U.S.: Ahmadinejad speech vile, but doesn't preclude diplomacy
Ban: Iran leader used UN platform to divide, accuse and incite; British FM: Speech was utterly unacceptable.
A speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calling Israel a racist state was vile and fed racial hatred but did not preclude U.S.-Iranian diplomatic contacts, the United States said on Monday.
Ahmadinejad prompted a walkout of a number of delegations during his speech earlier in the day at a UN conference on racism in Geneva when he accused Israel of establishing a "cruel and repressive racist regime" over Palestinians.
"I can't think of any other word than shameful," U.S. Deputy Ambassador Alejandro Wolff said, adding that it was a "vile and hateful speech."
"It does a grave injustice to the Iranian nation and the Iranian people, and we call on the Iranian leadership to show much more measured, moderate, honest and constructive rhetoric when dealing with issues in the region," he said.
The Geneva summit had already been badly undermined by a boycott by the United States and some of its major allies over concerns that it would be used as a platform for attacks against Israel.
"The comments that he made ... frankly feed racial hatred," State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters in Washington. "If Iran ... wants a different relationship with the international community, it's got to change its behavior and stop this horrible rhetoric."
Despite the criticism, the State Department said it was still looking to open diplomatic talks with Iran in keeping with U.S. President Barack Obama's policy of engagement.
The United States hopes a dialogue may persuade Iran to rein in its atomic program, which Washington suspects is a cover to obtain nuclear weapons and which Tehran says is to generate power so it can export more of its oil and gas.
Asked if Ahmadinejad's comments ruled out a U.S.-Iranian dialogue, Wood replied: "I am not precluding it because we have said very straightforwardly that we want to have direct diplomacy with Iran."
Ban: Iran leader used UN platform to divide, accuse and incite
Earlier on Monday, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon launched a blistering verbal attack on Ahmadinejad's anti-Israel tirade.
"I deplore the use of this platform by the Iranian President to accuse, divide and even incite. We must all turn away from such a message in both form and substance," said Ban, who was present during the speech.
Ahmadinejad's address at the UN-hosted at the Durban II conference on racism raised heated criticism with many diplomats storming out during the speech when he accused Israel of establishing a "cruel and repressive racist regime" over the Palestinians, and said "Zionism" had penetrated mass media and financial systems to extend its domination over other countries.
Other world leaders were quick to issue their criticism of the speech, with French President Nicolas Sarkozy saying "the speech pronounced by Iran's president is ... an intolerable call for racist hatred that flouts the ideals and the values inscribed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights." Sarkozy also called for an "extremely firm reaction by the European Union."
U.S. Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Alejandro Wolf called the speech "shameful", while Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper praised the walk-out during the speech as "a very positive thing."
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband called Ahmadinejad's remarks offensive, inflammatory and utterly unacceptable. "That such remarks weremade using the platform of the UN's anti-racism conference is all the more reprehensible."
The Czech Foreign Ministry, which currently holds the EU presidency, issued a statement Monday saying, "We cannot allow, through our presence, the legitimisation of absolutely unacceptable anti-Israeli attacks ... The Czech delegation will not return to the conference at all, as a consequence to Ahmadinejad's speech."
European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor slammed those diplomats who did not storm out during Ahmadinejad's speech, saying "If Hitler himself had addressed this forum, would UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sit as politely as he did for the lies and hatred spewed forth by Ahmadinejad? Shame on him, and shame on anyone who stayed in the room to hear - or applaud - his evil rants."
Norway's Foreign Minister reaps criticism and praise for speaking at Durban II
Norway's foreign minister on Monday reaped both criticism and praise from Jewish and Norwegian public figures for speaking at the Durban II conference in Geneva.
Jonas Gahr Store addressed the controversial United Nations conference on human rights shortly after Ahmadinejad's tirade.
News agencies quote Store as telling the conference that the Iranian leader's words amounted to "incitement to hatred," making Iran "the odd man out" at the meeting by undermining the agreement so far on the conference declaration.
"Norway will not accept that the odd man out hijacks the collective efforts of many," Store reportedly said, adding the statements "run counter to the very spirit of dignity of the conference."
Durban II is a follow-up UN meeting on human rights. Israel and Jewish organizations fear it is singling Israel out based on the 2001 Durban conference in South Africa, which equated Zionism to racism and accused Israel of "ethnic cleansing."
Arie Zuckerman, secretary-general of the European Jewish Fund and a representative of Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, lauded Store's words, calling them "an important statement." He said it helped prove that Ahmadinejad's declarations "have no place in the family of nations."
But Per Antonsen, a former veteran consultant on foreign policy to the Norwegian government, told Haaretz: "In speaking from the same podium as Ahmadinejad had just used to call for Israel's eradication, Store took a very problematic action." Conservative opposition parties in Norway also criticized Store's decision to stay.
Erez Uriely, director of the Center Against Anti-Semitism in Norway, said he was "disappointed" by Store's decision to stay and by Norway's "soft language" in addressing some of Israel's enemies, "compared to the very harsh language it uses when addressing Israel."
Leaving the forum was pointless, Store reportedly said. "If we start walking out every time we feel uncomfortable ... the world would be the one to lose," he explained.