(photo credit: REUTERS)
UNITED NATIONS - Coordination within the European Union isn't always easy, but the bloc stayed on message this year when all 27 EU delegations left the UN General Assembly to protest the Iranian president's speech.
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The moment came on Thursday, when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used his speech to the 193-nation UN General Assembly during its annual session in New York City to once again question the Holocaust and suggest that the US government might have been behind the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
After listening to a few minutes of Ahmadinejad's speech, the European, US, Canadian and other Western delegations marched out of the General Assembly hall to register what one delegate described as their "disgust at his views."
The Western walk-out has become an annual ritual in response to
Ahmadinejad's speeches, which one Western diplomat said have become
"stale and predictably offensive."
EU walk-outs haven't always gone so smoothly. Two years ago, delegations
from Sweden and Cyprus stayed in their seats and listened as
Ahmadinejad finished his speech, which railed against the United States
and "inhuman policies" of Israel.
"Some of us were rather annoyed with the Swedes and Cypriots for
staying," a European diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
"We want to present a unified face by walking out at the same time. It
didn't happen that way."
Sweden, which was holding the six-month rotating EU presidency at the
time, brushed off the criticism, suggesting that it took courage to face
down the Iranian president in the General Assembly hall, European
In past years, some Western delegations called journalists to announce
that they were the first ones to walk out of the cavernous assembly hall
during Ahmadinejad's speech, but that practice stopped after the
disunity of 2009.
"It's not a race, it's a protest," said a European envoy.9/11, Holocaust denial 'red lines' for diplomats
Traditionally the EU has had difficulty maintaining unity on issues
related to the Middle East. In 2009, it split three ways on a UN vote to
endorse the Goldstone Report, which said both Israel and Palestinian
Hamas militants committed war crimes during Israel's brief 2008-09 war
in the Gaza Strip.
After the apparent disunity during Ahmadinejad's 2009 speech, European
delegations made sure in planning meetings ahead of the annual UN
General Assembly session to clarify "red lines" that would trigger a
mass walk-out during Ahmadinejad's annual diatribe against Israel and
"They're what you would expect," a diplomat said. "Implications that
9/11 was a US conspiracy, Holocaust denial, denial of Israel's right to
exist, and so on."
There's no formal coordination with the Americans, Canadians,
Australians and others, though "there is a touch-base" ahead of time, a
Western diplomat said.
Israel has less of a problem, since it boycotts Ahmadinejad's UN speeches as a rule.
Not all Europeans, however, walk out during Ahmadinejad's speeches.
Norway, which is not a member of the EU, remains in its seat during the
Iranian president's addresses.
In a March 2011 article, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store
defended Norway's opposition to walk-outs. He gave as an example the
so-called Durban II UN anti-racism conference in 2009, which many
Western nations boycotted.
"Despite the fact that we found Ahmadinejad's claims abhorrent, our
delegation decided to remain for his address," Store wrote. "We believed
that it was important to listen to his words and then to use our
position as the next speaker to directly engage and challenge his