UNITED NATIONS — Iran's hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad provoked yet another controversy Thursday saying a majority of people in the United States and around the world believe the American government staged the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in an attempt to assure Israel's survival.
The provocative comments prompted the U.S. delegation to walk out of Ahmadinejad's U.N. speech.
The Iranian leader — who has in the past cast doubt over the U.S. version of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — also called for setting up an independent fact-finding U.N. team to probe the attacks. That, he said, would keep the terrorist assault from turning into what he has called a sacred issue like the Holocaust where "expressing opinion about it won't be banned".
President Obama, speaking soon after, raised the stakes in his high-risk drive to make Middle East peace. Obama called on Arab states and others to do much more to support the peace talks and the Palestinian leadership.
Using his annual U.N. General Assembly address to push an initiative that many in the Middle East think is doomed to failure, Obama diplomatically berated Arab leaders who've long demanded a stronger U.S. role in creating a Palestinian state.
"Many in this hall count themselves as friends of the Palestinians. But these pledges must now be supported by deeds. Those who have signed on to the Arab Peace Initiative should seize this opportunity to make it real by taking tangible steps toward the normalization that it promises Israel," Obama said, referring to a 2002 Arab peace offer.
"Those who speak out for Palestinian self-government should help the Palestinian Authority politically and financially, and — in so doing — help the Palestinians build the institutions of their state," he said. "And those who long to see an independent Palestine rise must stop trying to tear Israel down."
Obama's remarks reflected his administration's frustration that Saudi Arabia and other Arab states besides Egypt and Jordan, which have made peace with Israel, have been cool to his efforts and have lagged in providing promised funds to the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas.