Don’t ig­nore re­al­ity of Iran: Harper

Ira­nian leader at­tacks Is­rael at UN meet­ing Canada boy­cotted

Ottawa Citizen - - WORLD - BY STEVEN ED­WARDS

UNITED NA­TIONS

Prime Min­is­ter Stephen Harper warned Mon­day against be­ing “blind to the re­al­i­ties” of Iran’s Is­lamic regime af­ter Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ah­madine­jad used a United Na­tions con­fer­ence against racism to rail against Is­rael.

Bri­tain, France and Fin­land — which at­tended the Geneva event — led a dra­matic walk­out of Euro­pean Union del­e­ga­tions as Ah­madine­jad called Is­rael’s gov­ern­ment racist.

Canada’s seats in the cham­ber were al­ready empty af­ter the gov­ern­ment an­nounced last year it would boy­cott the gath­er­ing — a move sev­eral other west­ern coun­tries sub­se­quently echoed, in­clud­ing the United States, which made a fi­nal de­ci­sion this past week­end.

“We are very con­cerned that, around the world, an­tiSemitism is grow­ing in vol­ume and ac­cep­tance, jus­ti­fied … by op­po­si­tion to Is­rael it­self,” Harper told re­porters in a con­fer­ence call from Ja­maica, where he stopped off while re­turn­ing from the Sum­mit of the Amer­i­cas in Trinidad and Tobago.

“Canada will not lend its name to an in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ence that pro­motes th­ese kinds of things.”

While Harper said he wel­comed a re­cent ini­tia­tive by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama to start a di­a­logue be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Tehran, he added: “I am all for new ap­proaches as long as we don’t turn a blind eye to any re­al­i­ties here.”

The re­mark builds on the more hawk­ish ap­proach Harper ap­pears to en­cour­age com­pared to Obama’s, re­gard­ing a host of in­ter­na­tional is­sues. “I don’t take any of th­ese rogue states lightly,” he said af­ter an­swer­ing ad­di­tional ques­tions that touched on Venezuela.

Harper sig­nalled, how­ever, he dis­agreed with crit­i­cism that Obama’s ap­par­ent con­cil­i­a­tion at the Amer­i­cas sum­mit and else­where had weak­ened the per­cep­tion of the U.S. pres­i­dent over­seas. “Pres­i­dent Obama led in a way that was very ef­fec­tive,” he said.

The open­ing of the Geneva con­fer­ence comes on the eve of Holo­caust Re­mem­brance Day, which falls this year a day af­ter the 120th an­niver­sary of Adolf Hitler’s birth.

Ah­madine­jad, whose most cited com­ment on Is­rael calls for it to be “wiped off the map,” crit­i­cized the cre­ation of what he called a “to­tally racist gov­ern­ment in oc­cu­pied Pales­tine” in 1948.

“Fol­low­ing World War II, they re­sorted to mil­i­tary ag­gres­sion to make an en­tire na­tion home­less un­der the pre­text of Jewish suf­fer­ing,” Ah­madine­jad told world del­e­gates. “In com­pen­sa­tion for the dire con­se­quences of racism in Europe, they helped bring to power the most cruel and re­pres­sive racist regime in Pales­tine.”

Ahead of the ad­dress, UN Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Ban Ki­moon met with Ah­madine­jad and ex­pressed re­gret some coun­tries had stayed away.

Fol­low­ing the speech, Ban ac­cused the Ira­nian leader of seek­ing to “di­vide and even in­cite,” while the of­fice of the UN’s hu­man rights chief — which had ap­pealed to Canada and other boy­cotting coun­tries to re­verse their de­ci­sions — called Ah­madine­jad’s ti­rade “to­tally in­ap­pro­pri­ate.”

Ah­madine­jad had been billed as a head­line speaker for the anti-racism con­fer­ence — dubbed Dur­ban II to re­flect the UN’s pro­mo­tion of it as a “fol­lowup” to the 2001 meet­ing on the same topic in the South African city.

But Canada and other crit­ics had long said the process ap­peared to be lead­ing to­ward the same out­come of Dur­ban I, where Is­lamic coun­tries pushed for de­nun­ci­a­tions of Is­rael, and African coun­tries called for mas­sive com­pen­sa­tion from the West for slav­ery.

Among 2,000 peo­ple ex­pected at a Holo­caust re­mem­brance ser­vice in front of the UN Geneva com­plex Mon­day night was for­mer Lib­eral jus­tice min­is­ter Ir­win Cotler. Ah­madine­jad “shames the cause of hu­man rights,” he said.

“Dur­ban II is the op­po­site of what it claims to be — it’s the world’s most in­tol­er­ant regimes seek­ing to in­dict the world’s most tol­er­ant democ­ra­cies,” said Hil­lel Neuer, a Montreal na­tive serv­ing as ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Geneva-based mon­i­tor­ing group UN Watch.

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