Reporting from New York and Los Angeles — President Obama on Friday condemned Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his claim that most Americans believe that the United States orchestrated the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against New York and the Pentagon.
Speaking Thursday before the United Nations General Assembly hours after Obama spoke, Ahmadinejad made his comments in a broad attack against the United States and its Mideast policies.
U.S. officials walked out in protest, as did diplomats from all 27 European Union nations, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Costa Rica.
"It was offensive. It was hateful," Obama said Friday in an interview with the BBC Persian news service.
"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.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Islamic terrorists hijacked four jetliners and piloted them on suicide missions against the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Arnlington, Va. One jet crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. About 3,000 people died in the attacks.
As he has before, Obama also continued to separate the Iranian people from their government's pursuit of a nuclear program. Obama has consistently praised Iranian citizens while seeking to thwart Tehran's nuclear ambitions by enforcing tough economic sanctions, which often have a direct effect on everyday people.
The White House released an excerpt of the interview, broadcast in Persian to the Iranian people.
"This is not a matter of us choosing to impose punishment on the Iranians," Obama said. "This is a matter of the Iranians' government I think ultimately betraying the interests of its own people by isolating it further."
Ahmadinejad previously has taken provocative positions, such as denouncing Israel and denying that the Holocaust killed 6 million Jews in Europe. And he has been roundly condemned for such comments. Ahmadinejad has addressed the General Assembly before, and Western diplomats have walked out to protest his anti-Israel remarks.
In his Thursday speech, Ahmadinejad argued that many people believe that some parts of the U.S. government were involved in the Sept. 11 attacks to hide the effects of a declining economy and to protect Israel.
"The majority of the American people, as well as most nations and politicians around the world, agree with this view," Ahmadinejad asserted.
In the radio interview, Obama said Iran has a right to the peaceful use of nuclear power, and he called on Iran to take the steps to assure the world that it is not interested in nuclear weapons.
"If they take those constructive steps in serious negotiations, then not only should there not be a threat of war, but there also won't be the sanctions that are currently in place," he said.
Parsons reported from New York and Muskal reported from Los Angeles.