UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad railed against "Zionist murderers" in a speech to the United Nations on Tuesday and vowed to resist American bullying and defend Iran's right to nuclear power.
After a long discourse on God, justice and morality, Ahmadinejad said a small number of "deceitful" Zionists were manipulating Americans and Europeans.
Ahmadinejad, who has said in the past Israel should be wiped off the map, said there was growing resistance in the world to the aggression of "bullying powers," a phrase he used repeatedly to refer to the United States and its allies.
"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," he said, referring to Israel.
"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 dwelled on what he described as Zionist control over international "financial and monetary centers."
The comments were swiftly denounced as anti-Semitic by the Anti-Defamation League, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, among others.
Israeli President Shimon Peres said the comments echoed an anti-Semitic tract -- now considered fraudulent -- that was published in the early 1900s and described a Jewish and Masonic plot to take over the world.
"This is the first time in the history of the United Nations that the head of a state is appearing openly and publicly with the ugly and dark accusations of the 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion,'" Peres told reporters.
Ahmadinejad said Iran's nuclear program was entirely peaceful and his country was cooperating fully with the U.N. atomic watchdog, the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency.
The IAEA said earlier this month that Iran was not cooperating enough with its inspectors.
"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, and also through threatening and pressuring the IAEA," Ahmadinejad said.
He told a news conference the IAEA was under pressure from Washington, which had made allegations against Iran that were "so superficial and funny" that it was clear they were forged. "The forgery was so poorly done that any elementary school kid would be able to figure it out."
The U.N. Security Council has demanded Iran suspend enrichment of uranium and imposed three rounds of sanctions.
The United States is leading a drive for more sanctions over Iran's continued defiance of the resolutions, though Russian opposition makes it unlikely new penalties will be approved anytime soon.
Iran says it is enriching uranium for nuclear power plants and has vowed to continue doing so.
"The great Iranian people ... will resist the bullying, and has defended and will defend its rights," Ahmadinejad said in his speech. "The Iranian nation is for dialogue. But it has not accepted and will not accept illegal demands."
Israel, which is believed to be the only nuclear-armed country in the Middle East, views Iran's nuclear program as a threat to its existence.
Asked about the prospect of military action by Israel against Iran's nuclear installations, Ahmadinejad cast doubt on Israel's military power and said Iran was big and strong.
"Iran has different ways of defending its interests and it is so powerful, or has power enough, that it will be able to stop any activities before guns are pointed at us," he said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was among several speakers earlier on Tuesday who called on Iran to act on the Security Council resolutions and cooperate more with the IAEA.
Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau; editing by Mohammad Zargham