NEW YORK // Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, yesterday defended his remarks before the UN in which he said United States officials may have carried out the 9/11 attacks to provide an excuse for subsequent military offensives in the Middle East. The latest example of a controversial oratory from Iran's hard-line leader, made before the UN General Assembly on Thursday, sparked a walkout of diplomats from the US, all 27 European Union countries and other western nations.
Barack Obama, the US president, later slammed his Iranian counterpart, describing the remarks as "hateful" and "offensive" - particularly as they were made in New York, only blocks north of the site where the World Trade Center towers were destroyed. But speaking with journalists at a Manhattan hotel yesterday, Mr Ahmadinejad reasserted the conspiracy theory that US officials co-ordinated the 9/11 attacks and called for an independent investigation into the strike and subsequent US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
"Two countries were invaded and up till now, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed as a result," Mr Ahmadinejad said in response to a reporter's question. "Don't you think that that excuse needs to be revised? Don't you feel that if a fact-finding mission was present from the start to explore the true reason behind September 11, that we would not see the catastrophes in Afghanistan and Iraq today?"
Mr Ahmadinejad has a long track record of making incendiary remarks, with repeated verbal assaults on Israel, questioning the historical events of the Holocaust and describing the collapse of the capitalist system. Some analysts claim Mr Ahmadinejad uses rhetoric to divert attention from the heavy international pressure on Tehran to end its uranium enrichment programme and prove it is not trying to build a nuclear weapon.
Iran, now under four sets of UN Security Council sanctions as punishment for its failure to make its nuclear ambitions transparent, insists it is enriching uranium only to fuel nuclear reactors to generate electricity. Mr Ahmadinejad confirmed that Iranian officials had met with envoys from the five permanent members of the Security Council - the US, Britain, France, Russia and China - as well as Germany, on the sidelines of the UN meeting, and that talks on Tehran's nuclear programme may resume next month.
Mr Ahmadinejad yesterday called on the EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, to set a date for talks. "The door is open for talks and negotiations within a framework of justice and respect," the Iranian leader told reporters at the UN General Assembly. firstname.lastname@example.org