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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block. Some called it awkward timing, others called it an outrage. Today, as Jews mark the high holy day of Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, the president of Iran attacked Israel in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly in New York. His message came as no surprise. The U.S. stayed away, complaining about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's repulsive slurs.
Israel's response will come tomorrow when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu takes his turn at the U.N.'s annual meeting. NPR's Michele Kelemen was in New York for Ahmadinejad's speech. She sent this report.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The U.S. boycotted the speech and there were other empty chairs as Ahmadinejad railed against what he calls an oppressive world order. Speaking through an interpreter, he described Israel as a fake government and lashed out at, as the Iranian president put it, the new language of threats.
PRESIDENT MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD: (Through interpreter) Continued threats by the uncivilized Zionists to resort to military action against our great nation is a clear example of this bitter reality. A state of mistrust has cast its shadow on the international relations whilst there is no trusted or just authority to help resolve world conflicts.
KELEMEN: The Iranian leader is nearing the end of his second and last term as president, but has been trying to portray himself not as an isolated figure but the leader of the Non-Aligned Movement in the United Nations. So he took advantage of the limelight to quote Iranian poets and talk about the world order he'd like to see, blaming the U.S. and capitalism for many of the world's woes.
AHMADINEJAD: (Through interpreter) The current abysmal situation of the world and the bitter incidents of history are due mainly to the wrong management of the world and the self-proclaimed centers of power who have entrusted themselves to the devil.
KELEMEN: The timing of this year's address was particularly unfortunate, U.S. officials say, coming on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur. A spokesperson for the U.S. mission to the U.N. says Ahmadinejad has been using his trip to spout paranoid theories and repulsive slurs against Israel. Israeli policies also came under fire from Egypt's new president, Mohammed Morsi, who made his U.N. debut with an impassioned appeal for a Palestinian state and an end to Israel's occupation.
Through an interpreter, Morsi also called for a nuclear-free Middle East, raising alarms about Israeli threats to use force against Iran.
PRESIDENT MOHAMMED MORSI: (Through interpreter) The acceptance by the international community of the principle of preemptiveness or the attempt to legitimize it is, in itself, a serious matter and must be firmly confronted to avoid the prevalence of the law of the jungle.
KELEMEN: Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will have his chance to respond when he addresses the General Assembly, Thursday. On the sideline, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton plans to meet her counterparts in the diplomatic group that deals with Iran. Her aides aren't raising expectations, though, and one Iran watcher, Jim Walsh of MIT, says diplomacy has been in a holding pattern.
JIM WALSH: Well, I think everyone's treading water until the U.S. elections, but I don't expect anything substantive to happen until after an election. And the Iranians have told me as much. And frankly, you know, the U.S. is certainly not going to push a big diplomatic surge in the middle of a presidential election, so I think we're all just biding our time.
KELEMEN: But he also says everyone realizes that they can't just keep kicking the can down the road. He says even Ahmadinejad agreed with him on that when they spoke privately earlier this week. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the United Nations. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.