Western leaders recoil in horror at Iran ‘racist’ speech
Paris — Western leaders recoiled in horror Monday at a fierce anti-Israel outburst by Iran’s president at a UN conference on racism, as the Czech Republic joining a growing boycott of the week-long gathering.
As Washington denounced the Islamic Republic’s "hateful rhetoric," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon effectively said Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had betrayed his trust.
The Iranian leader used his podium in Geneva to criticise the creation of a "totally racist government in occupied Palestine" in 1948, calling the Israeli administration "the most cruel and repressive racist regime."
Ahmadinejad, who has previously called for the Jewish state to be wiped off the map, said the West "sent migrants from Europe, the United States… in order to establish a racist government in the occupied Palestine."
His remarks prompted 23 European Union delegations to walk out in protest.
America and Israel had already led nine nations in boycotting the meeting.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters after the speech that President Barack Obama disagreed vehemently with Ahmadinejad.
"This is hateful rhetoric. It’s, I think, one of the reasons why you saw the administration and the president determined that its participation in this conference was not a wise thing to do."
Ban attacked the "use of this platform by the Iranian President to accuse, divide and even incite…. It is deeply regrettable that my plea to look to the future of unity was not heeded by the Iranian President."
France and Britain led the condemnation from nations that had chosen to give Ahmadinejad the benefit of the doubt and send delegations.
Nicolas Sarkozy "condemns utterly this hate speech," the French president’s office said, urging the EU to take a firm stand as a bloc.
But junior minister for human rights, Rama Yade, told French television France would nevertheless stay for the rest of the conference.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary David Miliband described Ahmadinejad’s comments as "offensive, inflammatory and utterly unacceptable" — but said London would not leave the conference.
The Czech foreign ministry however announced its definitive withdrawal from the five-day conference.
Israel’s foreign ministry attacked the original decision to offer Ahmadinejad a first major Western platform.
"The event’s organisers allowed a Holocaust denier that implements a policy of persecution of minorities in his country to open the conference," it said in a statement.
"The Iranian president’s virulent incitement and disgraceful racism… are a clear testimony, for whoever still needs any, that the conference’s agenda has been hijacked."
Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere, one of the few Europeans to hear Ahmadinejad out, said the Iranian president had been playing to a domestic audience ahead of a June 12 vote.
"He is in mid-electoral campaign, he puts on his show and gets what he wants when chaos breaks out in the room," he said on television.
The Vatican delegation, present as observers only, also stayed in the conference hall.
Speaking to Radio Vatican, delegation member Father Federico Lombardi said "even if he did not deny the Holocaust or the right of Israel to exist, there were extreme and unacceptable remarks."
But Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel said Ahmadinejad’s comments had brought shame "on the United Nations, world diplomacy and humanity as a whole."
Wiesel will give his own speech in Geneva on Tuesday, when several European Countries will hold ceremonies marking Holocaust Memorial Day.