Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

UN Racism Conference
  • Iran's president launches tirade at tolerance summit
  • Diplomats stage protest as speech denies Holocaust

The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, deviated from his prepared speech to the UN racism conference, omitting the phrase "the ambiguous and dubious question of the Holocaust".

It was billed as a demonstration of international solidarity behind sentiments everyone could agree on, such as tolerance, understanding and respect. But from the moment Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rose to the lectern at UN conference against racism, it rapidly disintegrated into a shouting match and the world edged perceptibly further from peace.

The atmosphere at the Geneva meeting was tense even before the Iranian president began speaking, with pro-Israel protesters chanting "shame" from the other side of the chamber's doors and a Jewish student group from France infiltrating the hall. Some countries, led by the US and Israel, had already declared a boycott, Others, including Britain, took their seats, but were braced, with their "shoes on", to walk out if Ahmadinejad's oratory was to prove offensive.
When he did speak, he was even more vitriolic than they had feared.

In a rambling polemic, Ahmadinejad questioned the reality of the Holocaust, accused Israel of genocide and spoke of a wide-ranging Zionist conspiracy, triggering pandemonium and a coordinated walkout by Britain and other EU states.

He spoke in Geneva's Palais des Nations and used language probably not heard there since it was built to house the doomed League of Nations in the dark days of the 1930s. He said Zionists had thoroughly infiltrated western countries. They had "penetrated into the political and economic structure including their legislation, mass media, companies, financial systems, and their security and intelligence agencies ... to the extent that nothing can be done against their will", he told delegates from around the world.

The speech drew a stinging denunciation from the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon. "I deplore the use of this august platform to accuse, divide and even incite," Ban said. "This is the opposite of what this conference seeks to achieve."

The UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, was even blunter, describing Iran's leader as "somebody who traditionally makes obnoxious statements" and who had done so once again.

The speech almost certainly set back any rapprochement between the US and Iran, at least until the Iranian presidential elections in June, if not beyond.

Diplomats said Ahmadinejad's speech may have been made with the elections in mind, but added it was unlikely that he would have delivered it without the approval of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Ahmadinejad traced the history of racism in the modern world to the control of a few powerful states and string-pulling Zionists behind them. "Following world war two, [powerful states] resorted to military aggression to make an entire nation homeless, on the pretext of Jewish suffering and the ambiguous and dubious question of the Holocaust .... and they helped bring to power the most cruel and repressive racists in Palestine," he said.

It was at that point that the EU delegates in the chamber rose in unison and filed out, to the competing jeers and applause of the crowd on the assembly floor and in the galleries. They did not stop to hear Ahmadinejad describe Israelis as "those racist perpetrators of genocide".

Peter Gooderham, the British ambassador to the UN in Geneva, said later: "As soon as President Ahmadinejad, started talking about Israel, that was the cue for us to walk out. We agreed in advance that if there was any such rhetoric there would be no tolerance for it."

Gooderham said Ahmadinejad had driven "a coach and horses" through the principles of tolerance and mutual respect that the conference was supposed to stand for. As soon as the Iranian president had finished speaking, the Europeans walked back into the hall, to make the point that their quarrel was with him and not the aims of the conference.
Ahmadinejad later told a press conference his sole aim was to promote "international love and tolerance". As expected, he gave no hint of compromise over Iran's nuclear programme, declaring
the question "closed".

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