DUBAI/TEHRAN: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad left Tehran Saturday for New York and the U.N. General Assembly, where he will deliver his final speech to the world gathering, Iranian media reported. His speech this year is keenly awaited in the face of sharp differences with the U.N. Security Council over Iran’s controversial nuclear program, and Israeli threats to launch pre-emptive strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities.
Past addresses by Ahmadinejad to the General Assembly – which have included Holocaust denials and conspiracy theories about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States – have prompted walkouts by U.S. and other Western representatives.
Ahmadinejad is expected to make his speech Wednesday and will address a meeting on the “rule of law” Monday.
U.N. rules limit speakers to five minutes on the podium.
Top officials from Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States – which are attempting to negotiate with Iran – are to meet Thursday just after Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the assembly.
Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama will not meet in New York and this has heightened speculation of a rift between the two.
The U.S. and its allies have stepped up warnings to Iran, however, that time is running out for a negotiated solution to the showdown.
Before leaving Tehran, Ahmadinejad told reporters he would be stressing issues raised in an Iran-hosted summit of non-aligned nations, particularly on U.N. reform “and solving regional issues, including Syria ... putting an end to the violence there.”
The news agency ISNA quoted him as saying: “The problem with the world is that those who control international relations seek only their own interests, and they find the independence of others against their interests.”
Ahmadinejad said he would hold bilateral meetings on the assembly’s sidelines and give media interviews.
It will be Ahmadinejad’s last address to the U.N.’s 193 member states. Next year, he is to step down after serving his second and final term as president.
Ahmadinejad’s presence in New York for the U.N. meeting has in the past sparked small protests.
This year another is planned, with the U.S. anti-Iran lobby group United Against Nuclear Iran urging the Manhattan hotel where Ahmadinejad is staying to eject the Iranian leader.
Ahamdinejad’s delegation includes Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi and several close aides, among them chief of staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei and Vice President Hamid Baqaei.
The U.S. denied visas to about 20 other Iranian government officials hoping to attend the meeting, including two ministers, Iran’s Fars news agency reported.
It named two of those banned from going to New York as members of Ahmadinejad’s staff: Mohammad Shaikhan, in charge of communications and information, and Mohammad Jafar Behdad, in charge of political affairs.
Fars gave no reason, but many Iranian officials are subject to travel bans under sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear program.
The U.S. State Department had no comment on the matter.