know of any." He asked for their addresses so the government could "be aware of what's going on."
The U.S.-Iran confrontation played out all day through surrogates and allies. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in his maiden address to the assembly, warned that a nuclear Iran would be an "unacceptable risk" to international stability and said "there will not be peace in the world" if the international community falters in its bid to stop Tehran's program. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega delivered a fist-pumping condemnation of the United States, saying it had no right to pressure Iran to give up its nuclear program, because it was the only nation ever to use an atomic bomb.
Lawmakers in Washington weighed in on Ahmadinejad's visit. The House voted 397 to 16 to block foreign investment in Iran, particularly the energy sector, and to bar Bush from waiving U.S. sanctions. The Senate debated a nonbinding resolution urging the State Department to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist group, but the vote was delayed amid haggling.
Iran was only part of a broad agenda for Bush during a three-day stay here. He met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to press for more political reconciliation, conducted a democracy roundtable with other heads of state and participated in a Security Council discussion of the crisis in Sudan's Darfur region.
"Maybe some don't think it's genocide," Bush said of the killing there as he pressed for a peacekeeping force. "But if you've been raped, your human rights have been violated, if you're mercilessly killed by roaming bands, you know it's genocide. And the fundamental question is: Are we, the free world, willing to do more?"
Several hundred people outside the U.N. building demonstrated against Bush's policies on Iraq and terrorism. Some wore orange jumpsuits to demonstrate concern over prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. About a dozen were arrested for civil disobedience.
Another protester was Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe P¿rez Roque, who denounced Bush's "mediocre statement," calling him "a criminal" with "no moral authority or credibility to judge any other country." Bush adviser Michael G. Kozak later retorted: "The Cubans know how to dish it out, but they don't know how to take it."
Staff writers Colum Lynch at the United Nations and Shailagh Murray in Washington contributed to this report.