Ottawa Citizen

Don’t ignore reality of Iran: Harper

Iranian leader attacks Israel at UN meeting Canada boycotted

- 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.

CANWEST NEWS SERVICE

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