U.S. President Barack Obama said Tuesday that the speech made by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the Durban 2 conference was “appalling and objectionable.”
“Sadly, the rhetoric is not new,” Obama said in response to a question from a reporter. “This is the kind of rhetoric that we've come to expect from President Ahmadinejad. When I said, during the course of the campaign and repeated after the election, that we were serious about engagement with Iran, it was with no illusions. I was very clear that I found many of the statements that President Ahmadinejad made, particularly those… directed at Israel, to be appalling and objectionable.”
“There's no doubt that the kind of rhetoric you saw from Ahmadinejad is not helpful,” he added. “In fact, it is harmful -- but not just with respect to the possibility of U.S.-Iranian relations, but I think it actually undermines Iranians' position in the world as a whole. We weren't at the conference, and what you saw was a whole host of other countries walking out and that language being condoned by people who may be more sympathetic to the long-term aspirations of the Iranian people. So I think it actually hurts Iran's position in the world.”
Obama mentioned that Iran is “a very complicated country with a lot of different power centers” and vowed to “continue to take an approach that – tough, direct diplomacy has to be pursued without taking a whole host of other options off the table.”
Stepping up rhetoric
While most reactions in the Arab world to Ahmadinejad’s speech against Israel were positive, Saudi daily Al-Madina speculated in its editorial that Ahmadinejad was stepping up his rhetoric in order to strengthen Iran’s hand on the eve of negotiations with the U.S. on its nuclear program. It called Ahmadinejad “the wrong man in the right place.” While he is right about Israel, it said, Iran also poses a threat to its Arab neighbors and must stop striving for regional hegemony.
A-Sharq Al-Awsat said that Ahmadinejad’s speech contained nothing new, yet caused the international community to unite around Israel and boycott the convention. The editorial said that Ahmadinejad’s speech was meant for Arab ears but claimed that while the Arab world has conducted six wars against Israel, which cost it hundreds of thousands of casualties, Iran has yet to prove that it is willing to act against Israel and not just talk.
EU issues condemnation
European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pöttering condemned Ahmadinejad’s speech at the UN as “unacceptable” Tuesday.
In a statement, Pöttering said: "The European Union and the international community must decisively condemn these statements and work with determination to ensure an Israel in safe borders and a Palestinian State in safe borders can live in peace together."
"The international community is making efforts towards a peaceful and lasting solution for the Middle East based in democracy, human rights and human dignity," he said, adding that the Iranian's president's words against Israel "are a danger to such a process and are unacceptable."
Pöttering added that nuclear weapons in the hands of Ahmadinejad "would be a danger for the Middle East and the world."
Over 100 countries approved the text of an “anti-racism declaration” at the Durban 2 conference on Tuesday. The declaration reaffirmed the 2001 Durban 1 declaration that singled out Israel as racist. This year’s declaration does not refer to Israel by name, however. It also mentions promotion of the memory of the Holocaust as a step against racism.