France: Racism conference on right track

Kouchner says Ahmadinejad's speech "predictable"; French envoy to 'Post': Dialogue "a value in itself."

kouchner stresses 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
kouchner stresses 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Tuesday morning that the UN anti-racism conference meeting this week in Geneva was on the right track even as the Czech Republic pulled out. It was the only country to withdraw from the conference to protest Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech there on Monday, which called for the destruction of Israel. "We cannot allow our presence at this conference to legitimize the completely unacceptable anti-Israeli attack," the Czech Republic said in a statement. Even prior to Ahmadinejad's speech nine other countries - Israel, the US, Italy, Poland, Germany, The Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand and Canada - opted to boycott the conference because the text the UN intends to ratify there solely singles out Israel and contains problematic clauses regarding free speech. During Ahmadinejad's speech 23 European Union countries lead by France walked out of the room, as a sign of opposition to his words. Norway remained, as did Switzerland, which is hosting the 2009 United Nations World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. A political cartoon placed on the front page of the Swiss daily Le Temps on Tuesday showed the Swiss representative sitting there during the speech cringing in his jacket with sweat dripping off his head, as countries such as Zimbabwe and Libya cheered above him. Already on Monday Israel had recalled its Ambassador to Switzerland to protest a meeting that Swiss President Hans-Rudolph Merz had on Sunday with Ahmadinejad. On Tuesday, the EU said that in spite of its objection to Ahmadinejad, it intended to remain in the conference. Speaking on Europe-1 radio, Kouchner said the meeting is "not at all a failure but the beginning of a success," and that Ahmadinejad's anti-Israel speech was "predictable." Kouchner expressed hope that a proposed UN declaration on racism would be approved Tuesday night. On Monday, France's Humanitarian Ambassador Francois Zimeray on defended his country's participation at the conference. "The world deserves an arena for dialogue. We believe that dialogue is a value in itself," Zimeray told The Jerusalem Post at the conference. His country's continued participation in preparations for the final text the conference plans to ratify, possibly as early as today, helped eliminate new language against Israel that Islamic countries had tried to insert, he said. Zimeray added that he could live with the fact that the new text re-affirms the document from the initial 2001 gathering in Durban, South Africa, which solely singled out Israel, because the words are fairly benign and reflect EU policy. Durban II is billed by the UN as a follow up conference to the 2001 meeting, so it is logical, Zimeray said, that the gatherings conclusion would reaffirm Durban I. Zimeray added that he was not bothered by the participation of countries with bad records on human rights such as Iran, Libya and Sudan. The debate about human rights should be conducted with these countries, he said. "Who else should we fight and argue with on issues regarding racism, homophobia and gender equity?" he asked.