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Ahmadinejad's UN Speech: "The American Empire" Is Nearing Collapse

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UNITED NATIONS — Iran's president addressed the U.N. General Assembly Tuesday declaring that "the American empire" is nearing collapse and should end its military involvement in other countries.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said terrorism is spreading quickly in Afghanistan while "the occupiers" are still in Iraq nearly six years after Saddam Hussein was ousted from power in Iraq.

"American empire in the world is reaching the end of its road, and its next rulers must limit their interference to their own borders," Ahmadinejad said.

He accused the U.S. of starting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to win votes in elections and blamed a "few bullying powers" for trying to undermine Iran's nuclear program.

Ahmadinejad's hardline rhetoric came as no surprise and offered little in the way of compromise at the U.N., where he faces a new round of sanctions if no agreement is reached on limiting Iran's nuclear capabilities.

While he reiterated that the country's nuclear program is purely peaceful, the U.S. and others fear it is aimed at producing enriched uranium to make nuclear weapons.

Iran already is under three sets of sanctions by the U.N. Security Council for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment. Washington and its Western allies are pushing for quick passage of a fourth set of sanctions to underline the international community's resolve, but are likely to face opposition from Russia.

"A few bullying powers have sought to put hurdles in the way of the peaceful nuclear activities of the Iranian nation by exerting political and economic pressures against Iran," he said.

Ahmadinejad also lashed out at Israel on Tuesday, saying "the Zionist regime is on a definite slope to collapse, and there is no way for it to get out of the cesspool created by itself and its supporters."

The Iranian president is feared and reviled in Israel because of his repeated calls to wipe the Jewish state off the map, and his aggressive pursuit of nuclear technology has only fueled Israel's fears.

Ahmadinejad accused "a small but deceitful number of people called Zionists ... (of) dominating an important portion of the financial and monetary centers as well as the political decision-making centers of some European countries and the U.S."

Israeli President Shimon Peres reacted angrily to Ahjmadinejad's criticism. "It is again a repetition of the darkest accusations in the name of Hitler and almost anti-Semitism," Peres later told journalists.

In discussing the U.S. war in Iraq, Ahmadinejad said, "Millions have been killed or displaced, and the occupiers, without a sense of shame, are still seeking to solidify their position in the ... region and to dominate oil resources."

He suggested that the presence of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan has contributed to a sharp rise in terrorism and a huge increase in the production of narcotics.

He predicted that the alliance would not be successful.

"Throughout history every force that has entered Afghanistan has left in defeat," Ahmadinejad said.

His speech came just hours after President Bush made his eighth and final appearance before the U.N. General Assembly, urging the international community to stand firm against the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea.

"A few nations, regimes like Syria and Iran, continue to sponsor terror," Bush said. "Yet their numbers are growing fewer, and they're growing more isolated from the world. As the 21st century unfolds, some may be tempted to assume that the threat has receded. This would be comforting. It would be wrong."

At one point during Bush's 22-minute speech, Ahmadinejad turned to Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and gave a thumb's down.

As in past years, the United States only had a low-level note-taker present for the Iranian president's address, said Richard Grenell, spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. The U.S. and Iran do not have diplomatic relations.

During interviews ahead of his speech Tuesday, Ahmadinejad blamed U.S. military interventions around the world in part for the collapse of global financial markets.

"The U.S. government has made a series of mistakes in the past few decades," Ahmadinejad said an interview with the Los Angeles Times. "The imposition on the U.S. economy of the years of heavy military engagement and involvement around the world ... the war in Iraq, for example. These are heavy costs imposed on the U.S. economy.

"The world economy can no longer tolerate the budgetary deficit and the financial pressures occurring from markets here in the United States, and by the U.S. government," he added.

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Associated Press Writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report.