Obama condems Iran leader's 'hateful' September 11 comments
UNITED NATIONS (AFP) – US President Barack Obama on Friday slammed Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for suggesting that the American government played a role in the September 11 attacks.
But Ahmadinejad refused to back down and called for a UN investigation into the "true" reasons for the 2001 Al–Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center towers which left about 3,000.
"It was offensive, it was hateful," Obama said of the comments, in an interview with the BBC's Persian service which will be broadcast into Iran.
Obama said he was particularly shocked that Ahmadinejad made his speech in New York so close to the attack site Ground Zero.
He described the site as a place "where families lost their loved ones, people of all faiths, all ethnicities who see this as the seminal tragedy of this generation –– for him to make a statement like that was inexcusable."
UN Secretary General Ban Ki–moon also expressed anger. Without naming the Iranian leader, he told a UN meeting: "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 US soil."
Ahmadinejad said in a speech to the UN General Assembly on Thursday that most Americans and nations around the world believe a theory that "some segments within the US government orchestrated the attack to reverse the declining American economy and its grips on the Middle East, in order also to save the Zionist regime."
The Iranian leader defended his actions on Friday. "I did not pass a judgement, I simply made proposals for a humane solution to the problems that have risen as a result of 9/11," Ahmadinejad told a New York press conference.
He said a UN fact–finding committee should investigate what he called the "true reasons" behind the September 11 attacks.
"An event occured, and under the pretext of that event two countries were invaded and up to now hundreds of thousands of people have been killed as a result. Don't you feel that that excuse has to be revised," he said, referring to the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The row overshadowed debate on the main crises the world is confronting at the UN General Assembly, including the Iran nuclear showdown. Ahmadinejad said, however, that European and Iranian officials could meet next month in a bid to start negotiations.
Obama and Ban led international warnings to Sudan meanwhile that votes which could lead to the breakup of Africa's biggest nation must go ahead on time and without intimidation.
Amid fears of a new conflict blowing up in one of the world's most unstable regions, leaders stressed the need for peaceful self–determination referenda and to contain violence in Darfur.
"What happens in Sudan matters to all of sub–Saharan Africa and it matters to the world," Obama told the meeting attended by several African leaders and foreign ministers from the western powers.
Self–determination votes in South Sudan and the small region of Abyei, both key oil producers, were part of a peace accord that in 2005 ended two decades of civil war between North and South Sudan which claimed two million lives.
The votes are scheduled for January 9 but diplomats are seriously behind schedule. Some leaders fear a new conflict will break out if the vote is not held.
"The will of the people of South Sudan and the region of Abyei must be respected, regardless of the outcome," Obama declared.
The UN chief said: "We expect the referenda to be peaceful, carried out in an environment free of intimidation or other infringements of rights.
"We expect both parties to accept the results, and to plan for the consequences."
The UN chief said the "stakes are high for Sudan, for Africa and for the international community."
Khartoum Vice President Ali Osman Taha said his government would respect the outcome of the votes. But he called for an easing of international sanctions against Sudan.
Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi highlighted the fears of neighbouring nations about events in Sudan. He said preparations were critically behind and that without an urgent response "we will have a breakdown in peace."
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