Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had dinner on Thursday with around 200 people of various faiths including Mennonites, Jews and Zoroastrians who said they wanted to promote peace by meeting such a prominent foe of the United States.

Outside the Manhattan hotel near the United Nations where the dinner took place, protesters held up placards such as "No feast with the beast" and likening Ahmadinejad to Hitler.

On Tuesday the Iranian leader railed against "Zionist murderers" in a speech at the U.N. General Assembly, dwelling on what he described as Zionist control of international finance, echoing the libel that blamed a world Jewish conspiracy for all the world''s troubles.

Ahmadinejad rejected accusations he was anti-Semitic, saying his criticism was aimed at the "Zionist regime" for its oppression of the Palestinians rather than at Jews.

"As soon as anyone objects to the behavior of the Zionist regime, they''re accused of being anti-Semitic, whereas the Jewish people are not Zionists," Ahmadinejad said. "Zionism is a political party that has nothing to do with Jewish people."