Not for the first time, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has got everyone scrambling for their Farsi phrasebooks. The Iranian president did not describe the Holocaust as “ambiguous and dubious” in his speech to the UN conference on racism, as first reported. He dropped the phrase at the last minute, but not in time for it to be deleted from the English text handed out by his officials after he spoke. In either version, Mr Ahmadinejad is hard put to disguise the views of a crude anti-semite. And that colours how people see his remarks on the establishment of Israel. Nobody is going to get anywhere discussing 1948. Matters will only progress if all sides address the here and now.
Israel has a prime minister in Binyamin Netanyahu who told Barack Obama that if the US does not stop Iran from getting the bomb, Israel will. What greater vindication of Mr Netanyahu’s view that the Iranian nuclear programme represents an existential threat to Israel can there be than the sentiments just expressed by the Iranian president? Further, Mr Netanyahu uses the threat of Iran as a way of avoiding having to deal politically with Hamas as a Palestinian resistance movement. He describes Hamas as an extension of Iran’s power. Nor are the Palestinians any the less hostile to the notion of an Iranian supposedly championing their cause.
Washington has been drawing the opposite conclusions about how to restart talks with Iran. Mr Obama appears to have made a concession in dropping the precondition that uranium enrichment be suspended before talks can start. The US could soon be talking with Iran with the centrifuges spinning. But those talks will swiftly be undermined if the view gains hold that Iran is playing for time, in the knowledge that within one or two years it would have the material it needs to build a bomb. As it is, it is difficult enough to discern the Islamic republic’s real intentions, such are the rivalries that exist between competing power structures. Has the Iranian president, on a rare outing to Geneva, done anything to reassure the new US administration that its pragmatism will pay off ? It is in his country’s interests that he does. Mr Netanyahu must be thanking Allah for the Iranian president’s timely intervention, as he prepares for his first visit to Washington.
But Mr Obama’s effort to avert another war in the Middle East is not the only potential victim of a disastrous speech. It is grist to the mill of UN haters, whose lobbying scared the US away from the conference. It makes whatever desire there is within the UN to investigate allegations of Israeli war crimes in Gaza that much harder to realise, as the UN as a whole is tainted by the Iranian leader’s presence at one conference. No wonder Ban Ki-moon was furious with him.