- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2009

GENEVA (AP) - The U.N. says Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinehad dropped a reference to Holocaust denial from his speech at a U.N. racism conference.

The prepared English text of Ahmadinejad’s speech said the West had used “the ambiguous and dubious question of the Holocaust” in setting up the state of Israel.

U.N. spokeswoman Marie Heuze says he omitted the remark in his delivery in Farsi on Monday. The French and English interpreters also dropped the phrase.

Although his speech was an attack on Israel, some delegates stayed in the room because they said he stopped short of denying the Holocaust.

Heuze said Tuesday that Farsi speakers confirmed Ahmadinejad’s deviation from the official text provided by the Iranian government.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

GENEVA (AP) _ The United Nations sought Tuesday to rally nations against intolerance a day after the anti-Israel speech by Iran’s president sparked protests and swelled the U.S.-led list of countries boycotting the world racism conference.

Dozens of Western diplomats walked out during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech and a pair of rainbow-wigged protesters threw clown noses at Iran’s hardline leader Monday when he called Israel the “most cruel and repressive racist regime.”

France, which later returned to the conference, said it was optimistic the U.N. would move on and approve a declaration by Tuesday night committing the world to fight racism.

The meeting is “not at all a failure but the beginning of a success,” Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on French radio.

The global body was similarly hopeful.

“In the drama of yesterday (Monday) everyone forgot what the conference is actually about,” U.N. spokesman Rupert Colville said. “I think we’re back on track now.”

Conference organizers have sought desperately to avoid the same problems that marred the last global racism gathering eight years ago in Durban, South Africa. The U.S. and Israel walked out midway into that event over an attempt by Muslim countries to liken Zionism _ the movement to establish a Jewish state in the Holy Land _ to racism.

Even though any final document will have no enforcement power, and will likely do little in the short-term to improve the situation of minorities around the world, it arouses great passion from all governments.

Israel is not mentioned anywhere in the agreement prepared for the current meeting, which seeks to avoid any offense but has angered many in the Muslim world for its failure to point the finger directly at the Jewish state for its treatment of Palestinians.

Iran has fought to minimize any reference to the Holocaust, while the Obama administration has said it cannot accept a reaffirmation of the U.N.’s 2001 declaration, which in its final version noted the “plight of the Palestinians” and Israel’s right to security.

While themes from African poverty to the suffering of South America’s indigenous peoples was discussed Tuesday in Geneva, the U.S. and eight other boycotting nations were joined on the sidelines by the Czech Republic, which holds the rotating EU presidency.

China, which has prevented any criticism of how it treats Tibetans or members of the Falun Gong spiritual sect, called for dialogue and consensus to combat racism.

“New forms of racism keep cropping up so it is a very challenging job,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in Beijing. She called for “zero tolerance to racism at both the international and national levels.”

But some delegates at the conference refused to look beyond the Middle East.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki called Israeli policies in Gaza and the West Bank the “ugliest face of racism.”

The U.N., meanwhile, expelled 375 delegates representing different advocacy groups at the conference.

They included representatives of a Jewish student group that interrupted Ahmadinejad’s speech with protests and attempted to block his appearance at a news conference. Iranian delegates that disrupted proceedings with their cheering were also removed from the meeting.

___

Associated Press writers Frank Jordans and Eliane Engeler contributed to this report.

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