RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
President Bush denounced the government of Myanmar yesterday when he addressed the U.N. General Assembly in New York. He referred to the country as Burma, the name it had before a military dictatorship took over 20 years ago. But most of the headlines were captured by the president of Iran when he spoke to the General Assembly.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been defending his country's right to, what he calls, a peaceful nuclear program. And he used his speech last night at the U.N. to blast the U.S., calling it a bullying, arrogant power that is misusing the Security Council.
U.S. and European diplomats are pushing for tougher sanctions to stop what they believe is a secret nuclear weapons program in Iran.
NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN: French President Nicolas Sarkozy took a tough position on Iran during his first appearance at the U.N. General Assembly. Speaking through an interpreter, the French leader made clear the stakes are high.
President NICOLAS SARKOZY (France): (Through translator) And I weigh my words carefully. There will be no peace in the world if the international community falters in the face of the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Iran is entitled to nuclear power for civilian purposes. But if we allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, we would incur an unacceptable risk to the stability of the region and the stability of the world.
KELEMEN: When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took the podium, he tried to paint the U.S. and other Security Council members as the real threat - bullying powers that abuse the Security Council. And though he didn't mention the U.S. by name, it was clear what he meant, even through an interpreter.
President MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD (Iran): (Through translator) How can the incompetents who cannot even manage and control themselves rule humanity and arrange its affairs?
KELEMEN: President Ahmadinejad told the General Assembly that Iran's nuclear activities are peaceful and transparent, and he rejected what he described as illegal U.N. Security Council sanctions. He said Iran is resisting and thinks this political issue is now closed because his country is cooperating with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Pres. AHMADINEJAD: (Through translator) Iran decided to pursue the issue through its appropriate legal path - one that runs through the IAEA - and to disregard unlawful and political impositions by the arrogant powers.
KELEMEN: Iran has agreed to answer the IAEA's questions about its past nuclear activities. The U.S. and European diplomats describe that as a first step, but still insist that Iran suspend uranium enrichment-related activities
Diplomats are trying to persuade Russia and China to go along with a third sanctions resolution. German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the General Assembly last night that diplomats need to stay united. And speaking through an interpreter, she called for harsher sanctions.
Chancellor ANGELA MERKEL (Germany): (Through translator) Iran is ignoring U.N. Security Council resolutions. Iran is blatantly threatening Israel. Let's not fool ourselves. If Iran were to acquire the nuclear bomb, the consequences would be disastrous.
KELEMEN: The nuclear issue was not the only controversy surrounding Ahmadinejad's trip to New York. He faced a tough crowd at a news conference yesterday as well, refusing to speak to a woman who said she's married to one of the Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Iranian-backed Hezbollah militants in Lebanon more than a year ago.
Asked later to clarify his position on Israel, the Iranian leader offered this through an interpreter.
Pres. AHMADINEJAD: (Through translator) We believe that the Zionist regime is a usurpative, illegal occupational entity regime.
KELEMEN: And he said Palestinians should determine the region's future.
As for his comments at Columbia University, denying that there are homosexuals in Iran, he asked journalists to give him an address of some so he can find out what's going on in Iran.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the United Nations.
MONTAGNE: And if you haven't heard enough, you can read more about Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, at npr.org.
Back now to one of the major stories we're following today. The strike is over at General Motors plants across the country. The United Auto Workers has told its rank and file to go back to work two days after 73,000 walked out. GM and UAW have reached a tentative contract agreement early this morning. The union will take over the burden of retiree health care from GM, and GM made a commitment to protect jobs.
Local union presidents must approve the deal. Members will vote over the weekend on it. The strike began after 10 weeks of contract talks fell apart. It was the first nationwide UAW strike in more than 30 years.
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