A different kind of spotlight in Geneva

Ahmadinejad has become a champion for groups around the world who believe he alone has been willing to challenge the perceived "monopolistic behavior" of the US and Israel, says Iran expert

ahmadinejad geneva 248.88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
ahmadinejad geneva 248.88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
When Iran's president came to address the United Nations General Assembly in New York last fall, he was greeted by a roomful of diplomats who, if they didn't applaud him, at least listened politely - or walked out without a fuss, before he took the podium. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gambled that his appearance at this week's UN conference on racism in Geneva would afford him a similar opportunity to appear as a statesman, particularly as one of only a handful of "high-level" leaders present at the gathering. Instead, he was pelted with red clown noses by Jewish student protesters sporting rainbow-colored Bozo wigs - but experts said it's not clear whether the interruption will cost him politically as the footage zooms around the world on cable news channels and YouTube. Ahmadinejad has become a champion for groups not just in Iran but around the world who believe he alone has been willing to challenge the perceived "monopolistic behavior" of the US and Israel, said Suzanne Maloney, an expert on Iran with the Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington. "He's not in the habit of traveling to every UN meeting that takes place, but I think he enjoys the international stage and I think he sought out this meeting to bring a spotlight to his views on this particular issue," Maloney said. Ahmadinejad may win kudos on the "Arab street" for continuing with his deliberately combative speech blasting Israel despite the interruption, but it may cost him support among conservative power brokers in Iran already frustrated with his aggressive style of politics, Malone added. "There's a strong sense among many that he's just cost the country too much, that the way he's pursued diplomacy and his bombastic style have brought the country further into isolation and closer to UN sanctions than anyone else has done," she told The Jerusalem Post. The episode surprised veteran UN watchers, who could not recall a similarly colorful outburst in recent UN history. "That kind of thing just doesn't happen in New York," said Thomas Weiss, a professor of political science at the City University of New York who spent 10 years working in Geneva. He said he was surprised that the UN hadn't beefed up security, given the attention and controversy surrounding the conference, dubbed "Durban II" because it is a follow-up to a protest-filled gathering held in South Africa in 2001. Yet Weiss said the episode wouldn't halt the proceedings, which were already being boycotted by the US, Israel, Canada and Italy before Monday's clown protest and the subsequent walkout by European delegates during Ahmadinejad's speech. "It's just more theater, really," Weiss noted.