by Oren Dorell, USA TODAY
NEW YORK -- Clearly frustrated with international sanctions strangling his country's economy, Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defied world leaders gathered at the United Nations General Assembly Wednesday to confront countries he said dominate the world's nations.
Ahmadinejad's speech, which meandered and touched on religious aspirations and prophecies, critiqued a "world order" he said is dominated by "power centers" which he didn't name and that he said dominate weaker countries for materialistic reasons. He urged a restructuring of the United Nations in a way that gives equal say to all and eliminates the veto power of the U.N. Security Council members, which he said use their power to trample the rights of other nations.
The United Nations, under U.S. leadership, has imposed economic sanctions on Iran to pressure its leaders to prove their contention that Iran's nuclear program is for peaceful scientific research, as required by the Non-Proliferation Treaty Iran has signed.
Protesters gathered in front of the United Nations as the Iranian leader spoke, carrying signs and banging drums. It was Ahmadinejad's last speech before the assembly.
"I think we should get rid of this dictator and support the people that are against the regime," said Brigitte Beck, 48, who traveled with her daughter from Chino Hills, Calif., to join thousands gathering outside the General Assembly meeting. Beck, who was wearing a black shirt with a red slash through the face of Ahmadinejad, said she has family and friends who live in Iran. They "are being killed back there," she said.
Ahmadinejad is in his second and final term as Iran's president. The U.S. delegation boycotted his speech in response to the "paranoid theories and repulsive slurs against Israel" included in his address Monday.
Ahmadinejad told leaders on Wednesday that the world body is in the grips of a "world order" that is "founded on materialism and is in no way bound to moral values."
"It believes in the humiliation of other nations, trampling the rights of others. It aims to monopolize power, wealth, science and technology for a limited group," he said.
The world's leading countries are led by politicians who reject morals "as outdated notions and an impediment to the realization of their goals," and who seek "unilateralism, application of double standards and economic wars" ... "to maintain their hegemony," he said.
These countries have resorted to "intimidation by nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction" to maintain their dominant position, he said.
For an example, Ahmadinejad pointed to "continued threats by the uncivilized Zionists to attack" Iran, meaning Israel. Israel has not signed the Non-proliferation Treaty and is not bound by it.
Israeli leaders consider an nuclear armed Iran to be an existential threat and have reserved the right to use military force to protect the Jewish nation if necessary. Israel Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu is due to address the U.N. General Assembly Thursday.
The result of the world's political structure, Ahmadinejad said Wednesday, is that "no one feels secure or safe, even those who have stockpiled thousands of atomic bombs in their arsenals," while the gap between rich and poor is widening.
In an Associated Press interview Tuesday, the Iranian leader pressed his argument against the United States.
"God willing, a new order will come together, and we'll do away with everything that distances us," Ahmadinejad said. "Now even elementary school kids throughout the world have understood that the United States government is following an international policy of bullying." He said, "Bullying must come to an end. Occupation must come to an end."
Ahmadinejad also discussed solutions for the Syrian civil war.
Many of the demonstrators on Wednesday carried Syrian flags, protesting the civil war there and Iran's regime.
"Everyone is aware the nuclear issue is the imposition of the will of the United States," Ahmadinejad told AP. "I see the nuclear issue as a non-issue. It has become a form of one-upmanship."
Protester Bret Morse, 30, of Rochester, N.Y., said there may be evidence Iran is developing nuclear weapons, but "there's no solid evidence that is happening anytime soon."
He said more international diplomacy regarding Iran sounds like a repeat of what happened in the run-up to the war in Iraq and the United States should "stay out of it."
"I think it should be taken care of by countries over there," Morse said. "Israel's already proven that they're capable of defending themselves, and yet they want to get a free ride," asking the United States to safeguard it.
Tuesday, President Obama warned Iran that time is running out to resolve the dispute over its nuclear program. In a speech to the General Assembly, Obama said the United States could not tolerate an Iran with atomic weapons.
Contributing: Carolyn Pesce in McLean, Va.; Associated Press.
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