By BRADLEY KLAPPER and ALEXANDER HIGGINS The Associated Press
GENEVA — A day after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad caused an uproar with a speech attacking Israel at a UN conference on racism, the UN said Tuesday that Ahmadinejad had actually dropped language from the speech that described the Holocaust as "ambiguous and dubious."
The UN and the Iranian Mission in Geneva did not comment on why the change was made. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, however, said he had met with the Iranian president before his speech Monday and reminded him the UN had adopted resolutions "to revoke the equation of Zionism with racism and to reaffirm the historical facts of the Holocaust.
Ahmadinejad may have decided to drop the Holocaust phrase that was in his original text to deliver his condemnation of Israel in a more palatable fashion for many countries. Still, Ahmadinejad’s accusation that the West used the Holocaust as a "pretext" for aggression against Palestinians still provoked walkouts by delegates including every European Union country in attendance. But others, including those from the Vatican, stayed because they said he stopped short of denying the Holocaust.
The walkout came after Ahmadinejad accused western countries of complicity in violence against Palestinians surrounding the foundation of Israel. The original text of his speech said that following the Second World War, "they resorted to military aggression to make an entire nation homeless on the pretext of Jewish sufferings and the ambiguous and dubious question of Holocaust." UN spokeswoman Marie Heuze said UN officials had checked back with the interpreters and the Farsi recording of Ahmadinejad’s speech, and determined that the Iranian president had dropped the terms "ambiguous and dubious," referring instead in Farsi to "the abuse of the question of the Holocaust."
Adding to the confusion, the live English translation of the speech did not mention the word "Holocaust" at all, while the French stayed true to the spoken words of Ahmadinejad. The English translator apparently was following the prepared text and stopped speaking when the Iranian president changed the wording.
The meeting turned chaotic from the start when two protesters in rainbow wigs tossed red clown noses at Ahmadinejad as he began his speech with a Muslim prayer. A Jewish student group from France said it had been trying to convey "the masquerade that this conference represents."
The United States, Canada and seven other western countries had already boycotted the event that started on the eve of Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, because of concerns Muslim countries would drown out all other issues with calls to denounce Israel and restrict free speech when it comes to criticizing Islam.
More than 100 other countries on Tuesday approved a 16-page declaration calling on the world to combat intolerance. The declaration did not mention Israel, but among dozens of other points, it reaffirms a 2001 statement issued after the UN’s first global racism meeting in South Africa that recognized the "plight of the Palestinians" while affirming the Jewish state’s right to security. That support of the 2001 document was cited by U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration as the reason it boycotted the Geneva meeting.
PHOTO: A member of the European Union of Jewish students holds up a placard reading The United Nations remains silent as she joins others in a demonstration against the actions in Darfur outside the United Nations headquarters in Geneva on Tuesday. The United Nations has sought to rally nations against intolerance a day after the anti-Israel speech by Iran’s president sparked protests. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP)