'We foiled Ahmadinejad S. America trip'

In apparent change of policy, FM takes credit for torpedoing Iranian President's visit to continent.

lieberman and Berlusconi 248.88 (photo credit: )
lieberman and Berlusconi 248.88
(photo credit: )
In an apparent change of policy, Israel took credit on Tuesday for blocking Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's trip to South America. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman issued a statement taking partial credit for stopping the trip, in a move that represented a break from previous government policy of trying to stay behind the scenes when it came to diplomatic steps against Iran. One government source pointed out that former prime minister Ariel Sharon had taken on that policy so as not to make it seem like Teheran was purely an Israeli problem. The policy was largely adopted by the Olmert government, although it took several public positions because of the urgency of the matter. Lieberman's statement on Tuesday seemed to indicate that Israel would now be more public in the diplomatic steps it took in trying to isolate Iran. The Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, expressed "satisfaction" at the postponement of Ahmadinejad's trip. In a statement, it said Israel had worked through "a number of diplomatic channels" to express its displeasure with the planned visit. This was due to the "extremist and anti-Semitic" positions of the Iranian president "and because of the importance Israel attaches to the isolation of Iran, with the goal of causing it to discontinue the development of its nuclear program and to cease its support of international terror." According to the statement, the Foreign Ministry passed on messages to that effect to the South American countries that were to have hosted the Iranian president. Ahmadinejad canceled his visit to South America one day after Jewish-led protests in Brazil. No reason was given for the cancellation, which was announced Monday by the Iranian news agency IRNA. Thousands of Brazilians, Jews and non-Jews, demonstrated in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro on Sunday against Ahmadinejad's planned visit. Scheduled for Wednesday, it would have been his first stop in South America. In Sao Paulo, some 1,000 people - including secular and Orthodox Jews, as well as evangelical Christians, homosexuals and Gypsies - gathered in a major square to protest. In Rio, another 1,000 demonstrators walked along Ipanema beach carrying signs and shouting messages against terrorism, homophobia and racism. In addition to Brazil, Ahmadinejad had planned to visit Venezuela and Ecuador with a 110-member delegation, the largest to join him on an international mission, according to the Iranian Embassy in Brasilia. The Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had declared that President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva would express his discontent with Ahmadinejad's description of Israel as a "cruel and racist" entity. JTA contributed to this report.