UNITED NATIONS — U.S. and Israeli policies came in for a lambasting Thursday at the United Nations with Turkey's prime minister blaming Israel's government for "building new barriers to peace" and the always-controversial Iranian president accusing the United States of throwing Osama bin Laden's body into the sea to avoid a full investigation of the 9/11 attacks.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey — whose relationship with Israel has badly frayed since an Israeli military raid last year killed eight Turkish activists aboard a ship bound for the Palestinian territory of Gaza — reiterated his call that Israel apologize. Erdogan threw his support behind a Palestinian bid for U.N. recognition that has dominated the annual gathering of world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly.
Delivering his first speech before the U.N., Erdogan said it was important for Palestinians to "take their rightful place in this august body" and blamed Israel — a former ally — for the current stalemate in peace talks between the two parties.
"Those who govern the country take steps every day building new barriers to peace," he said of Israel. "We don't have a problem with the people of Israel. The source of the current tension is solely the Israeli government."
Erdogan's remarks came a day before Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas was scheduled to submit a request for a Security Council resolution granting full U.N. membership to an independent Palestinian state. Fervent lobbying by President Barack Obama and U.S. allies failed to persuade the Palestinians to drop their bid, which is vehemently opposed by Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also was expected to address the U.N. Friday.
It was unclear when the Security Council would take up the Palestinian request, which the White House has pledged to veto.
British Prime Minister David Cameron backed the U.S. position, saying in his address to the General Assembly on Thursday that he while he supported a two-state solution, a U.N. resolution cannot "substitute for the political will necessary to bring peace."
"Peace will only come when Palestinians and Israelis sit down and talk to each other," Cameron said.
The most theatrical speech of the day came from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who used his remarks at last year's meeting to suggest that the U.S. was behind the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, prompting some delegates to walk out of the chamber in protest.
On Thursday, members of several delegations — including the United States, France, Germany and Italy — stalked off the General Assembly floor when Ahmadinejad began musing about European countries that "still use the Holocaust, after six decades, as the excuse to pay fine or ransom to the Zionists." In the past, Ahmadinejad has questioned whether the Holocaust actually occurred.
Minutes later, he questioned whether bin Laden's death was part of a cover-up perpetrated by the United States, which he inferred was among the nations that "seek their progress, prosperity and dignity through imposing poverty, humiliation and annihilation to others."
"Would it not have been reasonable to bring to justice and openly bring to trial the main perpetrator of the incident in order to identify the elements behind the safe space provided for the invading aircraft to attack the twin World Trade towers?" he asked of bin Laden's death.
After speaking for nearly an hour, Ahmadinejad walked off to polite applause, waving at the audience.
The Obama administration issued a swift condemnation.
"Mr. Ahmadinejad had a chance to address his own people's aspirations for freedom and dignity," Mark Kornblau, a spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, said in a statement. "Instead he again turned to abhorrent anti-Semitic slurs and despicable conspiracy theories."
Obama, in his U.N. address a day earlier, said that Ahmadinejad's government "refuses to recognize the rights of its own people." He accused it of flouting nuclear arms treaties, warning it could face increased isolation.
Ahmadinejad's defiant speech didn't mention Iran's nuclear program or his widely reported rift with Iran's powerful clerics. His remarks underscored that there's been no warming in U.S.-Iranian relations despite Wednesday's release of two American hikers who had been held for more than two years after apparently crossing into Iran from Iraq.
The Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank, noted Thursday that while it was unclear if Iran had mastered nuclear weapon technology, its nuclear program had advanced to the point that "Iran now could, if it so chooses, produce 20 kilograms of highly enriched uranium — one nuclear device's worth — in as little as two months."
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told CNN that the United States was "gravely concerned about Iran's nuclear ambitions."
Two blocks from the U.N., at a designated protest site, several dozen Iranian exiles waved their country's green and red flag and called for an end to what they called Ahmadinejad's "brutal regime" and disregard for human rights.
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