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Iran President Triggers UN Conference Walkout
United Nations officials on Monday tried to save an anti-racism summit in Geneva after some delegates walked out in response to a speech by Mahmoud Ahmadi-nejad, the Iranian president, describing Zionist rule in Israel as racist.
”Following World War II they resorted to military aggressions to make an entire nation homeless under the pretext of Jewish suffering,” Mr Ahmadinejad told the conference, speaking through a translator.
Peter Gooderham, British ambassador, condemned the Iranian leader’s ”offensive and inflammatory comments” that prompted the temporary walk-out. Delegates said they would return after he had finished speaking.
Eight western states, including the US, had already withdrawn from the so-called Durban Review Conference before it opened on Monday.
Navi Pillay, UN human rights commissioner, urged the conference to adopt a draft declaration on fighting racism worldwide to restore confidence in the United Nations as a forum to address frictions that can explode into xenophobic attacks.
Israel, which had urged other governments not to attend, on Monday recalled its ambassador to Switzerland, following a meeting on Sunday between the Swiss president and President Ahmadi-Nejad.
In an official statement released on Monday, the Israeli government said the Geneva conference was ”hosting a Holocaust-denying racist who has openly declared his intention to wipe Israel off the map”.
Shimon Peres, Israel’s president, pointed out that the Geneva conference was taking place on the very day that Israel commemorates the Holocaust.
The US said on Sunday that it was “with regret” withdrawing from the conference. President Barack Obama, who had been under pressure from African-American groups to send a delegation, said the language of the draft declaration risked a reprise of a 2002 anti-racism conference in Durban, South Africa at which ”folks expressed antagonism toward Israel in ways that were often times completely hypocritical and counterproductive.”
Germany, Poland, the Netherlands and Italy then announced they would also stay away from the week-long meeting, a move described by a UN spokesman as ”an extraordinary development” given that the European Union was involved in negotiating and approving the text for the conference.
The Obama administration had raised expectations by previously announcing it would seek to join the UN’s Human Rights Council, a body the US has shunned because of its alleged misuse as a forum for attacking Israel.
The US boycott followed intensive negotiations in Geneva on Friday, which the US did not attend, to rework a proposed conference communiqué in order to meet its objections. However, Robert Wood, State Department spokesman, said Washington remained unhappy that the final text put out before the weekend still reaffirmed the controversial declaration of the 2001 Durban meeting.
Apart from the issue of Israel, the US and the Netherlands expressed concern that the document also sought to curb “incitement” against individuals on religious grounds. Although the text specifies all world religions, critics say the clause is being pressed by those who wanted to silence criticism of Islam.