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Western leaders horrified at 'racist' Ahmadinejad speech

Western leaders recoiled in horror Monday at a fierce anti-Israel outburst by Iran's president at a UN conference on racism, although the US said it remained committed to rebuilding dialogue with Tehran.

Washington hit back at the Islamic Republic's "horrible rhetoric", UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon effectively said Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had betrayed his trust, while the Czech Republic joined other nations who had already decided to boycott the week-long gathering.

The Iranian leader used his Swiss podium to criticize the creation of a "totally racist government in occupied Palestine" in 1948, calling the Israeli administration "the most cruel and 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 led about a dozen nations in boycotting the meeting, and after Ahmadinejad spoke, US State Department spokesman Robert Wood said Iran had much to do to repair the damage.

"We want to have a direct dialogue with Iran, but Iran needs to do a number of things to get back in the overall good graces of the international community.

"If Iran wants a different relationship with the international community, it has to stop this horrible rhetoric," he said.

Ahead of Holocaust commemoration events in Geneva, 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 condemnation from nations which had chosen to give Ahmadinejad the benefit of the doubt and still send delegations.

Sarkozy "condemns utterly this hate speech," the French president's office said, urging the EU to take a firm stand as a bloc.

Britain's Foreign Secretary David Miliband described Ahmadinejad's comments as "offensive, inflammatory and utterly unacceptable," but said London would not "leave the international stage only to those, like President Ahmadinejad, who would take global efforts against racism backwards."

The Czech foreign office disagreed, saying: "As with our democratic partners, EU and non-EU members, we cannot allow (ourselves) to legitimize with our presence ant-Israeli attacks which are totally unacceptable."

Israel's foreign ministry attacked the original decision to offer Ahmadinejad a first major Western platform.

"The event's organizers 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."

Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are due to attend a ceremony Monday at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere, one of the few Europeans to hear Ahmadinejad out, said the Iranian president was 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.

-AFP

  • Mahdi Hassan from IRAN

    Do YOU really sympathize with Israel who invaded your teritory and burned large parts of it to the ground? Will you stoppp just quoting foreign press and start to think for your own? I'm proud of Ahmadinejad's courage and I'll vote for him again this time.

    April 22, 2009