UN chief hits radicals for fostering tension between West and Islamic world

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon railed on Friday against radicals fostering tensions between the Western and Islamic worlds, saying the international community should stand together against those seeking to demonize "the other."

"Let us acknowledge that we live in a world where the smallest group can inflict large damage," Ban said. "That damage can be multiplied by loose language in politics and beyond."

He was addressing a meeting of the Alliance of Civilizations, an initiative aimed at combating extremism through dialogue between different cultures and religions.

"Let us stand against those who seek to demonize the other," he told the grouping that met on the sidelines of the annual summit of world leaders at the United Nations.

Ban's speech came a day after U.S. President Barack Obama and his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad traded accusations about their nations' nuclear programs.

Still, both left the door open to further negotiations about the nuclear impasse.

In his speech Thursday to the annual summit of world leaders, Ahmadinejad also raised the possibility that "some segments within the U.S. government" had orchestrated the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York — a statement that prompted members of the American delegation to walk out in protest from the U.N. General Assembly.

Delegations from all 27 European Union nations followed the Americans out along with representatives from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Costa Rica, an EU diplomat said.

Obama responded to Ahmadinejad in a BBC Persian service interview Friday saying: "Well, it was offensive. It was hateful."

"And particularly for him to make the statement here in Manhattan, just a little north of Ground Zero, 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," Obama said.

Iran is expected to remain high on the agenda of the General Assembly's session.

In remarks on Friday, Britain's Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told the assembly that he had been ready to welcome progress during this week's meeting of the six powers trying to get Iran back to the negotiating table — the U.S., U.N., China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany.

"An issue of grave global concern has been overshadowed by the bizarre, offensive and attention-grabbing pronouncements by President Ahmadinejad from this podium yesterday. His remarks were intended to distract attention from Iran's obligations and to generate media headlines. They deserve to do neither," Clegg said.

Ban joined in criticizing Ahmadinejad's speech.

"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," he said. "It is unacceptable for the platform of the General Assembly of the United Nations to be misused in this way.

The U.N. Security Council has passed four rounds of increasingly restrictive economic sanctions aimed at compelling Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment and return to negotiations on its suspect nuclear program. Iran denies it is trying to build a nuclear weapon, saying its program is meant only for peaceful purposes such as electricity generation.

In his speech to the General Assembly on Thursday, Ahmadinejad noted that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty allows all signatory nations to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

But he said some Security Council members have "equated nuclear energy with nuclear bombs ... while at the same time they have continued to maintain, expand and upgrade their own nuclear arsenals." He added that the United States was spending $80 billion to build up its nuclear arsenal.

Still, Ahmadinejad emphasized that Tehran was prepared to negotiate with the United States, U.N., European Union, and other representatives of the international community, "based on justice and respect."

Obama, who spoke during the General Assembly's morning session and left without waiting for Ahmadinejad's afternoon address, said Iran was the only party to the NPT that could not demonstrate the peaceful nature of its nuclear program.

"The United States and the international community seek a resolution to our differences with Iran, and the door remains open to diplomacy should Iran choose to walk through it," Obama said.

Meanwhile, at least 1,000 demonstrators rallied near the United Nations complex to protest against Ahmadinejad's visit.

Others among the nearly 140 world leaders attending the U.N. General Assembly also addressed the nuclear impasse in their speeches.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said Baghdad believed in the right of all nations to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

"We stress the importance of reaching a peaceful solution in dealing with this issue," he said.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul urged the international community to press for the establishment of a Middle East totally free of nuclear weapons.

Gul's remarks were likely to irritate Washington, which sees any move to raise the issue of Israel's nuclear arsenal as potentially destabilizing at a time of renewed Israel-Palestinian peace talks.

Israel is generally assumed to have assembled a sizable arsenal of nuclear warheads since the 1960s. It has refused to discuss its status as a nuclear power or to join the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to which all other countries in the Middle East adhere.

Just before Obama's speech, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorin sharply criticized the United States, saying that the 2003 invasion of Iraq demonstrated that the "blind faith in intelligence reports tailored to justify political goals must be rejected."

"We must ban once and for all the use of force inconsistent with international law," Amorin told the General Assembly, adding that all international disputes should be peacefully resolved through dialogue.